01/12/2021

Cyberbullying: building resilience and awareness through innovative projects

Digital transformation of different activities and increased use of the Internet have undoubtedly brought a lot of advantages to the world. However, unfortunately, it also affected the unalluring side of social relationships, including bullying, making such vulnerable categories as children and young people not feeling safe both offline and online.

According to national studies in individual European countries, the rates of cyberbullying – intentional aggressive verbal or psychological harassment online – vary from 5.5 to 44%. Young people experience it in different forms, including insults, intimidations, threats, or even stalking and identity theft. Violent behaviour online can also include online exclusion, sharing sexual content without consent, outing, and creating fake profiles to impersonate, publicly humiliate or expose someone. As a result, 68% of young people who have faced such aggression have psychological problems; victims of cyberbullying are more than twice likely to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts. Due to the high level of anonymity online, the offenders often stay unknown; however, they might also need attention as they could be at risk, as, usually, they hurt others to ease their own issues.

In addition to the consequences for the child's well-being, cyberbullying also has an impact on their educational attainment at school. For example, 64% of children who have been cyberbullied say that bullying affects their learning ability.

How to act as a teacher?

Outside the home, children spend most of their time at school. As for school leaders, teachers, and educators, it is essential to establish a dialogue and continuous communication between you and the pupils. Cyberbullying affects children and young people in different ways: they may be victims, offenders, or witnesses to cyberbullying.

In all three cases, recognising the signs and opening up the necessary discussion can prevent the situation from escalating, so the teacher can create a safe environment for everyone. Educators need to be able to use their skills to recognise a change in a student's mood and behaviour, a withdrawal, or particular attention given to a specific student by others. Once the person (the victim, perpetrator, or witness) has been identified, it is important to take the student aside and ask if they would like to talk about it and if they have any evidence. Teachers are also encouraged to raise awareness of the subject through activities that they can do in class.

How to act as a parent?

Children and young people who became cyberbullying victims are not likely to share what happened with their parents. It is quite challenging to escape cyberbullying, as children are constantly on their smartphones and spend a lot of time online. As a parent, you would want to regulate their access and use of social media; however, such restrictions might break the trust that has been built up between you and your child. Finding out that your child is being bullied online can be a shock, but it is crucial to offer support and reassurance first. Constantly judged and criticised, the cyberbullying victim needs to understand that it is not their fault. Therefore, try to create a safe space for the child, and if they want to and feel ready, talk about it with a therapist. It is also essential to inform the school so that internal actions can be taken.

European Schoolnet has highlighted several projects on its website that deal with the dangers of the Internet and cyberbullying. Through the three projects: BIK (Better Internet for Kids), Kids_Action, The School of Social Networks, it is possible to develop the appropriate knowledge on the issue, as well as to work on one's skills. The many webinars, MOOCs and events offered by the projects aim to develop critical thinking skills and share good practices on how they tackle and prevent cyberbullying. Thus, teachers, parents and students become actors of change.

The mission of Better Internet for Kids is to provide information and resources on safer internet use. Through its platform, it is possible to access resources and best practices between key online safety stakeholders to increase access to high-quality content for children and young people. The School of Social Networks seeks to introduce children in elementary school to the use of social media in a safe and fun way and provide parents, educators, and institutions with free learning material.

The KID_ACTIONS Forum

On 29 and 30 November, the first-ever KID_ACTIONS forum took place in a hybrid format. During these two days, it was an opportunity to bring together key stakeholders involved in the development of a safe and empowering digital space for children and young people. Policymakers, researchers, and others shared their expertise and provided solutions on potential tools and resources to develop the KID_ACTIONS project further. This forum and the actions carried out by KID_ACTIONS aim to put at the centre of the debate, on a European level, the dangers of cyberbullying but also the many facets and dimensions it can take. In addition, the project provides a digital platform and educational resources to help teachers and parents implement innovative technologies to tackle cyberbullying.

Young people have made social media and the Internet the main means of communication. Therefore, uncovering and addressing the dangers of this communication medium is an excellent way to protect young people online and offline.

The Internet and social media are excellent communication tools, especially since the pandemic. Although the dangers are there and cannot always be prevented, the most important thing is to be aware of the threat, to have conversations about it. Building resilience before the incident occurs is essential to arm the child with the necessary knowledge.

To learn more about the actions carried out and the debates held during this event, you can watch the YouTube stream of the conference (Day 1 - Day 2)

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