OTTAWA – When Dany Morin was being picked on in high school, there was no such thing as Facebook.
The taunting faced by teens these days is far worse that it was 20 years ago, the New Democrat MP said today as his motion calling for a national effort to fight the problem came before the House of Commons.
“Nowadays, with cyber bullying, with social media, it has gotten to a breaking point,” said Morin, whose motion comes in the tragic wake of a bullying-related suicide that has captured the country’s imagination.
The death last week of Vancouver teen Amanda Todd has served to shine a spotlight on the problem and expose the urgent need for a solution, Morin said.
“It is a nationwide problem and it is, unfortunately, only growing with time.”
It’s high time the federal government got involved in an effort to put a stop to bullying, said Queen’s University psychology professor Wendy Craig.
“A national campaign needs to focus on relationships — relationships between parents and children, relationships between all adults who work or are involved with children and with youth-to-youth relationships,” said Craig, the scientific co-director of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet).
“We also need to focus on helping adults and youth identifying the signs of when someone may be experiencing bullying and help get them connected to adults for support and intervention.”
Currently a patchwork of programs and organizations exists to fight bullying, but the problem cries out for a co-ordinated approach, Morin said.
The NDP motion calls for the creation of a House of Commons committee to develop a national bullying prevention strategy that would examine the prevalence and impact of bullying and look for ways to prevent it.
It also urges Ottawa to support organizations that already work with young people, focusing on prevention rather than criminalization.
Todd, 15, posted a nine-minute video on YouTube in which she explained, through hand-written notes held up to the camera, how she exposed her breasts on a webcam to an unidentified man, and how those images ended up being sent to family and friends.
She described suffering anxiety and major depression, eventually turning to drugs and alcohol and trying twice to kill herself. The haunting video ends with her note: “I have nobody. I need someone.”
During today’s debate in the House, Conservative MP Kellie Leitch was among those who spoke on behalf of the government. The Conservatives support efforts to prevent or reduce incidences of bullying, Leitch said.
But she questioned whether the NDP motion would merely overlap with two other parliamentary committees that are currently studying the same issue.
Other levels of government are also attempting to combat the problem, and already have programs in place that are working, said Leitch.
“All of these initiatives are commendable and significant in their own right. All are focused at the local level where we need to focus.”
Where the federal government can play a role is in crime prevention, Leitch said.
“The (federal) aggression replacement training initiative, for example, is geared to preventing violence among youth . . . and preventing school-based bullying,” she said.
Recent federal studies indicate that one in five children or youth have reported being victimized by bullies.
While his motion winds its way through the Commons, some simple things can be done now to help victims and to prevent further bullying, said Morin.
He urged young people facing bullying to reach out to parents, friends, anyone they can trust. And he pressed parents to be more in touch with their children.
“Have a talk with your kid,” Morin told parents. “Sometimes there are symptoms that indicate that their kid might be bullied.”