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Cyber bullying: how digital citizenship lessons should just be the beginning

One quarter of teenagers admit to bullying or insulting someone on the internet. Think tank Demos says the government should respond by funding digital citizenship lessons. Lahna Pottle from Youthscape explains why she thinks this is a good start but cannot be the only answer.

This sad statistic tells a story that’s never really told. While one third of boys admitted to online antisocial behaviour, those that said they had been the bullies were also targeted themselves. These statistics reveal a cycle of bullying, where those who are the bullies become the victim of bullying themselves. 

So what is causing this cycle? This can’t be boiled down to one easy answer. Social media isn’t just a place for bullying, but can result in numerous negative effects on our young people’s mental health.

Youthscape release a research bulletin regularly and a recent one was on just this. 42 per cent of young people have been cyber bullied. Young people admit that it is having a negative impact on their own mental health. They are aware that platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are also causing anxiety, sleep deprivation and low self-esteem.

The average age that a young person is getting a phone is 12. At such a young age, someone does not necessarily have the emotional maturity to be able to use it in a healthy way. What sometimes happens is that they are bullied and feel the need to lash out as a response. Either that or they are seeing people joining in a behaviour and jump on board with that.

What we also need to remember when we see these statistics is that there is not just one platform. Cyber bullying may be text messages. They may appear as Whatsapp messages or other private messages. This is obviously very hard to manage. Unless you are a parent who has access to your child’s phone, then it is unlikely you will know.

But that’s not the only form it can take. What we are seeing more and more is young people accessing social media through apps – Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. A lot of these sites do have regulations – when you sign up their terms and conditions specify that they do not allow bullying or antisocial behaviour. However, these are huge networks of millions of people and it’s incredibly difficult to manage that. In their defence, the rise in people recognising the damage to mental health has meant that some of the social media sites are trying to get better at this. They are making it easier to block and report people when antisocial behaviour does occur. They also allow you to hide particular words that you don’t want to see. But there is so much more that can be done.

The digital citizenship classes proposed by Demos are a great start. We need to have these conversations with our young people before the cycle begins. Putting this into the curriculum is brilliant because that is something that all young people can access. However, that cannot be the only solution.

It needs to be something we are talking about with our children and young people everywhere. They need to understand that there are people behind the usernames at the other end of the screen.

Not only do we need to work on preventing this cycle at every possible stage, we need a broader conversation around the negatives of social media. Yes, we need to talk about bullying. We also need to be talking about further mental health issues triggered by access to social media. We need them to know that this can also lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety and harmful selfish focus in our young people.

If you wanted to get the full social media statistics, you can read the research bulletins here.  

If you'd like a free copy of Premier Youth and Children's Work click here.


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