As the school season approaches, Charlottetown police are renewing warnings about cyberbullying among young Islanders.
With the continued rise of social media and smartphone use, Charlottetown police said they are having to intervene in more cyberbullying incidents in Island schools than ever before.
The problems are mostly in junior high schools, but they extend to high school and even elementary school.
"It's very prevalent," said Jane Wood, youth intervention outreach worker for the Charlottetown police. Wood works with children who face cyberbullying, and she does presentations at Island schools to talk about the issue.
Though conflict and bullying have always been an issue among school-age kids, access to digital technologies, adult materials and camera phones has created new problems, Charlottetown police Const. Tim Keizer said.
'It's criminal harassment'
Wood said she's been getting about twice as many cyberbullying calls compared to three or four years ago. She said kids don't know the risks of their online activity, and their parents may not know what their children are doing.
"I've had kids that have had their pictures stolen off Instagram and find out that they're on a porn website," Wood said.
The rise of more video-based platforms also means that cyberbullying is taking on new forms, like one recent incident Wood described where students did a live social media feed to make mean remarks about a classmate.
"She decided to block them all and it stopped," Wood said. "But the next step was I was going to take her to the police station. We were going to report it because basically … it's criminal harassment."
Every kid can make mistakes. The hope is that we teach them ... that they won't do it in the future. — Jane Wood, youth worker
Keizer said his department tries to keep youth out of the justice system. So in these cyberbullying cases, police may resort to alternative measures like a justice circle, where the victim and bully speak to each other.
"Lots of times we'll have representatives from the school and from the family that are all part of the discussions," Keizer said.
"It encompasses such a large group of people, this bullying, and to try to repair those relationships is huge. Otherwise, it just continues."
Charlottetown police have laid charges against teens in the past due to cyberbullying.
'Any kid can bully'
As a youth worker, Wood said she's nervous for what the future holds. New apps mean those who respond to cyberbullying situations always have to stay on top of changing technology.
She also said whenever children get involved in cyberbullying, it's an opportunity to teach them to act better in the future.
"Any kid can bully and every kid can make mistakes. The hope is that we teach them and we continue to drive this home, that they won't do it in the future and they won't become adults that bully."
Wood said the best thing for parents to do is to have conversations with their kids about cyberbullying and continue to keep tabs on their social media usage.
Parents and children can report cyberbullying to Charlottetown police.
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