Events puts bullying in the spotlight

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Organizers of a documentary screening highlighting heart-wrenching tales of bullying hope it will kickstart discussion at the local level and bring valuable lessons for the community.

The Town of Okotoks and the Okotoks Film Festival are joining forces for the screening of the documentary Bully at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre on Jan. 10 at 7 p.m.

Okotoks Film Festival president Katie Fournell said the documentary addresses a critical issue among youth in school systems across North America.

“We want films that are relevant in Okotoks and we definitely know that bullying is always going to be a hot issue,” she said. “We wanted something that is an important issue and something that is still a struggle. It’s still something that needs to be talked about because, for sure, it’s not fixed yet.”

Following the screening, the Okotoks Public Library will host a presentation on the effects of bullying and how to help youth stay resilient Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. The cost to attend the documentary is $5 at the door, while the library presentation is free.

Bully, filmed in the U.S. during the 2009/2010 school year and directed by Lee Hirsch, follows the lives of bullied youth and captures responses from parents, teachers and school administration officials to aggressive behavior caught on camera.

The screening is part of the Movies for Change initiative, a collaboration between the Town and film festival organizers.

“I think because it’s a documentary, even though there is some parts that may be a little harder for very young children to watch, it’s an important discussion to have with children probably between the ages of eight to 12,” said Fournell. “That’s an age that I find bullying starts to really affect children.”

Fournell said this is often the age when behaviours shift from teasing and comments that aren’t meant to be hurtful to those that are more serious, deliberate and often impact children beyond school.

“The intention changes,” she said. “It’s important that we show kids the reality.”

Okotoks counsellor Ashley Dreger will provide further information on the effects of bullying, as well as strategies to help children stay resilient during her presentation at the library on Jan. 15.

The presentation focuses on helping parents develop skills to understand and help their children.

“I work with a number of youth and have for quite a long time,” said Dreger. “When it comes to bullying it seems to be, unfortunately, still quite common and have a huge impact on the young children and youth in our town.”

Being a victim of bullying can be very devastating, said Dreger.

“Unfortunately, by the time I see kids they have quite low self worth,” she said. “Lots of times they feel low self-esteem, self-worth and are having trouble socializing. A lot of kids truly believe nobody wants to be around them and it’s their fault.”

Dreger said she’s also worked with some youth who are the bully.

“A lot of them don’t realize they are bullies,” she said. “They think they are joking, they think they are funny.”

Dreger said her presentation gives parents the skills to create a sense of self-worth and self-esteem in their children so they won’t be as impacted by bullies.

“It makes a huge difference in how we perceive it and how other people perceive it,” she said. “It really helps to diminish it and it helps prevent our kids from being bullies.”

Dreger will work with parents to help their children see the positives in themselves and that it’s okay to be different.

“A lot of us put our self worth into the external things like how we look, what we have and how successful we are instead of our values, that we are kind and nice to people,” she said. “It’s helping them learn the skill set. A lot of them are dealing with anxiety.”

There is no cost to attend Dreger’s presentation, though registration is required by calling 403-938-2220 or online at okotokslibrary.ca

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