I have been lucky enough to be a teacher for 25 years now and I have seen many things change over the course of that time. One thing that has never changed is how worried parents/carers are about bullying; especially when their children start ‘big school’.
As a dad myself I completely understand that concern but I also think that parents need to be more aware of how bullying has changed due to technology. I remember my mum saying to me, when I’d been the victim of some bullying, ‘come home because you are always safe here’. Sadly that is no longer true.
Level of parents’ concern about bullying
Research by Internet Matters has shown that over 62% of parents are very concerned about their child becoming a victim of cyberbullying making it as big a concern as online grooming and sexting – if I’m honest I’m surprised it is that low.
Impact of technology on bullying
The growth of smart phones and other mobile devices means that, unless supported, young people really cannot escape to the safety of their homes because they are still contactable by the bully. The obvious answer is to turn off those devices when at home but sadly the FOMO (fear of missing out) generation that is coming into our schools means they do not want to do that either.
How can we collectively protect children from cyberbullying?
So how, as parents, do we protect our children? What can we, as teachers, do to help? We have to remember that our children will spend less than 20% of their childhood in school and the rest at home; so that is where they need to be most protected. Our school, as do many others, run evenings where we give advice to parents about how to do this and it never ceases to amaze me how few parents turn up.
Teachers have to take this 21st century problem on as part of the education we offer to our students but there is nothing more frustrating than when a parent of an 11-year-old tells us that they have no idea what social media their children have or who they interact with in their bedrooms via their phones.
Practical things we can do to support children
Would any parent let a complete stranger wander into their child’s bedroom? Of course not. However, that is what we are doing if we are teaching our children good habits, making them understand that there is a reason why there are age recommendations on sites like Facebook and saying ‘NO’ if we cannot guarantee that they’ll being safe.
We have a charging station downstairs in our kitchen and before bedtime that is where the technology goes. We have a no secrets deal. If there are passwords on things I know them. If my son wants to have Facebook he knows that I will have access to it and he can have access to mine. This is not snooping, this is parenting.
I’m afraid that too often the things we try to do as parents to show our love makes our young people vulnerable. I have made it clear to my son it isn’t him I don’t trust it is other people. I don’t think he resents it, I think he understands it is just another way to show my love for him.
Working together is key
The only way that we will be successful in protecting our children is for schools and parents to work together. It shouldn’t be about blame it should be about education and support. So if your school is running a cyber awareness evening make sure you go because even if you think you are up to date there will always one little nugget of advice that will help you, and your child.
Supporting Anti-Bullying Week
Get involved too with Anti-Bullying Week, which takes place between November 14th and 18th, with a theme of using the internet as a “Power for Good”. This is important as educating ourselves and our children will help us to embrace the positive aspects of technology and social media whilst making them less vulnerable.