Hope was a thirteen year old girl who, like many girls her age, had a crush on a boy at her school. One day Hope decided to send a compromising photograph of herself to that boy as she desperately wanted him to notice her. Unfortunately for Hope, her text message was intercepted by another girl at her school who decided to send that photograph to her classmates. Not only was Hope suspended for sending the photo, she was also harassed by her classmates throughout the summer. Unfortunately, the bullying only got worse when school resumed that fall. One evening, when she could no longer endure the pain and torment, Hope decided to hang herself from a bedpost.
The sad reality is that there are many young people in Canada who are victims of cyber-bullying just like Hope. These young people often feel as though they have been left to fact these challenges alone.
This week, during the Senate Committee on Human Right’s Study on cyber-bullying our committee received further insight into the challenges and hardships many young Canadian’s face each and every day. We heard from Professor Shelley Hymel from the University of British Columbia who described cyber-bullying quite nicely when stating:
“The electronic medium changes the message in very critical ways. Electronic bullying is pervasive and persistent. Everyone can see it and it is difficult if not impossible to take it back. Moreover, the online environment affords perpetrators significant visible anonymity and a sense of privacy and protection that can lead to even more negative behaviour.”
One of the main problems with cyber-bullying is that adults often have difficulty understanding the severity of the problem and the constant contact children have with the internet and with each other. As a parent and a grandparent, I have always spent much of my time and energy in ensuring that my children and my grandson succeed in reading, writing and arithmetic. However, after hearing Professor Tina Daniels address our committee last Monday I realized that I was forgetting a very important life skill, on which all children need to learn in order to succeed in the world. That skill is relationships. Children need to be taught from a very young age values such as empathy, respect, tolerance, acceptance and diversity. By instilling these values in children from a young age they will be less likely to victimize their peers and engage in malicious and hurtful behaviour.
When dealing with the challenges surrounding cyber-bullying we must be proactive and stop the problem before it even begins. We need to make sure our children have the skills they require to develop strong and healthy relationships.