“It is the unacceptable face of new technology which requires concerted action across society to address it” ~ Kevin Brennan, former Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families, on online bullying and Cyber Bullying in the UK.
In the wake of the crisis of Cyber Bullying in the UK, there have been several initiatives and projects that aim at awareness and prevention. While some are governmental, others comprise of individual efforts aimed at the improvement of youth’s futures on a nationwide level.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance was established by the NSPCC (the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children) and NCB (National Children’s Bureau) in 2002 and is hosted by leading children’s charity, the National Children’s Bureau. It is a coalition of organizations and individuals working together to stop bullying and create safe environments in which children and young people can live, grow, play and learn. It aims at raising the profile of bullying and the effect it has on the lives of children and young people, as well as creating a climate in which everyone agrees that bullying is unacceptable. It also aims at making sure that teachers, youth practitioners, parents, care-givers, children and young people have the skills and knowledge to address bullying effectively. Another service provided by NSPCC is ChildLine. While assuring children confidentiality, it encourages children to contact them about anything, as no problem is “too big, or too small”. Other than having an active hotline, it has an “Ask Sam” tab, which enables children to ask questions anonymously and receive immediate help and advice on how to properly deal with the problem at hand.
Similarly, BeatBullying is a charity on Cyber Bullying in the UK whose founders set out on a mission to fight the hate that goes viral at the speed of a mouse-click: Cyber bullying. BeatBullying works with children and young people across the UK to stop bullying. Through their online mentoring CyberMentors website, which has peer mentoring and peer activism at its heart, they aim at empowering young people so deeply affected by bullying that they can barely face going to school every day, and help them to support each other. They also help young people who bully to change their behavior through shaping attitudes.
CyberMentors are young people aged 11-17 who receive two days intensive face-to-face training from BeatBullying staff which gives them the skills and confidence to mentor offline (in their school or community) and online (on the CyberMentors website). Once graduating, they mentor, guide, and support other young people from all around the country on issues of bullying, Cyber Bullying and wellbeing. Designed by young people for young people, the emphasis as always is on peer-to-peer support and assistance and not adults or authority figures policing the net, although strict child safety mechanisms are embedded in the process to ensure that inappropriate, bullying or predatory behavior is safely reported.
The UK’s first dedicated Cyber Bullying in the UK charity is called The Cybersmile Foundation. They also offer practical help, support, and advice for anybody affected by Cyber Bullying and online hate campaigns, and are committed to providing one-on-one counseling for the victims of Cyber Bullying, as well as providing a central resource for information and guidance, and education on how to use social media safely. Cybersmile are aware that over 340,000 children suffer the consequences of Cyber Bullying in the UK and that child suicide rates are on the rise. Therefore, they are campaigning for a change in the current legislation to make online harassment and bullying a clearly defined criminal offence. On cybersmile.org, they allow people the opportunity to sign a petition for the cause.
With “Ctrl-Alt-Delete: Be the Change” as their motto, the End to Cyber Bullying Organization is a state-certified non-profit organization founded in hopes of creating a social network devoid of cyber bullying. Their mission is to raise awareness, provide a mass of cyber bullying information, in addition to offering compassionate, approachable services and mobilizing students, educators, parents and others in efforts to end cyber bullying. ETCB hopes to create a global social networking arena where all users can feel safe and positive. It also hopes to help the community identify, prevent, and ultimately stop cyber bullying, and ultimately, to create a positive cybersphere.
Adding to the list of charities is Family Lives, which is a charity that has over three decades of experience in helping parents deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life. People contact them about all aspects of family life that include all stages of a child’s development, issues with schools and parenting/relationship support. They also respond when life becomes complicated and provide support around family breakdown, aggression at homes, mental health concerns and teenage risky behavior, especially bullying and Cyber Bullying. Through its project, Bullying UK, it provides advice and support to young people, parents, teachers, and those who suffer Cyber Bullying in the workplace. It also presents workshops and carousels to spread the anti-bullying awareness at schools and in public areas.
There’s also Childnet International, a non-profit organization working in partnership with others around the world to help make the internet a great and safe place for children. They work directly with children and young people from the ages of 3 to 18 on a weekly basis, as well as with their parents, teachers, and teaching assistants, finding out about their real experiences online, and the positive things that they are doing, as well as sharing safety advice. Another website working with Childnet International is KidSMART.
In addition, their Education Team members run internet safety sessions for pupils, parents and staff members. They work with schools, local authorities, foster parent groups, local police forces, and of course, children and young people. Their sessions cover the many positives of internet use and address the related issues that children and youngsters face by providing practical advice that is easy to apply. Issues covered include, but are not limited to protecting personal information, social networking, downloading, online grooming, sexting, Cyber Bullying, gaming, digital footprints, online reputation, and more. Sessions are interactive and are organized in a way that suits their specific audience.
Working with Childnet International is the governmental UK Safer Internet Center which has three main functions: an awareness center, a helpline, and a hotline. While it operates the UK’s hotline for reporting online criminal content, it also coordinates Safer Internet Day, annually promoted in February, which provided over 50 million opportunities to see or hear the Safer Internet Day message in 2012 and 2013, with 2013 having a record number of supporters getting involved and a large-scale youth survey capturing the voice of 24,000 children to the government, industry and policy makers.
UK Safer Internet Center also works on developing new educational and awareness raising resources for children, parents and teachers to meet emerging trends in the fast-changing online environment. Recent launches include resources focusing on early years, sexting, and ‘How-To’ video guides on using parental controls on internet-connected devices. What’s more, it develops self-assessment tools for schools to evaluate their e-safety provision, and delivers education sessions for children, parents, and school teachers, reaching over 30,000 every year. It is worth mentioning that Safer Internet Center is part of the UK governmental efforts to combat Cyber Bullying, similar to the United Kingdom Council for Child and Internet Safety (UKCCIS), which is more policy-oriented.
Brought about by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center (CEOP) and co-funded by the European Union, ThinkUKnow was established to eradicate online crime that targets children. For those who are aged 5-7, it provides a downloadable service called Hector’s World Safety Button, on which a child can click in case they see or experience something they do not like or find “nasty”. Through a user-friendly, fun and interactive website, ThinkUKnow provides advice for children of all ages, categorizing them to ones from 5-7, 8-10, and 11-16, as well as support and awareness tips for parents, care-givers, trainers and teachers, so they could effectively help children who are attacked online or exposed to undesirable content, for the purpose of online safety for children.
At the very heart of all those initiatives’ work is the belief that, when used properly, the internet is a wonderfully positive tool for children and young people. They all strive to take a balanced approach, making sure that they promote the positive opportunities, as well as responding to the risks and equipping children and young people to deal with them.