Beating the cyber bullies

We ask the roundtable: How do we keep kids safe from online bullying?


Michael Brennan, Managing Director, tootoot

Mark Bentley, member of the LGfL Safeguarding Board

David Mole, Head of Retail, Kaspersky Lab

Paul Hague, CEO, haandle

Philip Woods, Director, KRCS Group

Sam Pemberton, CEO, Impero Software

Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet and Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre

Do you think most teachers are aware of and can recognise cyber bullying threats?

David Mole: Yes, absolutely. Cyber bullying and online safety is high on school agendas and teachers are well trained in awareness and recognition of cyber bullying. Schools have e-safety policies that are updated regularly.

Mark Bentley: In 2015, we carried out the LGfL Online Safety Survey, and of the 14,000 responses, one in five young people reported that they had been bullied online; one in 10 admitted to bullying others. Whilst it is impossible to spot 100% of cases in our young people, it is crucial that we are prepared to do so, with proactive and reactive strategies and policies in place.

Michael Brennan: Most teachers are aware of the signs and types of cyber bullying threats, however, many struggle in this day and age to recognise and uncover the route cause of these online threats. Cyber bullying is constant and there is no escape for students who fall victim to cyber-bullying attacks. Phones, tablets and laptops combined with social media creates a 24/7 portal for bullies to contact and threaten their victims online.

Paul Hague: I think most are aware, but they don’t have the knowledge or tools to know how to deal with cyber bullying; not just the teachers but throughout the school. It’s probably more difficult in boys in our experience. However, the signs are there and we’ve seen a very apparent change in behaviour, from dressing to attitude. Teachers need to be aware of these and more subtle signs, including a lack of engagement, contact with peer groups and a loss of interest in activities.

Philip Woods: I’m sure that all teachers are aware of the threat of cyber bullying. Sadly, from a technology perspective, social media platforms are constantly evolving, so it can be challenging for anyone to keep up with the threat, let alone teachers, who are busy enough already.

Sam Pemberton:  What proves most troublesome for teachers is knowing not just how to act, but when. Concerns around cyber bullying stem from its 24/7 presence and the potential anonymity of tormentors, which means it can occur outside of the school boundaries. When this happens, a student’s wellbeing is affected inside school, too; it’s therefore important that teachers consider the wider context of a student’s behaviour to establish whether they are at risk, and provide a safe way for young people to voice their concerns to a member of staff they trust. 

Will Gardner: Cyber bullying is a form of bullying. It has been around for more than 10 years, so all schools, both primary and secondary, will be aware of what cyber bullying is. Cyberbullying, like bullying, has a significant impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing that can leave victims feeling isolated and lonely. It is critical therefore that teachers understand cyber bullying and know how to prevent and respond to incidents. It is important to recognise that cyber bullying is on the rise and that it has even overtaken traditional forms of bullying, with 12% of children now experiencing cyber bullying compared to 9% face-to-face. Although it often happens at home it can have a significant impact on the school community.

It is not reasonable to expect teachers to police the use of technology completely. The teachers’ expertise is education and they have the students’ welfare at heart

How can schools ensure that all staff receive appropriate online safety training?

David Mole: School leadership teams should prioritise online safety, especially in the current climate where technology supports learning across the curriculum. I believe staff already receive regular and updated training to ensure that they are kept up to date in their knowledge, awareness and ability to recognise cyber bullying. For example, I believe that supply teachers aren’t allowed to teach computing as it would be too dangerous if they aren’t as diligent.

Mark Bentley: Clear policies and processes need to be in place in each school, with annual refresher sessions held each year. The LGfL online safety portal includes template policies and agreements based on the latest best-practice from the field; these can give schools a starter for 10 when developing key documents. If a school takes online safety seriously, the lead member of staff (be that the Safeguarding Officer or dedicated Online-Safety Coordinator) will take part in external training each year, and have the opportunities to cascade this knowledge to colleagues. 

Michael Brennan: All staff should be offered training and support to help identify students who fall victim to cyber-bullying threats and attacks. By providing regular and up-to-date training to staff, schools can ensure they are up to date with the latest social media apps and security protocols required in order to keep students safe online.

