In the beginning, we tried to help our young people traverse the online world. We clamped down. We restricted and closely monitored their activity and we imposed rules that made us confident we were protecting our children, prescribing them with the “e-safety” message we knew they needed.
But we got it wrong. It was never just about e-safety. It was always about the young people themselves, which is why it’s so heartening to see the theme for this year’s anti-bullying week, organised by Anti Bullying Alliance ‘Power for Good’.
Power imbalance, and feeling disempowered goes to the heart of how bullying can manifest, and how it is played out, particularly for children and young people.
And we have observed time and time again, through our counselling work with young people, that digital behaviours are typically just an extension of behaviours in our lived experience. Those that are vulnerable in their lives will have their vulnerability heightened online. The tonic to that vulnerability is to become empowered.
Interestingly, this is something the ‘e-safety generation’ began to understand some time ago. Under the cover of a media storm, many of these ‘internet canaries’ developed their own coping mechanisms and became the Resilient Digital Natives we can all learn from.
The idea of resilience is important. While recognising that we can’t control everything the internet offers, we can work harder to empower young people to enjoy the benefits without falling foul of the pitfalls. Cyberbullying is one area where we can do better.
It is vital that we help a young person find, build and use their self-esteem and inner resource to deal with cyberbullying. This is where parents and teachers can be especially effective. Instead of telling young people to ‘just ignore’ the bullies, we can show support by saying things like: “It must be really hard having to deal with this all the time.” Admit you have no idea what it must be like to grow up online. Find out how they are coping with their digital interactions. Only once we show we want to listen, understand and empower our young people can we start to equip them with the confidence to deal with the bullying.
Parents and teachers can start by researching ‘online resilience’. The Minded website is a good place to start.
Young people in the 35 local authority areas we operate in can log on anonymously to Kooth for free if they need to talk to one of our counsellors online about bullying. In the last six months alone, we have worked with over 800 young people who have presented with bullying issues, and it is a constant feature in our top ten presentations.
In empowering and equipping our young people, we can help both the bullied and the bullies join their resilient digital native peers and get the best from the online world.
Aaron Sefi, Business Development Director, XenZone