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 respectmedeveloped 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.

respectmeundertook 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 respectmeto 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

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