What feelings are evoked when you hear about stories such as the alleged rape and resulting year-and-a-half of bullying that prompted teen Rehtaeh Parsons to hang herself? For some of us it’s anger, others frustration or maybe a desire for change. But what do we change?
Prime Minister Stephen Harper referred to bullying as ‘criminal activity’ to reporters, suggesting that charges should be laid accordingly. However, not everyone agrees that fighting this issue with stringent methods is effective.
Dr. Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, and co-director of PREVnet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence), the Canadian anti-bullying research network, indicates that handling this situation with criminal venues isn’t the answer, as bullies can’t anticipate the consequences of their actions.
So, while we’re debating about the legal strategies, the problem is escalating and seemingly without consequence. There were no charges laid for the “alleged” rape of Rehtaeh. Although the picture of it circulated around the school for a year, apparently without the school knowing or doing anything about it, leaving the issue for the police to investigate, the case was dropped. What’s wrong with this scenario?
It seems the buck is being passed or situations are dismissed altogether, when it comes to bullying. In the meantime, individuals, families and communities are affected.
Bullying places stress on kids, parents, schools, and on the reputation and resources of communities. So, it makes sense that the more support communities lend to this problem, the greater chance at reducing it. So, what can we do?
We can take our frustration about ‘the system’failing these kids and channel it in support of the kind of communities we want. The alternative to a community that is hurtful toward people that are different or vulnerable is an environment that is supportive, healthy and thriving.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), “The degree of social cohesion – or civic vitality – in a society is an important determinant of the health of the people who live there.”
Model the kind of relationships you want to see in your community. Encourage a culture of support through greater awareness of the issue, and by modeling those attitudes and actions. Kindness, empathy and moral support, sets a great example for healthy relationships. PREVnet indicates, “Adults’ modeling and messaging of prosocial behaviours are critical to bullying prevention efforts.”
Reach out to fellow community members. Lend a hand to families that may benefit from a little support. According to the Canadian Health Network (CHN) “Support can help people solve problems and deal better with hardship. It can also help them develop a sense of control over their life circumstances.”
Volunteer. Become a support for an organization, school or a child. Participation may be the most effective method for bullying prevention and problem solving, according to National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC). The participation of parents, community leaders, police, sports and recreational organizations and other groups can act as a buffer. They indicate, “A community protective factor may have some protective benefit to a child in his or her school and home environments.”
Refuse to be a bystander. Help a child being bullied, and report any incidents you see to parents, schools or officials. Action is critical. According to the NCPC, “When bystanders do take an active stand, bullying is stopped within ten seconds over half of the time.”
The more we reach out to support each other, the healthier and more vibrant our communities will be. We’re not just sharing space, we’re developing relationships. As John McKnight suggests, “A community is commonly understood to be about relationships; it’s not a place. A neighborhood is a place, but community is about people’s relationships” (Mapping Community Capacity, 1990).
Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.