Conversations are needed to keep kids safe while helping them navigate the complexities of the digital landscape and one B.C. mom is using her own experiences to prevent other youth from becoming victims of cyberbullying.
“We can never stop talking about it,” said Carol Todd, who runs Amanda Todd Legacy Society, an anti-bullying organization. “People learn from real stories and Amanda’s is a real story. I’ve worked really hard in turning Amanda’s tragic, negative story into one that helps others and will continue to do that … we’ve accomplished a lot in terms of setting precedent in conversations around the different areas that Amanda was exposed to.”
Her daughter’s experience is one of the most well-known stories of cyberbullying in Canada and has gained international attention. Using flashcards to explain how she was harassed and extorted by an anonymous online predator, the 15-year-old posted a video before she died by suicide in 2012. Almost exactly a decade later, Dutch man Aydin Coban was sentenced in October 2022 to 13 years in prison for threatening, exploiting and harassing the B.C. teen with intimate photos she had sent him.
While the conversations surrounding cyberbullying have changed in the last decade, Todd said there’s more work to be done.
“I just want people to understand that it can happen to anybody’s kid. I never thought that Amanda would be bullied enough and exploited and have a predator that’s from another country.”
Cyberbullying is often “more overwhelming than traditional bullying because access to a target is 24/7,” according to pinkshirtday.ca.
In her work as a teacher and a digital literacy and citizenship coordinator, Todd said there is a lot for parents to understand especially with new apps continuously coming out. She recommended parents, caregivers and educators find a few go-to educational resources and gave Telus Wise, Common Sense Media, MediaSmarts, and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection as examples.
But her biggest anti-bullying tool is having direct conversations, whether that be through role-playing different scenarios or discussing privacy settings on various apps. “You can’t effect change without conversation,” she said.
A December 2022 survey put out by MediaSmarts found 51 per cent of youth have a household rule for sites they are not allowed to visit. The survey asked 1,058 youth in Grades 4 to 11. The survey also found that youth with a household rule about treating people with respect are more likely to agree it’s important to speak out when they see racist and sexist content online.
“What they [MediaSmarts] reported out is something we see consistently all the time. We find that schools are doing their part as best as they can but we find that a lot of parents aren’t doing what they can as parents,” said Darren Laur, co-founder of internet safety and digital literacy education specialist company The White Hatter.
“The challenge is that today’s parents didn’t have to deal with the internet. This generation is the first generation that is being given the responsibility of parenting their kids online, and a result of that is there is a need for parents to educate themselves.”
Todd added, “if they don’t understand and don’t feel comfortable talking about it, our kids won’t understand it.”
While phone monitoring apps, such as Jiminy, exist to use algorithms to find sources of concern or interest on children’s phones, Todd still emphasized the importance of conversation.
“I’m not a big fan of that because it puts too much confidence in that app … it has to be real human kind of stuff that keeps our kids safe – conversations, talking about devices, talking to your kids about social and emotional wellness in the digital world. All those things take conversation and time,” Todd noted.
One opportunity to speak with children about online safety can be Pink Shirt Day, which is marked in Canada on the last Wednesday of February, falling on Feb. 22 this year. It was inspired by a group of Nova Scotia students who wore pink shirts to school in support of another student who experienced homophobic bullying.
“Pink Shirt Day has morphed into kindness and respect – it’s still anti-bullying but it’s on the positive side teaching children how to behave respectfully to each other and also teaching children how, if you see something, you can say something to a safe and trusted adult and even do it anonymously,” Todd said.
If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, please visit gov.bc.ca/gov/content/erase for resources and an anonymous reporting tool.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.