COLUMN: Standing up to bullying a good move

Bullying is a problem in schools across the country.

Bullying is a problem in schools across the country.

Almost every person, regardless of sex, race, age, body type, etc. has experienced some form of bullying at some point in their lives.

Nanaimo school district has had its share of press on this issue; one instance that immediately comes to mind is when a student killed himself in January 2010. His parents told the media they believed bullying was to blame and a district review found that the student was indeed bullied by his peers.

So I applaud Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s efforts to combat bullying in schools.

His action plan against bullying includes new policies for prevention and intervention – including tougher consequences for bullies – and requiring schools to support student groups that aim to promote greater understanding among students and a more respectful school environment.

The plan also calls for bringing mental health support workers into schools, continued support for Kids Help Phone, creating an Accepting Schools Expert Panel to provide advice on new resources that focus on prevention and early intervention, and directing Ontario’s Curriculum Council to report back next year on strengthening equity and inclusive education principles and bullying prevention strategies.

Some have lambasted this move as mere politicking – another law developed to make politicians look like they are doing something positive – but it is keeping the issue in the public eye.

And awareness of the issue is important.

People need to acknowledge that it is the responsibility of all – parents, teachers, students and community members – to stop bullying.

In my school days, bullies were given time outs or suspended, but it didn’t stop them from doing it again; they just tried to continue with that behaviour without getting caught.

Student witnesses were reluctant to “rat out” their peers for fear that they would be next. And the same goes for victims, who often suffered in silence.

They also didn’t want to tell on bullies because often it was the popular kids who were doing the bullying, and standing up to that behaviour could mean eating lunch by yourself for the rest of the year.

Not much has changed, judging by what I hear from some students. Although, now students organize anti-bullying days and these events serve a purpose in helping the situation.

Bullying is part of human nature and without a strong deterrent – such as social ostracism, since bullying happens most often under the radar of adults – students are not going to bother to check their behaviour.

The province announced this month it is looking for a contractor to develop new anti-bullying training that will promote safer schools.

The contractor is to provide resources and tools for parents, teachers and administrators to recognize and talk to students or their child about steps they can take if they are concerned about bullying and training for school and district teams on how to create positive, safe school environments.

Training should also include how to deal with bullies beyond the school system, since this type of behaviour by no means disappears when you graduate from high school.

The consequences of bullying can be far-reaching and even fatal.

It affects the victim’s ability to learn, their health, mental well-being, self-esteem and so many other aspects of their lives. I know this from my own experiences being bullied.

Anything that reminds people that action should be taken to combat bullying is a positive step.