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Tackling (cyber)bullying in a global pandemic

This is a guest blog post from Chloe Eckert, Head of Digital Communications, PROJECT ROCKIT

The online world is an amazing sanctuary for so many people. Social media opens up new avenues to create connection and build collective awareness - not to mention of course, providing an abundance of memes for pretty much any situation. But the opportunities and risks of online participation are often muddled up together. Considering that more than half of young Aussies (53%) report experiencing (cyber)bullying, together, adults face the challenge of trying to keep their kids safe without cutting them off from all of the strengths of the digital world. So imagine if a global pandemic hit - compounding this challenge with dire impacts for school communities - casting a blow to student and educator wellbeing. Wild huh? Welcome to 2020.

In 2020, school students are spending more time online learning from home, which highlights the need for crucial support to stay safe and healthy online. So how do we ensure that young people are equipped with the knowledge and skills to live their best digital lives? There’s so many tips and resources out there that might be contradictory and not particularly inspiring. Additionally and crucially, they sometimes ignore that we all have different confidence levels, lived experiences and identities and other barriers to standing up.

When isolation and remote learning began, young people found themselves suddenly doing the majority of socialising and education online. Many positive examples have surfaced of communities coming together to support each other through uncertainty and isolation. However, evidence suggests that (cyber)bullying is on the rise, with the Australian Office of the eSafety Commissioner seeing a 40% increase in the number of reports of (cyber)bullying during the beginning months of COVID-19.

The way we see it, (cyber)bullying is a social issue that plays out online. It robs young people of their potential, but if we engage young people in the conversation, we empower them to break this cycle. We need to support them to exercise healthy decision-making and create supportive connected communities online.

Our PROJECT ROCKIT team is often asked for our 'do's' and 'don'ts' for adults dealing with these complexities. We like to focus on the positive, so we're going to focus on the 'do's':

📱 Show an interest in young people’s digital lives ahead of any drama. This is a great way to better understand why various online activities matter so much to them and build trust should they need your help down the track.

🧡 Give realistic and safe advice. Telling them to turn off their device in the face of (cyber)bullying will only isolate them. Encouraging them to retaliate will only make things worse. Try being a soundboard to help them come up with their own solutions so that they’re learning the skills they need to feel empowered.

💻 If you’re dealing with something seriously harmful, abusive, or illegal, make a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner. They’ve got some great resources online for parents and educators too.

👍 Apply for the PROJECT ROCKIT Schools Grant to give your students the opportunity to participate in Australia’s leading online learning to tackle bullying, hate and prejudice - by young people for young people.

At the end of the day, every one of us has a role to play in making the online world a kind, respectful and safe arena for all. These are just a few ways that you can play a role in supporting young people to shape this world for the better - with every click, post, comment, share, react. Together, we're stronger.

Australian opportunity: PROJECT ROCKIT’s School Grant 

In response to the current pressure on schools across the country to navigate challenging learning conditions and support their students, Google Australia is sponsoring the PROJECT ROCKIT’s School Grant. The grant will ensure 4,000 students from 10 Australian schools access to empowering (cyber)bullying webinars to continue learning through unpredictable times in Term 3 and 4. You can learn more or apply for PROJECT ROCKIT's Schools Grant here.

PROJECT ROCKIT is Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying, hate and prejudice. Their programs are designed by young people, for young people, with advice developed in collaboration with young people. You can apply for PROJECT ROCKIT’s Schools Grant here.