By Ramona Jennex
There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing a child.
Add to that the anguish that comes when that child takes his or her own life, the many questions that will forever go unanswered, and one can only imagine the heightened sense of loss.
In recent days we have all shared in the grief of one family and a school community, who lost a promising young student to suicide, her death blamed in part to online bullying.
Cyberbullying is an area that needs more attention and many people are working together to address this insidious and damaging phenomenon. Although the Department of Education and school boards have a significant role to play in finding solutions, we need society at large to step up, speak out and work as one to find solutions.
We take bullying, in all its forms, seriously.
The department and boards have done a great deal of work addressing the complexities that surround bullying. Boards have restricted student access to social media sites during school hours, as well as prohibiting the use of cellphones during class time. We have highlighted online bullying in the provincial school code of conduct, and we are addressing issues of violence in our health education curriculum. We are also using various approaches to improve behaviour, such as Positive Effective Behavioural Supports and Comprehensive Guidance and Counselling.
But as we move forward into the digital age, we must work even harder to keep pace with the technology children and adults now have at their disposal.
Victims and Bystanders
We also need to address the roles that all the participants play when bullying occurs - that includes not only the bully and the victim, but the bystanders, as well. Clearly we need to respond to those victimized by bullying. Our students victimized by bullying need to recognize they are being victimized and where they can turn to get support; bullies need to recognize the impact of their actions and on-lookers need to speak up. Participating or being silent is a part of bullying. Although bullying may appear to be a simple problem, it is in fact a complex problem with no easy solution.
Because of the technology available today, bullies can intimidate using a cellphone and a computer. In other words, the bully can effectively enter the victim's home. The anonymity of the Internet compounds the impact. One person can create many messages, making it seem like a group.
We must work together, share ideas, and educate about bullying and the Internet. We need to provide the opportunity for communities to formulate practical and effective solutions. My department is prepared to take a lead role. I want to discuss with school boards, principals, teachers and all Nova Scotians how we can build on what we are already doing.
If we do not stand together on this, to name it and speak up, it will remain hidden. And more lives will be lost. Schools can only do so much. This is a societal problem that requires a societal response. We cannot allow any more suffering. We cannot allow any more tragedies.
Ramona Jennex is Nova Scotia’s education minister.