By Tessy Ojo
In the UK alone, at least 20 children commit suicide each year because of bullying. Fear of bullying prompts more than 16,000 of our young people to stay home from school, for a total of 31 million lost school days. As children spend more of their time online, the same tools that connect them in beneficial ways also are being used to inflict serious and often long-term harm. Recent studies indicate that a staggering 48 percent of young people regard cyber-bullying as the biggest challenge of their lives. The old maxim about “sticks & stones” is no longer relevant. Words hurt.
Unlike playground bullying (which is awful enough), cyber-bullying dogs its victims constantly. In addition to its inescapable nature, cyber-bullying frequently spreads to a young person’s entire school or community and beyond – attracting a growing online audience that can perpetuate the bullying and give credence to its perpetrator. For the victim of this relentless onslaught, cyber-bullying becomes a detrimental, nerve-wracking nightmare.
Any perception that bullying is just “part of growing up” is wrong. A Warwick University study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry tracked more than 1,400 people between the ages of nine and 26, and found that bullying had long-term negative consequences for health, relationships and even job prospects. The study’s findings suggest that the impact of bullying can last into middle age – plaguing victims with poor health, and negative social and economic consequences decades after exposure. Digital technology and online sharing only serve to accelerate the pace of bullying and supercharge its impact.
Early intervention, training and prevention are critical to tackling the growing prevalence of cyber-bullying. Young people are key to this effort, as their peer-to-peer interactions and collaborative approaches to counteracting bullying (and changing the culture that encourages and supports it) are the most effective. When children know how to take responsibility for their own online safety, and where to turn when things go wrong, they can shut down abusive behaviour before it has a chance to do serious harm.
Among our missions at the Diana Award is to empower young people to protect themselves from bullying. Our Anti-Bullying Ambassadors Programme helps young people develop the confidence, knowledge and skills to tackle bullying – both online and offline. We’re proud to have trained more than 7,000 young people across the UK and Ireland to act as anti-bullying ambassadors, and to support them in leading monthly campaigns across their schools to educate, support and mentor other young people who either experience bullying or are bullies themselves – sometimes without realising it.
Of course, no single organisation can counteract a problem as big as cyber-bullying alone. That’s why we’re so enthusiastic about IBM’s “Cyber-Bullying” and “Control Your Online Identity” Volunteer Kits. These kits contain the useful tools and information that parents and other volunteers can use to teach people of all ages how to govern their online identities and avoid (and overcome) the dangers of cyber-bullying. With readily available resources such as these IBM Activity Volunteer Kits, we hope that all types of bullying will soon become relics of the past.
Tessy Ojo is CEO of the Diana Award. The Diana Award was set up as a lasting legacy to Princess Diana’s belief that young people have the power the change the world for the better. Follow Tessy on Twitter @Ttall.