+FORT is a mobile application that offers support to young victims of bullying. The app helps them to better understand what they’re going through and offers them strategies to help diminish bullying.
It’s a unique tool that gives young people empirically-based and useful information about bullying. The app also helps them better understand what they’re going through, and discover and test strategies that can help diminish the amount of bullying they experience. Young people often say it’s hard to talk to adults about what happens when they are being bullied. +FORT was created to guide them through these difficult times. The app is easy to use, completely confidential, and prompts the user to confide in an adult when they feel ready.
+FORT is a tool that is intended to complement the work being done in schools and at home and by helping professionals and parents.
The app includes educational videos that deal with various aspects of bullying like cyberbullying, homophobia, the consequences of bullying, etc. The videos are based on the relevant scientific literature and presented by well-known personalities like Amariah Faulkner, Richard Walters, Jessica Lord and Jake Goodman.
Young people who tested +FORT said they watched each video several times, and say it helped them to feel less alone. One 14-year-old boy puts it this way: “We spent three hours talking (about bullying) at school and I learned more about it in five minutes with +FORT .“
The app prompts the young person to answer a few questions about the bullying they’ve experienced. +FORT summarizes and illustrates the information so the user can see if the bullying increases or decreases over time and where it happens most often (online or offline).
This overview is displayed graphically, which helps the young person better understand what they are experiencing, decide whether it’s time to take action, and choose what places or activities to focus on. The information can also be shared with a person of trust. Sharing can be a good way to break the ice!
In our pilot project, we asked our young users how they liked this feature of the app. They told us that it was “just like a diary!” A 15-year-old girl also told us: “When you answer the questions, you start to really understand what you’re going through, you realize just how powerful it (bullying) is. When you really express what you’re going through, it can help you figure out strategies to help things get better.”
+FORT suggests and explains more than 50 strategies that can be helpful to a young person who is experiencing bullying. Since every young person is different, and bullying can take many forms, the app offers different choices of strategies so that the approach is best suited to the individual user. +FORT prompts the young person to try some of these strategies and assess them to determine which ones work best for them. The young person can also create their own strategies or share the ones they’ve found most effective with a friend (who may or may not also be experiencing bullying) or an adult.
The number and variety of options are a big plus in the eyes of the young people who tested the app : “Knowing that I had extra strategies in my toolbox gives me a better idea of what I can do, and that definitely helped me be less stressed and better understand what was really going on.” – A 13 year-old boy.
children in Canada are victims of bullying. It is most frequent among 11 to 14 year-olds.
of children in Canada have their own smartphone by the end of high school.
people downloaded the first version of +FORT, which was originally only available for iOS and in French.
the reduction in the level of bullying after just four to six weeks of using +FORT, according to our preliminary studies.
Bullying isn’t just kids squabbling. A situation constitutes bullying when the actions are repeated, last over time, and aim to harm others. There is a power imbalance among the young people involved (for example, in popularity, physical strength or numbers); and the victim often gets to a point where they feel it’s very difficult to cope.
You shouldn’t take bullying lightly! Although not every young person is going to suffer lasting harm in these situations, they are still experiences that can hurt, provoke anger, and induce lower self-esteem and sadness.
Physical Bullying: being hit, pushed, or subjected to physical aggression that can hurt you or constrain you.
Psychological or Emotional Bullying: Hurtful comments or teasing about someone’s appearance or personality.
Social Bullying: Intentionally excluding someone from a group, and/or gossiping about them.
Bullying Through Discrimination: Making fun of someone’s differences in religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.
Cyberbullying is bullying (psychological, emotional, social, or through discrimination) that takes place in a virtual space like social media, personal web pages, or instant messaging.
The impact of cyberbullying can really snowball when other young people rush to share, like, or comment on online material. In just a few clicks, videos, photos or hurtful comments can be passed on to hundreds of people.
Given that young people generally feel secure in the online environment, they don’t always grasp the negative consequences of their behaviours. You need to be watchful! In fact, many young people don’t even realize that their online actions amount to cyberbullying.
Some young people who experience bullying become fearful, avoid particular places, stop participating in activities at school, or even start staying away from school.
A young person living with bullying might also start having difficulty concentrating in class and get lower marks at school. That can be pretty hard on one’s self-esteem.
The victim of bullying might start experiencing physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach aches, Other victims have mentioned emotional problems, like sadness, lack of interest in certain activities, increased anxiety or even suicidal thoughts. These problems can sometimes still linger even when the bullying has stopped.
Bullying can happen to someone at any age and at any point in time. Be on the lookout for any change in your child’s ways of doing things, reactions, or behaviour (for example, doesn’t feel like going to school, doesn’t talk to their friends anymore, doesn’t invite friends home, etc.)
These factors don’t necessarily mean that your child is being bullied, but they are signs that your child is experiencing something that you need to pay attention to. You can:
+FORT aims to help victims of bullying by offering them a digital tool that is confidential, free, and available 24/7. All of our team’s efforts are directed towards supporting young people who are experiencing bullying.
