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Social media is here to stay – let’s ensure it is used positively and safely

By Carolyn Aston 

The internet and social media are here to stay. New parents can buy an app to record feeds, nappy changes and the like, similar to a hospital record, which may provide containment for exhausted and overwhelmed Mums and Dads making the huge adjustment to parenthood for the first time. Equally, there are many baby/toddler apps featuring nursery rhymes, games about bubbles and even one on white noise, arguably to ‘soothe’ baby to sleep.

Parents who use these are  probably more likely to have the technological skills and interests to participate with their children online, help them to maximise its positive features and supervise their use. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and our CASSE Peaceful Schools Program strongly encourage parents to become ‘techno savvy’ to assist their children to use the digital world safely.

Donna Cross and her team’s 2009 National Study on Covert Bullying  clearly suggested that young people are reluctant to inform parents or teachers about bullying for fear that their response was likely to make things worse’ and/or that their access to their computer/mobile and the like would be either reduced or ceased.

Our Peaceful Schools Program is informed not only by extensive international research but also the clinical experience of the mental health clinicians on our team who work closely with each of our participating schools, on a background of extensive time working on site at a range of schools.

Our unique approach includes assisting leadership and staff to select multi age CASSE Peaceful School Student Teams who, like staff & parents, are trained to identify and intervene effectively with conflict and bullying, face-to-face and online, as Upstanders. In addition, they meet regularly with an altruistic teacher to debrief about their achievements as role models as well as discuss concerns about individual students, which may be unknown to  even trusted staff and parents, and how best to assist them. In this way, a student safety net is established in each of our schools, so that support and professional  assistance can be made available as required. Whilst no system is fool-proof, students know best what is going on in their world and a safe forum for our Peaceful School Student Leaders to raise concerns with the teacher leading them contributes to the wellbeing and safety of the whole community.

A measured 2012 article by the Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian on cyberbullying suggests that bullying is a risk factor for mental health issues (and suicide in some cases ) for our young people. Some media suggest there is a linear correlation between bullying and suicide, whereas there is generally a range of issues involved. Young people who are concerned about mental health issues of their peers may be pressured to keep these a secret. This burdensome scenario happens all too often, in my experience. Parents, teachers and Student Wellbeing Staff can help reduce this by encouraging students to chat to them if they find themselves in this situation – a message that, whatever the issue, they are there to listen and assist, not judge, is important for the confidantes as well as the distressed young person.

Parents also need to trust their intuition and judgement and insist that their child/teenager seek professional help despite possible protests.

Social media is here to stay. Our CASSE Peaceful Schools are innovative about its positive uses and proactive about promoting empathy and inclusion and equipping students to care for others and intervene as Upstanders standing up for the ‘target’ and standing up to the victimiser. This saves teachers time , enhances the confidence of parents in their school and the satisfaction of the students about the lifelong skills they learn as altruistic, digital and real world citizens.