Bullying is not confined to the playground

Anne Longfield
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Advances in media and the dominance of the internet and mobile telephones have changed the way the young relate to adults and each other.

Many now need to go no further than their own bedroom to access a world of social networking. Social networking site MySpace is estimated to have more than 65 million members worldwide. And nearly 1.5 million children in Britain had access to the internet from their own bedroom in 2005.

Online networking is complete with its own "handshakes", protocols and social conventions. But while the online acumen of the young often eclipses that of their parents', it is also a world that is increasingly geared towards children. This gives rise to an unsupervised social environment from which many parents are alienated.

Just like a "real-life" environment, this brings opportunities and challenges. In 2006, one in five London schoolchildren had experienced cyber-bullying and two-thirds of young victims kept this problem from the attention of their parents.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families' campaign Don't Suffer in Silence responds to these developments and includes provisions to reduce incidents of online harassment. It has sought to ensure all head teachers adopt measures to tackle cyber-bullying at school.

Practical measures include monitoring the use of IT equipment in schools, blocking prescribed sites and ensuring the curriculum raises awareness about the risks of new technologies, and the consequences of their misuse.

Examples of more local support include the London-based organisation Bullying Online, which was set up to review the extent of internet harassment of children in the capital and surrounding areas.

The organisation was established in recognition of the growing phenomenon of internet bullying and in response to fears that children are falling prey to harassment inside the home through the proxy of the net. Results have included the closing down of a series of message boards in the Hertfordshire and north London areas in which pupils were being identified by name, school and year while others were invited to post abuse about them. The boards were reported to Hertfordshire Police following complaints made to the organisation by parents and pupils.

While support and help is available in tackling the problem, the scale of the internet's popularity means we must be acutely aware, and prepared to act to prevent bullying of this kind.

- Anne Longfield is chief executive of 4Children.Email anne.longfield@haymarket.com.

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