December 12, 2012 will mark Global Bullying Prevention Day. Participating students, teachers and parents are asked to commemorate the day with twelve seconds of silence at 12 PM PST. To honour the event, California legislators have advanced Bill SRC-100 to mark 12/12/12 a Bullying Prevention Day in the state of California. Also promoting that special day is KidsResourse.org and its founder, Gerry Orz.
In the short film available on his website titled Day of Silence, Gerry provides the following message: “My name is Gerry Orz, founder of a non-profit organization, Kids Resource. I am 10 years old and I would like to ask your help in promoting my message all around the world. I have been bullied in school for so many reasons – too tall, gay parents, parent a foreigner, too honest, too Jewish… I refused to feel like a victim but I had the support of my mothers and a brother and my voice was HEARD. Not everyone was so lucky…”
Bullying can take many forms, all of them ugly. Though news stories continue to report bullied students who lash out in violence, be it in the form of suicide or through shooting rampages punishing teachers and students alike, the epidemic of bullying continues. Whether through social ostracism, online harassment, or physical/sexual abuse, the toll bullying can take can be horrendous. And that toll hardly ends when bullied children grow up.
According to psychologist Wendy Craig, children who are victimized and bullied can have long-lasting emotional problems that persist well into adulthood. Craig, a professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, has made a long-time study of the psychological problems associated with bullying. These problems can include clinical depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, eating problems, and substance abuse. Even chronic bulliers are at risk since they are more likely to become delinquents and to engage in physical and sexual harassment of partners as adults.
As part of a nation-wide anti-bullying initiative, the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet) was established in 2006 as a Canada-wide network bringing together youth organizations, government agencies, university researchers, and child health professionals A federal Networks of Centres of Excellence program, PREVNet currently includes 623 expert researchers from 27 different Canadian universities as well as 51 organizations across Canada. There are 85 different projects following PREVNet`s four core focus areas: education about bullying, assessment of the extent of bullying in schools and communities, intervention and prevention strategies, and public policy to keep children safe.
PREVNet’s website presents resources for bullied children and teens, parents, educators, and social service agencies. There is also a blog, news feed, and reports on recent studies of Canadian trends in fostering healthy relationships in children. PREVNet has recently partnered with Facebook to address cyberbullying as part of their “Be Bold Stop Bullying” campaign recently launched in Toronto during Bullying Awareness Week. PREVNet also has a book series available exclusively through the PREVNet site
As one of PREVNet’s two scientific co-directors (along with Dr. Debra Pepler of York University), Wendy Craig is in charge of overseeing PREVNet’s ten “signature projects” to expand the network’s influence to protect children wherever they might be affected by bullying. That includes online bullying and one of the signature projects, carried out in combination with Canada’s Public Health Agency, is establishing the Canadian Best Practices portal, a website with information about tested violence-prevention programs.
“Our partners, educators and other frontline workers now have a place to go to find programs that we know work and have evidence to support their effectiveness”, said Dr. Craig in describing the portal. Another signature project, Walking the Prevention Circle, deals with preventing and treating abuse in Aboriginal children. Though designed for adults, the program helps participants come to terms with their past abuse (a frequently neglected problem in Aboriginal communities) and is now being made available across Canada.
Electronic bullying has become a special focus for PREVNet. Not only have incidents involving using social media to intimidate and harass teens skyrocketed in recent years, but the long-term impact can be even more damaging conventional forms of harassment. According to Dr. Craig, “the experience of being bullied electronically increases the risk for experiencing depression over and above face-to-face bullying.” Many victims of electronic bullying feel unable to escape since sites such as Facebook and Twitter are essential parts of their social functioning. The audience is also potentially huge since humiliating videos or nasty rumours can be seen around the world by millions of strangers.
Although PREVNet’s campaigns have had a wide media presence including taking part in the Family Channel’s StandUp! Campaign and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, public attitudes and behaviours towards bullying are still slow to change. Mobilizing entire communities means getting schools, parent/teacher organizations, and mental health groups to participate and interact with one another. This is especially difficult with controversial topics such as harassment of gay and lesbian children (and conservative groups have attacked anti-bullying campaigns as an infringement on their religious freedoms).
Keeping the legacy of humiliation and abuse from being passed on from one generation to the next is a massive challenge that PREVNet and other organizations are just beginning to address.