A crisis trauma response consultant for the B.C. Education Ministry is recommending that the Amanda Todd video not be shown in classrooms out of concern for its impact on vulnerable students.
Kevin Cameron, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment and Trauma Response, was lead author of a notice sent to school district superintendents and principals around B.C. warning of the potential effects of showing the YouTube video.
Coquitlam teen Amanda Todd created and posted the video online several weeks ago. It recounted how she became a victim of an online stalker who caused her to be severely bullied, emotionally and physically, both on the Internet and at a number of schools she attended. She committed suicide last week.
Cameron, works nationally and internationally, and led the crisis response team in Taber, Alberta after the school shootings there in 1999, just days after the Columbine shootings. He also helped develop B.C.’s recently adopted ERASE (Expect Respect And a Safe Education) strategy which addresses bullying and other harmful behaviours.
“We have seen in multiple jurisdictions around B.C. and elsewhere, more kids who are coming out of the woodwork” and seeking help in the aftermath of the Amanda Todd case, he said.
Calling the Todd video “traumatic stimuli,” he cautioned schools not to show it in classrooms as a general rule.
“There are some professionals and even parents who feel that just by showing the clip that that is somehow going to teach the kids not to bully,” said Cameron.
The problem is, any classroom could have students who are silently struggling with being bullied or other issues.
They may have decided they don’t want to watch it “because they know how on the edge they are already,” he said. Having that choice taken away from them by playing it in the classroom could elevate that level of risk.
“Tragically, one of the most common lines that some adults and even youth alike will use after a tragedy like the Amanda Todd situation occurs, is ‘See, this is what bullying causes,'” he said. “The problem with using that line but not having the skills to follow up with it, is then it embeds in some of our high-risk youth the belief that it is cause and effect, meaning ‘I’m being bullied, this is what bullying causes, and I have no way out.'”
He noted that the video is not a positive one which shows kids how to manage bullying but rather one which depicts a situation that ultimately led to a suicide, which other students could end up identifying with.
Cameron stressed that he’s not saying the video shouldn’t be shown at all, but that it should only be approved by school administrators for use by teachers skilled in responding to the reactions they might get from students, and where counselling staff have the resources to respond to any conscious or unconscious cries for help that may result.
When a high-profile trauma occurs, children who may not have otherwise shared their personal issues with bullying or depression may start to give subtle signs. These could include showing a new interest in such a case, asking more questions than they might have before, or pretending to be talking about a friend’s situation. Or they might write or draw scenes of depression or suicide.
There could be a limited window of opportunity for teachers or parents to help a vulnerable youth, as some youth might not express their concerns a second time, he said.
“Students will often go and give some type of pre-incident sign or indicator, to the adults that they have the most faith will help them.”
So if a student starts doodling images of suicide out of the blue, “nine times out of 10 it’s because they’re hoping that teacher will read between the lines and ask them, ‘My goodness, are you okay? What’s going on?’
“If the kid sees the teacher walk by and say, ‘That’s not appropriate for the classroom,’ if that drawing is a cry for help, what does the teacher’s failure to respond to that cry inadvertently do to the level of risk? And the answer is a simple one, it increases it.”
The letter to school districts is a reminder to school administrators and teachers to keep their eyes and ears open for such cries for help, Cameron said.
In dealing with high-profile incidents, he said it was originally thought that one of the biggest concerns is having people overreact in such situations. But the opposite is true, with hindsight after many tragedies showing that there were warning signs of situations that no one thought were as bad as they turned out to be.
“You can overreact, but it is so rare, I would rather deal with mopping up someone’s overreaction because somebody was concerned about a kid, than under-reaction that causes somebody their life.”