Learnings from the Best Enemies Cyber Safety Forum

Over 100 people attended the Best Enemies Cyber Safety Forum at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. There were teachers, curriculum managers, parents, well- being and anti-bullying experts and media. Look for a full report of the launch of this website to catch up all of the issues that were discussed on that evening and the twitter feed on it.

As an educator who was involved in the creation of the resource and as part of the panel discussion that evening I want to share some of the insights provided by the panel and the audience. Many in the audience had already viewed Best Enemies and knew what a powerful resource it is. They were highly engaged and they responded to the film and the panel discussion which followed with both comments and questions about the role that education can play in coping with covert bullying.

Among the many questions posed by Lee-Ann Simon, the moderator and the audience some issues brought up new ideas about the problem of covert bullying and how we view young people’s use of the internet and communication technologies. One of the questions that had everyone on the panel keen to contribute was who should have the main responsibility of dealing with bullying: schools or parents. Dr. Evelyn Field, a practising psychologist and expert in dealing with bullying and author of Bully Blocking discussed her experience in counseling young people who had been bullied. Evelyn emphasized the importance and influence of parents on both targets and bullies.

She pointed out that when parents are faced with the reality of their child having been bullied, it is an opportunity to help them develop resilience and some invaluable life skills. Children need to learn at a young age how to deal with difficult or nasty people and how to block bullies. Evelyn also emphasized the importance of anti-bullying programs in schools to reinforce values learnt at home.

Robin Treyvaud and I, both educationalists described how anti-bullying programs are working in schools and Robyn focused on whole school programs she is involved in that include the students, teachers, and community over a period of time. It was interesting to hear the opinion of Joe Grbac, with his experience of 18 years of police youth work. Joe is concerned that although excellent resources are being produced to help students become good digital citizens that they are not being used enough in schools.

At this point, Ross offered evidence from the Best Enemies programs in schools that resources do work and are very much valued when they are accompanied by school workshops for the students and teachers. My experience of creating these resources and receiving feedback from schools is that like all educational initiatives it takes motivated teachers and a program within the school that will tackle issues such as covert bullying, sexting, and good digital citizenship.

Resources like Best Enemies provide a really good jumping off place for schools because they involve students and parents in the whole process of combating challenges presented by students’ uses of technology. Tom Wood, who experienced harassment online and who now helps other young people, argued that young people themselves are the most powerful force for dealing with cyber issues such as covert bullying. I think everybody agreed that peer pressure is the most powerful force for helping young people become responsible for their behavior online and using communication technologies.

Everyone had positive stories to relate from young people reminding each other on social networks, blogs and chat rooms about ethical ways to behave. Schools are becoming more aware of the role of mentors too. In some cases this means older students mentoring younger students and in others acting to defuse situations arising amongst peers and friends when communications online become abusive or bullying. Since young people are at the heart of the benefits and challenges that are acknowledged as embedded in the digital world they enjoy and more and more cannot do without, the focus on them was a hot talking point.

Robyn in her key note introduction to Best Enemies earlier told every-one that It has become increasingly evident to her that it’s that how we frame the language and content about online issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, privacy and ethical choices with students that needs to be changed. “If you listen to them as I do you will find they don’t use vocabulary such as cyber safety, sexting and even cyberbullying but rather will describe the behaviours associated with the issue” She agreed with comments made by a teacher after working with the Best Enemies resources that “the film provided an opportunity for students to reflect on their own behaviours and how they can have a positive or negative impact on those around them.” The most impactful contribution of the launch for me was a moving account by Ali Halkic, whose 17-year-old son committed suicide after being cyber bullied. Ali affirmed the importance of parents being educated themselves about the internet and what young people are accessing on how they are communicating.

He agreed strongly with recommendations by panel members and the audience such as ensuring that the home computer is in a public area, playing games online with your children and being prepared to create and enforce rules about the use of social networking sites and other online activities. He feels that if his family had been more aware of his son’s and the bullies’ activities and had had an open line of communication with his son his death might have been prevented. The value of this forum for me and I’m sure for the others who attended was not only to hear a range of ideas and opinions from various experts but real-life experiences from an educational, psychological, social and in Ali’s case, parents’ points of view.

Lee Burton, B.A., M.A., Dip.Ed. is a committed and experienced senior educator with over 30 years of experience in the education sector as a secondary teacher, Senior Lecturer in Education and 5 years as Education Manager for the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF). Since 2007 Lee has acted as an independent consultant to the education sector for media and digital issues under the business name imMEDIAte issues. She is the Education Consultant for Screen Education, the national journal of the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM Vic), and Education Consultant for the Age Education Resources Online. She regularly comments on media and digital issues for ABC radio and other media outlets. She has developed over 600 published education texts including books, courses, articles, and multimedia and internet resources and is currently the Education Advisor and a writer for Berry Street’s new Cybersafety website BeNetWise.