COLUMN: Not necessarily the most wonderful time of the year

Back-to-school can be a tough time for children and youth who are bullied

Every August, for the past number of years, TV viewers have been treated to multiple viewings of a particular back-to-school ad that declares the end of summer break to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’

The obvious implication is that for parents, having their offspring out of the house for six hours a day is better than Christmas.

As a non-child-having person, I can imagine the sense of relief that comes with autumn’s return to routine and, if memory of my own experience as a child serves, an end to the ceaseless litany of complaints about being bored.

For kids who’ve missed their school friends or who thrive in a learning environment, this can indeed be one of the most wonderful times of the year.

For victims of bullying, on the other hand, it can mark a return to untold misery at the hands of tormentors.

This is nothing new. It’s been going on in some form or other for as long as children have been gathering to be educated. Or gathering anywhere for any purpose, really. What’s changed, however, is the reach that bullies now have thanks to the advent of social media.

We saw it in its most extreme and horrifying form this summer with video of a Langley boy who had apparently taken illicit drugs being mocked by onlookers.

He later died.

Obviously, bullying doesn’t need to have fatal consequences to be devastating – whether it’s verbal taunts or actual physical abuse.

It’s not easy, at any age, to admit that you’re being bullied, but at a time when they’re figuring out their place in the world, kids strive to keep up appearances. Fear of further backlash from the bully, feelings of humiliation or fear of rejection can stop a child from reporting the abuse to an adult.

But we know that the longer a child is bullied, the deeper the potential scars.

It’s possible, too, that frustrations bred from the abuse can turn a victim into a bully in his or her own right.

I speak from experience, having found myself on both sides of the equation in junior high school. It was tough then. I can only imagine how much more difficult it is today.

It’s not the first thing a parent wants to think about, but with the return to school, experts suggest watching for signs that a child is being bullied.

This includes everything from a reluctance to go to school (including frequent complaints of a headache or stomachache) to changing friendships, trouble sleeping, withdrawal from family, torn clothes or physical marks.

In the age of social media, there’s another sign for parents to watch for – obsession with or a complete loss of interest in their phones or other devices. The end of the school day doesn’t necessarily mean a break from the abuse.

Add to that the increasingly busy and scheduled lives families lead, and the signs can easily be overlooked. Even when they’re spotted and addressed, the solution isn’t always obvious.

Something else that didn’t exist when I was in junior high school – the internet.

As terrible as it can be in some ways, parents and students are also lucky to have at their disposal an endless source of information that, when properly vetted, can offer solid advice or steer them toward the help they need. With the right guidance, I hope they can make school, if not always wonderful, at least a place they can go without a sense of dread.

Brenda Anderson is the editor of the Peace Arch News.

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