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We need a national anti-bullying strategy

Written by Think Forward Staff
Monday, 05 November 2012

The tragic suicide of Amanda Todd has pushed bullying into the spotlight once again. Sadly Todd's story has become a familiar one, as countless teens have suffered similar fates after enduring daily torment. From 13-year-old Megan Meier, to Australian teen Olivia Liv Pnepraze, to Mitchell Wilson of Ontario, it's clear that harassment, violence, and other forms of bullying are not only damaging the mental and emotional health of today's youth - they're also taking lives.

Most of us have a rough idea of what bullying is because we've either seen or been a victim of it before. A large 2011 study found that one in five Canadian students have been bullied at some point in their life, and a prominent bullying group estimates that our high schools experience 282,000 incidents of bullying per month. But our traditional notions of bullying - like the "popular" kids picking on the "nerds" - are changing because the internet and social media have spawned new types and causes of bullying that require unique and specific solutions. And that's part of the reason why it's so difficult to stop.

In the case of Amanda Todd, commentators point to the conflicting messages that teenage girls receive from the media and adult role models, as well as the daily pressures they face to hyper-sexualize themselves. Jarrah Hodge of Gender Focus explains that "on the one hand you're told to protect your purity in order to maintain your reputation. On the other hand, practically all the role models around you in the media...are telling you that your worth is based on your (physical) desirability." Combine this with the normal teen girl desire to be called pretty, and it's easy to see why young girls feel pressured to share revealing photos or send sext messages that they're then relentlessly bullied for.

So what can we can do to stop bullying, whether it's based on sexism, homophobia, racism, or something else? The stats and recent string of high profile teen suicides suggest that our current efforts to fight bullying are either failing or need more resources to be truly effective. Experts caution that there's no easy answers, but MP Dany Morin's call for a national anti-bullying strategy seems like a logical first step to addressing a problem that plagues schools and communities across the country.

Morin has introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling for the creation of an all-party committee that would develop a national bullying prevention strategy. The strategy would focus on studying the prevalence and impact of different types of bullying, identifying the best anti-bullying practices, distributing anti-bullying information to Canadian families, and providing support for groups that promote safe and positive environments for young people. Its goal would be to prevent bullying from happening in the first place, rather than criminalizing youth who take part in it. So far the motion has received bi-partisan support from the Liberal, Green, and New Democratic parties.

It's been widely noted that governments can't solve bullying by themselves: parents, teachers, and students need to take responsibility for the issue as well. But the strategy could acknowledge this reality by establishing evidence-based programs, resources, and educational tools that empower all actors to address the roots causes of bullying - from gender inequality to a lack of media literacy - and to intervene intelligently when bullying occurs. As Morin observes, "we need a pan-Canadian strategy to develop solutions and share best practices (on ending bullying)...Lives can be saved."

Let's not wait another day. Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper that you support the development of a national strategy on bullying prevention by signing Rabble and Public Response's petition here.

See also: Do you support MP Dany Morin's call for a national anti-bullying strategy?



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