Behaviour & Emotions Health & Well-being

Pink Shirt Day and what we can all do about it

Pink Shirt Day

Pink Shirt Day is about all people feeling safe, accepted and valued in all areas of their lives. It started in Canada way back in ‘07, when a boy showed up to school in a pink shirt and was bullied for his colour choice. Two of his friends decided that enough was enough, and their whole school decided to wear a pink shirt on a designated day. From there it made its way around the world, including to New Zealand where we recognise it mid May.

Why do we need Pink Shirt Day? Statistically, New Zealand is one of the worst countries worldwide for bullying. Nearly one in ten kids in Aotearoa has been afraid that someone at school would hurt them in the last year. Bullying happens in our schools and in our communities so it's important we all talk about it. It's also important parents think about what they can do to support their kids, and what we can all do to help make the world a better place!

What bullying can look like

Bullying can look like a whole lot of things. Bullying the 'old fashioned way' still takes place. Kids will often get a push in the hallway, or a “You’re dumb!”. It still looks like the group of kids who all sit in the same spot every day, and then one lunchtime ‘forget’ to tell one other kid that they’ve moved.

And then there's technology, which has given us new ways to do old things – including bullying. Bullying doesn't just happen at school, it now follows young people home. It can happen on the bus, when they're sitting watching Netflix or when they’re minding their own business scrolling through Instagram. Maybe they've being tagged in a mean meme or a GIF. It can look like nasty messages via text, Messenger, or even a Snapchat that disappears after five seconds. Young people can be excluded from group chats, 'trolled' in comments, or their social media fails can be screenshot and shared around. I know – it’s exhausting.

Thankfully the Harmful Communications Act 2015 basically legislated that cyberbullying is now illegal. This means that police can actually respond to bullying, beyond sending a text that reads 'Stop' emoji, 'handcuffs' emoji, 'pepper spray' emoji. With screenshot evidence, police can take action. Which is great, but what should parents do?

Make time to be together and talk about how things are going.

Create a safe space to talk

It’s heartbreaking to watch your child hurting. But before you can do anything about that hurt, your young person has to communicate with you. You’ve got to know what’s going on before you can help.

If you think something might be up, but young Kayla isn’t chatty about it, ask her, “What was the highlight of your day? What was the lowlight?” to get some insight into what’s going on. If little Noah doesn’t like to look you in the eye, take him out for an activity and talk. Shoulder to shoulder instead of face to face can make kids feel a lot more comfortable.

Make time to be together and talk about how things are going. Saying “Hey, are you getting bullied at school?” while you frantically search for the car keys and your child stares into their bowl of cereal doesn't work that well as a conversation starter. Create a safe and intentional space for them to be able to share.

Stand in the gap

When your child tells you that they’re being bullied, there are couple of steps you can practically take to support them.

Firstly, let them know that they shouldn’t reply to a cyberbully as replies just add fuel to the fire. Often the best reaction is no reaction – and that goes for face-to-face bullying too.

Secondly, let them know that they should always screenshot any cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is totally traceable if young people are willing to record and report it, and that allows for further steps to be taken.

If any bullying is happening within a school context, take the information that you have to your young person’s teacher. If there are serious threats involved, you can contact the police.

Once you’ve gone to see your young person’s teacher, or talked to them about what’s going on, see if you can connect them to their school counsellor. Encourage your child to take a friend along, so that they’ve got support. Talking always helps. Above all else, affirm your young person. Let them know that you have their back no matter what the circumstance. That you’re standing with them and that’s where you’ll stay. Tell them how much they’re worth – your words have the power to change the track that’s on repeat in their head. Believe in them and love them through it.

Tell them how much they’re worth – your words have the power to change the track that’s on repeat in their head.

Tell them your story

Most of us at least kind of remember what it was like to feel awkward and uncertain about who we were and what we were supposed to be doing when we were twelve. Tell your kids that. If you were bullied, be honest with them about that. Let them know that life isn’t always rosy, but that they will get through it, because you did.

Let your young person know that you’re not perfect (although pretty close) and that you feel bad sometimes and you’ve made mistakes. Be aware that they will probably look at you like you don't get what it's like to grow up in this technological world – and that's true. You could say something like, “Hey, I I know I don’t know what it’s like to grow up with technology because I’m ancient, but I do get you. I know you, and I love you, and I’ve always got your back no matter what.” Being empathetic will help your child to develop empathy for others. And that means they’re a whole lot less likely to become bullies themselves.

If you do start to worry about your child being a bully, do all that you can to develop the empathy that exists in all of us. Ask questions like, “What would you do if you were excluded at lunchtime?” or, “How would you feel if someone shared a screenshot of your message or circulated a joke at your expense?”

Hurt people hurt people

Bullies are usually bullying because they have pain that they’re struggling to process. Knowing this can help kids to understand that they aren’t being bullied because they’re bad or wrong. It’s actually about what’s going on within the bully and their world. No one is born a bully, and it's important that kids know that.

What we know is that it’s okay to struggle, but it’s not okay to struggle alone. Encouraging kids to come together in kindness is so important, so put your pink shirt on and lead by example.

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For over 25 years, Parenting Place has been here offering support and advice to New Zealand parents. We think that with the right support, parenting any age and stage can be a relatively stress-free and fun experience. You're doing great!

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