Carol Todd knows all too well the pain that can come from childhood bullying, and now she’s coming to town with a call to action for Chilliwack parents.
In 2012, after years of cyberbullying, Todd’s daughter, Amanda, committed suicide. And while many parents could have been destroyed by the weight of their grief, Todd used hers to create a lasting legacy in Amanda’s name that strives to end bullying in all its forms.
Now her efforts are bringing her into the heart of the Fraser Valley to offer a call to action for local parents about the amount of screen time the entire family is engaging in.
“The average teenager spends nine hours a day online,” said Todd during a telephone interview. “They have broken sleep, they’re gaming, they’re texting.”
But kids aren’t picking this behaviour on their own, says Todd, they’re often learning it from parents or other family members.
“A TIME online (article) said 54 per cent of kids in the USA feel they spend too much time online … and parents themselves also feel they spend too much time on devices. It’s hypocritical to ask our children to stop while continuing to use (these devices) ourselves,” Todd continued.
“Parents have (helped to) create this whole problem. (There are) young kids are going into school who are lacking fine motor skills (because) they’re not being given the LEGO, the beads, or Play-Doh.”
With an eye on the past, Todd isn’t suggesting we forego visual entertainment, but instead turning it into an experience for the entire family.
“Let’s bring back the DVDs,” she said. “I remember renting movies with my kids. That was time together, it was conversation face to face. Even going to the library and choosing books (can be a memorable experience).”
That said, Todd recognizes the power of technology and how embedded it is in our society, which is part of the message she has for Chilliwack’s moms and dads.
“It’s not always about teaching the kids because they’re too young,” said Todd. “It’s about teaching the parents.”
And Brigette and Fred MacKenzie agree, which is why they’re hosting the anti-bullying event that Todd will be speaking at.
Open to the entire community, and free of charge, the event takes place on Saturday, Sept. 8, at 4 p.m., at the University of Fraser Valley’s Gathering Place in Chilliwack’s Canada Education Park.
Moved by the plight of children who are bullied either in person or online, the MacKenzies have been working for years to create not only anti-bullying momentum in the area, but a conversation around the issue as a whole.
“I remember being so affected by Amanda Todd’s story,” said Brigette MacKenzie, who co-owns the Chilliwack Chito-Ryu karate school with her husband, Fred. “So I reached out.”
That was in 2015, and now, three years later, Todd and the MacKenzies are still diligently working at eliminating bullying and cyberbulling in Chilliwack.
“(And) now we have a long relationship with Carol Todd—we’re business friends,” explained MacKenzie from inside the Chito-Ryu dojo.
“We really (appreciate) her call to action now,” continued MacKenzie. “We need to get kids off screens, more active, involved with their communities, which will help their personal development.”
That’s why, in addition to Carol Todd, Chris Cassamassa will also be attending the event.
Cassamassa, who earned is first degree black belt at 10, is legendary among some martial arts circles. Working his way into Hollywood, he was Batman’s stunt double in 1997’s Batman & Robin, and now he’s using his skills to help combat bullying with his KICKNFIT KIDS program, of which the MacKenzies are licensed instructors.
Although it’s a health- and fitness-based program, KICKNFIT KIDS also strives to arm kids with “bully busting self-defense moves.”
“Very often we have students who are either bullied or bullies themselves,” said Sensei Fred MacKenzie, who’s reached the level of Shihan, or Master Teacher.
But after immersing themselves in Martial arts training, the kids change, said Sensei MacKenzie.
“Having that knowledge gives them control of their environments, teaches them how to defend themselves against bullies, and helps develop an air of self-confidence.
“And when they have that self-confidence, they don’t seem to be as bothered by bullies … (and former) bullies are molded into different (people),” added Sensei MacKenzie.
“Sometimes I think we’ve done the word (“bullying”) to death,” said Todd.
“You can have all the anti-bullying conferences you want, but (we) really need to talk about mind and heart and how you should interact with people online and offline.
“It’s all about the behaviours of the person,” she concluded. But “it’s not always about teaching the kids because they’re too young. It’s about teaching the parents, (which) takes time, but we definitely have to do it.”
For more information about Sept. 8’s anti-bullying event, please visit ChilliwackChitoRyu.com.