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Stop Cyberbullying Day: Safer Schools initiative shares advice on how to spot the signs of online bullying and what to do

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#StopCyberbullyingDay – Cyberbullying is a growing problem for schools and colleges 

Data from the Office of National Statistics estimates one in five children aged 10-15 in England and Wales experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour during the year ending March 2020, and reports suggest the problem has increased further as a result of lockdown.

In their recent thematic review into sexual abuse in education, Ofsted found that incidents of harassment and abuse have been ‘normalised’ by their frequency, with the majority of the more than 900 children and young people surveyed experiencing some kind of unsolicited images or sexist comments – whether in person at school or college, or online or via mobile phone.

To address this, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden have asked the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza to join a roundtable discussion in the coming weeks with tech companies, law enforcement, children’s charities and schools to talk about preventative measures ahead of legislation on age restrictions for app downloading and sharing, and how to support parents and children to make more informed and safer choices online.

To mark Stop Cyberbullying Day (Friday 18th June) the Safer Schools Initiative, led by safeguarding experts Ineqe Safeguarding Group in partnership with school insurer, Zurich Municipal have released guidance and tips for schools to help them recognise instances of cyberbullying and how to mitigate its impact.

What is cyberbullying?

The long-term impact of cyberbullying on a young person’s physical and mental wellbeing can be acute. But what exactly is cyberbullying?

The National Bullying Helpline defines cyberbullying as bullying and harassment using technology. This includes trolling, mobbing, stalking, grooming or any form of abuse online. Cyberbullying can be more difficult to escape than offline bullying, as this form of bullying does not stop at the school gates

Tilden Watson, Head of Education at Zurich Municipal said:

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Rather than something discrete and distinct from schoolyard bullying, ‘cyberbullying’ can often be a precursor to, or an extension of, schoolyard bullying. Unfortunately, with the ongoing rise of smart phones and tablets cyberbullying isn’t going away anytime soon, so spotting the signs and knowing how to react is vital for parents and schools.”

How to spot if someone is being bullied online

Often signs a child is being bullied, even in the online environment, will manifest in the classroom, corridors and playgrounds of the school and at home.  Keep an eye out for changes to behaviour.  This could include:

  1. a change in sleeping patterns and frequent nightmares,
  2. not wanting to attend school,
  3. a noticeable decline in standards of schoolwork,
  4. a nervous reluctance to use their mobile phones/internet 
  5. showing unusual aggression, being disruptive or unreasonable.

What can you do if someone is being bullied online?

Jim Gamble, online safeguarding expert and the force behind the Safer Schools app said,

 “Online bullying remains a monumental challenge for parents, carers, teachers and safeguarding professionals. The best way we can help young people stay safe online is by empowering them through education and teaching them how to protect themselves from harm. However, should you find out a young person is being bullied online it’s important to know how best to respond.”

Jim stresses that young people may not describe what is happening to them as bullying, so to listen if they mention things that are upsetting them or worrying them online. If a child describes an experience which sounds like, or is online bullying, Jim’s advice is to:

  • Take time to listen to them and try not to interrupt. Try not to get angry or upset at the situation.
  • Don’t stop them from accessing social media platforms or online games. It may feel like punishment and stop them from telling you in the future
  • Reassure the child that things will change, and they have done the right thing by telling you. This can help reduce their anxiety.
  • Make sure the child knows it’s not their fault and they have done nothing wrong
  • As a parent or carer, it is important not to get involved or retaliate in cases of online bullying. This will likely make the situation worse for the child
  • Talk to the child about what they would like to see happen. Involving them in how the bullying is resolved will help them feel in control of the situation

The Safer Schools App was launched by Zurich Municipal and online safeguarding experts, Ineqe Safeguarding Group in 2018. Since then, it has been rolled out across thousands of state schools in the UK. The App combines the expertise of a range of safeguarding professionals to provide staff, parents and carers with greater understanding of the digital space, trends and emerging risks as well as education about frequently used online language, social media buzzwords and credible video contact.

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