Messages from a video by Port Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd

Teach online safety in school, experts say

B.C.'s bullying awareness and reporting strategies should be bolstered by classroom instruction, say privacy and child advocacy officers

Instruction to protect children from “cyberbullying” should be included in B.C.’s new school curriculum, according to a new report from the province’s independent child welfare and privacy officers.

The B.C. government’s current school anti-bullying program was put in place in June 2012. Four months later, 15-year-old Amanda Todd posted a video of her online treatment before she killed herself at her Port Coquitlam home, putting an international face on the dangers faced by young people socializing online.

In 2013, Nova Scotia teen Rehtaeh Parsons was also driven to suicide after explicit pictures of her were circulated on social media. Representative for Children and Youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond and Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham surveyed the laws and strategies in place inside and outside B.C. since then.

Their report, presented Friday to the B.C. government, calls for more measures in schools in addition to the ERASE (Expect Respect And a Safe Education) strategy put in place in 2012. It provides for anonymous reporting by students of bullying, either online or in person.

The report calls for the education ministry to “ensure that developmentally appropriate learning objectives about cyberbullying and digital citizenship be included in the provincial school curriculum and delivered to all school-age children as soon as possible.”

Education Minister Mike Bernier said Friday the new school curriculum, which began implementation this fall, already includes “a focus on bullying behaviour and discrimination starting in Grade 4.”

Bernier said in a statement the ministry has developed resources for teachers, with course objectives for different grades “about cyberbullying, internet safety, privacy and security, relationships and communication.”

Denham and Turpel-Lafond cite research showing that 99 per cent of young people have online access outside of school, and that by Grade 11, more than half sleep with their phones nearby so they can exchange messages at night. They caution against parental efforts to monitor young people’s communications around the clock, or to cut off their access.

“For young people, halting use of social media, websites, cellphones or email accounts is an impractical solution,” the report states. “It would be equivalent to house arrest and social deprivation.”