Students work to stop bullying by sharing their stories
By Sue Tiffin
Published Nov. 21, 2017
For three nights, Grade 11 HHSS student Danielle Allison cried herself to sleep after receiving hurtful anonymous messages.
“I was receiving messages ... calling me ugly and fat, also telling me my boyfriend is way too successful to be with me and that I don’t deserve him,” she recalls.
In an attempt to bring attention to an onslaught of bullying happening in the community, Allison’s boyfriend shared the occurrence in a social media post that was quickly shared dozens of times.
The outpouring of community concern saw messages shared from students and parents who commiserated with Danielle’s experience and vowed to act against bullying.
“When it got shared and reposted so many times it actually made me feel like the hate just disappeared,” she said. “So many lovely amazing people messaged me to let me know that they were there for me and that I don’t deserve this kind of hate. That honestly made the comments not mean as much and look less intimidating.”
After seeing the posts about Danielle on Facebook, Dulce Acero decided she needed to make her own post.
Dulce’s son, Phoenix, died suddenly in May and on the six-month anniversary of his death, Dulce said she needed to speak up about the bullies her son, who was in Grade 9, had to deal with at the high school. Her post was shared more than 300 times, starting a further online conversation about the culture of bullying in Haliburton County.
“I didn’t plan this,” she said of the post. “I had no intention of talking to anybody about anything. But I can’t do this anymore. I can’t believe that kids have not learned that you can’t talk to people this way. I hope the adults in this community can wake up and [say] ‘OK, maybe I really don’t know what’s going on.’”
Dulce said there was a greater need for parents to “find out how [their kids] are really talking to people,” even if it meant searching their phones, and for greater accountability for bullies through the school board and from local law officials.
Allison’s mom, Deb McLean, agrees.
“Something has to be done. These children don’t feel safe in our little town. I am very concerned.”
McLean said she planned on contacting the police regarding the incident.
“I don’t understand where this hate is coming from,” she said. “I said if they don’t realize what they’re doing now, what kind of adults are they going to become?”
This week – Nov. 19 to 25 – has been designated as Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in Ontario, when, according to the province’s Ministry of Education website, students, school staff and parents “are encouraged to learn more about bullying and its effect on student learning and well-being.”
The Ministry of Education website defines bullying as,“a form of repeated, persistent and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.” It can be physical (hitting, shoving, damaging property) verbal (name calling, mocking, or making sexist, racist or homophobic comments), social (excluding others from a group or spreading gossip or rumours about them) or electronic (cyberbullying, spreading rumours and hurtful comments through cellphones, email, texts and social networking sites).
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research reports that 47 per cent of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying, and that any participation in bullying increases risk of suicidal ideas in youth.
“Bullying is no longer considered a normal part of growing up but as a dangerous testing ground for some of the most pernicious forms of relational abuse, often with few consequences for the offender but many for the victim,” reads a press release on the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s website. “We can reverse the spread of bullying by first acknowledging that it’s not normal or typical behaviour, that it’s not harmless and that we can do something about it.”
The effect bullying can have on mental health – including depression, anxiety, social isolation, problems with self-esteem, aggressiveness, and suicidal tendencies, according to the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District health unit – is one that students want the greater community to know about.
“It was awful,” said Maddie Phippen, who graduated last year. “I had a really difficult time in school, every day was something new. Name calling was the main thing but things got physical as well. All of the bullying that was done to me, was done by boys. So this caused a lot of trust issues with men especially in relationships. I absolutely hated going to school.“
Phippen said with community support, students would feel helped, and not victimized or judged.
“It affected my school time because it was hard to focus on work when I was getting called names, stared at, laughed at, getting things thrown at me,” she said. “It affected my social time, because I didn’t have many friends and no matter where I walked in the school, someone said something mean to me. Lunch time always made me really anxious because I didn’t know where to go or who to go to at all.”
Service providers and community groups say they are listening and working together to provide support.
“We have heard from both youth and parents in our community that they do want some help in healing and how to move forward,” said Marg Cox, executive director of Point in Time. “I think we would all say, and we’re all committed as service providers together, to be able to help support the community in healing, in building resilience. We have found that isolation plays a huge role, lack of connectedness plays a huge role, in people becoming unattached, more likely to feel depressed. If they are anxious, to feel more anxious, and despair.”
“We all have both a responsibility but also resources in order to aid in that healing,” said Katherine MacIver, superintendent of safe and accepting schools, Trillium Lakelands District School Board. “We’re all very open to the voices, especially of our youth, that can really help us to steer toward what is needed. A lot of open ears, but also a lot of people looking to provide information and support.”
Through Point in Time initiatives, students have held a coffeehouse once a month at Baked and Battered, and hosted mental health displays at Rails End Gallery as well as at the high school. HHSS continues to host clubs and sporting activities and brings in multiple community partners including Haliburton Highlands Health Services to engage with students through the school’s guidance department. A school climate survey, administered by the Ministry of Education every two years, launches this week, and provides students, parents and later teachers and school staff the opportunity to answer an anonymous survey about the atmosphere in school surrounding both bullying and mental health.
“We can drill down and have a look at, within one school, how are [students] feeling regarding bullying or school climate, it asks around specific questions for measures for anxiety, it asks around measures for school involvement, caring adults, so each of our schools will be able to use this data as far as forward planning as well based on really hearing that student voice,” said MacIver.
