Cyberbullying has become this year’s biggest cause for concern: In the last couple of years, it has grown to the point where we are now seeing it appear in Coronation Street storylines and become part of Ofsted’s e-safety inspections. There have been far more serious knock-on effects when you delve deeper. Since 2012, there have been four teenage suicides as a result of cyberbullying via the website Ask.fm. 21% of 8-11 year olds admit to having been targeted, threatened or humiliated by an individual or group through the use of a mobile phone or the Internet (Beatbulling, Virtual Violence II).
Last week was Anti-Bullying Week, so we’ve brought together three e-safety experts and asked them their views on cyberbullying. Our three experts are:
Will is a CEO of Childnet, an organisation whose aim is to make the Internet a safer place for children. Childnet works with children, teachers, parents and carers to equip them with the help, information and resources they need to make sure children have a safe and happy online experience.
Tracey is a former teacher and a CEOP (Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre) Ambassador. Having spent many years in primary schools using technology, Tracey has a rich and diverse e-learning background, and through her affiliation with CEOP, promotes awareness of e-safety through events run by Webanywhere.
John Carr OBE
John is one of the world’s leading authorities on children and young people’s use of the internet. He is a member of the Independent Quality and Safeguarding Board of Compass Children’s Service, and is a Senior Expert Advisor to the United Nations. In 2011 John was awarded the OBE for ‘outstanding achievement in the field of child online safety.’
1. How big a problem do you feel cyberbullying is now compared to, say, five years ago?
Will Gardner: Unlike other forms of bullying, the number of cases isn’t going down. It’s very hard to get a baseline of figures to show how it has increased – but it’s a problem that affects many young people’s lives.
Tracey Gentle: Five years ago mobile phones did not access the internet so easily, we did not have hand held devices or tablets that could take photographs and videos, and uploading to the internet was difficult and took a long time (upload speeds were much slower then and dial up was still widely used). Cyberbullying was therefore not a big issue then – children and young people did not have their own devices but used the family computer or phone. With the ease of use, devices with internet connectivity and social networking being so easy to use, cyberbullying has just increased so rapidly that it has caught us unaware. Now, we’re not sure how to get back on top of it and educate parents and young people to help stamp it out.
John Carr OBE: Bullying has been an issue since time immemorial. Cyberbullying is simply a modern expression of it. I think it is very hard to get widespread agreement on what constitutes ‘cyberbullying’ and therefore it is not easy to say whether the problem is growing, shrinking or in a steady state. But however much of it is going on, it’s too much. Bullying ruins lives. We all have to be on our guard to help detect it and stop it.
2. How often do you see cases of cyberbullying?
Will Gardner: We’re not a place where people go to if they have a problem – we’re more on the preventative side. We did a big survey last year and 24,000 children replied – one of the issues that came out top was cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is currently the number one issue with both children and teachers.
Tracey Gentle: The first time I was aware of it in school was horrid text messages and emails, but very occasionally. This increased with BEBO and Club Penguin, when primary school aged children would not befriend or play with each other rather than being horrid. As I left teaching we were regularly contacting parents to say that their children had Facebook accounts and were trying to befriend teachers and using it to ridicule others. This was also happening on the school VLE in blog posts and on discussion boards. In October 2013 the Anti-Bullying Alliance and Slater & Gordon Lawyers reported that 55.2% of children/young people saw cyberbullying as part of everyday life; that shocks me.
John Carr OBE: In every school in the UK, every day of the week, I’m afraid cyberbullying will be taking place.
3. What do you think is the most common reason for children to become cyberbullies? What is the motivation?
Will Gardner: I think it’s difficult to distinguish the motivation between different types of bullying. I think the technology allows children to be more spontaneous. As for motivation, I think it’s very difficult to separate bullying and cyberbullying. It’s just technology being used as a means to bully.
Tracey Gentle: Most will see what they do as a bit of fun, posting a silly picture and others ‘lol’ at it. Only some are purposely malicious and intend to repeatedly hurt (such as cyber trolls). It will often be a group of children/young people that drive such an activity and are usually egged on by the other (peer pressure but no excuse) to send a nasty text or create a post on social networking. It is also an easy way to hit back using technology and possibly look brave and be admired by others for doing it.
John Carr OBE: There is always an explanation for why people choose to bully others. The hard part is working out what that is for each individual. Glib generalisations rarely help to advance our understanding.
