Monday, 2 December 2013

Never judge a book by its label

I have been thinking a lot about what to chat about at this time following a very busy and successful anti-bullying week. There were so many issues covered in the build up to and since, everything from on-line bullying to the challenging messages contained in this year’s advert. We were able to get our advert on STV for the very first time and we await the figures for this. Anti-bullying week also seen the advert watched on YouTube 35,000 times in one week. The ‘click-through rate’ for this ad is apparently twice the industry average. You can view it here

There is also supporting videos discussing the campaign and on responding to bullying

I also had the pleasure of attending an International Anti-Bullying Conference in Nashville in early November. I spoke to many colleagues at this event and one issue that came up more than most was labelling. I had also had some feedback and discussions with other people about respectme’s approach labelling prior to this so I decided it was something to revisit and reflect on.

One of the first things I noticed at the conference was just how anti-bullying is an industry in The States. The volume of books written on the subject is staggering and having spoken to a few aspiring authors, it is a crowded market that is not easy to crack. A glance at many of the books on show – especially the ones aimed at younger children or the parents of younger children were a little concerning. Titles such as:  ‘How not to be a Bully’, ‘Llama Lama and the Bully Goat’. ‘What to do if your child is a Bully’ and other similar titles. This is not to single out or to critique any particular title just the very consistent use of the word and the label.

The large number of books like this made it easy to engage in conversations about labelling with many other delegates. Every speaker I heard talked about ‘Bullies’, ‘Victims’, ‘Bully/Victims’ and ‘Pure Bullies’. A part of my input covered the approach we have in Scotland to this explaining how respectme does not label children and young people as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’.

Our approach reflects the view that care needs to be taken because labelling is not without its risks, labelling a child or young person on the basis of bullying behaviour can result in a confirmed identity as a ‘bully’ or ‘victim’ resulting in ongoing behaviour patterns based on this identity. respectme has developed approaches to working with bullying which hopefully avoid the labelling dilemma. A core theme in training, policy development and campaigning has been the exploration of the value judgements that lie behind labels.

This is not to dilute behaviour but is to keep the focus of the adult’s responses on the behaviour that is problematic, rather than the assigning characteristics to those involved.

The point is that if you label children a certain way – there is a significant risk that they effectively ‘live up’ to that label and all of their subsequent behaviour is viewed through this prism– which is unfair as no one is ever just the one thing. We hear of many situations where bullying has been overlooked or ignored because either the school or the parents did not think the person doing it was a ‘bully’, perhaps because they were clever or popular and articulate – however, on many occasions their behaviour was bullying. Our work tries to take away the perception people may have about who is doing it and focus on what the person actually did – bullying and what was the impact.

The response to this was warm and many delegates commented on how this approach would actually help them yet acknowledged that it would be a real struggle to get other people to move in the same direction.

‘Bully’ has become a word that commands attention; it elicits an emotional response from adults, an understandable emotional response that sees the children who do this dehumanised and caricatured from an early age, this can also reinforce the notion that it’s always someone else’s child who does this. This is not to suggest that the behaviour of some children towards other children is not outrageous and damaging – it can be.

The word itself conjures up particular images for each of us, ones that may represent our own experiences too. I do not seek to take that away from anyone as that is a natural response  – my role in this is to find solutions and try to help how we respond to bullying. Because that is what matters surely? How we respond to behaviour and help someone feel safe and feel like themselves again is what makes a difference. How we help children to see how unacceptable their behaviour is and what is required of them to share social spaces and classrooms with their peers. That is what makes the biggest difference.

We have had over 30 years of work in anti-bullying and somehow people persist in focussing on what a 'bully' is, the type of person who bullies, or who follows, or who is easily bullied, rather than what people actually did and the impact it had. Almost as if when we reach the point that everyone can accept that a particular child is indeed a ‘bully’ that’s our job done.

Children bully other children for a number of reasons, it’s not always because deep down they are afraid and scared or lack self-esteem – they might be but they can also be confident children with an abundance of self-esteem – they will now exactly what the impact is, that might be why they are doing it. The thing is no two incidents are ever identical – the dynamic is always affected by who is involved.

Success in dealing with bullying is usually rooted in having an approach like this:

What was the behaviour?

What impact did this have?

And what do I need to do about it?

This sees you deal with behaviour and impact – if the behaviour is completely out of character then that might influence any subsequent consequences, if it is the third incident this week, then that too will affect your response. If a child coped well with the attempt to bully, then that night influence the amount of support they need. This is the crux of the matter for me – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ response. Success requires you to take the time to look at each incident and find a way forward with the young people involved that reflect their strengths, weaknesses and their wishes. What works for children on Monday won’t always work for a different group on Tuesday.

Too many schools and too many parents have lost days (and the interest of their children) arguing over whether the person who did this is in fact a bully or not. Have I found it easier saying to parents who ask me if I’m ‘calling their child a bully or not?’ to answer, ‘no. I’m saying that what he did was bullying’ then the answer is yes, I do think that is easier and focusses attention in the right places.

This is a solution focussed approach that is designed to help people change the way they behave, rather than attempt to change who they are. We help people change by telling them the behaviour that is unacceptable, being clear that what they are doing is bullying and that it needs to stop.

Consistency does not mean doing exactly the same way every time – the consistency is where children and their families will know that schools, other parents or youth clubs take bullying seriously, they will listen and have a range of ways they can respond to bullying that reflect the broad and complex range of relationships within our schools and social spaces - this includes their online social space.

It was pleasing to hear other people talk about ‘dropping the labels’, well one other speaker to be fair and also that they found this to be radical and innovative which of course, it is. What was pleasing is that it has been fundamental to our work and success for the last seven years in Scotland. Perhaps we can be more radical and innovative than we think sometimes.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Cyberbullying - anonymity and other challenges for parents

Sadly the last few days have seen an increase in media enquiries and media activity across the UK about bullying and online bullying, following the tragic suicide of Hannah Smith. We have contributed to this as best we can at respectme; sharing our understanding, our approach to anti-bullying and our resources wherever we can.

I have written before on this blog about online bullying and have attached copies of a briefing we’ve developed around this. Both have been well read and shared across the world. I do feel though that it is relevant to share some thinking on what has been happening recently, and specifically about anonymity online and websites like Ask.FM and our reaction to them.

Some of the behaviour we have been reading about in the media from young people towards their peers is very concerning; it can be cruel, hurtful and read by hundreds of others across the world in a short space of time. And yet, young people still want to be involved in these online social spaces. 

Social websites that get demonised in the press develop a reputation, and the behaviour of those who take part in these sites may well reflect this.  But behaviour will be erratic and, in time, may settle down and be more self-regulated.  If sites can show that their code of conduct is implemented then behaviour is more likely to fall into line with this – if abusive and hateful comments disappear and users leave or change – it becomes evident to users that there are boundaries on this particular site.

Of course people who provide on-line platforms must do so responsibly.  They must create environments that are safe, where it is easy to report abusive behaviour - just as we would expect of anyone providing any other social space to children and young people! Whether it is a drop-in centre or a social networking site – have they assessed the risks and what have they done to minimise them?

The issue of anonymity has been central to many discussions and concerns about Ask.FM in particular. Anonymity does provide cover for people to act in a way they may not do if they had to use their own name – but not always – there is no shortage of abusive posts online and the name and face of the person doing this is very public!

It should be noted though that users can go into their privacy settings in Ask.Fm and change them to disable anonymous questions, so the possibility to remove anonymous posts on your page exists, yet few young people choose this option. Even fewer parents are aware it exists. Perhaps it should be the default setting, but default settings are mainly still based on what gives those who design and manage sites the most useful information to sell stuff to you – not to make sure you are as safe as possible.  And while this attitude is changing, parents especially should never assume that default settings are the ‘safest’ option.

But parents cannot abdicate responsibility to these platforms.  They need to know what websites their children are going to; Are they safe?  How do they respond to abuse they might receive?  Do they look at the websites their children want to sign up to? Do they discuss privacy settings? This takes time and families are busy, but it’s the most effective way of creating a safer environment and ensuring young people have the skills and knowledge to manage themselves within it.

Do they discuss expectations?  Expectations around how they speak to other people?  Or whether they copy, retweet or ‘like’ nasty comments made about others, and what might that mean? What will the consequences of their behaviour be if they bully or harass others online?

It is vital that we remember that bullying is about relationships; about how we relate to each other and how those interactions are managed.  Are they managed respectfully or not? It is not Ask.FM and other similar sites that are being hurtful and nasty; it’s some of the people who use them.

We must focus on equipping young people with the skills to conduct themselves online in a more respectful manner; the skills to manage these environments safely, and to develop their confidence and abilities to negotiate relationships and problems.  But we also have to equip parents with the knowledge and understanding about how these sites work; how to make them safe and, most importantly, how to talk to their children about using them.

Most parents want to be able to respond effectively and give the right advice, so they need to connect with their children and know about the places they go online. No amount of filtering software or firewalls will ever do more than a parent understanding what Ask.FM or Instagram actually is and does, or how to make sure it is safe.

Talking and writing about this is my job, but I am also the father of three children.  They are all at different levels, but each of them explores and uses cyberspace as part of their social circle and when they connect with friends and family. If I may, I will share an example of the challenges and practical difficulties many parents will face.

My son, after much pleading, got X Box Live for Christmas last year. For those of you who are not familiar with this, it is an enormously popular way for boys particularly to begin to use the internet and connect with other people. This internet connection allows users to buy and download gaming ‘stuff’ online and play with their friends in real time – so my son can now play a game of Fifa 12 with his cousin in another country, while chatting away. There are many parental settings on this that don’t  allow him to chat or connect with people he does not know, nor can he connect with anyone without my log in, which he does not have. I also get emailed updates about his activity – and so far, so good.

The thing is though – setting this up took over two hours on Christmas day – and it was very frustrating! I needed two email addresses for me – one to register and one for updates – a separate new email for my son and three passwords – all very different of course – billing details, credit card information, activation codes needing emailed and re-re-entered  and so on.

I could easily see how after an hour a parent might just say ‘do you know what – here is my email address and date of birth, please use it wisely’  - meaning no game or age restrictions would be in place and an open door to the internet and all that that brings would have been there for him.

Sadly for my son, his Dad has a job that means I really need to do what I say, and advise other to do!

In relation to Ask.FM I am not going to join in calls to ‘ban this sick filth’ just yet, but there is a lot of learning for the people who run and moderate this site. They need to demonstrate that they take abusive behaviour seriously and act on reports, that they can engage with parents, young people and regulators effectively.
Brian Donnelly

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Gender based bullying and Sexual Violence

An issue that we at respectme  have talked about many times in recent years arose again this year.  Various events and media, coverage saw the term ‘Sexual Bullying’  being used to describe a lot of very concerning behaviour.  I first responded to this particular ‘umbrella term’ several years ago (2009) following an article in The TESS – this is the letter

Your article "Sex pest boys are not only targeting girls, but teachers too" (March 27) opens by referring to the practice of "sexual bullying".

This term is being used increasingly across the country and it is important to give the view of respectme, Scotland's anti-bullying service on this. We believe people need to be careful when using this term. Sexually aggressive behaviour should be seen as just that. While there may be elements of this conduct that could be seen as bullying based on gender, what you described is sexually aggressive and inappropriate.

Using the term "sexual bullying" may well dilute sexually-aggressive behaviour or harassment to the status of "just another type of bullying" and, sadly, we know not everyone takes bullying seriously.

The converse side is that it elevates bullying to the same status as sexual harassment and sexual assault, which is not always the case.

We know the solutions to these behaviours can be very different. We must ensure that our children and young people understand that sexually aggressive behaviour and bullying are completely unacceptable, and that the consequences of taking part in either can be serious - without confusing the two.

This was discussed by the then Scottish Anti-Bullying Steering Group and it was agreed that this was the approach we would take in Scotland. Colleagues in LGBT Youth Scotland also felt to include Homophobia under the term ‘sexual bullying’ was reductive; being gay or lesbian is not about ‘sex’. Guidance from other parts of the UK includes homophobia on almost every occasion they define ‘sexual bullying’.

I have also read in another piece of guidance that a boy putting his hands up a girl's skirt and touching her can also be sexual bullying, I am of the opinion this is in fact a sexual assault.

Some other organisations have given us even more concerning definitions that state, and I quote, ‘Sexual bullying in its most extreme form can be sexual assault or rape’.(

I strongly believe that this is an unhelpful and potentially dangerous road to go down. Bullying and rape is not the same thing. If we are looking for schools to discuss rape and sexual assault and sexual abuse under the umbrella of anti-bullying we run the risk of diluting this very serious behaviour.

Rapists are not bullying their victims, they rape them and they abuse them. Predatory males do not bully children they manipulate and abuse them – framing this abuse as bullying is, as I stated, reductive.

The Daily Telegraph also informed us this year that ‘15 children a day are excluded from school for sexual bullying’ – now while the behaviours described are concerning and rightly need to be addressed, 15 pupils a day were excluded for a range of behaviours including, lewd behaviour, sexual abuse, assault, bullying, daubing sexual graffiti, and sexual harassment. This also includes ‘sexting’, behaviour which is largely consensual but can and does spiral out of control. I suppose a headline informing parents that 15 children a day are excluded for a range of inappropriate sexualised behaviour isn’t quite as snappy.

Gender-based bullying and gender-based violence is a real problem for our children and young people. Children are bullied because they do not conform to gender norms, because they don’t dress the way others feel that’s how boys or girls should dress. Or that they are or are perceived to be gay or lesbian, this is still about gender, identity and norms. Or sadly, they believe that as males, they can treat the women in their life as objects and with a lack of respect.

Many of these behaviours can lead to violence and abuse – it can be a pattern that escalates, it can lead to manipulation and control, something many girls especially experience.

I have shared this thinking with colleagues from a range of services, from The Violence Reduction Unit, The Police, LGBT Youth Scotland, Zero Tolerance, NSPCC and Local Authorities and we plan to take this forward in the coming months and find a coherent and consistent way of talking about gender based-bullying and its links to violence and abuse.

None of us feel ‘sexual bullying’ is an accurate or helpful term but want to ensure we highlight the work being done and the work that needs to be done on gender roles, gender based violence, domestic violence and on sexually aggressive behaviour. If we lump all of this behaviour together we may find it harder to find solutions and things can become blurred as a result. This is not to minimise the link but the language we choose is very important. We need to be clear what behaviour we are talking about and not try to find catch all terms that may be convenient or media friendly.  

There is, I believe, a link between gender based bullying and sexual violence and that we should look to intervene effectively with gender based bullying as it may reduce the risk of violence. When I was delivering training in Austria last month, the delegates included several therapists and social work staff who work with the victims of sexual abuse. They found the term ‘sexual bullying’ very confusing – it would not occur to them to equate or talk about gender based bullying and sexual abuse or assault in the same way.

The day we start to think about rape or sexual assault as a type of bullying is a day when we will have really lost our focus. These are violent crimes and should be viewed as such – bullying is about relationships, relationships that are not respectful and anti-bullying work can help reduce the impact of this and help repair relationships and build respect. Can anti-bullying work underpin approaches and support work on sexual violence? I believe it can. Is sexual assault and sexual violence bullying? Absolutely not, it is much more serious than that.


Brian Donnelly

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Making a difference internationally

This month I had the real pleasure of delivering two days of anti-bullying training to colleagues in Vienna. Samera is a project based in Austria dealing with violence against children. Their team is made up of psychologists, social workers, and educators that focus on kindergarten and social pedagogy. They have over 20 years of practical experience in the prevention of violence against children and adolescents. Their approach is ‘trans-cultural’, they recognize the changing face of European countries and they use this term to explain the focus on respect, appreciation, collective action, openness, and engagement with other cultures.

Representatives visited Scotland last year and as part of their visit I met with them to discuss respectme’s approach to bullying and how our approach reflects the culture and how we are governed in Scotland. They were I am pleased to say, very impressed with our approach. Despite their years of work around violence and relationships they had never focused on bullying or ‘mobbing’ as the behavior is known as across Central Europe. They were becoming increasingly aware of this behavior and were looking for a framework or approach that they felt could help compliment their work and they chose ours.

I was invited to deliver two days training to around 30 members of their network in Vienna. My challenge was to put together a program that covered all of the core messages that underpin our approach, the national context and a critique/reflection of some other anti-bullying approaches they knew a little about and this also had to be translated into German for the benefit of the audience.

Perhaps the biggest challenge faced was my tendency to speak very quickly and when I get going on a subject, to speak even quicker. Many of the delegates spoke English very well but did not take the Glasgow dialect classes! I have discovered just how different the word ‘parents’ can sound. An Austrian will learn to say ‘Paa-rents’ where as I would say ‘Pay-rints’- which to them is another word altogether.

The delegates were an eclectic group of social workers, teachers, psychologists and youth workers. They responded very positively to the approach we use. They found our definition of bullying as it impacts on a person’s agency, to be one that made a lot of sense. Many of them felt the notion that bullying took something away from a person and their role was to help get it back, was one they found very useful. Many of them deliver training to teachers and commented on this being something they would use. They, like most people do I have to say, get the notion that intent and persistence are not they key defining factors in recognizing and importantly responding to bullying. Responding to behavior and the impact it has is what matters.

The issue of labeling was an interesting discussion. The word ‘bully’ has made its way into their language. They liked our take on not using terms like ‘bully’ or ‘perpetrator’ when talking about bullying but feel many in their country do use this word. What was interesting though is that when bulling was translated, the word they use is ‘mobbing’. When I asked what word they use to describe someone who is mobbing someone else, they have no word. The concept of calling someone a ‘mobber’ was strange to them; they would talk about mobbing or people who mob. We agreed this was the right approach and that they should challenge the growing use of the word’ bully’ especially as it contra to what they would normally do.

The other area where we learned a lot from each other was when talking about gender based bullying and sexual violence. Sexual violence was the main area of work for over 50% of the delegates. I wanted to share my concerns over the increased use of the umbrella term ‘sexual bullying’. As respectme has stated many times, we feel this is an unhelpful term to use and the guidance on this in other parts of the UK is not something we would support. We agree there is a link between gender based bullying and sexual violence but to label behavior such as a boy putting his hand up a girls skirt or forcing her to do something sexually she does not want to as a form of bullying is concerning. This is abusive behaviour. Sexual violence and sexually aggressive behaviour is not bullying, it is far more serious and needs to be treated as such. This is an area that in the UK opinion is still divided, there are many who are happy to use this term as an umbrella term that includes behaviours that are way beyond gender based bullying.

I am not suggesting that gender-based bullying does not lead to sexual violence or sexually aggressive behaviour, far from it. Rumours and names calling used in person and on-line toward girls in particular should and do concern us. We need to intervene in this behaviour to stop it escalating and become more abusive.

What was interesting was that none of the delegates would even consider using the term ‘sexual bullying’ they were able to make a clear distinction between sexual violence and abuse and bullying behaviour. To put these behaviours together seemed absurd to them. That was no doubt down to the fact most of them work with children who experience sexual violence and they have considerable experience and expertise as practitioners, councillors and teachers in this area. They too see a link between gender-based bullying and how, for some, this can lead to sexual violence but they are distinct behaviours. I welcomed their take on this issue and will use this learning as we take our work in this area forward.

What really helped the two days to flow for the group and for me was having the services of an extremely competent translator. I am always embarrassed when visiting other countries that most locals will speak very good English but our interpreter put that to shame with her four languages. I was able to plan and deliver a greeting, some limited personal information and finished off with ‘dies ist der einzige Deutsche satz den ich weiƟ‘– ‚‘this is the only German sentence I know‘– it did get a few laughs.

Vienna is a beautiful city (I even took in the ballet one afternoon – only 8 Euro for some culture) and I was made to feel very welcome by my hosts. The feedback was very warm and complimentary. I left a number of resources that will be used as part of a new practice manual for Austrian teacher in the year ahead. I am always very proud to see our resources and our approach being used and spoken about internationally.

I learned a great deal about the cultural differences between Scotland and Austria, how their Government structures differ and the similarities they face in ensuring they get funding every year and stretching this as far as they can. Similarly though, when visiting Slovenia and Ireland recently, I can see that we benefit from having a National Approach to anti-bullying in Scotland, a framework like this is a model for developing consistency and while we are getting there, many colleagues across Europe are looking at this as a model that does makes a difference. A national approach that is underpinned by values, promotes children’s rights and one that challenges inequalities makes sense but there are not many of them around. Hopefully we can keep contributing to changing that.



Friday, 8 March 2013

Breaking the walls of silence...

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to be part of a Scottish Delegation at the ‘Breaking the Walls of Silence’ Conference in Slovenia. The main aim of this event was:

             To explore current situations and trends regarding homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in education / schools in the EU countries,

             to provide a platform for key individuals to meet and facilitate sharing of experience, knowledge, strategies and materials on how to best support teachers / NGOs attempting to open up the topic within a school environment,

             to get insight of good practice in preventing homophobia and including LGBT issues in teaching at both classroom and institutional levels and

             to conclude the Breaking the Walls of Silence project, present and disseminate the results, challenges, effects and its local and national influence

I attended with colleagues from LGBT Youth Scotland, who was a partner in the organising of this conference, Education Scotland and Glasgow City Council.

