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Executive Director's Blog

Sarah Cannon

Follow the journey and goings on at PCMH along with Executive Director, Sarah Cannon, as she blogs about issues we all face, the advocacy/social awareness campaign trail and much more.

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Since the event in St. Thomas where Barbara Coloroso presented to a community where over 500 people attended to learn about bullying, I have been hearing so many stories about struggles our children face with bullying. Sadly, my daughter has not been immune to this either. For whatever reason, it seems that children with mental illness seem to be more vulnerable and more likely to be targets of bullies. Barbara Coloroso speaks alot of the difference between teasing and taunting - that alone summed it up quite nicely for me. It is true that kids, adults, friends, co-workers, family members, spouses etc etc tease. In fact, it is argued that teasing is actually a healthy component of any realtionship, BUT, there is a difference between teasing and taunting - and bullying is taunting. It is not in good fun, it is not mutual, and it is definitely not building a healthy relationship. It is all about power, and making oneself feel better at the expense of another. However, for me, that gets lost - I do not understand how making one feel small can translate into someone feeling bigger or better.

What continues to astound me though is how we (and by we I mean society) handles bullies, and the whole issue. I had a conversation in St. Thomas with a woman who heads the London Anti-Bullying Coalition, and we briefly touched on the issue of the bystanders - those kids who do not say anything, but stand witness to it, and do nothing. I understand completely the arguement surrounding that the bystanders are as guilty as the bullies, but at the same time, I think of situations where we as adults are witness to bullying, and do we act the same way we are asking our children to act? Here is an example that really struck home for me, and frankly has been bothering me since it happened. This past weekend I was sitting outside on my front porch with my girlfriend. It was early evening, and we were chatting, when from across the road - two houses down from mine, with all the windows shut, we could hear quite clearly the man of the household yelling, and using profanities, at his wife. It was horrible - he went on and on, swearing at her, being unkind, and we sat there. We both commented on how awful that was, and if we could hear it so clearly across the road how loud it must have been inside that house. Yet, I did not walk over to the house and tell him - that is mean, that is cruel, and it is not acceptable - which is what I tell my children to say if they happen to be witness to a verbal attack on a fellow student. No, I sat and thought to myself how awful I felt for that woman, and justified that it was none of my business and that if I were having a fight with someone in my family I would not need busy body neighbours sticking their nose in.

So - am I any different than a bystander on a schoolyard? Was this a case of do as I say not as I do? Is it comparable?

I guess in my mind I thought - well this is none of my business - if he were hitting her it would be completely different - maybe this is normal for them and how their relationship works, who am I to judge. Then I think about the response I sometimes get from my daughter's school in response to bullying - there was no physical harm done - sometimes girls are just mean to one another - I am sure by next week they will be best of friends. Was my justification for not stepping in any different really from what the school says to me when I address what I consider bullying? I honestly do not know the answer. However, I believe the answer is yes - I made the same justifications for myself that I battle against. If my neighbours arguement was the bully at school and one of our children, and I were the school - I would have expected there to be action on my part demonstrating that the behaviour of the bully was intolerable and would not be stood for - I would be angered at the school for making excuses for their lack of action, and stating that if it were physical abuse it would be a different matter - abuse is abuse right? Well, it wasn't for me in that instant. Ask yourself in the same situation what you would have done - would you have gone to the door and interjected, or would you have stayed out of it.

If we are truly going to address bullying, then I think we have to think about it not just as a situation that goes on on playgrounds and with children, but all around us - we encounter bullies at our work, in our social circles, and sometimes in our relationships. Do we stop the bullying, or do we treat it as part of social behaviour that we all have to learn to deal with? Perhaps, if we as adults start demonstrating to our children and modelling for them how to actively disarm bullies, and how the consequences matter less to us than standing up to those bullies, they would feel more confident in applying the lessons we teach, not only because we speak those lessons, but we also model and enact on them as well.

I am going to make a committment to address any bullying of any type, because if I myself am not prepared to actively stand up against it - how can I ask others to actively act against it? If we all made this committment, we could quite possibly see a social change in behaviour - perhaps bullies who are raising bullies and are completely unaware of the cycle they are perpetuating would decrease, because the more they bully the more they have society stating they do not accept it, forcing them to change their behaviour, which in turn is modelling new behaviour for their children. If we are out and stand up to a bully and our children are with us, perhaps we teach through example and the next time they are on the playground they too stand up for a target of a bully, and then this too will have impact.

I think to some degree society created the heirachy of the bully and it is society's obligation to contribute to changing and realigning this heiarchy.

Add comment 2010-06-15 Sarah Cannon

Sarah you raise some interesting points. I too had an interesting situation recently. One of my neighbours is well known for telling the children in the neighbourhood how they should behave and giving them "lectures". Well one day she gave my son a lecture in front of other adults and kids. The other adults present felt that she was way out of line. But no adult said anything. One of the adults present spoke to me after, to warn me that my son might be upset. I spoke to the neighbour who had given my son the lecture to tell her that what she did was unacceptable. But it was hard for me to do that. It made me wonder...How many times have I not stood up for a child that was being bullied by an adult . How many times have I let an adult get away with bullying my child because it was easier to say nothing. I have resolved now to be more aware of both situations. Thanks for bringing up this topic. Donna

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Thumbs up to you all, awesome job! … Member, PCMH