Paul Hague: Online safety training should be inherent in teacher training courses with regular top-up sessions due to the rapidly changing nature of technology. Technology can’t be left to be the one individual responsible for the whole school. We have traditionally used this approach, but with upwards of 1,000 pupils and staff it simply doesn’t work. The other issue is with the trainers themselves. Having sat through a police liaison officer talking to parents and teachers, it was pretty clear that their subject knowledge was poor and their technology knowledge even worse. If we are to treat these issues with the level of respect they deserve, it starts with getting the right people involved.

Philip Woods: This has to be a two-pronged approach.  Schools must deploy the very best web filtering and security appliances that maintain an evolving database of potential threats, both from a web perspective and at application level so non web-based platforms can be managed. I also believe teachers should receive fundamental training on how to monitor proper device use in the classroom. It is not reasonable to expect teachers to police the use of technology completely. The teachers’ expertise is education and they have the students’ welfare at heart. The most appropriate training that they can receive beyond the technology is how to recognise warning signs in the behaviour amongst children.

Sam Pemberton: Ofsted recommends that online safety should be viewed as a whole school issue, where all staff members share the responsibility. In order for schools to effectively adopt this approach, education staff need to be equipped with the tools to monitor online activity and the processes to ensure they feel confident in dealing with online safety incidents as and when they occur – just like any other safeguarding incident.

Would you say that most children are now aware of potential online dangers? What can we do to highlight them further?

David Mole: Recent Kaspersky Lab research found that 77% of UK children are actively using the internet by the age of 10 and nearly half (43%) believe they are more ‘internet-savvy’ than their parents by the age of 13. However, the biggest concern is that whilst they may be technology savvy, this does not always mean that they are cyber savvy and they still need advice and guidance from parents and teachers about how to stay safe online.

Mark Bentley: The harder question to measure is to what extent do young people put ‘the rules’ into action. There are no handy statistics for this, but returning to the LGfL Online Safety Survey: of those reporting they had been bullied through messages or pictures, 60% had told someone about it (and of that number, 76% told a parent or carer). That is something that we must capitalise upon, ensuring that all adults working or living with young people are prepared for discussions.

Paul Hague: Being aware is very different to understanding the implications and how their actions affect others. It’s also sometimes difficult to spot the signs when it’s happening to you. It’s important that awareness covers many different areas, personal, what happens to others and spotting the signs. There really does need to be a level of engagement, parents and their children discussing these topics. At this age ‘a bit of fun’ can turn into a horrible digital footprint that can’t be removed. Whilst I’m a huge advocate of tech companies stepping up to the mark and taking their responsibilities seriously (I don’t believe they do currently) it’s also really important that family discussion takes place to re-enforce this.

Sam Pemberton: Simply blocking or restricting access not only hinders educational value, but it also prevents young people from learning how to navigate the online world safely and assess risks for themselves. Our research has shown that while they may feel confident online, young people are still vulnerable to a multitude of risks, including adult content, grooming, homophobia, sexting and more. Children are often very good at acknowledging and providing answers when quizzed about online safety, such as ‘don’t give out your password’, but they aren’t always adept at applying them. Technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated; we now see connections between different applications (and applications requesting access to certain personal user information), which heightens the complexity of setting up privacy settings.

Will Gardner: Steps have been taken to help achieve this, including the introduction of the computing curriculum in England. Effective e-safety messages should acknowledge the risks and encourage positive and safe use of technology and positive behaviour online. This helps young people actively manage potential online dangers and take responsibility for their own conduct. The online space is continually changing and so are the issues that young people face online. There have been great initiatives to help keep young people safe online and at Childnet we have a team of education managers who deliver internet safety sessions to thousands of children each year.

Simply blocking or restricting access not only hinders educational value, but it also prevents young people from learning how to navigate the online world safely and assess risks for themselves

How can we get children more involved in anti-bullying campaigns online and offline? 

