Is Leisure Literacy a Bullying Antidote?

I’m probably not the only one who’s been thinking about bullying this week.

It’s heartbreaking when anyone gets to the point where they have lost heart and hope. It’s even more horrific to think that someone with so much of their life ahead of them sees suicide as their only option.

Such was the case last week with 15-year-old B.C. teenager Amanda Michelle Todd who committed suicide as the result of cyber-bullying. 

Both the cause and her state of mind were clear as the result of a video she had posted on YouTube in September.

In it, she used a series of flash cards to explain she sent an image of her breasts to a man who blackmailed her but ultimately still circulated the picture via the internet. Consequently she was bullied and physically assaulted despite changing schools and cities.

There are many who still dismiss bullying as some kind of rite of passage that ultimately will make us stronger. However, when I was growing up, bullying never had the potential to do the damage it does now as the result of social media.

The most troubling issue for me is that while everyone is horrified and is becoming more aware that bullying is a form of insidious and damaging violence that impacts one in five children and youth, there hasn’t been as much talk about what we can do to prevent it.

While Quebec Member of Parliament Dany Morin has called for a federal committee to study bullying, and there is a movement to consider the possibility of criminalizing cyberbullying, like many others, I’m interested in what each of us can do right now.

The challenge is that we can’t create laws that will enforce kindness and empathy. And yes, for sure we can encourage parents and others to talk to kids about standing up to bullies, the importance of treating others with compassion, and about the dangers of sharing too much online.

However, what is perhaps more important is making sure our kids are armed with the self esteem and confidence that will shield them from those who are cruel and mean-spirited.

For many kids, this can and does happen when they find passions, activities, and interests that allow them to excel. This often occurs outside of school—in recreation, arts, and sports settings.
 
Too often overlooked as a solution, leisure time can be used to help children and youth explore, find, and cultivate that which is meaningful, intrinsically, and uniquely satisfying to them.

This is especially important because the activities we pursue in our leisure time provide us with the opportunity to develop our full and holistic potential—physical, social, creative, intellectual, and spiritual.

Kids who feel they don’t fit can explore and find activities and settings where they do fit.

It worked for me at the age of 12 when a household move left me entering grade 7 in a school where I didn’t know a soul. While not bullied, I was pretty much an outcast until I learned I could take my ability as a fast runner to a competitive level. Connecting to a local track and field club, I was able to find much more confidence and self-esteem as well as a community of friends.

This kind of leisure education, or leisure literacy, as some are now calling it, is a means of helping children and youth find ways and means of exploring their personal values and interests. This exploration could result in them competing, getting fit, learning new skills, finding creative expressions, exploring nature, doing something meaningful, getting recognition, etc.

Too often we think about leisure as something to keep us occupied when instead it is more about restoring or igniting our spirit, keeping us alert and learning, and discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, life. All of these are antidotes that will help kids stand up to bullies. 

It might just be that maximizing the potential and possibilities of our leisure time is an overlooked but key solution that could be one of the best investments we make to increase the resiliency of our precious children and youth.

Posted on 10-21-12


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