eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, talks about the prevalence of cyberbullying among young Australians and the importance of online safety education for students.
I recently had the opportunity to present to a group of Australian education leaders about the work of the eSafety Office in addressing the range of online ills we see playing out on technology, including cyberbullying and image-based abuse.
While preparing for this discussion, I could feel multiple tabs opening in my brain as I contemplated the key skills I want my own children to possess while navigating the online world, drawing from evidence-based knowledge of strategies that work versus strategies that don’t. As a parent, I know I represent the frontline of defence in keeping my kids safe online but I want these important lessons and skills to be taught and reinforced throughout my children’s educational journey as well. This is particularly relevant as they begin to use technology for learning in and out of the classroom, in preparation for the workforce of tomorrow.
Research conducted by the eSafety Office tells us that one in four Australian children are physically bullied and one in five young Australians experience cyberbullying. Not surprisingly, most of the 900 cyberbullying reports into our office have been peer-based and an extension of the face-to-face bullying a child might be experiencing within the school gates. It is important that these online behaviours are addressed in tandem with root causes of the social conflict.
Based on this knowledge, we know the best thing we can do for our young people to combat cyberbullying is to target the behaviours by educating, empowering and equipping them early on with the ‘4 Rs of Online Safety’ – respect, resilience, responsibility and reasoning. If we get the educational and cultural change programs right, hopefully, we will encourage our young people to do a few key things in the face of cyberbullying:
• When safe to do so, stand up for peers online, be a positive ‘upstander’ rather than a ‘bystander’;
• Report serious cyberbullying to the social media site or eSafety office;
• Speak to a trusted adult (or peer) without feeling stigmatised as a ‘dobber’; and
• Understand that they are not alone and that there is no weakness in seeking support.
My thoughts also turned to what types of education programs we should be advocating for as best-practice in driving behaviour change. I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation and research by David Finkelhor from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which scanned the research environment to uncover the educational interventions that work well to promote safe online behaviours. His research comports with the observation, evidence base and evaluation the eSafety Office has conducted over the past few years. The following methods were found to be generally ineffective: programs that are too brief, discreet lectures, single exposure videos and a reliance on stern warnings and fear mongering.
At the eSafety Office, we believe consistent, age appropriate and positive approaches to education and awareness are key to prevention. To this end, we strive to deliver pragmatic, solutions-focused online safety advice and develop resources delivered through various platforms, using different approaches. The available research is helping us develop an evidence base to understand what works well and enrich our educational outputs. In brief, these successful interventions tend to include:
• Multiple exposures to online safety, using varied platforms including videos, games, posters, class discussions and parental engagement;
• A focus on specific skills along with opportunities to practice these skills;
• Early education prior to onset of targeted behaviour guided by well-trained educators; and
• Monitored implementation and improvement of programs through evaluation.
At the eSafety Office, we work to incorporate these proof points into the range of programs we deliver, while also working to ensure they are mapped to the Australian curriculum. Some of these initiatives include our Virtual Classrooms program that has reached over 240,000 students and teachers; our wide range of classroom resources, including our award-winning Rewrite Your Story video series; our Young & eSafe site; our new multi-player video game, The Lost Summer; our series of national professional learning webinars for teachers; and our iParent portal and Screen Smart Parent Tour to help parents and carers understand online risks and how to manage these risks.
Ideally, online safety education and related education, like respectful relationships education, should become a fixture of the K-12 curriculum. This eSafety education should be delivered consistently across the nation. But this education, and modelling of positive online behaviour, needs to begin at home with parents and carers.
Unless these bad behaviours are targeted and positive online behaviours consistently enforced, we are going to face a losing battle. If we ban a technology or device, our kids will surely find a way to circumvent those restrictions. They need to be armed with the skills to navigate their online worlds safely, responsibly and respectfully.