David Mole: Schools should include pupils in the design and implementation of their e-safety policy. This could be done through a pupil council where pupil voice is gained/shared. Organisations such as Kaspersky Lab should actively seek to work with schools and include them during relevant campaigns. Informing and involving parents in campaigns would also reach an even wider audience and would help facilitate the reinforcement of cyber bullying and online safety message at home.

Mark Bentley: Childnet’s excellent Digital Leaders’ Programme is a fantastic example of a pupil-led online safety programme that equips young people to be the drivers and shapers of the digital citizenship and online-safety training our young people need. I cannot recommend this scheme enough as a way for them to take ownership of their own education.

Michael Brennan: In order for children to be more involved in anti-bullying campaigns both online and offline, resources and tools that are both current and impactful, which relate to set age groups, need to be applied. By encouraging students to talk about issues
they face and worry about, and offering resources and tools which allows them to have a voice is the key to involving young people in both online and offline anti-bullying work.

Philip Woods: I think parents are the key. If schools can get parents involved in education and more awareness campaigns, I believe it will inevitably cascade down to the children. If we share deeper knowledge in relation to managing technology and monitoring warning signs in children, we will ensure that the awareness campaigns work harder.

Will Gardner: Schools play a vital role in encouraging young people to get involved in anti-bullying campaigns. For Anti-Bullying Week the Anti-Bullying Alliance provides free downloadable resources for schools and for Safer Internet Day the UK Safer Internet Centre provides a range of resources including lesson plans and whole-school community activities that encourage everyone to get involved. Many of these activities, particularly the #shareaheart social media campaign for Safer Internet Day 2016, inspired young people to take the lead by getting them to share their own ideas for a better internet. Our Childnet Digital Leaders Programme also empowers young people to play a key role in shaping the internet for the better by inspiring them to take the lead in educating their peers about staying safe online. Delivered through a gamified online learning community, young Digital Leaders across the UK complete training, collaborate and gain knowledge and skills to help them make a positive difference in their community.

Can parents now also recognise the potential dangers? How can we educate and support parents with online safety?

David Mole: The good news is that schools today are playing an active role in educating young people about dangers online with 70% of the young people we surveyed saying that their school helps them to use the internet safely. However parents whose children don’t openly discuss their activity risk being left behind when their children are online – and not being present when their children most need their help.

There are some signs parents can look for to assess whether their children are getting involved in dangerous activities online – here are some questions to consider:

1. Are your children hesitant to talk in-depth about what they do online?
2. Is your child spending an abnormal amount of time online, and has it affected their sleeping habits?
3. Have they become more socially isolated in the real world?

Mark Bentley: Online-safety parent sessions have been the traditional approach to educating parents and carers.  However, we know it’s often the same few parents who attend these sessions. Given the prominence and rapid change of technology in our lives, online safety definitely requires a drip-feed approach to education, with regular and creative ideas to communicate to even those hard-to-reach families. That is where the ‘parental engagement’ section of is an invaluable source of materials to help equip parents.

Michael Brennan:  Educational resources are becoming more and more readily available for parents, which in turn is allowing parents to self educate against the potential dangers their children face online, however, there is still a huge communication gap between parents and schools. Parents and schools need to work together to both educate and protect their children within the school environment and the wider community.

Paul Hague: I would suggest most parents are oblivious to the dangers, with children often being far savvier than we give them credit for. Education needs to start with the emotional effects of technology and then the strategies of how to cope. Young people need emotional support, not tech support. This brings me back to my first point about appropriate training and relevant experts for parents as well. We really need to build tools to help parents and spread the word. I suspect if you did a poll of parents about internet matters and any relevant tools, the percentage of those that know of it would be quite small. We need to try and target those online resources that are used, such as Mumsnet, to create awareness.

Philip Woods: It’s hard for us to judge as we work in the ‘IT bubble’. However, we recognise parents must have a significant appetite for this type of education. A few after hours’ sessions focused around general topics and platform-specific advice (device restrictions on iPads for example) would act as a great jump start to parents who are looking for help.

