In recent years, Pink Shirt Day has brought the issue of bullying top of mind at schools and beyond.
Being the victim of intimidation, cruelty and exclusion can happen to anyone at any stage of life, but those with physical and intellectual differences are much more likely to be bullied throughout their lives. inclusion Powell River self-advocates Pat Kyer and Shaylene Hogan can both attest to this.
Kyer said he first experienced bullying as a child in elementary school.
“It’s going back to my early school years,” he said. “At that time it was one boy who [bullied] me. But that’s all it takes.”
As an adult Kyer experienced a different form of bullying when a deceitful person took advantage of his good nature and naivete. The experience was traumatic and led him to withdraw from life.
“It got me in a horrible mess, worse than school,” he said.
Hogan’s experiences with bullying were isolated to her younger years at school, she said.
“When people were picking a team at school I wasn’t picked and left out,” said Hogan. “Sometimes I was tripped in the hallways at Brooks. It wasn’t fun.”
The events happened when parents and teachers weren’t around, she added.
“People would be mean and then the teacher would walk by and they’d stop,” she said.
These experiences were echoed by Dave and Joyce Percey. Their daughter Devin, who has autism, went through the local school system.
“In middle school the issue was there were too many dark corners,” said Joyce. “There were too many big spaces that were unsupervised and that concerned us.”
In one instance some classmates made derogatory and threatening comments to Devin as she entered school each day. When her parents became aware and informed the principal, the response was immediate and excellent, the couple said. The bullies were held accountable for their actions.
“They had to apologize and understand what they were doing and how it affected her. I’m hoping it made a difference in their lives,” said Joyce, adding that swift action on the part of the school is key in stopping bullying.
“When you discipline a child, if you don't deal with it at the moment it loses its power and impact,” she added.
As time went on, the bullying started to dissipate and their daughter began to thrive socially.
“Some things that happened in high school were very positive,” said Dave. “By that time kids are starting to become their own people. They’re starting to go ‘I really do know I have the advantage. Why would I try to put this kid down?’’’
Today Kyer and Hogan are also free from the stress of bullying and through inclusion Powell River have joined the self advocates,described as “a support, social and lobby group for people with diversabilities.”
“I have lots of good friends now,” said Hogan.
Kyer agreed. “Now my life is nice and cheerful.”
It took work, however, to get to this point, he added, and he thanked his support worker for helping him to move forward with his life. He, Hogan and the Perceys all had some tips on how to combat bullying. Having the courage to stand up to it, was one.
Kyer and Hogan both said if they witnessed someone else being bullied they would intervene if it was a safe option.
“I would assess the situation, but I would try to stop it before it goes to greater lengths,” said Kyer.
For children, telling trusted adults and peers is important. For those of any age it is imperative not to isolate oneself, said Kyer.
“Talk it out to your parents and don’t let yourself feel excluded,” he said. “Being excluded in a sense you’re bullying yourself. Try not to be alone.”
Taking the time to talk about bullying and look at ways to stem its impact are incredibly valuable, said Dave.
“I’m glad we have this event once a year about anti-bullying,” he added. “It’s so important that people get to tell their stories and others hear them. No matter what age or disability you can see another person and understand you can have such a profound effect on people when you hurt them like that. Talk to your kids about it.”
Pink Shirt Day is Wednesday, February 27.