With the story of a Lower Mainland teen’s suicide in heavy circulation, local concerns over bullying are on the rise.
“We usually get one report a year (about bullying),” said Const. Kris Clark, with the Kelowna RCMP.
“Monday I had two. Parents are becoming more concerned, seemingly because of recent events, and that’s a marked departure from the norm.”
While worries are spiking, Clark pointed out that bullying incidents haven’t really increased.
It’s been a pervasive problem throughout time.
The situation that allegedly prompted Amanda Todd to take her own life, however, is different on a number of levels, he said.
In addition to its tragic and public conclusion, Todd’s story had criminal undertones.
“If bullying becomes persistent malicious behaviour that causes someone to fear for their safety, that’s criminal harassment,” explained Clark.
And in Todd’s case in particular, the circumstance is more akin to extortion.
In a video diary entry posted to YouTube before she died, Todd explained she was tormented after an unknown man convinced her to expose herself online in front of a webcam. He blackmailed her and that is something police may have been able to act upon, said Clark.
That said, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
“We take each case as it comes and we have to investigate each one as if it’s a criminal offence until proven otherwise,” he said.
And there are tools that can be used to decrease a child’s vulnerability.
“We encourage parents to keep an open line of communication with their children,” he said.
“If a teen is experiencing an uncomfortable situation that’s not criminal in nature, there are avenues to deal with it with counsellors or principals.”
RCMP school liaison officers are continually in schools teaching ways to protect against bullying on the internet, as well.
“Remember that whatever you put ono the internet, is always there,” he said, noting adults need to demonstrate their knowledge of the medium and its pitfalls to youth.
Parents should also be monitoring kids online activities.
“It’s important for everybody to understand that social media isn’t the problem, it’s how they interact with it.”
To learn more about how to deal with bullying and help protect children, Clark recommends the website Deal.org.
“It’s a resource for kids, but parents would get a lot from it too,” he said.