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Don’t panic: Three ways parents can tackle cyberbullying

Telstra Foundation

Posted on November 30, 2017

3 min read

It’s time to stop telling young people to “switch off” when technology gets tough – and start more conversations about navigating the challenges we all face online, writes cyberbullying expert Archie Boulter.

Set your alarm for 6am. The school you’re working at tomorrow is on the other side of the city. Hit the road early; you know what school traffic is like. Say hello to the 150 students you’re working with today. You’ve got a few hours to equip each of them with the strategies they need to overcome (cyber)bullying and prejudice. Mission accomplished. Say goodbye to your 150 new mates and get to the airport… there’s are 300 new young people waiting to meet you in regional Australia tomorrow.

This is just an ordinary day in the life of a presenter at PROJECT ROCKIT – Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. We’ve been working in schools for over a decade now, having real talk with young people about the struggles they face online and offline and providing them with credible strategies for overcoming them.

I want to share what I’ve learnt from working with young people across the country each day and to debunk some common misconceptions about what they’re facing online and the type of support they need from adults.

First up, it’s not all doom and gloom, I promise. Often the public discourse about young people in the online world is centred around the bad stuff: “young people are addicted to social media” or “young people have gone wild with sexting”. Having worked with young people for the past three years and being kinda young myself (25 is young, right?), I’m happy to report that members of this generation aren’t just using their devices for taking selfies. They’re also using them to connect with like-minded people around the world, celebrate their talents and find support networks they may not have access to in the offline world.

In fact, I met a student in year 7 who was coding his own video games and uploading them to Steam®, an online gaming platform, for thousands of other gamers around the world to play. Or a year 10 girl in regional NSW who was able to keep up with her Nonna’s travels throughout Egypt via Skype™. (I believe her exact words were: “my Nonna won’t stop Skyping me!”)

PROJECT ROCKIT presenters and anti-cyberbullying campaigners Archie Boulter (far right) and Telstra Business Development Manager Caley Pearce (second from right) pose with year 8, 9 and 10 students from Clarence High School after today’s workshop.
PROJECT ROCKIT presenters and anti-cyberbullying campaigners Archie Boulter (far left) and Telstra Business Development Manager Caley Pearce (second from right), and Dani Weber pose with year 8, 9 and 10 students from Clarence High School after a workshop.

At PROJECT ROCKIT we think the online world is an awesome channel for connection, entertainment and self-expression. But we also know that it comes with its fair share of challenges. I quickly learnt that it’s not catfishing, security breaches or creeps that young people are dealing with online daily – although cases do occur. It’s exclusion, rumours, violation of consent, popularity, body image, discrimination, and societal pressures. Sound familiar?

The pressures young people face online have been around for generations, they’re just playing out in a technological space. For example, young people comparing themselves to models on Instagram instead of a magazine, or finding out about parties they weren’t invited to through Facebook, rather than the schoolyard. These are just a couple of the challenges young people are facing online and you’ll notice they’re social in nature.

So what can we do about it? Don’t panic, there’s heaps we can do to support young people.

  1. We need to take the shame out of these conversations.

So often we hear that young people are hesitant to approach the adults in their lives for support because they’re afraid of being judged. Let’s talk about nudes, or ‘sexting’ as the media refers to it. We’re hearing about sexually explicit photos being shared consensually or spread without consent. Often we see that the response is to put judgement or shame on young people for exploring their sexualities, particularly girls.

In PROJECT ROCKIT workshops we tell young people that sending this content is way too risky, but we also acknowledge the pressure some young people feel to engage in this behaviour. We need to focus on equipping young people with comfortable ways of saying no to requests for nudes and strategies for navigating photo leaks. Let’s shift the focus of the conversation from shame to respect.

  1. It’s time to meet young people on their level.

Young people can smell BS from roughly 34km away, therefore the best thing we can do is give the advice that we would actually take ourselves. I constantly meet parents who ask me how to get their children to “switch off their bloody technology” but later confess to checking their emails at the dinner table. If you were to post a photo of yourself that you were really proud of and someone wrote something awful on it, how would you feel?

We provide tips and strategies for overcoming online hate that cater to a range of confidence levels and acknowledge the various risks involved. Importantly, they’re tips that we’d use ourselves. Some simple first steps might be to: screenshot for evidence, report the post to site administrators, block the user to give yourself some space, ask a friend to write something positive to counteract the hate, and open up to someone about the experience.

  1. Mistakes happen and times get tough, but sometimes that’s okay.

Young people may have technology down pat, but relationships, identity and resilience take time. The best way to learn is often through overcoming challenges. In school I remember being bombarded with homophobic abuse on MSN Messenger (remember that little gem?) and I learnt from that experience that sometimes people just act like jerks to look cool in front of their friends.

Yes, the online world comes with its challenges, but don’t we face similar challenges in the offline world? Aren’t these the challenges that strengthen us? I’m not saying we should embrace online hate as a tool for personal development, but I am saying that sometimes by overcoming these challenges we learn who we are in this world and how to take the next step forward.

At PROJECT ROCKIT we believe in a world where kindness and respect thrive over bullying, hate and prejudice and our mission is to equip young people with real ways to stand up for themselves and the people around them. Let’s stop telling young people to “switch off” and start having more conversations about how to navigate the challenges we all face online.

Telstra shares PROJECT ROCKIT’s philosophy that young people can step up against cyberbullying if given the right tools and resources. That’s why Archie and the PROJECT ROCKIT team have kicked off a national anti-cyberbullying tour with Telstra. PROJECT ROCKIT created the unique and powerful program in partnership with Telstra which combines in-school workshops with a digital classroom. The tour is part of the Telstra Foundation’s Digital Futures program, which aims to build digital citizenship and technology skills in young Australians.