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Pink Shirt Day ‘just a Band-Aid’

By Martin van den Hemel

Feb. 24, 2016 is Pink Shirt Day. 
File photo

Feb. 24, 2016 is Pink Shirt Day. File photo

Wednesday is Pink Shirt Day, but a Victoria author and teacher says it’s just a band-aid solution to a bigger unaddressed bullying problem.

“Adults are the real bullies and they’re teaching that to children,” said Jennifer M. Fraser, author of Teaching Bullies: Zero Tolerance on the Court or in the Classroom.

While the issue of bullying continues to be addressed in schools, and even social media, what’s remained a taboo topic is bullying by coaches in sports, from amateur to professional, and even by teachers in the classroom.

“We do not talk about coaches who bully, we do not talk about teachers who bully,” Fraser, a current private school teacher, said.

And while it’s widely accepted that coaches have the greatest influence in the lives of teenagers and young adults, they aren’t expected to have the psychological training to do so, and there’s absolutely no oversight, she said.

When complaints are made by children about abusive behaviour, Fraser said what’s more likely to happen is that sporting associations and leagues will protect the adult and condemn the children.

After a complaint is made, the bullying can instead intensify, with complainants being labelled as “weak,” and the point being made that “other children enjoy the coaching,” she said.

Coaches have a massive amount of power over an athlete’s future, and that means, she said, that often players can’t simply change teams.

International studies suggest 70% of children quit organized sports at the age of 13 “because they can’t stand it, it’s no longer fun,” Fraser said. “It’s about the parents, the egos of coaches, egos of people who run the organizations. It’s completely everything that kids don’t want to do.”

So what needs to change?

“I think we’re at the point where we have to have some discussion,” she said. “We have lost our way as a society. I think (coach bullying) has become normalized in our culture in the same way that racism became normalized … and anti-Semitism.”

Fraser said kids need to be taught about emotional abuse, and be given an anonymous place where they can report, one that’s independent and safe.

“Pink Shirt Day is a band-aid solution. Bullying is on the rise … We are looking at the wrong source of bullying,” she said.

“On the playground, it’s bullying, but done by an adult, it’s a way to motivate you.”

Fraser noted that in the United Kingdom, a new law has come into force that’s aimed squarely at people who psychologically and emotionally abuse their partners, spouses or family members.