Bullying conference a worthwhile experience

A recent bullying conference in Ottawa was an emotional and educational experience for two local members of the Rainy River Valley Safety Coalition.
Crystal Godbout and OPP Cst. Caroline Spencer both attended the three-day conference in late March.
“Our job was to bring back info to help tackle bullying,” Cst. Spencer noted.
The goal of the event was to raise awareness of bullying, inform people about different programs that are being used to prevent it, and highlight the importance of the involvement of youth.
The conference was called “Bullying: Beyond Rhetoric,” and was organized by Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa (CAYFO), a group made up mostly of youth.
Nearly every adult remembers incidents of bullying from their school days, but parents are no longer taking it lying down.
“The difference now is adults have said it’s not a part of growing up,” Cst. Spencer said.
The issue of bullying is one close to to her heart, not just as a community services officer with the local OPP, but also as a former victim of bullying.
“I was bullied badly in school because I went to school in England, so I was bullied for being Canadian,” she noted.
The advice she got at the time was to ignore the bullies.
“They said, ‘Just ignore them and they’ll stop.’ But it doesn’t stop,” she said. “The Safety Coalitioin wants to try to help it to stop.”
Cst. Spencer noted the anti-bullying curriculums adopted by both local school boards are an important step in educating children and staff about the effects of bullying and how to stop it.
The conference presented some other ideas and programs to use to support the curriculum.
One of the most emotional presentations was from Peter Yarrow from the music group Peter, Paul, and Mary. Yarrow talked about his experiences being bullied as a youth, and introduced his anti-bullying program, “Operation Respect.”
“He had most people in tears after the first five minutes,” Cst. Spencer said.
Yarrow sang a anti-bullying song, “Don’t Laugh at Me,” and invited some Grade 7 and 8 students from the Northwest Territories onto the stage with him, where they each talked about their own experiences as victims of bullies.
One child admitted to considering suicide only six months ago.
“When you see that, you see it’s a real problem,” Cst. Spencer said.
An important message the attendees learned from the conference was the need to let children take the lead in the fight against bullying.
“Kids have to talk about their experiences and show their emotions,” she said. “Our goal is not to fix it. We need to empower our youths to deal with it.
“They’re the ones who’ve got things at stake. Kids must be involved,” she added.
Part of the difficulty is that while children are getting the message at school, they are not always getting it at home.
“Kids go home and witness bullying in their own homes or on T.V.,” she noted, adding that a lot of programming on television is based on shaming and ridiculing people, which is a form of bullying.
Another interesting program presented at the conference was one called “Roots of Empahty.” The program is based on the theory that what causes a bully to bully is a lack of empathy.
“They don’t understand how they’re hurting someone else,” Cst. Spencer explained.
Part of the program involves finding a couple in the local school community with a young infant, and have them bring that child in to visit the classroom once a month, and tell the students about the child’s development over time.
It gives students an opportunity to witness a baby’s development over the school year. It also reinforces connections between students and the community in which they live. And community involvement is key to ending bullying.
“We need to be mobilizing as a community. The goal is to make the Rainy River District a bullying-free zone,” she said.
The frightening truth is, bullying has a lasting effect, but on the victim and the bully.
“Children who are bullies are six times more likely to be convicted of a criminal offence,” Cst. Spencer said. “[The violence] continues throughout their lives.”
Cst. Spencer and Godbout are hoping to meet with the Rainy River District School Board to share some of the information they gathered at the conference.