Shelter Awareness  

Bullies have many faces

Bullies have many faces; but whether they dominate the schoolyard, the workplace, the hockey arena or the family dinner table the impact on a targeted child or image-sensitive teen is often swift and devastating, with: terror, depression, loss of self-esteem, even thoughts of suicide.

The public initiatives of educators, politicians and community officials to address the pervasive nature of bullying have fostered a growing awareness of its risks.

Bullying is one of the issues being addressed by the Kelowna Women’s Shelter’s Inside/Out Violence Prevention Program. The program is delivered by a group of UBCO Bachelor of Social Work students to grade one to grade 12 students in select Kelowna area schools. “Inside/Out focuses on healthy relationships and instilling empathy in kids. That means encouraging them to think about how others feel,” said coordinator Crystal Kneller. “They learn to think about things before they put someone else down or bug them. Perhaps the person being bullied needs a friend, or support from another peer or ‘why is that person a bully, what is going on in their life?”

From toddlers to high school students, our children face real threats of physical and emotional violence during their day, say the social-workers-in-training who regularly meet with as many as 120 youngsters from kindergarten to the senior grades in both private and public schools in the district. “I see someone who’s always getting bullied,” a middle school pupil told members of the group of BSW students during one such confidential session. “What can I do?”

The UBCO practicum students, in the third year of a four-year social work program, are quick to point out that they don’t have all the answers, but intense training and preparation provided by the Kelowna Women’s Shelter’s Inside/Out program, has taught them how to encourage the kids to reveal what’s in their hearts, to talk freely and without fear of judgment about the issues bugging them, and to help them distinguish between healthy relationships and destructive, harmful ones.

“Kids can be shouldering a lot of emotional stresses with no place to unload them,” said aspiring social worker, Shandy Newitt, 22, one of five Inside/Out team trainees who agreed to be interviewed. “Internet bullying, a faceless crime, is one of their biggest pressures — texting, phoning, dissing someone on FaceBook, etc. Kids are vulnerable to this type of bullying. The KWS violence prevention program provides a forum for them to be heard, to be honest and open about their fears, whether it’s happening in the home or school or wherever.”

Twenty-one-year-old Brittany Showdra said the young participants, whose involvement in the no-cost sessions is backed by their parents as well as school administrators, have developed a wholesome camaraderie with other school mates. “I found that lots of kids feel they are not getting the adult support they need,” she said. “They’re not always sure what’s tolerable and what isn’t. There still are parents and teachers who dismiss abusive conduct with the remark: ‘Boys will be boys.’ Girls tend to be more verbally abusive. They will downplay their behaviour: ‘I was just joking,’ they’ll say, ‘It’s not hurting anybody.’ Inside/Out helps them realize that it is.”

University student Mark Wilson, 22, said his reward is seeing the youngsters develop critical thinking skills that enable them to make better life choices, to realize that putting someone down on a social networking site can be as intimidating and hurtful as threatening to kick someone or planting a knuckle in their face. Students Stephanie Hopkins and Karlena Siwy, both 21, said the program also grapples with one of the biggest stresses facing young women: self image. “Roughly 80 per cent of the female teens I talk to are critical of themselves as women, they blame themselves when things go wrong,” said Hopkins. “We don’t lecture them on what to do but we do help them understand the dynamics of competition and why we continually seek approval. We show them the benefits of offering support and comfort rather than isolation to others in their circle.”

“So many of them engage in ‘sexting,’ that’s sending photos of themselves in provocative and/or naked poses,” the two women said. “They think nothing of exposing themselves to huge risk... We help them understand how such behaviour hurts them and that there are more positive, less risky ways to get attention.”

The Kelowna Women’s Shelter’s violence prevention program, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, is open to all schools and grades in the district. To learn more about the initiative or if you’d like to get your school or kids involved contact Crystal Kneller, Inside/Out Violence Prevention Program Coordinator: 250-763-1040 or email: [email protected]

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About the Author

April, 2011 marks the 31st anniversary of the day the Kelowna Women’s Shelter opened its’ doors to offer counselling, support and a safe residence for women and children whose lives have been impacted by family violence, abuse and significant crisis. The Kelowna Women’s Shelter is a place of refuge for women who are not safe in their own homes, women who have been beaten, traumatized, threatened, and have fled in terror from a partner. Our staff and volunteers provide services to women and children in the area boundaried by Oyama to the North and Peachland to the South. For more information visit kelownawomensshelter.ca or call 250-763-1040

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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