Internet without bullying
UNICEF and partners help children prevent cyberbullying in Belarus
"My name is Olya, I'm 17. By the 7th grade, I had large feet, so I always wore sneakers. For my birthday, my mother allowed me to cut my hair short and dye it blue. A few days later, I found a fake page on the Internet with my photo and a male name under it. Every day the page displayed photos where my head was photoshopped into the bodies of different men. Practically all my classmates subscribed to the page, along with a bunch of strangers. I was in shock."
After Olya experienced online bullying, she said she would never return to school again.
“I felt like I couldn't trust anyone anymore.”
Olya enrolled in a new school that provided a much more positive, safe and welcoming environment, but she was still badly affected by the bullying she had experienced in her previous school. To help her daughter, Olya’s mother suggested that she see a psychologist. Olya hesitated at first, but then realized that it was important to talk about her feelings and eventually agreed to see a psychologist.
“It turned out that a psychologist is a person who helps you to love yourself and begin to understand yourself better.”
On this Safer Internet Day, UNICEF draws attention to cyberbullying and gives some tips on how to deal with it.
Children may not always talk about their problems. But there are signs that parents and other loved ones should pay attention to:
- Behavior has changed dramatically.
- Reacts irritably to a message on a smartphone.
- Deleted messengers or pages in social networks.
- Became withdrawn, communicates less, and does not want to go to school.
- Shares stories of others being bullied online.
- Depressed mood.
- Complaints of feeling unwell.
To help children and teenagers who have faced bullying on the Internet, UNICEF in Belarus and the mobile company MTS launched the #InternetWithoutBullying initiative to raise awareness on safe online behaviors among children and young people and equip them with the right tools to identify, cope with and respond to bullying.
Here’s a few tips for adolescents and their parents:
What to do if faced with cyberbullying?
- Calm down and do not answer the offender – ignore.
- Do not panic and act without aggression - the offender will be disarmed and, most likely, will stop hurting you. You can prepare stickers or images in advance to be able to respond in the chat without any aggression.
- Block the offender or click the "Report" button on social networks.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help and tell an adult you trust. You will figure out together how to get out of the situation much faster.
“We need to understand the importance of fighting cyberbullying and preventing violence against children in general,” said Dzmitry Shylin, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist in Belarus. “The Internet is very useful, but, in some cases, it can easily harm children. And moreover, an offender may remain unidentified. We believe that children and their parents need to have skills on how to use the Internet safely and how to avoid danger. We need to make referral services and information about those services available to children in case they face a problem. Children should have access to psychologists and other specialists.”
How can parents help?
- If you notice something is wrong, find a comfortable place to talk and honestly share your concerns with your child.
- If the child chooses to talk about the situation on their own, praise them for honesty and courage. Never scold, even if the situation was their fault.
- Talk to your child's friends: this will help clarify the situation
- Take screenshots of all offensive content and save a link to the hater's account. This may come in handy when contacting a school or law enforcement.
- Explain that the child must completely stop communicating with the abuser. Help to block the account of the hater.
- Together with your child, figure out the privacy settings in social networks and instant messengers. And put them into practice.
- If you know the hater's parents, then you should meet them at a public place.
UNICEF in Belarus also provides children with skills to tackle bullying outside the digital space. In January, children from 40 schools in Belarus participated in the UPSHIFT training, suggested ideas on how to talk about the problem of bullying in schools, and offered some solutions.
UPSHIFT is a social engineering methodology that teaches children to identify, explore and decipher local community challenges and develop practical solutions, such as products or services.
Quests, a board game for resolving conflict situations, tutors for newcomers in schools, a workbook for teenagers, and comic books - these are only part of the project’s children proposed. In addition, five projects will be implemented with funding and mentor support from UNICEF and partners, and will contribute to an overall reduction of bullying in schools.