I have recently enjoyed taking part in a programme that teaches primary school children aged 7 to 11 about how to be safer and more confident online. ‘Be Internet Legends’ has been developed by Parent Zone and Google, and supports schools, pupils and families with one of the most challenging issues that young people face in the digital world in which we live.
As part of the programme I recorded videos that were played to pupils at Exminster Primary School and Bovey Tracey Primary School and spoke about how the internet can be an incredibly useful tool, helping to educate and connect people, but that it also carries risks. These include the possibility of accessing information or material that isn’t appropriate, being talked to by people that we don’t know, and having information about us given to other people.
The importance of staying safe online has been highlighted during the last few months as more children have engaged with the internet for online learning and for entertainment because some of their regular activities aren’t accessible.
We are also in the middle of Anti-Bullying Week 2020, which runs from 16th to 20th November and I know many schools in Central Devon marked its launch on Monday with Odd Socks Day. A key part of keeping our children safe online is protecting them from cyber-bullying which has grown in recent years, in part due to more young people using social media. A toolkit for parents and carers is available at www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk – it is a very interesting and worthwhile read. It talks about tackling the problem from both sides – how to teach children to treat others with respect and so prevent them from becoming bullies and what signs to look out for that might indicate a child is being bullied and what we can do to help.
It may not come as a surprise that many of the messages, although aimed at children, are equally valid for adults. It is extraordinary how the perceived anonymity of the internet leads people to say things that they would never dream of uttering in person, often having a significant impact on the mental health of the person they are abusing. During my time as Leader of the House of Commons last year I spoke out against the abuse of female MPs, not only because of the impact it has on their daily lives but because it also discourages many good people from standing for public office.
So as Anti-bullying Week 2020 draws to a close, let’s unite against bullying by celebrating our differences and not discriminating against people because of them, treating others with respect, and by calling out bullying whenever we see it, whether in person or online. In doing so we are setting the right example for our children.