Parents will have more to watch for than their children’s grades once school returns to session, says Brian Trainor, retired sergeant for the Saskatoon Police Service.
“As a parent, you know your child. You know their personality, you know how they act,” said Trainor. “If you see that they’re becoming more withdrawn and maybe angry or scared or more tearful than usual and it’s not the typical teen hormone type of thing, you have to start to wonder if there’s something happening in their life.”
That thing, he says, could involve bullying - in particular, cyberbullying.
While traditional forms of hazing remain prevalent throughout every school, at least on some level, online bullying has escalated tremendously in recent years.
Trainor says much of it can be attributed to kids getting their hands on cellphones and social media tools at younger ages. Particularly in rural areas, Trainor says that many parents are handing cellphones to their children as early as Grade 2.
Although extreme measures of bullying are less likely to take place during the primary school years, Trainor suggests that too much technological and social freedom at younger ages can lead to issues down the road.
“Take the opportunity to go through the cellphone with your child and look at it as an opportunity to have a conversation with your child, not make accusations,” he said.
Trainor recommends that parents ask their kids about which applications are on the phone, how they are used and for what purpose.
“That way, you understand what the apps are about and there’s no secret that’s going on.”
Failure to do so, he adds, could turn a blind eye to early signs of malicious behaviour that develops into full-fledged bullying by the time a child reaches puberty.
“The worst age is about Grade 6,” said Trainor. “You’re talking about 11- to 12-year-olds, that’s where the real power struggle with the teen years is starting, and the hormones, and now you’ve got this popularity contest going.”
Historically, male bullying has been more physical, whereas female bullying often occurs psychologically and could involve gossip or maliciously excluding someone from activities, conversations and social media groups.
For parents, Trainor highlights withdrawal and anger as two of the strongest warning signs that a child may be getting hazed. On the other hand, a child that is bullying others could exhibit those same red flags.
“Overaggressiveness, sometimes agitation, quick anger, they’re almost the same signs as somebody being bullied,” said Trainor.
Furthermore, Trainor warns that it’s possible for someone to be both a perpetrator and a victim of bullying at the same time.
“A lot of times kids that are picked on at school in person go home and they get online because of the anonymity and they become bullies,” he said. “They’re cyberbullies, they get even. And in their minds they’re not being a bully, they’re protecting themselves or their friends, but really they’re being a bully.”
Trainor stresses that teaching youth about empathy, rather than sympathy, is the best way to prevent bullying in the future. He says that feeling someone’s pain is much more meaningful than simply feeling sorry for a person’s pain from a distance.
Trainor, who is set to travel around the Edmonton area in the coming weeks, often speaks at schools on the subject of bullying and other forms of harassment.