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Alberta experts say COVID-19 has provided ‘extra opportunities for bullying’

Click to play video 'Bullying Awareness Week: How COVID-19 has changed the way we treat each other' Bullying Awareness Week: How COVID-19 has changed the way we treat each other
WATCH ABOVE: While bullying has been an issue in schools for many years, it’s also something that impacts the older population. Eloise Therien spoke with experts to find out how and why bullying is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic – Nov 20, 2020

Bullying Awareness Week is recognized from Nov. 16-20 in Alberta as a way of promoting the recognition and understanding of bullying.

As the week wraps up, experts are reminding those who have suffered bullying that there are many resources to help.

For school-aged kids, having positive relationships with a trusted teacher or adult is important in creating a comfortable space for children to share their issues, according to long-time counsellor Anita Lethbridge-Gross.

“Teachers [are] super critical in having that positive relationship.

“Hopefully [students have] all got that one person of trust that’s in the building, or I guess virtually online, as well.”
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Lethbridge-Gross, coordinator of counselling and wellness at the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, adds schools should have a proactive approach to dealing with bullying.

“A problem-solving approach is really, we feel, one of the best ways to go.”

Read more: 9 out of 10 teachers say they face violence, bullying in Alberta schools: ATA survey

However, some say due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an opportunity for increased bullying behaviour among the young and older populations.

Click to play video 'How to speak to your children about bullying' How to speak to your children about bullying
How to speak to your children about bullying – Aug 28, 2020

“Bullying can look like a lot of different things,” said Noah Biddlecombe, program director at Youth One.

“It can look like physical intimidation, it can look like exchanging verbally mean words or harassment in that way.

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“But I think most often for the age demographic that we’re in, it looks like cyberbullying.”

Youth One operates after-school programs for children and teens in Lethbridge, providing a place for students to go and interact with others their age.

It recently reopened its doors to in-person programs in October, and Biddlecombe says he’s seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has provided extra opportunities for bullying behaviour.

“Sadly, a lot of people are looking for reasons… to make fun of people and the pandemic gives us a whole gambit more of things to make fun of people for,” he said.

“People are stressed, people are scared, they don’t know what’s going on, and some people respond to that through anger, through being mean to other people, because it gives them that sense of control.”

Read more: Saskatchewan researchers to ask Indigenous youth facing bullying and violence for solutions

The same goes for the adult population, according to registered psychologist Chelsea Bodie.

While “bullying” is a term typically associated with adolescents, Bodie says adults are guilty of it as well.

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Former president of Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association says ‘not enough support for bullied women’ – Jul 22, 2019

With so much information and varying opinions surrounding COVID-19, Bodie says people may be feeling pressure and judgment from others.

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“I think there’s a lot of judgment in terms of, ‘What am I supposed to do? What I’m not supposed to do, these are my beliefs and values where I feel like I should be doing,'” she said. “Where somebody else might be doing something else.”

Bodie adds awareness weeks are a good way to open the doors for conversations around the impacts of bullying, although it should be highlighted on a daily basis.

“If you’re not impacted by it, it’s hard to see that it’s going on, or hard to see that it’s there.

“If people are able to [feel] validated in this week, or they’re able to talk about it, or maybe because they’ve heard about it, they’re able to have the courage to reach out to somebody,” Bodie said. “It can definitely get the conversation going.”