For a while Saturday, it appeared as though the bulls might stomp stronger than the inaugural anti-bullying rally in Stettler.
While hundreds of teenagers gathered nearby for the season-opening high school rodeo, about 50 people showed up at West Stettler Park to kick off a youth rally to combat bullying.
But just as it takes only a few words for bullies to potentially cause harm, cogent comments from a couple of high-profile speakers bucked the bulls.
Carol Todd, mother of British Columbia bullying casualty Amanda Todd, told the afternoon gathering that more family time and Internet education for parents are needed.
“Family time is so important,” Todd said during her first Alberta visit as an anti-bullying advocate. “Kids are too hooked in to the digital world right now, as are adults.
“The problem right now I see is that landlines are becoming obsolete in homes, and so when we say as parents, to kids, ‘I’m going to take your phone and turn it off,’ we don’t do the same thing. We have to role-model to our kids, before we can expect them to do the same thing.”
Shutting off phones during family meals makes such gatherings more meaningful, she said.
“It’s little things that will make a difference in a fast-paced world. Taking the time to have those dinners, going out for ice cream, going out for a walk and making the rule that you leave your phone at home, and everybody does that, it would just promote more discussion.”
Todd has been talking publicly about bullying since her 15-year-old daughter committed suicide last October in Port Coquitlam, B.C., after posting a poignant video about being cyber-bullied.
Todd, a teacher for 30 years, said her role as an educator has helped her share Amanda’s story and push for societal and government changes.
She believes that parents need to educate themselves about problematic social media websites.
“It’s up to us as parents to bring it up in conversation with (children) and to know what’s going on so that we can put more safety measures in our kids and teach them what to look for,” said Todd, whose 20-year-old son is a university student. “And if your child comes and says to you, ‘I did this and it’s on this site,’ you’ll have some background knowledge base on what exactly that site was about and what needs to be done. Instead of floundering around and going, ‘Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that site.’
“I see parents using excuses, ‘I don’t have enough time. I’m too busy.’ But are you really too busy, because this is parenting. It’s a different aspect of parenting now. Technology has just thrown in another responsibility for us as parents, and as teachers. Educators need to also be able to ramp up their knowledge, so that they can talk about it in class.”
While families used to be able to position computers in a central location to monitor Internet visits at home, most teenagers now use personal phones “as their computer,” Todd said. “I believe that telecommunications companies should also be involved with the (safeguarding) process, because they are actually the ones who sell the telephones and the data plans to each and every family member. They have access to all those families, so if they could become one of those stepping-stones to Internet safety and digital media safety, it would just help the whole situation.”
From a spring meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to speaking to small groups, as she did Saturday, Todd vows to carry on her daughter’s legacy.
One of the teenagers impacted by Amanda Todd’s story addressed the Stettler gathering. Mackenzie Murphy, who turns 14 next month, said that she’s not only a bullying victim.
“I’m a survivor,” said Murphy, an Airdrie resident who was on the verge of committing suicide last December “because I couldn’t pretend anymore” that relentless bullying didn’t hurt.
“One voice is all it takes (to counter bullying). And that’s what we’re going to do. It does get better.”
Her efforts pushed Airdrie city council to make plans for an anti-bullying bylaw that calls for offenders to be fined and attend counselling sessions.
“Amanda Todd inspired my daughter,” said Murphy’s mother, Tara.
“Parents need to wake up and realize that kids need us to be the voice sometimes.”
The goal of such community rallies is to educate youth and adults about bullying signs, and promote an inclusive society, Tara Murphy said.
“It’s about treating people with respect.”
Colourful T-shirts, from pink and lime green to black, dotted the park Saturday for a rally called “Free To Be You and Me.”
Rally organizer Brandi Page said more people were expected Saturday evening for the entertainment segment.
In his remarks Saturday afternoon, Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman said he was a victim of “a form of bullying” a decade ago when he was jailed for protesting the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.
“It just seemed to be an unjust law,” he said. “Bill C-18 changed the federal legislation, giving farmers the right to grow their grain and buy it from and sell it to whoever they want. We were able to make a difference.”
Strankman described bullying as “a societal problem,” and that while the turnout was small for Saturday’s rally, “it’s very important for each and every one of us to recognize that this occurs.”
More photos in this week’s Stettler Independent and online in the e-edition.