Pink Shirt Day is an opportunity to reflect on the harm bullying causes to society, says UVic Prof
Celebrating the 16th anniversary of Pink Shirt Day in BC, a professor offers the day as an opportunity to reflect on the harm caused by bullying, which she believes is at the heart of many of the province’s social issues.
Pink Shirt Day, also known as Anti-Bullying Day, falls on the last Wednesday of February and highlights anti-bullying initiatives in schools across the country.
The day began in 2007 after a 9th grade student in Nova Scotia was bullied for wearing a pink t-shirt to school. The following day, classmates at his school wore pink T-shirts to school in solidarity with the victim.
Every year since then, people have taken part in Pink Shirt Day, wearing pink shirts, tops or bracelets to join the movement against bullying, harassment and violence.
Bonnie Leadbeater, a professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, says bullying underlies many of our social problems, including domestic violence, dating violence, gang violence and teenage suicides.
She says Canada has a “cruel” rank when it comes to bullying.
The UNICEF 2023 report on child welfare in affluent countries found that Canada’s bullying rate ranks 23rd out of 33 countries.
According to Leadbeater, children of the current generation are also more vulnerable to cyberbullying.
“We need proactive, positive approaches to peer conflict and aggression,” she told CBC BC today Hostess Michelle Eliot.
She says parents and teachers should teach cybercommunication etiquette — what she calls the netiquette method.
Teach children empathy
Julie, grandparent, former teacher and resident of Roberts Creek, BC, says one way to build positive interactions between students is to guide them through their behavior.
“I would say, ‘What’s this behavior like? Is this behavior respectful? Do you think this behavior will help people be peaceful?’” she asked. “And the students, I thought, were incredibly honest.”
“I would try to respond to that and relate it to people’s feelings, which is usually why people get bullied, because in a way their own needs aren’t.”
She says that children who bully are often children who are being bullied.
Leadbeater is also the founder of the WITS programme, which talks about what children should do when they are being teased or bullied.
WITS stands for Walk away, Ignore, Talk about it, Seek help.
The program began in Victoria and focuses on the idea of seeking help and encouraging children to open up about their experiences.
“Schools are now more open than they used to be to children’s concerns and complaints, so we better understand that children who are being bullied can benefit from seeking help,” she said.
Kelly, a Kelowna resident, says bullying is also the result of stereotyped expectations.
She says parents should have open conversations with their children about what’s happening in the world and emphasize the importance of empathy and kindness, and embrace the idea that “if I didn’t want this to happen to me, I wouldn’t do it to anyone else.” .”
“Did the parents wear pink shirts to really stimulate the conversation? Like, ‘Oh why are you wearing a pink shirt dad?’” she asks.
While bullying is a genderless problem, Leadbeater says people of different sexual orientations, people with different physical appearances and people from different minority groups are disproportionately affected by bullying.
She says it hurts the children the most, who are still trying to understand themselves.
Leadbeater’s point echoes the province’s motto for this year’s Pink Shirt Day: “Be brave. Be bright. Be you.”
Prime Minister David Eby and Education Minister Rachna Singh said in a statement on Wednesday that the welfare and safety of students and staff in the K-12 education system is the province’s top priority.
“We are committed to ensuring that our schools are places where children of all sexual orientations, gender identities (SOGI) and gender expressions feel safe, accepted and respected.”