Nick Ross knows childhood bullying isn’t what it used to be, as social media, anonymous apps and other tools make it difficult for many parents and teachers to keep up, let alone take action.
But as the Saanich Police Department’s school liaison supervisor, Ross is literally paid to keep up with the latest technology and lingo, so he can stay ahead of the bullying curve.
“When someone was having trouble at school, they used to go home and it may not start until the next day. But with online stuff, they can go home, log into their computer or check an app and suddenly, there’s 10 more messages that are targeting them,” Ross said. “It’s really taken away that safe haven and the impact is so much more widespread.”
Ross and his fellow officers are donning appropriate attire today for Pink Shirt Day, an annual anti-bullying initiative that began in Nova Scotia in 2007 and has since spread to more than 25 countries.
A major component in Saanich PD’s fight against bullying in schools is the WITS program, a national anti-bullying education campaign that began in 1993 at Esquimalt’s Lampson elementary. The acronym stands for Walk away, Ignore, Talk it out, Seek help.
“We’re trying to get everybody to use a common language, and to understand that getting help is normative,” said University of Victoria psychologist Bonnie Leadbeater, WITS Programs principal investigator.
“And that includes educating adults to not say, ‘You’re tattling, that’s wrong,’” Leadbeater said.
Today, the Kindergarten to Grade 6 programs have spread to more than 600 schools across Canada and the U.S., with a unique model that pairs online resources with learning plans and books.
“WITS is totally online. We’ve identified about 50 books that deal with peer conflicts, and most of them are in school libraries at this point. Teachers then use a lesson plan to connect those books to the program,” Leadbeater said.
The partnership with local police agencies and the RCMP is what makes the program so successful, she said. Police teach the WITS basics then “deputize” kids to uphold the values as they go through their day.
While Ross is pleased with the level of anti-bullying support, he said there’s still a long way to go to educate both kids and parents.
“It’s so tough to be a parent as well, because you have to make a commitment to be aware of what’s out there and how quickly it changes,” he said.
Ross often dismays when parents complain about their kids being on a smartphone or electronic device all day.
“One of the hardest things for me to hear is when parents say, ‘I don’t know anything about my kid’s phone and what they do on it.’ It’s like dropping your 10-year-old off at the mall without having any discussion about it. Are you going to just open the door and not have a curfew, or are you going to ask who they’re meeting, what time they’ll be back? Online activity has to be viewed in the same light,” Ross said.
Leadbeater said WITS includes plenty of cyberbullying resources on media literacy, internet literacy and to address parent concerns.
“In this age group, kids are really just getting exposure to cellphones and the internet,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to help kids understand what the role of the internet is.”
The majority of kids online use social media and other apps in a positive way, Leadbeater stressed.
“Cyberbullying is not that different from traditional bullying. It’s just a new tool for how to be mean. But the incidents of kids who use them for cruel means is not huge.”
Saanich Police Chief Bob Downie said police involvement in anti-bullying campaigns helps police showcase being positive role models by treating people with respect, regardless of their circumstances.
“It’s important for us to show compassion in our dealings with others. It is so easy for all of us to show support for Pink Shirt Day as a way to build safer communities by standing up against bullying,” Downie said.
To learn more about the WITS program, visit witsprogram.ca. See more about Pink Shirt Day fundraisers at pinkshirtday.ca.
Did you know?
- The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria is holding its annual Youth United Anti-Bullying Film Festival today at École Victor-Brodeur. Youth create 30-second public service announcements that give creative and unique anti-bullying messages.