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Better education can combat cyber-bullying, not legislation, expert says


An image of Todd Loik from a Facebook tribute page.

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In the wake of another tragic death of a bullied teen, experts say early intervention and more education – not additional laws – hold the key to preventing bullying.

After facing a torrent of cyber-bullying, Todd Loik, 15, killed himself earlier this month in North Battleford, Sask. The RCMP is investigating.

Despite a patchwork of anti-bullying legislation across the country, a leading bullying expert says the best way to stem bullying is early identification of aggressors and their victims coupled with education programs.

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"I think education is what we need, rather than legislation," said Debra Pepler, a York University psychology professor who is a leading bullying expert. "The earlier we can get in to prevent this, the healthier our children will be."

Stu Auty, president of the Canadian Safe School Network, called for more schools to commit to becoming bully-free zones and offer programs that teach children how to develop healthy relationships, including through role-playing.

"A lot of these kids have never had direction. They don't understand the impact of their actions, so what a school can do is teach that," he said.

Provinces have enacted a variety of anti-bullying laws. After 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons died after attempting suicide in April, the Nova Scotia government passed legislation allowing people to sue or seek a protection order from the courts if they or their children are being cyber-bullied. Manitoba has also passed anti-bullying legislation and is considering more measures that could include protection orders, mandatory penalties and an anonymous tip line. The Saskatchewan government is looking at anti-bullying initiatives, including a website to allow youngsters to report bullying based on a similar site that exists in British Columbia.

But, for example, while Ontario requires school staff to report bullying to principals, in reality some do not, Prof. Pepler said.

Prof. Pepler also called for a full-scale re-examination of the school system to consider the whole child, rather than the current tight focus on academic performance as measured through standardized testing.

"It's not that those aren't important, but children can't learn if they're not safe at school. Children can't learn if they haven't developed this self-regulation in terms of their behaviours and emotions," she said. "So I think we need to also look at schools' role in developing social competence in our children."

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Prof. Pepler said while schools are at the forefront of anti-bullying efforts, the problem is a larger societal one.

"It goes from the family to the school to the community to the country and our children right now are immersed in a culture where bullying is celebrated in sports, in politics, in business," she said. "It takes a lot of effort to shift that or create a balance in young people's lives so that they understand that this is wrong and this is not a way that relationships are built in a healthy way."

With a report from The Canadian Press

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