Every year, the equivalent of two children in every primary school class in the UK have suffered abuse or neglect. But the majority are left without the support services they so desperately need.
Ni4kids has teamed up with the NSPCC to offer parents advice on what to do if they suspect or know their child is a target of bullying or abuse online…
“Cyber bullying is a word that is used a lot at the moment in the news, and we know it can be a tricky thing for people to understand,” says NSPCC Northern Ireland Education Adviser, Phyllis Stephenson. “That’s why we work really hard with parents and schools to help them gain an understanding about what cyber bullying really is and how to equip children with the tools to protect themselves when they are in the online world.”
Phyllis is part of the NSPCC’s innovative Education team, who are currently piloting the ground-breaking Keeping Safe programme in schools across Northern Ireland. The project aims to embed messages about keeping safe from all forms of abuse and bullying, including cyber bullying, into the curriculum to ensure that children are given the knowledge and skills they need to keep themselves safe. Phyllis explains: “We know that the earlier children are able to recognise abuse, the earlier they feel able to speak out, the better the outcomes for the child. The programme will give children, teachers and parents the confidence to deal with bullying and cyber bullying more easily and effectively.”
Phyllis and the education team at NSPCC know that children are growing up today in a vastly different world from previous generations. Children still experience ‘traditional’ forms of bullying but now also face bullying online. She says: “We know that children no longer make the distinction between the online and offline world. Children today have the opportunity to use social media to connect with their friends and peers but this can also mean that they are at risk from cyberbullying from an early age. This is why it is so important that appropriate keeping safe messages are integrated into the curriculum and children are taught strategies to keep safe.”
Research carried out by the NSPCC has found a huge rise in cyber bullying in recent years across social networks, online games and mobile phone apps accessed through a range of devices. Last year (2015/16) alone the NSPCC’s Childline service counselled more than 4,500 children across the UK on the subject of cyber bullying. The NSPCC has produced guidance for parents and children about the different forms that cyber bullying can take, which include sending abusive messages over text or social media (‘trolling’), exclusion from online games, activities or friendship groups, setting up fake or hate sites about a child, creating embarrassing images or videos, or pressuring children into sending information or images that they are uncomfortable with.
Phyllis knows the difficulties in tackling the problem of cyberbullying, saying, “Unlike offline bullying, children may or may not know who is bullying them. It is very easy to be anonymous online, and children can be targeted by someone who is using a fake account, or a person pretending to be someone else. This can make it very difficult to overcome. The other crucial difference about cyber bullying is that it is no longer confined by the school gates. It can happen to a child at anytime and anywhere. From a classroom to on their tablet in their bedroom – so it can feel like there’s no escape.”
The NSPCC’s Keeping Safe project has developed age-appropriate lesson plans for schools, where staying safe online is a key thread throughout the programme. The lessons are taught throughout the primary school years so children’s learning progresses as they become more aware of the online world around them. Phyllis continues, “In the earlier years we try and introduce children to thinking about phones and tablets, and how they can stay safe when they are using them. This starts the process of helping them to think about online safety and keeping private information safe. This progresses throughout their later years to learning about cyber bullying and how to recognise and protect themselves if it ever happens to them.
“We also encourage parents to have conversations with their children about keeping safe online when they are playing or creating online or simply connecting with their friends and family. It is impossible for parents to keep up to date with every online app or website, but by having those conversations at different points, children learn that they can speak out if they are being bullied online. We also always say to children, if it doubt talk to a trusted adult, whether that be your teacher or a parent or guardian.”
NSPCC Northern Ireland also works with the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum which brings together 25 regional statutory and voluntary sector organisations. The NIABF works with schools and communities to highlight all forms of bullying, and aims to work towards a society where children and young people can live free from bullying of any form.
The NSPCC also know that one of the most important things is for schools to have a good ethos on bullying, and a robust anti-bullying policy which is updated frequently and includes cyber bullying. Phyllis adds: “Keeping children safe from bullying and cyber bullying in school isn’t just about tackling things when bullying happens, but about having a culture within the school that bullying isn’t acceptable. That is so important.”
The NSPCC’s Net Aware hub give information about the top used apps, including age restrictions and risks associated with each app. Visit net-aware.org.uk
For more information on the NSPCC’s Keeping Safe Project visit nspcc.org.uk
For advice on tackling bullying and cyber bullying visit nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse
Tips for parents and carers
It can be really upsetting to learn that your child is being bullied, and many parents will want to help. Many children may be reluctant to tell their parents if they fear it could make bullying worse, so we have some tips to make things easier:
• Talk about bullying and cyberbullying to you children at different points, so they are aware of it.
• Make sure they know who to ask for help, whether it be a teacher or yourself.
• Teach them how to stay safe online.
• Talk to your child’s school or club.
• Take further action if the bullying continues.
• Report online videos of bullying.
Tips for schools
The NSPCC also have guidance for schools on what to do if children or parents are concerned about bullying and cyber bullying:
• Ensure you have a robust and up-to-date anti-bullying policy.
• Establish a school ethos that bullying is not acceptable.
• Share anti-bullying messages through the curriculum.
• Place anti-bullying messages and signposts for help around the building.
• Record all incidents and report on patterns.