On Friday, 19 October, students were interrupted during their studies by a special announcement. In response to the death of British Columbian teenager Amanda Todd, students were asked to have a moment of silence to honour the victims of bullying. Because of the extreme bullying she faced, Todd took her own life.
The memorial took an unexpected turn when Mr. Sharp, our vice-principal, concluded the announcement. Mr. Sharp emphatically told us that contrary to what we had just done, we should not remain silent in response to bullying. Instead, when faced with abuse or harassment we should speak up and tell a teacher, guidance counselor, parent, or friend.
No one would disagree with Mr. Sharp’s statements. In a perfect world, suicide should not be an option when dealing with bullying. It’s always better to talk to others when you have issues. That way, negativity can be dealt with in a safe and healthy way.
But is every student lucky enough to have a stable family? Does every student have a best friend to listen to all their problems? Does every student have a close relationship with their teachers or guidance counselors?
In short, they don’t. The harsh reality is that students don’t always have the options that we would like them to have. We can’t assume that every student is gifted with a loving family. Teenagers may not have a good relationship with their parents. If these victims are bullied to the extent of wanting to commit suicide, we can’t assume they have friends to support them either. Students may be reluctant to talk to teachers due to a professional rather than personal relationship. At Marc Garneau, guidance counselors are the last people kids would want to go to. They are distant and busy. Many students never talk to their counselors unless they want to change their courses.
Hits Close to Home
This is a reality shared by a significant population in Garneau. As we spoke with various students around the school, we found a reoccurring pattern: inadequate relationships and a sense of helplessness.
“I’m not really close to my parents. Now that I think about it, I’m not that close to anyone,” commented one grade 9 student.
Her relationships with her teachers weren’t that much better. When asked if she would talk to teachers about being bullied, she replied, “I think a lot of my teachers this semester dislike me. My parents lectured me for three days after the parent-teacher interviews.”
When asked about speaking to guidance, another student commented “My guidance counselor is useless. There’s a feeling that you shouldn’t go to him the next time you have an issue. He asks questions that are weird and repetitive.”
Is Guidance the Problem?
Indeed, the guidance office has often been held responsible for this issue. There is a general consensus that the guidance office isn’t doing enough to meet the needs of bullying victims.
Many students question the ability of guidance to properly deal with bullying situations. One such student explained: “If I feel like I can’t talk to my guidance counselor, it won’t change a thing.” More outreach needs to be done by guidance to tell students that counselors are available to speak with, and to clarify what guidance will do to help.
At a more fundamental level, however, the idea that students have enough resources at their disposal should be questioned. If a person doesn’t feel they have anyone to talk to, they won’t seek out help and develop channels to deal with their emotions. We as a community need to make sure that all students have someone to talk to, that they know who these people are, and that they know what these people will do.
“I probably wouldn’t talk to anyone. Everyone seems so busy.” one student shrugged.