To eliminate bullying, we need to let the bullies know that we think what they are doing is wrong
Today is Pink Shirt Day in Canada. All across the country young people will don pink shirts to send a message to stop bullying. The time has come for all of us to redouble our efforts to stop bullying by getting involved.
Bullying is rampant in Canada. Research suggests that between 20 per cent and 60 per cent of Canadian students are bullied, with younger students more likely to be bullied than older ones. Depending on the age group, up to 40 per cent say they have bullied a fellow student.
Thousands of kids are picked on, insulted, beat up and called derogatory names each day for anything perceived as being "different." Bullied victims are between two and nine times more likely to consider suicide, more than 14 per cent of high school students have considered suicide, seven per cent have attempted it and 4,400 take their own lives in the United States alone each year.
Pink Shirt Day began in September 2007 at Central Kings high school in Cambridge, N.S., when a ninth grader arrived wearing a pink polo shirt. He was bullied mercilessly by a group of 12th graders who told him if he ever wore a pink shirt again he'd pay for it. When two seniors, David Shepherd and Travis Price, got wind of what happened, they had an idea. They purchased 50 pink shirts and tank-tops and sent out messages inviting as many kids as possible to wear them to school. Not only did they easily distribute the shirts, but almost 300 students showed up dressed in pink, some from head to toe. One of the bullies saw the sea of pink and threw a trash can in protest, but as Shepherd would say later, not a peep was heard from the bullies after that day. The story was picked up by the national media and later overseas as well. Today there are schools around the world that hold annual Pink Shirt Days, all because two Canadian Grade 12 students decided to step up and lead.
But five years later we desperately need more people to step up, and not just one day a year. If you're a parent, teacher or friend, you can watch for signs that indicate a child is being bullied: depression, changes in sleeping or eating habits, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, social withdrawal or negative self-talk such as "I wish I were dead." Be vigilant. Inquire. Let them know you care. Encourage them to tell adults. And of course, intervene when you see or hear any behaviour that belittles another. You don't have to be a parent, or hold a position of leadership such as a teacher, to intervene. Any-one can stop it.
One element of bullying that we don't talk enough about is the need for parents of teens who do the bullying to take responsibility. After some recent suicides, I have heard stories of the bullies posting comments and even showing up at funerals to say how glad they are about the suicide. Where are the parents of these kids?
We tend to think of bullying as physical acts, but much of bullying today is more subtle and carried out through social media, increasingly with girls as much as boys. Parents need to look for ANY sign of lack of tolerance in their own children - we need to check it, deal with it, even if it seems harmless, because it is NOT harmless.
This is not just "kids being kids" and this permissive attitude among parents is part of the problem.
When I was a teen, I bullied a kid once and when my mother caught wind of it she read me the riot act. It never happened again.
Pink Shirt Day is a reason for Canadian pride as there are Pink Shirt Days in many parts of the world, including the United States, because two of our best decided to act. But the problem is still growing and it is time for a national campaign to end it. Norway had such a national campaign, significantly reducing bullying.
Edmund Burke once said, "All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing." The con-verse is also true: All that is required to change things is for more of us - parents, teens and bystanders - to step up, speak up, and let our voices be heard.
John Izzo is the author of Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything.