I have had the pleasure of speaking at a number of events in recent week on the subject of cyberbullying. I have spoken to teachers, residential child care staff, police officers, and next week educational psychologists.
It remains no real surprise that demand on this subject remains high, it is the one area of work with children and young people that is seeing both innovation and fear and not in equal measures sadly.
The message that appears to get the most traction of late is that we cannot abdicate responsibility for this to software. We need to connect and learn about how young people use the internet and the phones or laptops they access it from. They use it mainly to talk to and meet their friends.
Lots of colleagues have said they are ‘technophobes’ or are not ‘tech savvy’ and how much they do not like facebook or twitter. The thing is though, if you work with children and young people or are a parent or carer – that is no longer good enough. You need to know and for some that will require a real effort to spend time and utilise the relationship they have.
Many adults have experience of managing risk when working with children and young people, this is a new place for us to consider. We need to be as imaginative and creative with the internet as we have been in other places.
What remains my favourite part of the training we do is asking adults to reflect on how they communicated as teenagers. We hear of the red phone box, post cards, arranging to meet and hoping people turn up as well as locks on the house phone. The point being that staying in touch with your friends was always important and you used whatever means you had at your disposal.
Today is no different, even if some do get all misty eyed at remembering sending postcards and using pay phones but for many of us, we can now communicate, chat and share pictures with friends and family all over the world. We love to communicate and always have.
A great deal of the success we have had is supported by the concept that we need to think of the internet as a place, rather than a thing. We need to see it as a social space and like any other social space, relationships play out in it and there will be risks. People will fall in, fall out, argue and be horrible to others. So like any other social space, we need to discuss boundaries, challenges, risks, threats and how to keep safe and what we will do if there is a problem.
To some the internet is a tool, they buy stuff on or book holidays, but it is used by children and young people and many adults as part of their daily lives to connect with others. The differences between connecting face to face, by the phone or online are not as clear as they may have been before. It is just a new place to do so.
Last years campaign sums this up perfectly with the message, whether they are going into town or online they are still going somewhere. I have seen adults change their entire approach based on this premise,
‘When my daughter wants to go into town, I ask a dozen questions! Who with, how long for, is your phone charged? I never ask where she is going on her laptop!’
The video that supports this can be seen here http://bit.ly/MMtPOp
Cyberbullying is bullying, news to no one I know but we do need to remember that it is not the phone or the website that is doing this, it is people. We respond to this by connecting with people about what they do.
It is important to include cyberbullying in your policies and procedures on anti-bullying and not see it as something entirely separate - it is still rooted in relationships between people.
I conducted research last year into children and young people's experience of cyberbullyng and how they use the inetrnet and the findings were very interesting.
16% say they have been cyberbullied
25% worry about cyberbullying,
55% say they are online every day for 1 – 3 hours, nearly 10% claim they are on for 5 hrs or more
Mobile phones and laptops are the most common devices
Facebook and BlackBerry Messenger two most popular platforms
This research involved 3,944 young people from 29 of Scotland's 32 local authorities aged 8 - 19 years. This helps us tell parents, they need to understand and know how to navigate and make safe or private facebook and BBM especially. Being able to do so allows them to respond more effcectively if their children are having problems such as bullying on these platforms.
It is my intention to produce a fuller report on this research in time (meaning if I can get some!) but a summary report can be found here http://www.respectme.org.uk/Publications-Introduction.html
13 June 2012