Schools and other organizations that would like to promote +FORT by displaying our posters, for example, can let us know by email. There is no charge for the material!
+FORT is constantly being refined, for instance, we are working to adapt the content of the app to other countries. Researchers on the +FORT team are working with the (anonymous) data gathered through the app to improve the app itself and to better understand how to support young victims of bullying.
+FORT’s content is based on science, but has also been put through preliminary studies to test its usefulness.
We carried out a study with young people between the ages of 12 and 16, parents and staff in schools. All of them used +FORT on a daily basis and participated in a focus group. Participants felt the app was valuable and said they felt better informed about, and more alert to, bullying happening around them.
Twelve young victims of bullying agreed to use +FORT for four weeks. They subsequently reported that they were experiencing less bullying, felt more confident about taking action when experiencing or witnessing bullying, and for the most part, were willing to talk about their experience with someone they trusted. The amount of intimidation they were subjected to went down by about half after only four weeks of use, which is highly encouraging!
Our team also visited two high schools to further determine how +FORT may be useful. A total of 40 young people, most of them victims of bullying, used the app for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Once more, the users reported, on average, half as much victimization at the end of this period.
+FORT is the result of collaboration by several Quebec researchers. The research team has been working with professionals in education and specialists in new media to create a tool that young people will find not only helpful, but easy and even enjoyable to use.
Ms. Ouellet-Morin is the holder of a PhD in research and clinical psychology, and is Associate Professor in the School of Criminology at Université de Montréal, as well as a Canada Research Chair in the developmental origins of vulnerability and resilience. She is the co-director of Axel – a technological intelligence accelerator focusing on mental health ― and a researcher affiliated with the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal (IUSMM) and GRIP (Groupe de recherche et d’intervention pyschosociale). Ms. Ouellet-Morin examines the physiological, emotional and social mechanisms that can lead to mental health and behavioural problems among young people who face adversity. She is also looking into whether or how new technologies can help them be more resilient in the face of adversity.
Stéphane Guay is the holder of a PhD in clinical psychology and specializes in the care of victims of serious acts of violence, particularly in the workplace, as well as the care of individuals having developed post-traumatic stress disorder in a variety of contexts. His research aims to provide improved psychosocial intervention for individuals at risk of developing post-traumatic reactions, specifically studying the differing needs of women and men. As well as being the director of the Centre d’études sur le trauma, he heads the VISAGE research team, which has as a main goal improving care for individuals who have been subjected to serious acts of violence in the workplace.
Marie-Pier Robitaille is the holder of a PhD in criminology and has carried out postdoctoral work in psychiatry. She is a lecturer in criminology at Université de Montréal and in paralegal education at Collège Ahuntsic. Ms. Robitaille has been involved in the project since its inception; she coordinates the research team’s activities and the development and validation of +FORT.
Thomas Ledwell holds a Bachelor’s degree in contemporary studies and history, and Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College in Halifax, as well as a Master’s degree in political science and communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is an authoritative voice in multichannel engagement strategy, content creation, innovation, the development and management of policy and the development of dynamic partnerships and relationships.
Pierrich Plusquellec is an Associate Professor at the École de Psychoéducation of Université de Montréal. Co-director of the Centre d’études sur le stress humain, he is also the founder and director of the Centre d’études en sciences de la communication non verbale. He focuses on the validation of approaches to stress management, the development of empathy, and popularizing science.
Marie-Claude St-Laurent is not only an actress, author, and feminist movement activist, but also Co-Literary Director of La Nef at Éditions du remue-ménage publishing house and Co-Founder of Théâtre de l'Affamée. On the small screen, she debuted in the popular youth show Vrak la vie and thereafter joined the casts of Sioui-Bacon V and L'Écrivain public III. On stage, she played roles in Guérilla de l'ordinaire, Chienne(s), Toc Toc, Grease and Aller chercher demain. Marie-Claude has also co-written eight plays (conjointly with Marie-Ève Milot) including Débranchée (Unplugged) - a 2017 Louise LaHaye Prize finalist - and Guérilla de l'ordinaire - a 2019 Michel Tremblay Prize finalist. Their feminist essay, La Coalition de la Robe, co-written with Marie-Claude Garneau, was published by Éditions du remue-ménage in 2017. A committed artist who takes youth wellbeing to heart, Marie-Claude has been involved in the +Fort program as its spokesperson since the project's inception. ©Éva-Maude_TC
Over the years, many students and volunteers have given us help and support. We would like to offer them very heartfelt thanks for their contributions. Without them, +FORT would not be where it is today.
These links will take you to scientific literature, popular articles, and media reports about + FORT’s development and validation.
Authors: Marie-Pier Robitaille, Anaïs Danel et Isabelle Ouellet-Morin
Authors: Isabelle-Ouellet-Morin, Marie-Pier Robitaille
TVA nouvelles, September 1st, 2016