Cyberbullying / November 12, 2019

Our story and advice for families dealing with bullying

Tenille

Tennille Boutilier

Anti-Bullying Advocate and Parent

Our story and advice for families dealing with bullying

It’s 3am and I am awakened again by my daughter’s cell phone ringing. It’s another harassing call from a former friend. I stand in Brooke’s doorway, as I did when she was a baby, checking to make sure she’s still breathing; watching her sheets rise and fall. Thankful she is alive and that we’ve made it through another day.

The bullying she endured did not just affect her, it impacted us all. My husband and I felt like we were gasping for air, as though we were being pulled down by a very heavy weight without any idea how to get up. The answers we were being given were not good enough.

When it all began, one might have said it was just “girls being girls”. This was not at all the case; rather it was the act of bullying; something we’d endure for much of Brooke’s high school years. Brooke had been friends with a group of girls throughout elementary and most of junior high school, but upon entering Grade 9, the girls’ interests changed, and so did the friendship.

Initially the bullying occurred in person. The girls no longer allowed Brooke to sit with them at lunch and stopped inviting her to hang out. Then, they excluded her from group chats and sent Brooke text messages, pretending to be someone else (referred to as catfishing). The bullying was quickly escalating and getting out of control. The girls spread horrific rumours and even left handwritten notes on Brooke’s windshield, urging her to kill herself.

Fortunately, and due largely to our strong relationships with our children, Brooke talked to us about what was happening. The scary part was that, as parents, we didn’t know what to do. None of our friends had experienced anything like this and Brooke didn’t want us to ask the school for help. She worried it would make things worse.

By the end of Grade 10, the bullying took a turn for the worse. Brooke learned to ignore the endless, middle-of-the-night phone calls encouraging her to kill herself but it was difficult to ignore it all. Two of her former friends started an online group chat called “The I Hate Brooke Club” and invited Brooke’s classmates to participate. It was at this point that we decided to engage the school for support. When the girls’ parents were informed, things seemed to worsen as Brooke’s peers were angry that Brooke “told on them”.

Advocating for Brooke and driving positive change

Brooke’s mental health began to decline, she no longer wanted to attend school, and was disinterested in socializing outside of school. We literally couldn’t recognize our own child anymore and we all needed help. During this difficult time we had two options:

  1. Continue to suffer, at the risk of losing Brooke to mental health challenges
  2. Stand up for what was happening, drive positive change and pave the path for others to follow

We chose the second option and put a number of strategies into place that I believe can help other parents grappling with similar situations:

  • Engage school and police support: we involved the school staff and kept speaking to them until we were heard. We also enlisted the support of the police.
  • Document everything: we kept copies of the terrible messages being sent and turned in the notes left on the car.
  • Seek counselling: we attended counselling as a family and also found an amazing counsellor for Brooke. Don’t allow your child to give up on counselling if they struggle to connect with the counsellor; explore options until you find a fit. In Brooke’s case, she met with three different counsellors before finding someone to work with.
  • Lean on your network: recognize that it is okay to ask for help as an adult. Talk to a friend, family member, doctor, counsellor, or police officer. Find someone you can talk with because if your child is hurting, so are you. Involve family members so you can keep each other strong. Ensure you have a “check in” person who regularly checks on you and your family.
  • Ongoing conversation and support: talk to your child often, and always be there to listen. Be present, both physically and emotionally, and practice gratitude as a family – it can help when circumstances become too much. Remind each other of their value.
  • Advocate for your child: You as a parent represent them and their rights. Don’t accept anything less than the absolute best and help your child feel safe.

I also urge all parents to proactively encourage children to stand up for others. Remember, there are no innocent bystanders; if just one of Brooke’s peers had told the girls to stop, it may have ended the bullying sooner. Additionally, be confident in sharing your story; it can make a difference and empower others to stand up to bullying.

A message from Brooke

Brooke also has some sage advice for other youth, based on her own experience. She believed that showing her pain made her weak and was so desperate to have the bullying come to an end, that for the longest time she made herself believe it would go away on its own. Now, Brooke recommends talking though the pain, saying, “I tried so hard to push all of my sad and hurt feelings aside, but once I found someone to talk to about my feelings I was much happier.”

Despite everything she went through, today, when Brooke is asked if she would change anything about high school, her answer is no. Her experiences have helped her become a strong, independent woman, ready to help others dealing with bullying and change how bullying is dealt with by society.

Looking ahead

It’s been 6 years since the bullying started. We all are still seeing a counsellor and still practicing gratitude. Brooke is in her second year of nursing and not a day goes by that I don’t think about what happened and how hurt and broken we were. However, we found our way and are now fortunate to use our experience to help make a difference in our community. We are resilient at spreading kindness and we are thankful!

If your child is being bullied, I hope you find comfort in our story which shows that you can get through this with positivity, determination and hope. To learn more about how to help kids deal with cyberbullying, download the TELUS Wise parent’s guide.

Tags:
Cyberbullying
Kids & tech
Prevention & support
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