Bullying Awareness Week: How It All Began

TELUS WISE, cyberbullying, Bullying Awareness Week, TELUS

The Launch of Bullying.org

On Apr. 29, 1999, the peaceful farming community of Taber, Alberta lost a young man to an armed classmate at their local High School. This event opened my eyes and made me realize that this kind of school violence was not some “American problem”; it was my problem too – as a father, a teacher and a Canadian.

I decided that educating Canadians about bullying would be my personal call to action, but first, I realized that I needed to learn what bullying was really all about. I began to research and read everything I could on bullying. I asked many questions of anyone who would take the time to listen. I was very fortunate to have been helped and mentored by some of the world’s best academic researchers on the topic of bullying, people like Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig in Canada, Ken Rigby in Australia and many more.

On Feb. 16, 2000, I launched www.bullying.org as a safe, moderated, online community where people could find help, support and information as they went on their own learning journeys about bullying.

So what have I learned? A lot! Some of which may surprise you.

First, let me be clear. I am NOT a psychologist or professor. I am a father and teacher. So with this understanding, let’s talk about what bullying is. While academics debate the actual wording of a formal definition of bullying, most agree that there are at least three of the following key aspects present in bullying behaviour:

  • Imbalance of power in relationships where bullying occurs
  • Bullying behaviours are repeated and intentional
  • Bullying can be done by individuals or groups
  • Bullying is about power and control

Bullying takes many forms and can include many different behaviours including: physical violence and attacks; verbal taunts; name-calling and put-downs; threats and intimidation; extortion or stealing of money and possessions and exclusion from the peer group, or shunning.

Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, which is intended to harm others.

As www.bullying.org began to pick up more steam, I began to read postings from youth sharing stories about being bullied online. I realized that this was becoming an emerging behaviour. I knew that we needed to define it, so I borrowed from Canadian Sci-Fi writer, William Gibson, who coined the term “cyberspace” and thought that if bullying was happening in cyberspace, it should be called “cyberbullying”. I created www.cyberbullying.ca and offered, what many have told me, is the first formal definition of cyberbullying.

How Bullying Awareness Week Began

I have been asked to give many presentations on bullying and in these talks I always ask three questions:

1) How many of you have bullied someone else?

2) How many of you have been bullied?

3) How many of you know someone else who’s been bullied?

I have asked people to raise their hands if they have experienced any of these questions. By the third question, everyone’s hands are usually raised. It was during these moments that I realized how universal and all-encompassing the issue of bullying is in people’s lives. I realized that we needed to do something BIG! That’s when the idea to create an annual week where Canadians would focus on bullying was born.

Since launching www.bullyingawarenessweek.org, the third week of November has been recognized by governments at every level across Canada. We have been fortunate enough to have support from Family Channel, Panago Pizza and TELUS, as well as professional research networks such as PREVNet, MediaSmarts and Kids Help Phone, just to name a few. The idea has now spread and been adopted by other countries around the world.

Perhaps what I am most proud of is the impact that Bullying Awareness Week has had in encouraging much-needed and ongoing discussions in our homes, schools, workplaces and Government.

So what’s next? Well, according to OECD research, Canada ranks poorly among developed countries in our effectiveness in addressing bullying. What we need is a coordinated national plan to address bullying. We have the knowledge and the people; what we need is the political will and leadership to make it happen. So this week (Nov. 16 to 22), be sure to do your part to Stand Up to bullying! Visit www.bullyingawarenessweek.org to learn more about how you can help stop bullying and spread the anti-bullying message.

Please share this post with your online communities and join the bullying awareness chat using the following hashtag: #BAW2014

Bill Belsey is the President of Bullying.org. Bill has been featured on The National with Peter Mansbridge speaking about bullying. Bullying.org is an educational organization that is dedicated to the prevention of bullying through education and awareness. Follow Bullying.org on Twitter.