Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Efforts aim to curb cyberbullying

Given today is the International Day of Pink, and there has been plenty of focus lately on bullying and cyberbullying, Fort Frances OPP Cst. Anne McCoy offered a presentation on the topic to the local Celebrating Diversity Committee last week.
In it, Cst. McCoy highlighted the strategies being utilized to prevent cyberbullying.

“Bullying may begin at school but cyberbullying follows you home,” she stressed.
“If you are a victim of cyberbullying, then it’s 24/7,” she added. “It’s very hard to escape it and you never feel safe in this type of environment.”
With the local school boards identifying online safety and bullying as top concerns, plenty of effort has gone into preventing and addressing cyberbullying.
This includes using information and resources from Common Sense Media, as well as research by Wayne MacKay, a professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, who has offered significant study and contributions to combating cyberbullying.
MacKay was appointed to the Nova Scotia Task Force on Bullying and Cyberbullying and, as a result of the work he’s done, Nova Scotia is the leading province to actually implement provincial legislation in response to cyberbullying.
“Youth, especially young children, are still in the development of their brains and bodies, and are still in need of teaching to understand how their emotions and their own personal behaviours impact others,” Cst. McCoy noted.
“We still need to teach them how to get along with other people.”
She said people must distinguish between hurtful and unkind behaviour and bullying behaviour.
“Children need parents, teachers, and other adults to show them, and to model, how to be kind to other individuals and how to resolve conflict,” Cst. McCoy explained.
“We need to teach them how to be inclusive and how to grow into responsible adults.
“If we immediately label all behaviours as bullying, then that doesn’t help them grow and learn,” she reasoned.
“We have to take these as teachable moments.”
Cst. McCoy said people have to remember that there will be times when children will say or do something that is hurtful.
“Unkind behaviour shouldn’t be ignored, but we have to be careful not to lump all inappropriate behaviour into bullying,” she stressed, noting the OPP and school boards use several tools to determine and define bullying.
“There is definition under the Education Act, and under the Education Act there is a policy/program memorandum,” she said.
The Education Act is legislation that provides direction with policy and guidance to school boards in order to help them with bullying prevention and intervention.
“The legislation ensures a whole school approach, so it includes students, staff, community, and parents,” Cst. McCoy said.
Under the legislation, bullying “means aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a pupil where behaviour is intended to cause harm, fear, or distress to another individual, including physical, psychological, social, or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation, or harm to the individual’s property.”
It includes creating a negative environment at a school for another individual, as well as a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on a number of factors.
Cst. McCoy conceded the definition is quite broad and quite in depth.
It also indicates that “bullying” includes the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written, or other means.
There also is a definition for cyberbullying, which includes “creating a web page or a blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person; impersonating another person as the author of content or messages posted on the Internet; and communicating material electronically to more than one individual or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more individuals.”
“It also includes teachable moments—it’s right in the legislation,” Cst. McCoy said.
“It really gives a lot of power and guidance to the [school] boards and their community partners to help determine and investigate what the behaviour is and whether we are going to see it as inappropriate behaviour or bullying.”
She noted the OPP Respect Technology campaign comes under the legislation as “Programs, Intervention, and Other Supports.”
“It’s a multi-prong approach,” Cst. McCoy explained, noting you have education, such as the provincial legislation, which provides schools and community partners with guidance and policies through the Education Act, PPM, Code of Conduct.
They also utilize conflict mediation/resolution, restorative justice conferences, anti-bullying programs, and referrals (mental health supports or victim services).
Then law enforcement agencies utilize the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Criminal Code of Canada.
“We need to investigate each and every incident as a community,” Cst. McCoy stressed, citing, for example, when school administrators look at a scenario, they investigate using the guidelines and policies to complete the documentation that is laid out very clearly in the legislation.
“If they deem it necessary, they will engage the community partners,” she said, clarifying that community partners fall under the school board’s mandate to consult and develop evidence-based practices.
“They have Special Education Advisory Committees, social service agencies, mental health agencies, and other appropriate groups,” Cst. McCoy explained.
“They have bullying prevention and intervention plans that are reviewed at least once every two years or more.
“All of that is there. It is a very solid base,” she added.
Cst. McCoy shared some studies documented by MacKay. One reported that 28 percent of students said they saw online bullying and did not intervene.
“Why don’t thy intervene?” she asked. “There are a number of reasons they don’t report—fear of reprisal, fear of parents taking away technology, fear that no one will do anything.
“The OPP Respect Technology is trying to gain some credibility with the school body, the students, to let them know of where they can go to,” she added.
Another report stated that 84 percent of parents said their child would tell them if they were being bullied online while just eight percent of students said they would inform their parents of online bullying.
Cst. McCoy noted the Respect Technology campaign has created a multi-media presentation to share with students, using lessons plans from Common Sense Media, teaching they students to be upstanding.
She encourages parents to visit www.commonsense.org for tips and videos about Internet safety, privacy and security, relationships and communication, cyberbullying, digital footprints and reputation, self-image and identity, information literacy, and creative credit and copyright.
It offers a curriculum for Grades K-12, as well as for parents, families, and educators.
Cst. McCoy also urges communities to help.
“Promoting ethical behaviour either online or in the media is very crucial,” she stressed.
“Kids are reading the newspapers, they are reading online blogs, they are paying attention.”
She added communities can encourage empathy and common sense, promote netiquette and cyber-kindness, open dialogue on Internet use, and “walk the walk.”
“It’s very important that if we are going to expect a respectful community, that we model it for them,” Cst. McCoy said.

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