But still, community agencies agreed that not one agency is isolated in being able to help youth in difficult times and that involvement from the community as a whole is necessary.
“I think as a community what we really need to do and what we’re trying to do together is pull the community and work with the community, the youth, the service clubs, the providers in the community to figure out what can we do for youth and what are they asking for,” said Cox.
“Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time talking with youth about what do they really see as high priority in our community and they’re saying, resoundingly, that they don’t feel like they have the big kind of recreation space opportunities that other communities have. Other communities might have a Y or a Boys and Girls Club or Parks and Rec facility where they could come together. And what they’re asking for is a safe space. A space where they can come together, that they can help co-create and that they can get involved in. And getting involved feeling like they have some control, feeling like they have some respect and an opportunity to be together and be supported by caring adults including themselves, is really the road map to helping us heal our community.”
“That lack of a gathering space actually exacerbates the impacts that social media has, because it becomes really the way to connect,” said Stephanie MacLaren, VP of community services for the Haliburton Highlands Health Services.
“What we’re finding with social media is that our students are having a hard time getting away from it,” said MacIver.
“It’s heightened, and then it’s hyped up because you’re physically in isolation as well,” said Cox.
Cox also said that parents might be feeling their teen needs more space and tend to back away from them at that age, but that the human brain continues to form up to the age of about 25.
“It can be easy to disengage with your teenager, but it’s more important than ever to find a way in,” she said. “Whether it’s just sitting beside them if they’re more introverted and not wanting to talk. But to be with them, to have more face to face time, try to find more ways to have time together. One of the things that people have found is that increased parent time with their teen has really helped teens feel more supported and help mitigate isolation and really help give teens and adolescents the type of foundation that’s helpful into adulthood.”
MacIver said the TLDSB takes their bullying prevention and intervention procedure seriously, and that if something is reported, it gets investigated. She said the best case scenario would be that students have a relationship with adults in the building, who have a legal responsibility to report bullying. The school also has an anonymous reporting mechanism on their website, and many instances get reported from parents contacting the school directly.
“We know that in situations where bullying occurs, that sometimes it means that the person that’s doing the bullying has learned about it because they’ve been bullied themselves,” said Cox. “There’s very often bystanders, and we know the importance of trying to encourage people not to be complicit in the bullying by being silent, we want people to be taking action. Everybody in this community has a role and a responsibility.”
“In our high schools we tend to talk about bullying more as harassment because there’s a legal piece to this as well,” said MacIver. “When there is clear harassment and students are being clearly bullied and harassed, those are things we work with our police partners on as well.”
“The OPP works very closely with our education and community partners to deliver, where required, proactive messaging to promote mental health awareness and we support safe and positive learning environments,” said Const. Dianna Dauphinee. “And should an incident take place, we will always carry out thorough and detailed investigations – when laws are broken, criminal charges will be laid and it is up to the judicial system to interpret the work that has been done by the police and rule accordingly. We encourage victims of bullying to report these incidents to police. We won’t know there is a problem, if we don’t hear from the victims.”
“If parents have youth or if youth are struggling significantly, individually, there are support services out there,” said MacLaren. “There’s really no wrong door to reach out – to your family doctor, to Point in Time, to mental health services – that will make sure they get connected with the proper support.”
“We really encourage people to try and make Haliburton County as an inclusive and accepting community as possible, where people respect each other, people care about each other, people reach out to support each other and that we all come together to create a better community for our youth,” said Cox.
Twenty-four hour, free and confidential crisis support is available via Four County Crisis by calling 705-745-6484 or 1-866-995-9933.
Emotional & Behavioural Signs of Being Bullied
Afraid to go to school or other activities
Appears anxious or fearful
Low self-esteem and makes negative comments
Complains of feeling unwell (headaches and stomach aches)
Lower interest in activities and lower performance at school
Loses things, needs money, reports being hungry after school
Injuries, bruising, damaged clothing or articles
Appears unhappy, irritable
Trouble sleeping, nightmares
Threats to hurt themselves or others
May appear isolated from the peer group
Relationship Signs of Being Bullied
Parents may be overprotective, restrictive
Siblings may bully child at home
Lonely and isolated at school
Few friends at school or in neighbourhood
Teachers may be unaware of child’s strengths and challenges and therefore unresponsive to needs
Few opportunities to shine and show talents at home, school or in the community (positive power)
Emotional & Behavioural Signs of Bullying Others
Aggressive with parents, siblings, pets, and friends
Low concern for others’ feelings
Bossy and manipulative behaviour
Unexplained objects or money
Secretive about possessions and activities
Holds a positive view of aggression
Easily frustrated and quick to anger
Does not recognize impact of his/her behaviour
Relationship Signs of Bullying Others
Parents may model use of power and aggression by yelling, hitting or rejecting child
Parents may model use of power and aggression with each other
Siblings may bully child at home
Child has friends who bully and are aggressive
Child has trouble standing up to peer pressure
Teachers or coaches may model use of power and aggression by yelling, excluding or rejecting
Few opportunities to shine and show talents at home, school or in the community (positive power)
Four County Crisis
Mental Health Helpline
(24-7 health services information)
Point in Time