12/04/2012 05:44 EST | Updated 02/03/2013 05:12 EST

Step in to Stop Bullying and Make a Difference


It was a carefully organized attack: the leaders secretly confirmed the plan, time and location, and some were recruited to act as "witnesses" to say nothing happened. Sounds more like a military battle strategy than a middle school bullying attack. As a business executive, I routinely apply logic to solve issues, but when my child called to say she'd just been surrounded a school gang who verbally abused and bullied her, all logic goes out the window... I just wanted to protect her.

Speak out and report bullying. I wondered, how could this happen to a bright, outgoing kid? But the truth is, anyone can be bullied and there's never a good reason. I encouraged my daughter to tell me what happened. We called Kids Help Phone and the police, who advised us to report it to the school. Surprisingly, the principal didn't seem to take it seriously. The class was going on an overnight trip the next day. The principal said the kids will sort it out themselves and it'll pass, adding if my daughter felt uncomfortable, she didn't have to go on the trip.

What?! You're recommending the victim be punished by not going on the trip? You're not even going to investigate or suspend the bullying leaders?

If the school response isn't enough, ask for more help. I wasn't going to let my child become another statistic on the newspaper front page; I was in the principal's office the next morning. The school investigated, confirmed the bullying and suspended the leaders. The school brought in counsellors and anti-bullying experts spoke to the classes. But they didn't prepare us for the backlash that happened next.

The bullies sought revenge by socially ostracizing her, using social pressure so other kids feared they'd be bullied next. I asked the school to intervene, but they didn't take a hardline or inform the parents, so these kids moved online to cyber-bully. Despite proof of cyber-bullying, the months of torment continued. The impact was heartbreaking; my daughter feared going to school, lost her self-esteem, had migraines, anxiety, felt isolated and couldn't sleep. I'd like to say it got better but the truth is it didn't. The bullying in all its insidious forms went on.

If you can't improve the situation, it's time to change it. The school system denied my efforts to transfer my daughter out of the toxic environment. I finally spoke with a sympathetic school trustee who made an exception. My daughter spent her entire childhood in our neighbourhood, with the same group of friends from kindergarten, walking to school. So her moving to a new school two buses away was filled with apprehension for both of us, but it was the best decision. Within weeks she had new friends. Within months her confidence returned and she learned to embrace change. She became a stronger person whose resiliency would be a lifelong skill!

Immediate action with clear consequences involving the bullies and their parents works. In high school, one of the former bullies started cyber-bullying her again. We knew to report it immediately. We nervously spoke to the principal, who assured us it would stop that day. True to his word, he called in the student who denied any bullying. The principal asked him to open his Facebook account, saw the offensive post and immediately called in his parents, giving them a firm and clear warning of zero tolerance. The student apologized to her and it was over.

Research shows that in over 50 per cent of cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds if a bystander has the courage to step in when the bullying attack happens. Witnesses have the power to change lives.

Bullying. Step in. Make a Difference. Sadly bullying continues to be a pervasive issue that affects our kids' well-being. I know first-hand the devastating effects of bullying, which is why I'm so proud of Yogurty's bullying awareness campaign.

From November 12 to 30, Yogurty's is donating 10 per cent of its net profits to support Kids Help Phone's anti-bullying programs. In Yogurty's stores you'll find Kids Help Phone info and tips for kids and parents to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying.

This heartfelt initiative is fully supported by Yogurty's staff and franchisees to make a positive difference in our communities. If this support helps just one kid who's being bullied, then it's all worthwhile.

If you or someone you know is experiencing bullying or cyber-bullying, call Kids Help Phone at 1.800.668.6868 or visit them online.