Safety and the cyber-world

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Cyber-bullying and online child protection is in the news at the moment with some social networking sites refusing to install the “panic button” recommended by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. Opinions on this decision has been mixed, with The Guardian (Just one click to prevent child abuse) applauding Bebo’s decision to install the button, but The Times (A life online: just delete the cyber-bullies) questioning whether the button could address other issues, such as cyberbullying, and putting the emphasis squarely on the shoulders of parents.

Safety in the cyber-world is an issue for us on two different levels. Earlier this year we ran a project with a local school looking specifically at cyberbullying. The school had experienced some disturbing instances of bullying through email and texting, and with them we developed a project to look at these issues. Initial research sessions with year six pupils had shown that many of the children were acutely aware of what cyberbullying actually entailed. However, when probed further it became apparent that the children did not really distinguish between cyberbullying and the more general types of physical bullying or intimidation that may take place in school or other settings. To address this the project utilised masks and mask work as a way of ‘distancing’ participants from one another and exploring the anonymity provided by email and text messages. From this a peer education performance was created, with participants delivering to the rest of the school.

But we’re also wrestling with online safety from a different perspective. You might have seen from my earlier blog post (Digital potentials), we’re in the process of looking at our resources, and how to make them interactive and participative. For the first time the activities and resources we develop to support our programmes could be open to anyone online, rather than just teachers. This is certainly possible, but is it desirable? What sort of activity is appropriate? What sort of activity isn’t?  What can we put in place to make surfing safer for children and young people?

But there’s also another question. In The Times report above it references a survey by the Anti Bullying Alliance that said over half of children they consulted thought their parents needed to learn how to deal with it. How do we get to grips with a world where our children are more at home than many of us?

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