Education the solution to cyberbullying scourge
Notions of self-protection and self-responsibility lie at the heart of media literacy. Arguably, these notions may not sit comfortably with those who conceptualise children as vulnerable beings in need of parental and State protection. It is, therefore, important that the protective function, as well as the participatory function of media literacy, is emphasised.
When it comes to child protection in the online environment, it is important that children be perceived both as possible victims and as potential perpetrators of risk activities and behaviours. As part of the educative process, children must be taught that their online activities and behaviours carry concomitant responsibilities. In the same vein, children must be taught that their online exploits are, in certain circumstances, capable of falling foul of the law.
The challenge is to empower children to manage this risk while ensuring children’s participation in the information technology environment is not impeded by the creation of a climate of fear. Cyberbullying is not a school issue – it is a societal issue. While it is reasonable to expect school authorities to manage incidences of bullying and cyberbullying that take place while children are under the care of the school, it is not reasonable to similarly expect school authorities to manage those incidences that take place when children are no longer the responsibility of the school.
Despite this, teachers and other educators are charged with primary responsibility for the delivery of digital skills and e-safety education and, in order that they may carry out this role, the State must ensure that educators are adequately resourced and supported.
Parents, too, have a crucial role to play. It is not only children who require education in order to become safe and responsible users of the technology. Parents must also be systematically educated in order that they are in a position to both supervise and support their children’s online activities and experiences. Just as children are empowered through education, so too are parents.
Sites like ask.fmwill always exist. The problem is not the sites themselves but the way in which they are misused. Children must be made aware of the potentially devastating consequences of such misuse – the only way to do this is through education.
It is time to take media literacy seriously.
Dr SHARON McLAUGHLINis a lecturer in law at Letterkenny Institute of Technology. Her PhD, completed in 2010 at the school of law at NUI Galway and funded by the Irish Research Council, examined child protection in the online environment. She is a member of EU Kids Online network.