Cyber-bullying really is one of the dark sides of the internet. It is the use of the internet and technology to deliberately hurt, embarrass and abuse others and can be a one off or recurring. We, as the grown-ups who are responsible for the safety of young people, are in an odd position because we are protecting them from harm on forms of communication that didn’t exist when we grew up.
Ask.FM has hit the news recently following the tragic suicide of a young woman after she was cyber-bullied on the site and pulled the focus on to cyber bullying like never before. It is an area that for a while I don’t think some took that seriously because it doesn’t bruise, and let’s face it, you can always turn a computer off.
It’s not as simple as that though because it can follow you everywhere. Even after you turn the computer off, every beep of the phone could be someone trying to communicate with you via text, Facebook, Twitter, Ask.FM, Snapchat or any of the other new social networks that are springing up around us. There is in fact even a new social network called Happier where you are only allowed to share positive thoughts – that’s my kind of social network.
Online relationships are no different to real life relationships. Fostered children and young people should treat people online with the same respect as they would face-to-face: ‘if you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it’.
Being open and honest with the children and young people in your care about what is expected from them online can help to build trust and boundaries and show them that you are there to support them should they need it. However you must let your fostered child or young person know that you will look at their online interactions if they give you reason to be concerned that they might be a victim or a bully: cyber-bullying often takes place where there is little adult involvement. It possible for a young person to delete their online history though, so don’t solely rely on this method for monitoring.
Here are some tips for supporting a child or young person who is being cyber bullied, taken from the Fostering Network’s Fostering in a Digital World: a common sense guide:
- Engage in discussion. Your fostered child or young person may be reluctant to talk about what’s happening. One approach would be to mention cyber-bullying within a general discussion about online safety and responsible behaviour. Subtly signpost them to websites such as BeatBullying or ChildLine (0800 1111), where they can explore advice in their own time and not feel under pressure.
- Remind your fostered child or young person that you are always available to talk to. Suggest other people who they could talk to such as a school counsellor, a favourite teacher or even a friend’s parent. Knowing that there are trusted adults there to help may encourage a young victim to be more receptive to help.
- Cyber-bullying often breaches the terms of service of both social media sites and internet service providers. Review their terms and conditions. Reporting cyber-bullying can result in action being taken against those abusing the terms of service.
If you do believe, or have evidence, that your fostered child or young person is being cyber-bullied then you should speak to your social worker as they may have advice to offer and experience to share.
There is no hard and fast way of ensuring that you do everything right and provide all the support that a child or young person may need but as someone with responsibility for children and young you must start now to really engage with the online world.
Life is changing, fostering is changing and children and young people deserve foster carers who are able to care for their needs. Whatever we think, this now means being online ready yourself. Fostering in a Digital World: a common sense guide is designed to help you become online literate and to prepare you for the challenges which may lay ahead. You can purchase your copy from the Fostering Network’s book shop.