Sam Pemberton: Due to the changing online landscape, and the tech-savvy nature of young people, online safety messaging needs to be more sophisticated. Parents will undoubtedly advise their children not to speak to strangers, both in the virtual world and the digital, but knowing how to advise on the greyer areas of digital etiquette isn’t always as clear cut. Explaining how to determine what is and isn’t appropriate to post online, such as how to address teachers versus friends in online communications, or what could embarrass or upset others – even what could result in legal action – are all impacted by social skills, not technical.

If parents are looking for dedicated resources, Childnet and Internet Matters both offer great resources for parents addressing a range of online safety concerns, and schools should be providing parents with online safety information too. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) also has a reporting button, which allows young people to report suspicious individuals or behaviour directly to law enforcement. 

Will Gardner: Research has shown that one in eight parents of five–15s say they don’t know enough to help their child to manage online risks. These parents need to be reached with simple, relevant advice and that’s why we at Childnet deliver internet safety workshops in schools and produce free educational resources that not only inform but empower. A key part of our work is building parents’ confidence so they feel able to talk to their child about staying safe online. Just 65% of parents of five–15s say they talk to their child at least every few months about managing online risk. At Childnet we have produced conversation starters and advice for parents that empowers them to talk to their child about staying safe online.

Phones, tablets and laptops combined with social media creates a 24/7 portal for bullies to contact and threaten their victims online

Can teachers and parents realistically keep up with tech-savvy children, and therefore, protect them from cyberbullying threats? 

Mark Bentley: It is great and important that we know about what our young people are doing online, so it is good to keep up to speed with the latest app (when did you last send a Yo! or a Kik or open Yik Yak?). But knowing that every day brings a new hit app to our children’s phones, it is a good job that actually, digital citizenship on any platform is based upon the same issues that underpin all social interactions, and have done for hundreds of years: What is a friend? Who is my friend? What should I do if someone asks me to do something that makes me uncomfortable? Where can I go for help?

Michael Brennan:  As more and more children continue to adopt new technologies and social media applications, the need for parents and teachers to keep up with tech-savvy children becomes ever more demanding and complicated. In this modern world there is simply no way that parents and teachers can 100% keep up with the speed of change and the dangers of cyber-bullying threats. The advice I would give parents and teachers is to put the appropriate technologies in place to help safeguard their children as best they can whilst continually providing education about the dangers and consequences which they may face when online.

Paul Hague: Well if they can’t they should. Technology is now so desperately important within society and is a cornerstone of young people’s social interaction. It requires the tech sector to provide tools to address very serious problems. Simplifying the technology and simplifying the way to deal with issues is paramount. Our aim is to create those tools starting with haandle, to simplify the problem and provide sensible tools that address the entire problem area. It’s no good providing ways in which to encourage a more responsible relationship with technology when those can be bypassed too easily. Wi-Fi controls? Just switch to mobile data. ISP controls? Just use a proxy. App controls? Just use the browser. It all needs addressing as one, complete solution.

Philip Woods: Both teachers and parents have to rely on technology provided by reputable companies to provide the tools to keep children’s networks and devices safe. In most cases these protection systems need to be deliberately enabled because they’re turned off by default. Fundamentally there will always be a way for determined bullies to use technology as a platform for their abhorrent behaviour. Ultimately, it’s up to teachers and parents to recognise the signs and nip it in the bud.

Sam Pemberton: At Impero, we’ve created multiple libraries of key words, phrases, abbreviations and acronyms designed to help identify potential risk and provide context through glossary definitions. This can help to distinguish between an innocent misunderstanding, mere playground banter, and a serious threat. The digital world can appear overwhelming for teachers and parents, and while keeping up with modern-day language and monitoring is useful in identifying some pieces of the puzzle, it’s opening up dialogues with young people which proves essential to safeguarding. 

Will Gardner: With such a diverse range of services and devices, it can be a challenge for parents and teachers to keep up to date with how children are using technology. Although children may seem literate and confident in their use of technology parents and teachers have the experience and life skills and so have a key role to play in ensuring young people are safe online.   It is really important that parents and carers keep up to date with the technology children are using because parental engagement leads to the best outcomes.  Schools can also provide a safe setting where young people can voice their concerns and can provide them with the digital literacy skills to manage online risks.