Kindness counts: How Edmonton students tackle cyberbullying on Pink Shirt Day

Students at Balwin School celebrate Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 27, 2019. Morgan Black/Global News

On Wednesday, Feb. 27 everyone is asked to think pink.

Pink Shirt Day aims to stop and prevent bullying and raise money to support programs that will grow kid’s confidence.

The massive movement began in Nova Scotia in 2007.

After a Grade 9 student was bullied because he wore a pink shirt to school, two older students bought 50 pink tank tops and gave them to their male classmates, creating a sea of pink.

READ MORE: Okanagan residents don pink shirts to celebrate kindness and say no to bullying

More than a decade later, the campaign is embraced by students all across the country.

In 2019, there’s a special focus on cyberbullying. This year’s pink shirt reads “Be Kind,” encouraging people to think before they post on social media.

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“I’ll say it out loud. [Social media] sucks. It’s not something you should be into,” Grade 9 student Dean Larsen explained. “In my opinion, I don’t think social media is something kids should have unless the age restriction is there and they are responsible.”

He said if social media wasn’t such an integral part of his social life, he likely wouldn’t be on it at all.

“I’m only on it because I like to be in the loop and that’s where I see everything. That’s the only reason why I see it or use it,” Larsen said. “If we didn’t use it, you could talk in real life. People who say mean stuff online couldn’t do that.”

Father Michael Troy Junior High students Dean Larsen and Kaidence Dube pose with Lindsay Lipsett on Feb. 27, 2019. Morgan Black/Global News

Various students told Global News, life would be easier without social media, but it’s difficult to disconnect.

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“I had Snapchat at one point, and I did get in trouble with it because of the pressure and the stupidity on it,” said Kaidence Dube.

“I don’t have any social media, but hearing from my friends it’s not a good thing to have. It creates more problems. It’s hard for parents too.”

For students and staff at Father Michael Troy Junior High School, Pink Shirt Day carries a strong message.

A sign at Father Michael Troy Junior High. Morgan Black/Global News

“Pink Shirt Day means you can come talk to us, it doesn’t matter who you are. We will listen to you and try to help as much as we can,” Larsen said. “We support each other.”

Mental health champion at Father Michael Troy School, Lindsay Lipsett, said online bullying is becoming more frequent.

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LISTEN BELOW: How social media is affecting Edmonton students

“With social media, people don’t get bullied face-to-face anymore,” Lipsett said. “It follows the students everywhere they go.

“Wherever there phone is, there’s an opportunity to be bullied. Kids have full time access to possible bullying, teasing and taunting.”

READ MORE: Pink Shirt Day activist takes anti-bullying message to Montreal schools

Morning announcements at the junior high school carry anti-bullying tips and strategies throughout the week and the school offers an anti-bullying seminar for students during their school day.

“Students don’t necessarily have the tools or coping skills online to stand up for themselves. A very common one is pictures or messages being screenshot and spreading like wildfire. It doesn’t matter if it’s sourced or not, kids will right away believe whatever they see online,” Lipsett said.

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Elsewhere, Balwin School handed out pink lemonade to K-9 students in celebration of Pink Shirt Day.

Grade 2 students at Balwin School, Naomi Kisabo and Mary-Lynn McInnes pose together on Pink Shirt Day. Morgan Black/Global News

Grade 6 student Fiker Gelagawy said social media has already had a large impact on her life.

“It’s fun to have, but it can be a dark place. It’s important to know you need to be responsible when you’re using the apps. It’s kind of like peer pressure, having those apps. It’s a big part of you that feels left out if you don’t get it,” Gelagawy said.

Harry Ainlay High School students, some who have been on social media for more than a decade now, have a few words of wisdom to share with the younger generation.

“I think it could be as simple as being mindful of what we’re saying, and making sure it’s not easily misinterpreted by other people who can easily read the comments or texts. Just be mindful of the feelings of the others we’re messaging,” Grade 12 student Margaux Lipayon said.

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The students agree that being kind online means thinking twice before you hit send.

“Everything online is open to interpretation. Whatever message you text or tweet can be misinterpreted. So you have to be careful about what you say because it could be a harmless joke to you, but could be really hurtful to someone else,” Grade 12 student Phoebe Aung-Cheng said.

Lipsett said it’s important for parents to familiarize themselves with their kid’s online activities.

“You need to be right in there like a dirty shirt. Learn about the websites, it will really go a long way when you have those conversations with your kids. Keep an eye on their activity and keep their passwords.”

According to Pink Shirt Day organizers, 59,000 youth were supported by the initiative in 2018 and nearly 180 countries support the campaign.

“Bullying is not a normal childhood experience and kids need to know that,” Lipsett said.

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