The conference took place in the beautiful city of Ljubljana, beautiful and very cold for the most part! Our role was to share how each of the Scottish delegation had worked in partnership to help improve and ensure the inclusion of LGBT young people in schools and how we contributed to challenging homophobia and transphobia.

I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on how having an equalities focus in our anti-bullying work supports the work and values of LGBT Youth Scotland and helps mainstream, in a policy sense to begin with the issues of homophobia and transphobia. The service ensures that schools in particular do not just have say, an anti-homophobic bullying policy and an anti-racist bullying policy but instead having am inclusive and robust anti-bullying policy.

It is not good enough to say, ‘all types of bullying are unacceptable here’. Our approach to policy and training ensures we are more prescriptive about what these behaviours are and that they reflect the equality strands and the realities of the bullying young people face. At times the statement ‘all bullying is unacceptable’ has allowed stakeholders to ‘body-swerve’ their responsibility to include homophobic bullying in particular. Research has shown that having an explicit policy commitment to addressing issues such as homophobia can lead to a better outcomes and experiences in school.

What was evident too was the marked difference in the last 8 years or so that colleagues in other parts of Europe are and have experienced. Countries such as Slovenia, Poland and Romania are in relative terms still behind Scotland in terms of LGBT young people’s inclusion.  The fact we have a national approach to anti-bullying in Scotland that is equalities focussed, Government commitment to the agenda, a legislative framework, School Inspectors and Local Authorities who are accountable to this, gives us at the very least a more positive environment and framework to improve the experiences of LGBT young People.

We were keen not to paint an overly rosy picture of what is happening in Scotland as many challenges remain and young people still experience homophobia and transphobia every single day. Our colleagues from across Europe did recognise that there is a much more joined up approach in Scotland than they currently experience and this is something they would like to be able to emulate and is something they can learn from.

What was very evident was the passion and commitment of delegates from all over Europe who are committed to change and to challenging the prejudice experienced by LGBT young people on a daily basis.

They will make a difference.


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Briefing on Cyberbullying

This is a copy of the briefing used as part of a Members briefing in January 2013 - it is the basis for our contribution to a cross-party debate this month - I hope you find this useful

Member Debate – Cyberbullying – Briefing

respectme Scotland’s anti-bullying service

respectme is Scotland’s anti-bullying service. It is managed by SAMH, The Scottish Association for Mental Health and LGBT Youth Scotland. The service was launched in 2007 and builds adult confidence and competence to recognise and deal with all kinds of bullying behaviour. The service provides strategic policy support, offers skills development training and campaigns to raise awareness. The service was externally evaluated between 2009 and 2011 and was found to be a ‘catalyst for change’ and was a ‘credible’ and ‘robust’ anti-bullying service. The service was instrumental in developing the National Approach to Anti-Bullying for Scotland’s Children and Young People and ensures all stakeholders operate in-step with this approach.

respectme’s resources and approach to anti-bullying is recognised internationally. Bullying is behaviour that makes people feel frightened, hurt, threatened and left out. It impacts on a person’s ability to feel in control of themselves (their ‘agency’) and to respond effectively. This behaviour can harm physically and emotionally and the threat is typically sustained. This behaviour takes place in a variety of places, including on-line.

Cyberbullying was an emerging issue when the service launched early 2007 and at the request of the then Minister, respectme delivered a campaign on cyberbullying that urged parents to ‘connect’ with what their children were doing on-line not ‘disconnect’ from the internet. We found that parents and adults who understood how social media worked, what it was used for and how to make it safe or monitor it, were much more confident when dealing with bullying that happened on-line.

Over the year’s respectme developed resources, web content and a very popular 2 day training event on cyberbullying (in 2011/12 we delivered 24 sessions). We were able to refine and develop confidence with our core messages about cyberbullying and communicate these to our stakeholders.

These key messages include:

Cyberbullying is bullying – it is still about relationships that are not healthy or being managed or role modelled well. It is behaviour done by someone to someone else, it is the ‘where’ this is taking place that is new. The behaviour appears to be migrating, as children spend more time on-line, the behaviour they have always exhibited and experienced comes with them.

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.

