Cyberbullying – Here to stay, but there are tools to help
A large-scale Australian study in 2013 found that children perceive cyberbullying to be an inevitable consequence of using social networks. (2013, ACMA)
Leading research over the past decade has consistently shown that the prevalence of cyberbullying is around 20 per cent – 1 in 5 children aged 8-17 years being targeted in the last 12 months. That’s somewhere between 460,000 and 560,000 children each year.
However, it is important to acknowledge that for the first time, it looks like cyberbullying rates are falling. This is a great news story. However, it’s too early to celebrate this as fact, and we must admit that completely eradicating cyberbullying is unrealistic – like social media, it’s here to stay.
Young people have to deal with a wide range of aggressive and confronting behaviour online and many of them are too immature emotionally to know how to respond when they encounter it.
Compounding the problem, many adults are clueless about what goes on in online environments, so it can come across as disingenuous and meddlesome when they try to help young people.
At The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, we developed the eSmart program to help schools establish safe and supportive communities, where cybersafety is improved and cyberbullying and bullying is reduced.
eSmart is now in more than 2,500 Australian schools, and we know that it works. In our independent evaluation, 80 per cent of principals said it was effective for changing school culture and behaviour with regard to cybersafety, technology and bullying; and 98 per cent of principals said they would recommend it.
However, one of the most challenging aspects is helping teachers and parents know more about their children’s online activities, so that advice and guidance can be targeted and relevant, and communication between the generations can be meaningful.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, I had the great privilege of managing the framework and content design for the Foundation’s newest addition to the eSmart suite of behaviour change programs: the Digital Licence. At its core, it is a series of eight online quiz modules that challenge children on all manner of cybersafety topics. The ultimate goal is for students to attain their certificates by achieving at least 80 per cent across all eight modules.
Like eSmart Schools, the Digital Licence has become a valuable tool for educators and parents. It is like the ‘Drink Me’ potion in Alice in Wonderland – enabling adults to go down a rabbit hole into the social world of pre-teens and teens online, without prying into their privacy.
Cyberbullying, online aggression and online relationships feature heavily in the modules.
Consider this scenario in Module 7, ‘Friends & Strangers’:
You receive the following message from Ritchie, a boy in your softball team. What are two good actions to take?
Message:U playd soo bad 2day. make sure u practiz b4 nxt wks game
a. Let it go. Talk it through with Ritchie next time you see him.
b. Text a reply: “Sorry I’m not up to your Olympic standards, Ritchie.”
c. Drop out of the team – it’s better to avoid people like Ritchie.
d. Take a screenshot, then delete.
[Check the correct answers are at the base of this article]
Many of the scenarios in the Digital Licence aim to provoke deeper thought and conversation. They present issues with a light touch, but acknowledge the nuances of social situations and feelings. Advice for one child may not be the right advice for another, even though underlying principles are consistent.
While most of us want to tell young people what to do, what not to do, and well, just be nice online, it is a complex social world they inhabit. Top-down messaging – excessive didacticism – in this area, has persistently shown to be a spectacular failure in schools.
In friendly settings like classrooms and lounge rooms, the Digital Licence enables the exploration of online scenarios for children and adults together; it provides opportunities for discussion, debate and healthy disagreement. We’ve seen this in action – it breaks down communication barriers on some rather tricky topics.
Needless to say, cyberbullying scenarios can be very subtle – and fraught. The best way for a child to react can depend on many factors, including their social status and influence, how public/private the behaviour is, if the perpetrator is known or anonymous, if the child has someone they trust, and of course, what the school’s policies are and whether these are effectively enacted.
While condensed ‘top tips’ and general advice is worth keeping in mind for online issues like cyberbullying, they are nowhere near as helpful as developing a student’s digital literacy, social/emotional intelligence and awareness of (and trust in) who they can turn to when an incident occurs. Teachers and parents are best placed to do this.
The Digital Licence provides educators with a practical tool for improving the knowledge of members of the whole school community in cyberbullying, online aggression and relationships. It is an especially effective way of engaging with staff and parents who just don’t seem to have an appetite for technology and all its social impacts, or those who feel that they’re just too far behind and that it’s all a bit too hard.
At The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, we are committed to making a big impact in the reduction of cyberbullying and improving the cybersafety skills of young people. Our eSmart programs, including the Digital Licence, are all designed to help educators and parents create safe and supportive communities online and offline.
For more information about the Digital Licence, please visit the website – try the sample quiz – on your own, with your students, with your family! www.digitallicence.com.au
Jeremy Blackman - The Alannah and Madeline Foundation