|Daryl Meyers, youth outreach coordinator at Pathways Addictions Resource Centre talks to students regularly about cyber-bullying and the dangers of freely sharing information to an online audience. |
Fifteen years ago a Saanich teenager named Reena Virk was swarmed, beaten and drowned by a group of teenagers.
In spite of the time span between the two girls' deaths, both were victims of relentless bullying which has caused some people Ð including Virk's mother Ð to question how much, if anything, has changed to try to stop these extreme incidents from happening.
Daryl Meyers, youth outreach coordinator at Pathways Addictions Resource Centre makes presentations at schools to talk about bullying and cyber-bullying to students as young as Grade 3.
Meyers feels today's bully is no different than those from previous generations except the cyber-bully has replaced the face-to-face bully and victims now have a much greater challenge in escaping the taunting and teasing due to the proliferation of online activity.
One of the primary influences with this newer form of bullying is the rapid popularity of smartphones which make it quick and easy to post information away from a parent's supervision.
Meyers said children and teenagers who have their own phone literally have the world at their fingertips but the biggest problem is, they don't understand or consider the consequences of their online footprint.
While social networks sites such as Facebook remain popular among students, she's been witnessing a shift towards Twitter and the practice of "sexting" (sending sexual images via texting).
"They might think that it's private," said Meyers who proved to a female group of high school students that it's easy to access photos posted online.
At a recent presentation she surprised students by revealing photos she'd found of them on FacebookÑeven though she wasn't friends with any of them.
Although students think they're sending a picture to a close friend or perhaps a boyfriend, in reality unless they've got their privacy settings adjusted properly the photos are being viewed by not only their friends but their friends' friends and so on.
Meyers pointed to earlier generations when bullying required someone to come face-to-face with their intended victim and in some instances it wasn't worth the effort so nothing transpired.
Today, a student who takes issue with another student can post negative or hurtful comments online in the blink of an eye.
Not only does this make it easier to bully someone but it also removes them from understanding the consequences of their actions.
Meyers noted that an incident of physical bullying might result in some scrapes and bruises which heal quickly whereas online bullying is permanent and hurt feelings might linger forever.
She feels if a parent is giving their child a piece of technology then that parent must educate themselves as best as possible on how to use it. For youngsters, they need to learn online etiquette, the dark side of sharing photos and other information and the indelible effects their actions can have on another individual.
She also raised concerns about the TV programs youngsters watch because every reality and comedy show is riddled with negative comments posted about another person.
"They always put people down," she said. "When kids are watching that how do they know what's appropriate behaviour?"
Meyers acknowledged that cyber-bullying is a difficult, but not impossible issue to tackle.
She feels the best way to approach the issue of cyber-bullying is first, for parents to assume a greater role in how their child is using technology.
From there it's vital to involve school staff, the school district and other community stakeholders to address the topic early when students are at the elementary school age-about Grade 3 or 4.
Coming Tuesday: Educators addressing issue.