4. Do you think you can turn e-safety into a positive message for using technology?
Will Gardner: If you are imagining the world with no bullying, that would be comprised of children who can use technology safely, and respect their community. We want to create a community of children who use technology like this. We want people to feel positive about technology, instead of using it to scare people. The scaring message doesn’t have the longer term impact we want. It’s important that we are positive about technology and the opportunities it provides – events like Safer Internet Day help with this.
Tracey Gentle: It should always be a positive message. I always taught children/young adults to use technology in a positive, creative and constructive way. Collaboration is important and we regularly worked on creating web pages and wikis. I related the school rules to online use. They all knew what happened if they upset/hurt someone in the playground and that would also happen to them if they were horrid to someone online or posted something silly. The children really enjoyed making avatars to represent them online and understood why they did so. I told them I was empowering them to take control of their online self.
John Carr OBE: I look forward to a time when we don’t talk about e-safety at all, either because there is no need to or because it’s so widely accepted as part of normal everyday prudence and good manners.
5. What do you think are the potential consequences of cyberbullying?
Will Gardner: The consequences are – 1. The same as bullying – loneliness, isolation, low self esteem – but there are some things about technology that people need to be aware of. The anonymity can make it that much more distressing for the victim, and there’s the ‘mass audience’ effect too. 2. Closure. Some content can re-appear in other places once it’s out there on the internet. 3. For parents, it’s a very distressing issue, but we want to give a clear message to them schools have an anti-bullying policy so they can help prevent it. Schools are now being inspected by Ofsted for their e-safety measures and anti-bullying policies. If you want to be an outstanding school, this is something that needs addressing.
Tracey Gentle: We have seen how extreme the consequences are in the press and it is not pleasant. At school level we have to give the bully as much time and attention as the victim as there are consequences for both parties. The victim will lose confidence and withdraw into themselves, which will result in poor attainment in school and affect their personal and social life. Hopefully that can be reversed overtime. There will be a reason why the bully has behaved how they did, they may also have been a victim, have a poor quality family life or not be doing well in school. Often jealousy is the reason with female bullies. These issues need to be addressed, often others will want them to be punished or disciplined and something should happen, a consequence that they understand and will make them think about what they have done. Writing an apology or losing playtime at primary school usually does the trick. If the reason for this behaviour is home based suspending the child/young adult is not always a good thing, they are safe/better off in school. This has to be increased with age and severity of the offence.
John Carr OBE: They can be completely catastrophic for some youngsters. There have been too many suicides which are directly linked to cyberbullying.
6. What advice would you give to schools to help prevent cyberbullying?
Will Gardner: We’ve written guidance for schools already. It’s available if you go to www.digizone.org. That has steps around preventing and responding – we advise to take a whole school community approach, covering what cyberbullying is, and that it can have a negative impact on everyone.
Tracey Gentle: It is all about educating your pupils and you start as soon as the children start school. Most will have been using technology for 2 to 3 years at that point. I have seen an 18 month child using an iPad to play games, YouTube videos and FaceTime their grandparents, terrible really but it is happening. Use Safer Internet Day and Anti-bullying Week to reinforce the messages.
John Carr OBE: The issue is bullying, wherever it happens to be taking place. The answer has to be to encourage children to be kind and considerate to each other but also for schools to be vigilant and be ready to step up and support a child who might be being bullied.
7. How do you think awareness of cyberbullying can be built into everyday e-learning?
Will Gardner: We have the new computing curriculum, which has e-safety as part of it. Education is absolute key – and supporting children, encouraging them to use the e-safety advice and services available.
Tracey Gentle: Many cyberbullying lesson plans have cross curricular links, these messages should not be restricted to e-learning activities or ICT lessons. It is all about being a good friend, pupil, member of your community and a good citizen. What happens in the online world affects the real world. Once the children/young adults know that what they do can be traced, is recorded for their safety. Knowing this should deter them from cyberbullying as it can also be used against them. The hidden curriculum also comes into play here, the teaching staff have to be a good role model. You can tailor an assembly or lesson to include a topic that relates to an incident that may of happened in school so giving the whole school the message is less intimidating and can have more value.
John Carr OBE: All teachers know about bullying. Some may not know it can happen online as well as in the playground. We have to change that situation.