Kids can be mean. In fact, they can be vicious.
They scare their peers, their siblings, and we have even seen them terrify adults.
National calls for bullying awareness and school initiatives are not working. If they were, Saskatchewan teen Todd Loik’s epitaph wouldn’t read: bullied to death.
Loik is the latest casualty in the war against bullies. His name will be added to the list alongside the fatal bullying cases of 11-year-old Mitchell Wilson, 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, 15-year-old Amanda Todd and 17-year-old Rehteah Parsons.
Bullies have already made their choice to be mean — to be destructive.
When the viral YouTube video Todd released before her death surfaced, the Canadian government pledged a crackdown on bullies. Federal Justice Minister Peter Mackay stood up last month to promote Conservative-led legislation that would target cyberbulling. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made similar comments about fast-tracking anti-bullying laws this past spring.
In the meantime, as the legislation remains in the drafting stages, outreach groups have been formed, kids guest-lecture each other about bullying and celebrity-fronted awareness posters plaster hallways and classroom windows
It’s not working.
Too much focus is put on bullies. Bullies have already made their choice to be mean — to be destructive.
Their would-be victims, however, are still deciding what path they are going to take. They need to be reached first so they make a life-altering, not life-ending, decision.
Kids have access to more sophisticated ways of tormenting each other and get better with practice. A scribbled note in a locker 10 years ago is now a relentless and co-ordinated barrage of hate mail on every social media platform available.
Loik was the apparently random target of two years of playground taunts that escalated into a full-fledged cyber attack. No one, especially Loik, knew why, but the bullies at school singled him out and no amount of pleading, outreach programming or teacher presence seemed to stop them.
If the bullies won’t be stopped — or can’t be stopped — it’s time to teach the victims how to survive.
Adolescence is about learning the skills that will help you get through life. Just as important as math, science or English, is teaching kids how to deal with the ever-present ignorance and cruelty of other people.
Parents should constantly provide support, yes, but also space. Kids can’t rely on their parents forever and often a child handling a bully on their own is more effective than an adult intervening and becoming a lifeline for the victim.
Life is filled with challenging, aggressive and belligerent personalities. If kids don’t learn to cope, they are being set up for failure as adults.
Kids should be allowed to fall down, to scrape their knees and stand back up on their own. It’s a lesson in tough love, but parents need to learn to step back and support their child so they can learn to support themselves.
Encourage them to forge friendships outside of school. Show them there is a larger, more interesting world that they will join one day. Tell them they should never measure their worth in things other people say.
It is imperative they understand braces aren’t forever, acne scars fade over time and bullies become spectres in yearbooks.
Their future is the light at the end of the tunnel.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on October 9, 2013.