After hearing the range of discussion sparked by Anti-Bullying Week last week, I was particularly struck by the Duke of Cambridge’s passionate speech at the BBC Broadcasting House in London where he called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. He raises an important point: no-one should duck their responsibilities on this issue.
One thing is certain, we need solutions urgently. Studies show bullying is a major risk factor for serious and long-term mental health problems in children that can last into adulthood, and although in-person bullying has lessened over the last decade, cyberbullying is on the rise. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar. For example, a new Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours.
While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises, cyberbullying is more pervasive – victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying, therefore, presents a different challenge that involves stakeholders across not only education, but wider society as well, not least tech giants and social media companies. Are they doing enough to help? Most agree with the Duke of Cambridge’s view. In the Ditch the Label survey, 70% of teenagers thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and, according to the Smoothwall report, 77% of teachers thought the same. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people.
But the answer isn’t so clear-cut. The problem of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news that take place on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly.
This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.
Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them.
Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem and agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. And, as part of this, the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety-related material into the curriculum.
But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame at each other but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. Most importantly, this could scar another generation of children who are on the cusp of owning their first smartphone. But this is a defining moment for social media companies too. The daily attacks from fake news to foreign interference in elections could become a genuine existential threat. But it is cyberbullying, a threat every parent understands, that could evaporate the fragile consent the public lend to social media companies.
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Bullying is a difficult problem. Limiting mobile phones or blocking social media can reduce cyberbullying, but not anti-social behaviour in classrooms. Curriculum-based anti-bullying strategies are not usually the first approaches that schools consider, but they can have a major impact, and are likely to save you money! Consider these smarter, budget-effective timetabling approaches and reduce bullying in your school.
When training to be a teacher 10 years ago, I was told emphatically that I should not tell students that I’m gay because it would give them “more ammunition”. Comments like this grossly underestimate our young people who, in my experience, are more open-minded and accepting than their parents and many of my former colleagues. Comments like this force teachers and school leaders to let down some of our most vulnerable students by not being a visible role model they can identify with. I believe teachers should lead by example and that’s why, as part of LGBT History Month in February 2017, I finally came out to over 1,000 students in assembly.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Daily Mirror’s front page headline grabbing declaration which stated very boldly ’50 kids a week sent to Sex Change clinics’ with a subheading ‘Record number of referrals as parents seek help for children as young as four’ (23rd October 2017). It certainly wasn’t the most sensitive headline, but it did highlight the fact young people are accessing the Gender Identity Development Service in increasing numbers.
I started at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury in 2010, in a brand new post as assistant headteacher, and immediately loved it. It’s a happy, vibrant school of, at the time, just over 600 pupils (we’ve since grown!), so has a real family feel. You get to know all the pupils by name, and they all get to know you. It was September and the sun was shining: the new academic year rolled ahead with all its possibility and hope. Crisp new books were opened, dates were written on boards, titles underlined. The children were happy, funny, eager to learn. Everything seemed great. There were the usual issues that crop up when you’re ‘getting your feet under the table’ in a new school, especially as a new senior leader, but all was grand.
We live and work in a society where the emergence of new and specific safeguarding themes are a regular occurrence. Radicalisation is a key priority as noted in the most recent education strategy, and child sexual exploitation remains high on the agenda of local authorities nationally. Indeed, young people, schools and teachers are faced with a range of issues to overcome.
While classroom education continues to focus on academics, there is too-little emphasis on healthy emotional development in an era where we need it more than ever before. In fact, the State of the Heart 2016 study found that emotional intelligence continues to decline globally. What’s more, since 2014, there has been a decline in maintaining emotional balance (-3.3 percent), self-motivation (-2.9 percent), and connecting compassionately with others (-2.4 percent). The numbers don’t lie, it’s clear that if we want to live in a more compassionate world, then society needs to place a higher emphasis on emotional development.
Teenage years are full of enough stress and challenge without young people having to worry about being accepted for something they have no control over; their sexuality and identity. LGBTPAQ - whether you are a parent, student or teacher you may recognise some of these letters, and others may be leaving you wondering what they mean. Below, I have tried to 'sum up' as best I can the definitions as I have experienced and understand them. Please do comment and contribute to this article if you feel you have a clearer or more focused definition.
When supporting a pupil who comes for help, it's important to follow the school’s anti-bullying protocols. A pupil may be anxious, upset and cautious of repercussions so will need reassurance. If a pupil tells you they are being bullied, avoid drawing attention to it and talk to them discretely out of earshot of other pupils. If that isn't immediately possible arrange, to meet them to discuss privately later.