Cyberbullying a growing concern for younger generation

Katie Tower
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New community program officer hopes to address issue with education, awareness

Cyberbulling is becoming an increasing problem in today's society, especially among teens. Sackville's new community program officer, Amélie Jarvis-Lavoie, is hosting an information session on cyberbullying on Wednesday, Sept. 18 (tonight) at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at town hall.

SACKVILLE, N.B. – We hear it in the news every day. Young teens, particularly teenage girls, ending their lives way too soon because of the incessant harassment and torment they can’t seem to get away from on social networking sites.

Cyberbullying-linked suicides are on the rise in Canada, a situation that is becoming a growing concern for today’s youth and their parents, who are starting to see the tragic impact of what can sometimes happen when kids are connected online.

From cruel Facebook posts to nasty text messages or threatening e-mails, sometimes the online assaults can become overwhelming for some teens, who simply can’t control how quickly this information can spread over the Internet.

“It can be terrifying,” says Amélie Jarvis-Lavoie, Sackville’s new community program officer (CPO) with the RCMP.

And why is this bullying so different today than it was years ago, when kids were told to brush it off as part of growing up, when “it was called building character, you were told to toughen up.”?

Jarvis-Lavoie says with schoolyard bullying, students who are teased or mocked in the hallways or on the playground can try to avoid the abuse by avoiding the bully or even deal with the harassment head on and hopefully nip it in the bud quickly. And they can, at the very least, get away from the bullying when they are at home.

With cyberbullying, that’s not so easy. The Internet has no delete button – once something is posted online, it is out there for everyone to see, to be saved, downloaded or shared.

“It doesn’t go away . . . the hurt, the pain, the insults can follow someone around 24/7,” she says. “When something’s posted online, you can’t control where it goes.”

As well, because of the capacity for some bullies to hide under the safety of anonymity on a number of social networking sites, it’s even easier for some teens to become the target of incredibly hurtful comments – things people would not always have the courage to say if they didn’t have that protection.

“They can’t see the direct impact they’re having on someone else,” says Jarvis-Lavoie.

But there is help out there. Cyberbullying can be prevented and both adults and teens can take proper steps to try and avoid the harassment.

“Absolutely everybody can have an impact on the war against bullying,” she says.

Education and awareness are the keys to start targeting this growing problem.

People need to start talking about it and not ignore what is happening with our youth.

“If you see something, step in,” she says.

Or if that’s not always possible – for example if a peer is too nervous to confront the bully – at least talk to the victim afterward to let them know that what the bully has said to them is wrong.

Jarvis-Lavoie says one of the main reasons teens bully is because they think it improves their social status.

“It’s a control thing, a popularity thing . . . they feel they’ve got one up on the victim.”

But if more teens stand up and let bullies know they’re not okay with their behaviour, it could reduce the incidences of online harassment. As well, youths need to understand that ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ the nasty posts also contributes to the bullying so they can be part of the problem as well.

“Social media is not the problem, it’s the way people are using it,” she says.

For teens that are being bullied now, Jarvis-Lavoie says there are measures they can take to make the situation better.

“First of all, talk to an adult. Parents, a teacher, a guidance counselor . . . someone you can confide in.”

She says sometimes kids are afraid to tell their parents about a situation because they don’t want the privilege of the Internet being taken away. So parents, remind your children they can talk to you without threatening to remove their online privileges – instead learn how they are using social media and teach them about the dangers of posting certain information online.

Teens can also save messages they feel are of a threatening or insulting nature and they can also block anyone who is bullying them, says Jarvis-Lavoie. If they feel they’ve been physically threatened, they can also contact police.

In an effort to educate the public on this issue, Jarvis-Lavoie will be hosting an information session on cyberbullying on Wednesday, Sept. 18 (tonight) at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at town hall.

“It is a public forum so anyone who would like to know a little more about bullying is welcome to come.”

As part of her CPO role, Jarvis-Lavoie said she will have her own office space at Tantramar Regional High School to talk to local youth about this issue, as well as many others, and says her door is always open to anyone at any time.

She says she hopes to learn more about how often cyberbullying is happening amongst our youth and to try and get the message across, through presentations at the middle and high school level, so bullies can recognize what they’re doing and stop the harassment and so victims can get the help they might need.

Organizations: RCMP, Tantramar Regional High School

Geographic location: Canada

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