Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District unveils safe teen network

Teens Networking Together gives youth a proactive way to report concerns about bullying and provides them with immediate support.

We have all heard news stories about social media being used to spread acts of bullying and violence.

Now, the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District (School District 68), the RCMP and the Vancouver Island Crisis Line have collaborated on a unique new program that will allow teens to use social media to combat bullying, violence in relationships and suicidal thoughts. The program provides a way that the community can support youth 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

TNT — Teens Networking Together — was unveiled Tuesday to mark Anti-Bullying Day on Wednesday.

TNT is a community-developed, safe teen network that will give youth in Nanaimo-Ladysmith a proactive way to report concerns about bullying, as well as provide them with immediate support if they are feeling scared, worried or suicidal.

TNT has a catchy website and mobile phone site that can be bookmarked and loaded onto any smartphone, tablet and hand-held device by simply scanning from colourful school-based TNT posters.

After the initial launch, once the bugs are worked out, a free mobile app will be available from iTunes, Android and BlackBerry to further help young people to report bullying or seek emotional help from professionally-trained community staff.

The Vancouver Island Crisis Line will respond 24/7 to support teens who are scared, worried or suicidal. School District 68 schools will respond during school hours to all reports of bullying and provide followup, enlisting the help of the RCMP, if necessary.

School District 68 safe schools co-ordinator Tom Piros says a major concern for secondary schools in Nanaimo-Ladysmith is the way that social networking can be used for cyberbullying.

“When someone can be bullying you at all hours of the day and night on electronic devices, the feelings of vulnerability are even more intense,” he said. “Often, Facebook threats can build outside of school for weeks and then play out in violence at school.

“We started thinking — wouldn’t it be cool if a teen who felt scared, worried or suicidal could simply click on a local school district website icon, on a Facebook page or an app on their cellphone and be directly connected to a local caring agency?”

The TNT organizers also plan to enlist local businesses to offer student discounts, as an incentive for teens to visit the site regularly. As the site becomes a “must-have” for local youth, they will already be familiar with the site when they need it. The site also lists community resources for youth.

The TNT site was developed by Array Studios of Nanaimo. Some staff members have children in school, and they have contributed countless hours to the site and take pride in the project.

Hand-in-hand with the TNT initiative, School District 68 has also put measures in place to more formally collect information about incidents of bullying.

An internal reporting form can be used by anyone witnessing or being the target of bullying. All reports will be investigated and will also be included in data being collected by the district.

“Schools have always responded to reports of bullying with investigations and appropriate steps to deal with each situation,” said Bob Esliger, district principal of student support services. “Now, we are putting into place a mechanism that will provide us with better information about what has been reported and what steps were taken.”