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Developing Thick Skin

By Jaskirat Sahni, 25 Jul, 2019
  • Developing Thick Skin

Make your child safe, aware and bullyproof

Since 2008, kids across Canada proudly sport a bright pink t-shirt each year in February, to celebrate Pink Shirt Day. This is a movement started by the anti-bullying advocate and trailblazer Travis Price, after seeing a classmate get bullied when he was wearing a pink shirt to school. With thousands of people joining in and believing in this cause, we are stepping foot in the right direction when it comes to standing strong against bullies. However, there is a lot of work yet to be done to equip children with the tools, understanding and confidence they need to create a safe and bully-free environment.

Often, the concept of bullying comes with many stereotypes and predispositions of what a bully-victim relationship looks like. For instance, a bully is often portrayed as someone who is big, powerful, and overall a terrible person; whereas the victim is thought to be someone who is weak or timid. These stereotypes are also portrayed in media, books, cinema and other outlets which contribute to a misunderstanding of bullying. Bullying is something that can happen to anyone and the focus should be on the act of bullying itself, rather than the character of those involved.

For instance, a recent act of bullying transpired at Fraser Heights Secondary, where a group of teenagers forced a student, Paul Pederson, to kiss one of the attacker’s shoes, and was then kicked in the face. After some investigation, it was soon found that the attacker himself had also been attacked a few days prior to the incident. Pederson’s father said, “No one wants to see their children get hurt. Something bad is going to happen if we don’t stop this now.” Many times, “mob mentality” takes place, where one person initiates the bullying and others join in, feeling they should not be left out. Other times, bullying transpires because the attacker wants to “feel powerful or lacks self-confidence,” even though they may actually feel insecure on the inside. Whatever the reason it may be, bullying needs to be tackled quickly and efficiently to ensure it is not just stopped temporarily, but that a permanent solution can be found.

Izzy Kalman, a school psychologist and author of Bullies to Buddies: How to Turn Your Enemies Into Friends, puts forth a unique take on how children can deal with bullying. He says “the golden rule is to treat the person insulting you as a friend rather than an enemy, and not to get defensive or upset.” This method takes the focus away from labelling children as a “bully” or “coward” or “weak”, and instead puts emphasis on understanding how to solve problems independently. Rather than reacting instinctively, children can use words to their advantage, as they are a powerful tool which can help take control of the situation.

For example, if someone decides to body shame a child by saying things like “You are so fat!” the instantaneous response may be to retort back with “I am not fat! Shut up!” Instead, Kalman suggests saying “I like my body, but if you don’t that’s okay.” By doing this, the child who is being “victimized” has now taken control of the situation, and is not allowing the attacker to continue with the name-calling or body-shaming. Similarly, if a group of children decide to pick on a child and try to force them into doing something they are uncomfortable with, rather than reacting defensively and yelling back at them, an alternative approach could be saying, “No thank you, I am not interested. If you would like to do that, it is up to you. I won’t stop you.”

There are circumstances where bullying can be accompanied with violence or unsafe behaviours, in which case stricter measures need to be taken to handle the situation. The RCMP are key partners in bullying prevention and investigation in schools, and also offer support such as the Surrey RCMP Parent Helpline to provide assistance to parents who are concerned of more severe cases of bullying or violence. Through this helpline, intervention services, youth counsellors, and specialized youth support is available.

Along with these resources, Constable El Sturko from the Surrey RCMP Media Relations Unit states, “the value which comes from the support and guidance of families shouldn’t be underestimated. We encourage parents and guardians to be engaged with their children, to recognize the signs of bullying before concerns escalate. Some of the warning signs of being bullied can include: withdrawal from activities, difficulty concentrating, decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping and signs of depression or anxiety.” In these cases, Surrey School Resource officers can provide additional support to students through partnership with the Surrey School District.

Schools also play a huge role in advocating for anti-bullying. For instance, Gurpreet Bains, department head of modern languages at LA Matheson Secondary, shares “at our school, we live by the motto See Something, Say Something. We also work to establish a culture of care, compassion, kindness and gratitude as our school’s core values. As teachers, we model these and encourage students to follow with their interactions.” LA Matheson also facilitates programming such as the Identity Program, which allows students to build on their self-confidence and self-appreciation.

Overall, tackling bullying is an ongoing effort and is one that requires collaboration, transparency in communication, and support from multiple mediums. Rochelle Prasad, a youth leader and employee with the City of Surrey, stresses the importance of addressing bullying at home, at school, and as a community. Along with a solid support system from family, “it is important to be a collective support system for the community at large, and to take action when you see bullying occur.” Stand up, speak out, and stop bullying now.

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