The importance of being a good friend online

With the recent Net Children Go Mobile study showing both that cyberbullying has increased from 8% (2010) to 12%, and that the experience of cyberbullying is more common than face-to-face bullying (9%),  it is important to educate young people about the consequences and harmful effects bullying through technology can have and give them the support and skills to be good friends online.

Learning respect for others

Primary schools across the country spend a lot of time helping pupils to understand the challenges of childhood friendships, and the importance of respecting others. This may be in PSHE, during circle time, or incorporated into other curriculum areas. At the same time, we know that children are excited and inspired by technology, and are learning to navigate websites, online games, consoles, and touch screen technology from a very young age. It is therefore essential, that discussions surrounding friendship are extended to the online environment, as soon as children begin to show an interest in the internet.

Top tip: Get involved! Talk to your children about the friends they have on the internet.

The same rules of friendship apply online

During their primary years, children’s personal, social and emotional skills develop dramatically. They learn about themselves as individuals, and as members of their wider communities, and prepare to become active citizens within these groups. The concept of friendship changes as children grow, from learning how to share and take turns, to developing a sense of morality and justice, and using this to help resolve conflicts and resist bullying situations.

Children growing up with technology may find that it becomes integral to their friendships, whether they communicate through Skype, Minecraft, Club Penguin or other services that facilitate interaction. Children today are digital citizens too, and are becoming part of online communities. Children therefore need to know how to be a good friend to others in all situations, and understand that values are transferrable.

Top tip: Ensure your children know that what’s right and wrong in face-to-face interactions, is also right or wrong on the internet.

Consequences and conversations

Discussions surrounding respect are crucial with children. It can be easy for a child to make mistakes online, because in the absence of face-to-face conversations, a child’s behaviour may be misunderstood by their friends and feelings can be hurt. It is vital that children are taught to think before they post, and consider the impact of the content they share, whether it’s a joke, message, photo or video. Digiduck’s Big Decision is a story for 3 to 8 year olds that sensitively portrays this message. Digiduck, when faced with a moral dilemma, is fortunate enough to see the consequences of his actions, before he makes his decision.

Being a good friend online is also integral to the theme of Safer Internet Day 2015, “Let’s create a better internet together”. Being a good friend online also means knowing how to support others, and children need to know who they can talk to when they need help on the internet.

Top tip: Reinforce the ‘Tell someone’ message. Help your children to feel confident to ask an adult for help, and help their friends to do the same, if something or someone upsets them online.

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