The school day has just begun, and your classmate Zoe is already crushed. While changing for gym, another friend says she's too skinny and accuses her of purging to get thin. You decide to "LOL" rather than ignore it. Zoe runs out.
But later on, you convince some friends not to exclude Zoe from a party this weekend. You're back on the right track.
This is a scenario from BullyText, an interactive learning tool activated by cellphone featuring various bullying scenarios. It can be used by anyone with a cellphone that can send and receive SMS — otherwise known as text — messages.
Created by Do Something Canada, an organization aimed at getting young people to effect social change, it was designed for youth in grades six to eight. Users are asked to make choices to determine how the scenarios play out and what the ultimate consequences are.
The RCMP's National Youth Services has adopted the tool for its use and officially released it last fall during Bullying Awareness Week.
"We all know that today's youth are very connected to their phones," says Louis Zuniga, manager of the RCMP's national youth strategy. "We feel that this is an engaging tool that will teach youth how to avoid becoming either victims or offenders, but also because it's something they'll enjoy using."
Before its debut, members of the RCMP's National Youth Advisory Committee, who meet through a secure online forum to discuss issues such as drugs, impaired driving and bullying, were asked to try it out.
"I thought this game was really cool and creative," says 17-year-old committee member Meaghan Larkin. "The scenarios were realistic. This type of game would be easy to bring up in a discussion about bullying in class."
That's definitely one way the RCMP intends for BullyText to play out. While cell phones are usually frowned upon in class, this tool now gives teachers and police officers in schools an engaging way to educate about the dangers inherent with bullying.
"The power of the bystander cannot be understated," says Cst. Travise Dow, an RCMP member who works with youth in a number of schools in Cumberland County, N.S. "BullyText makes you think about your responses. I believe this is critical for our youth. Empowering them to be engaged in the process will prevent small incidents from blowing up into larger ones."
Students can use the tool individually or in groups and then be engaged in a larger discussion about the scenarios they faced. An accompanying lesson plan for BullyText is also available.
"Although they show the obvious good and bad answers, the scenarios will help youth fully realize how easy it is to make the right decision," says 15-year-old Mikaela Tynski, who also sits on the youth advisory committee.
Those decisions in BullyText can involve deciding whether to share a supposedly ugly photo of a classmate, or chiming in when a friend calls another student gay.
Periodically, players are asked to review their choices, which the tool evaluates and challenges throughout. No matter what choices have been made, there's always an opportunity to make better choices and turn things around.
Research has shown that 60 per cent of boys who frequently bullied others in elementary school had a criminal record by age 24. Those who suffer at the hands of a bully are prone to health problems, depression, academic problems and — in extreme cases — suicide attempts. Many who've been bullied report that the effects stayed with them into adulthood.
Not only does BullyText teach youth why they shouldn't hurt others, but it also promotes reaching out to those who may feel alienated or lonely.
"I know personally, having to take a class alone without friends, that group work is difficult and quite embarrassing if you don't have a partner," says youth advisory committee member Alvin Leung, 17. "This game encourages teens to step out of their comfort zone for others — and in service of others."