Tag Archives: Bullying

What to do at St. Michael’s College School

ownersmanualBy Dr David Laing Dawson

And for those not in Ontario, St Michael’s in Toronto is presently involved in police investigations where charges have been laid against students for bullying, assault and other charges pertaining to numerous incidents seen in videos spread on social media.St Michael’s is an all boys private Catholic secondary school

First we insist all schools be co-ed. We ban girls-only and boys-only schools. Then we stop overestimating the maturity and judgement of teenagers, especially when we find them in clusters, groups and herds.

The adolescent years are important. It is a time for these nascent humans to discover, navigate, as pioneers, the complexity of a sane, competitive yet compassionate society of human beings. They are discovering and forging boundaries, social contracts, the necessities of cohesion, cooperation. They are, at the best of times, overcoming fears and prejudices, and finding ways to satisfy their needs and desires while remaining kind and civil, building a unique sense of self while maintaining membership.

For this they need to be sitting in classrooms and walking the hallways with a full range of other human adolescents. Girls and boys of different sizes, shapes, abilities, and origins.

Putting all the boys in one school, and the girls in another, is a gross distortion of socialization during a very important developmental phase.

I could go on about this in abstract terms alluding to brain development, frontal lobe development, managing sexuality, gender identification, self awareness, expanding consciousness, and the need for all of this to happen within a good prototype, a good facsimile of the real world. But two small examples might paint the picture more vividly.

At the end of each Junior High School year my school held a convocation, an assembly, with the auditorium filled with students and parents. Besides speeches and singing, awards were presented. The three top students of each year had to go on stage to be presented a certificate. For three years I had to walk on stage and share these honours with a white girl and a Chinese girl. I remember fearing being teased by boys, my friends and buddies with their “manly” values, but I never was.

A generation later I have a photograph of a Student Council Meeting at M.M Robinson High. My daughter, Erin, is chairing that meeting. The members are sitting around the table. They appear to be listening intently as Erin points something out to them. They are all boys.

Contrast this with the current cover of The New Yorker. It depicts a room full of suited, older white men, all white, conferring with one another, and a door opening with a colourful array of women about to enter.

It is not at all hard to imagine, at an all boys school, with a tradition of manly muscular Christianity, how a gang culture develops with an emphasis on hierarchy, loyalty, dominance, and submission, with the infliction of pain confused with mirth, and the expression of sexuality becoming mixed with both.

We have a long way to go figuring out how to supervise our teens at home and at school now that their years of dependency stretch into their 20’s, unskilled but good jobs diminish, and these teens can now communicate with one another 24/7, and spend much of their time staring at screens, but closing the all boys and all girls schools would be one step in the right direction.

For more about raising adolescents, check out The Adolescent Owner’s Manual

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On the Efficacy of Suicide Prevention

David Laing DawsonBy Dr David Laing Dawson

In the past decade, make that two decades, we have witnessed a plethora of mission statements, lectures, programs, public health campaigns, TV ads, crisis services, anonymous telephone answering services, crisis lines, websites, information initiatives, task forces, white papers, all aimed at suicide, reducing the suicide rate in our communities, preventing suicide.

Yet the rate of suicides in Canada, completed suicides, remains statistically unchanged.

All of the above activities make us feel we are doing something about the problem. We are trying. But that is all they do.

The problem with a public campaign to prevent suicides is that it is akin to a public campaign to prevent heart failure. Both are end stages of other processes, but in the case of heart failure we know enough to target smoking, cardiovascular disease, obesity, hypertension, diabetes, rather than “heart failure”. We do not say, “Call this number if your heart is failing.”

We know the demographics of completed suicide. We know the risk factors. We know the specific and usually treatable illnesses that all too frequently lead to suicide. So if we truly want to reduce the actual numbers of people who kill themselves (not threats, small overdoses, passing considerations), then we need to stop wasting resources on “suicide prevention programs” and put them into the detection and treatment of those specific conditions so often responsible for suicide:

  • Some suicides are bona fide existential decisions, a choice to end one’s life of suffering: terminal illness, intractable pain, total incapacity.
  • Some suicides are the result of chronic complex social factors: unemployment, divorce, poverty, loss, alcoholism, addictions, isolation, and chronic illness. We can chip away at these factors with better support and rehabilitation services, improved minimum wage, retraining – but there is nothing we can do quickly and easily.
  • Some youth suicides are the result of impulsivity, intoxication, and an available instrument of death. Impulsivity comes with youth. Parents can keep an eye on intoxication. But we can make sure no instruments of death are available. Guns. Pills. Cars. Get rid of the gun(s) in the house. Lock up the serious drugs. Driving the family car is a privilege, not a right.
  • Some teen suicides today are the result of public shaming, bullying. Watch for this. Chaperone the parties. Monitor Facebook, Snapchat. No cell phones or internet in the child’s bedroom. It bears repeating: NO cell phones or internet in the child’s bedroom.
  • And then we have the specific mental illnesses that all too frequently, especially when undetected or under-treated, lead to suicide. These are Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disease, Severe Anxiety, PTSD, and OCD. And if we really want to make a dent in that suicide statistic then our programs, our money, our resources, should be directed to detection, comprehensive treatment, and monitoring of these illnesses.