Once a year, students in schools across Saskatchewan, and Canada, don pink shirts and hear presentations about preventing bullying in the classroom and on the playgrounds.
This has been a long-standing problem in schools, and in communities at large, but it really has only been recognized in recent years as a form of personal violence that needs to be stopped.
In one study of the issue, a survey of students in Grades 8-10 showed 64 per cent considered bullying “a normal part of school life”, with the same number indicating they had been bullied at school. Another study showed about a quarter of students in Grades 4-6 have also been bullied.
Thinking that bullying is so common as to be “normal” indicates it’s a deep-seated problem and needs to be addressed in a general way across all schools and grade levels — thus, an initiative like “Pink Shirt Day” is valuable in enlisting teachers and students in a dialogue on what bullying is and why it needs to stop.
Bullying not only encompasses behaviour on the playground and in the classroom, but online also, as cyberbullying has become a major issue with the prevalence of students using cell phones.
Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices”, with the aim to harass, threaten, embarrass or socially exclude others via online means.
The most common form of cyberbullying is when someone takes a private text or email and forwards it to someone else, or posts it publicly, sometimes including an embarrassing photo, meme or graphic.
About 38 per cent of girls report being bullied only as opposed to 26 per cent of boys, and nearly four in 10 social network users have been cyberbullied.
This form can be much more vicious and personal than in-person bullying, because threats or harassment can be done anonymously, behind the safety of the screen.
What bullying comes down to, whether virtually or in person, is a desire to hurt or humiliate another person because they’re different or unpopular.
Young children need to be taught from an early age to respect others and not make fun of them. If they don’t learn this at home, they are unlikely to learn it at school as patterns of behaviour become more entrenched as they get older. All of us, young or old, need to learn the importance of respecting one another. A rule of thumb is, just like in discussions online or in a coffee shop, you can disagree with someone without turning it around to insult or humiliate or harass someone.
This is a principle that we need to learn and practice as a society, not just in the classroom.