The internet is a place, not a thing – for many the internet is a tool that they use for a variety of things, buying, sending messages or research. To most children and young people it is a social space that they spend time in and use to stay in touch with their friends. This principle underpins all of our anti-bullying work in this area. This led to a very successful video campaign in 2011 called ‘She’s still going somewhere’, the message for adults was, whether your child is going into town or online, they are still going somewhere and you need to be just as interested and concerned about where they are going and who they are going with.

Like all places children and young people go to, there are risks.

Children and young people do not differentiate a great deal between friendships online and in person – most of their interactions on-line or using their smart phones is with friends and people they interact with in other areas such a schools or where they live.

Children and young people use this to communicate –the purpose of using smart phones or laptops is primarily about staying in-touch with friends, this is as important for young people today as it was 40 years ago. They have different means at their disposal but the principle is the same.

Adult fear and anxiety – has been the biggest hurdle in dealing with cyberbullying. This has had a very high media profile at times and it appears ’new’ and for parents or adults who do not use social media or connect with their friends using the internet, this is a challenging and at times bewildering experience. There are so many types of phones, connections and complex safety features and so on. That is why respectme’s training focusses on developing adult skills and confidence and their understanding of  how and why technology is used this way.

Lots of colleagues have said they are ‘technophobes’ or are not ‘tech savvy’ and have voiced how much they dislike Facebook or twitter. We have maintained that if you work with children and young people or are a parent or carer – that is no longer good enough. You need to know! For some that will require a real effort to spend time and utilise the relationship they have to learn this.  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.

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.

respectme undertook extensive research on October 2011 on this issue that both confirmed our messages and informed the work we do.

This research involved 3,944 young people from 29 of Scotland's 32 local authorities aged 8 - 19 years. It confirmed that children and young people are online almost every day. They use phones and laptops, boys also use games consoles to connect with friends and socialise. For the most part, the friends they talk to at school are also the friends they chat to on-line. They do not draw any difference between talking to a friend on the phone, on BBM or on the way to school – it’s all talking to friends.

16% say they have been cyberbullied – this is reflective of the findings from colleagues in the rest of the UK

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

Facebook (68%) and BlackBerry Messenger (28%) are two most popular platforms – Blackberry Phones are the most popular as instant messaging is free between handsets and having unlimited messages is what children are looking for. This enabled respectme to tell parents that these were the two platforms that they really needed to connect with, learn how to use them and how to make them safe. There are so many places to connect and chat on-line that it can be off putting for parents but not unlike adults, children and young people tend to gravitate towards the same places.

63% of children bullied online knew the person who was doing this and 40% of the time this carried over into school. Children who had been bullied on-line stated that reading a nasty comment was worse that hearing it or knowing it had been said. Children who had not been bullied on-line were ambivalent about the difference in impact.

The impact of this behaviour is the same as the impact of other types of bullying, fear, anxiety and worry about repercussions. It is likely for many children and young people that if they are being bullied, say in school, it is highly likely they may also experience bullying behaviours online as well.

71% of children who were bullied would like to tell a parent or carer,  43% would tell a friend and 31% would want to tell a teacher.

Schools have struggled at times to deal with bullying that happens on-line as they believe it happens ‘out of school’, respectme’s take on this is that bullying happens to individuals, the impacts are felt by them and they take this with them wherever they go. If they tell their teacher something happened and they are worried, like any disclosure of this kind, teachers and schools must respond in a supportive way. Children will be telling a teacher for good reason; they believe they can help them.

Cyberbullying can be more intrusive and children and young people may find fewer ‘escape routes’ as switching off their phone is rarely an option. While messages can be blocked, deleted or reported, they can be seen by hundreds of others within minutes and incidents can spiral out of control very quickly. A comment made while angry to a friend can be seen and shared in no time at all.

respectme has develop very successful guidance for children and young people on bullying, staying safe and their own behaviour on-line as well as resource for adults.

Current research on this phenomenon in other parts of the world does support respectme’s assertion that cyberbullying is effectively addressed when seen as part of our whole anti-bullying approach. When we discuss bullying, we discuss what happens on-line as well as face-to-face; children are not making the same distinction adults are.

There is a need to help adults develop skills and confidence in this area though. There is still a gap between what they currently know and what they need to know about the platforms and devices children and young people use.

Brian Donnelly

Director respectme

January 2013