The switch from in-class to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic has presented teachers, students and families with some unique challenges. And unfortunately, staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston (BGCK) say one of them is a marked increase in cyberbullying.
“With everything moving online, we have been seeing concerning trends in children’s wellbeing since lockdown started last year,” says Sara Gervais, Supervisor of Programs at BGCK.
According to BGCK, in a conventional school year one in three students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 report being victims of cyberbullying. They said this has increased 70 per cent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kids Help Phone has also reportedly more than doubled its service support to struggling children during this time.
Gervais said with a general desire to celebrate successes in hard times, it’s a story that’s not getting a lot of attention.
Regarding the transition to online learning, Gervais said “I think everyone did such a great job to be able to accommodate families and their needs. There’s been a big highlight on the positive parts of it which is great.”
“I think within this year, there will be some more attention that needs to be brought to the fact that there may also be some negative side effects,” she added.
She explained that cyberbullying can include direct actions such as mean and disparaging remarks towards a student, as well as indirect actions like intentionally excluding people from online groups or chats.
“It varies from age group to age group,” she said. “When students get old enough to be online unsupervised, we find it’s those middle years or the older years, that’s a really vulnerable age.”
She said awareness about healthy online activity fits naturally into the BGCK’s regular programming, and into conversations about the pandemic. “We tell kids: This is what the new normal is like. You’re going to wear a mask, but you’re still going to have fun. You’re still going to interact with your peers, it’s just a different way to be safe. That’s the approach we’re taking with online as well,” she said.
“There is a way to connect online, there is a way to connect with your peers. There’s a way to do it safely. We give them those skills, to be able to navigate those online spaces.”
“We have increased wellness checks with our members and families and incorporated additional healthy relationships components to our programs, both in-person and virtual,” Gervais said.
Special focus for Pink Shirt Day
Running for over 10 years in Kingston, the BGC Pink Shirt campaign aims to raise awareness against bullying and promote safe and inclusive spaces for children and youth in the community. Pink shirts are sold to raise money for club initiatives, and worn to show solidarity against bullying.
With the amount of time that children have been on screens and on the Internet this year, Gervais said the BGCK is putting an extra focus on digital wellness during their Pink Shirt campaign.
The 2021 slogan campaign is, “Be Safe, Be Kind, Be You,” with proceeds funding anti-bullying and positive mentoring programs.
“Pink Shirt Day has a special meaning this year, with COVID-19 spiking the need for support,” says Amanda Guarino, Supervisor of Community Engagement at the Boys and Girls Club.
Pink Shirts are for sale on the BGCK website via a secure Shopify account, with shipping or scheduled pick up options available. Orders close on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 to ensure community members can receive shirts in time to wear them on Pink Shirt Day, Wednesday, February 24, 2021.
Gervais added that any students experiencing any form of bullying should speak with a trusted adult.
“With all of our programs, we really put a focus on our staff being a safe and caring adult for these children to go to with any issue. We always say to our members: we’re here, we’re caring, we want what’s best for you, you can tell us anything and we will help you through it.”