Tobago tackles youth bullying

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Signal Hill Secondary students get their temperature checked by security at the school when screening was required under public health guidelines in 2022. Schools in Tobago are taking part in an anti-bullying campaign. – File photo/David Reid

Bullying among young people in Tobago is being challenged by a campaign launched last week.

Speaking at the launch on May 12, administrator Diane Baker-Henry of the THA Division of Education, Research and Technology (DERTECH) warned that bullying is taking on new forms.

She admitted that students and parents had faced bullying in schools for years and seen such aggression among students interacting at schools.

But now, she said, increased access to technology, the growth in popularity of various social media platforms and children’s desire to conform to new standards had contributed to an increase in bullying.

“Today, bullying is embedded in our social comments and direct messages, making it difficult to identify when a student is being targeted, unless they speak out and seek help.”

She said physical, verbal and cyber-bullying not only affected students who were bullied but also the aggressors, witnesses and parents, who often feel helpless when they are unable to keep their children safe.

The campaign, Take a Stand: Stop Think, Act with Respect, was organised by the Student Support Services of DERTECH and runs from May 11-June 16.

School supervisor III Sherry Ann Rollocks-Hackett declared, “We are not prepared to remain neutral in situations like this…We are stepping up, we are speaking out and we are doing things that would eventually lead to a change in the behaviour of our young people.”

Project officer II Vanessa Boyce said it will involve a series of anti-bullying sessions, as well as art, dance and drama competitions open to all secondary schools on the island.

Rollocks-Hackett said the initiative is in response to issues affecting schools.

“We have all been looking at the television, we have been looking on social media, we have been seeing the videos of the fights, of the interactions between our young people in our schools.”

Welcoming the initiative, she warned that bullying is not limited to the secondary-school sector.

“We find that at all levels of society and at all levels of the school system.”

It was important, she said, to respond in a way that would ensure young people grow and become “the citizens that we want them to become.”

She said the division would continue to work with the unit as she congratulated it for what she termed “a very progressive intervention.”

School psychologist Joy McPherson said the initiative is a collaborative effort. She said the unit sees the effects of bullying and deals with them daily.

Bullying hurts, she said: “Not just the victim but also the perpetrators, and this is why we’re doing this today. We want to encourage our young people to take a stand…and if you even thought about becoming a perpetrator, stop, think and act with kindness.”

She said part of the campaign is a friendly competition in which students would use their creativity.