On June 12th, I attended the National Cyber Safety Summit in Canberra with two students from the school. They were select members from the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) who took part in online forum discussions to help inform the government on cyber safety initiatives.
The purpose of the Summit was to bring students, parents and teachers together with relevant industries and government sectors to discuss “how to keep young Australians safe online”.
YAG students this year made over 5000 suggestions and comments. Discussions were based around the following themes:
- online gambling
- digital citizenship
The summit was hosted by Project Rockit team members and formally opened by Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. There were also some special guests:
- Winners of the first Cyber Defence University Challenge (from U of NSW)
- Winners of the 2012 Stay Smart Online’s agent/ambassador competition
After all the announcements and speeches, parents and teachers split off from the students and we all attended presentation workshops.
Students attended a session on Managing Your Reputation Online led by Ruby Rose, MTV presenter and spokesperson for HeadSpace. They discussed steps they could take to protect their reputations, learned about the social and legal consequences of acts such as harassment, cyberbullying and sexting from the Federal Police and received a handout that the AFP provide to elite athletes to help them manage their reputations online. Teens also shared some opinions including the inconsistencies in dealing with bullies at school. They felt that some are dealt with less harshly than things like smoking. They also expressed that many of the resources used in schools to teach Cybersafety were not interesting, relevant or age-appropriate.
They then attended a session with ABC’s Good Game hosts, Bajo and Hex. The topic was Digital Etiquette and Gaming. The culture and nature of gaming was discussed including the bullies/trolls online and how its OK to block them. Teens shared that there is pressure to keep up with obligations to the team in online games. They also said that parents should take more of an interest in what’s going on in their kids’ gaming world.
Parents attended a separate session on Gaming with Bajo and Hex. They were surprised to hear that the average age of a gamer was 37 years old! There was much discussion about the language and bullying in games. They were urged to take interest in their children’s gaming, to keep lines of communication open, set limits and discuss online friendships. Above all the room agreed that its important to help kids understand that “its only a game!” and to not invest too much emotion in it.
Parents also attended a presentation by the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation outlining their eSmart Schools program, the framework used to achieve best practice and their eSmart School certification. The program is not free but Victoria Dept of Education funds this program for all schools in the state.
I think the afternoon panel discussion was the highlight for most participants. Some excellent questions/dicussions came out of the session.
Q. Should teachers and students be friends on Facebook (or other social networks)?
The Facebook rep answered that there were lots of ways for schools to take advantage of social networking sites with out individual teachers friending students. Many are using the site as a resource site. Other panelists thought that this decision was really up to individual schools. Some expressed the opinion that teachers shouldn’t have to be available to students 24/7 and that Facebook should be for their private life.
Q. Should we stop under 13s from going on Facebook?
The Telstra crime investigation representative said that it was important not to demonize technology and social networking sites. The Facebook rep pointed out that they now have a new reporting dashboard and improved information on the status of reports. She also pointed out that it was important for people to include their true age as minors have added privacy/security on their accounts by default.
Q. Should kids be using technology as an emotional outlet?
Teens expressed their desire to keep journals and talk to friends about their problems online, often seeking support from friends on Facebook. Some though this was a reliable and instantaneous way to talk to someone. Ruby Rose said it was better to get in contact with a counsellor online from one of the support sites than to spill emotions onto a social network site. You can never get what you say back. Others pointed out that texting and messaging wasn’t a good way to communicate feelings, too often people misunderstand the message.
Q .What is the duty of care for teachers in cyberbullying incidents that happen outside of the school?
The Telstra rep said that cybersafety is everyone’s responsibility. Ruby Rose agreed and said if you know someone’s having trouble take personal responsibility and reach out! The representative for the DEECD stated that the Number 1 responsibility of the school is to provide cybersafety education.
Perhaps the show stopper of the day though, came from one of my own students. Her question/comment was that not enough was being done to educate young Australians about the mental health consequences of cyberbullying. She wanted to know why we don’t teach people that all the negative online behaviour (and bullying in general) leads to depression, self harm and suicide. She felt the statistics and incidents should not be taboo topics. The entire room was silent as she spoke about it.
I think all of us left the summit with much to reflect on and some excellent strategies and directions to take. I feel privileged to have been a part of the discussion and will be discussing several ideas with my Principal for new initiatives.