Parents speak out against bullying at NWT schools

Hay River mother Trinda Rodger says her son is a “gentle giant” who “just wants to get along with everybody.”

Unfortunately, the 14-year-old experiences relentless bullying at school and at his part-time job.

“It’s just been ongoing,” said Rodger. “I told [my son], no matter how old you are, if you’re an adult or a child, there’s always going to be bullies out there. You’ve just got to choose how you handle it. You can freak out and lash out and say mean and spiteful things, or you can handle it like a decent person. That’s what I try to teach him, and he understood, but yeah, it hurts his little heart.”

Rodger said their are numerous recent examples of the bullying her son experiences.

At school, he’s been stabbed with a pencil and told to hang himself. At work, he’s been treated so poorly that he thought about quitting, despite having his position for nearly a year. In other settings, he’s been bullied so severely that Rodger was forced to involve the police.

“I’ve gone to the RCMP a couple times,” she said. “It’s not a good feeling, but you know, it has to stop. You have to put your foot down.”

Rodger said it’s heartbreaking to see her son treated so badly by other teens. She isn’t sure why it happens.

“Like I said, he’s a gentle giant. Maybe his peers think he’s an easy target and they pick on him. Maybe they’re jealous because he works hard and he saves money and he has things.

“I have no idea.”

Worried every day

In Fort Simpson, a mother who asked to remain anonymous said her teenage daughter has experienced similar things at the community’s Liidlii Kue Regional High School, specifically “glares, name calling, gossip and drama.”

“It brought her self-esteem down,” the Fort Simpson mother said. “[It affected] her mental health, with the depression that my teenager faces every day. It also affected her social life.

“Do I worry about my teenager? Yes, I do ‘cause today suicide [rates are] high. Do I worry every day? Yes, I do. My teenager has a good heart. I’m not saying my teenager is perfect, but I talk to her every day. I check in.”

The girl’s mother believes bullying is “everywhere” in the NWT and Canada, and the problem is exacerbated by the existence of the internet.

“Today bullying is worse because of social media,” she said. “As a teenager today it’s way different from back then.”

Part of the solution to the bullying problem, she believes, is a firmer stance from educators.

“Schools need to be strict about bullying,” she said. “Today I see too much bullying happening in schools. I myself would like to see more standing up from the teachers to protect our students.

“Schools need to notify the parents right away, not wait till the last minute, and set a [stricter] policy about bullying.”

In Hay River, Rodger shares that sentiment, though she admits her son’s school, Diamond Jenness Secondary School, is “usually pretty good,” about responding to bullying incidents.

Both mothers also agree that parents need to raise their children not to be bullies.

“We need to stand up together to stop bullying,” the Fort Simpson mother said. “No teenager or child should go through bullying. Parents need to work together, and not just talk once about the bullying, but remind their children that bullying is not OK. As a parent myself, I talk to my teenager often about bullying.”

“I just think [parents] have got to teach and talk to their children, just basic kindness and how to be a good human being no matter what,” Rodger added. “[They need to teach their children to] always communicate, to try to resolve the issue instead of being hateful and spiteful and mean, because it’s so easy to be like that, but it takes a bigger person to say, ‘How are we going to fix this problem?’”

Pink Shirt Day, an anti-bullying initiative, is recognized on Feb. 28. Its mission is to “create a more kind, inclusive world.”

Tom Taylor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, NWT News/North