Stamp Out Cyber-bullying and Keep Safe

I often feel proud in my job, knowing that as a collective we are helping children and their families, and indirectly - somewhere along the line - I’m helping them too. But the SOCKS workshop meant that I found myself at the front of a classroom with 60 eyes facing up at me, and I loved it.

On the 28th January, Connecting Care for Children went to Edward Wilson Primary School to run workshops with their year 5 and 6 pupils. As a Programme Coordinator, a lot of my work is spent at my desk or with GPs, but from time to time I get to be involved in some of our Patient Engagement work: helping out at Practice Champion meetings or community events. But going into a school to be part of a team-led workshop was something new - and exciting.

The aim of the day was simple enough: Teach children how to be safe online. But ‘online’ in 2019 means something completely different to ‘online’ 10 years ago. Today’s kids have grown up with laptops and apps, iPhones and iPads, Alexa and Siri, smart TVs and talking watches. It’s a completely different ball game to those who have had to learn those things at an older age – like learning a new language later in life. One advantage we have is understanding the lasting effect things we put online can have, whether it’s a picture or a scathing comment in an anonymous post - once it’s out there you can do your best to take it back, but it can’t be unseen.

Enter SOCKS - Stamp Out Cyber-bullying & Keep Safe. This programme was developed by paediatrician Hannah Opstad (and given its name to align with the NSPCC’s Talk PANTS programme) to get children thinking about how they interact with others and what they post online - be that gaming, social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat), or seemingly innocuous apps that look innocent enough to parents but have options to share with whoever may be watching/listening.

We started by introducing ourselves to the group. I told them I was a boy called Ted and that I was 8 years old. Seeing three adult ladies standing in front of them, there was a quick fluttering of ‘what?’, ‘no you’re not!’, and confused faces from the crowd. Hannah asked the children why they were confused: ‘how do you know that I’m not what I say I am?’ They pointed out that she clearly wasn’t a young boy: ‘you’re an adult, I can see you are a lady’ and ‘you’re too tall’. One mischievous child even went so far as to tell me that I looked ‘fifty-six’ (that one pained me). Hannah agreed, they could all see that we aren’t young boys, but how can you tell when you are speaking to someone online? Hannah showed the kids a picture of a young boy smiling happily ‘if I said this was me online, how would you know it wasn’t?’ This was our opportunity to encourage them to think twice and to be careful about sharing things with people you have only met online, which led perfectly into the first video.

In the video Becky, a 10 year old girl, is putting up poster boards with her personal information and pictures outside her house, while two girls from her school laugh and take pictures. A middle-aged (creepy-looking) man takes note, walks into her house and into her bedroom where she sits in front of an open laptop. As the video continues, Becky strikes up a conversation with a boy online, revealing her school, what she likes to do for fun (go to the local park after dinner with friends) and when she will be out without an adult. Not surprisingly, she was conversing not with a boy of her age but with the creepy man - which makes his comment ‘you’re really pretty’ even creepier.
While they were watching, the kids were vocal, asking why the girl was putting those pictures outside her house, why she was talking to an old man (‘eurgh that’s nasty’) and cringing at their conversation. We were then able to reinforce the message that you don’t know who you are really talking to when speaking to strangers online, and that people pretending to be someone they’re not can be quite skilled at getting little pieces of information out of you, so it’s important to never reveal personal things.

This led on nicely to the website the video is hosted on, CEOP or Child Exploitation and Online Protection command. CEOP is a National Crime Agency that investigates sexual and online abuse. We talked through with the children how to report something they are worried about online quickly and easily with the click of a button. There’s also a quick exit button at the top of the page, in case you are in an open place or someone is nearby and you want to keep it private - it takes you to an innocuous Google search page.
Next we split the class into three and each of us led a group discussing a different scenario. The children’s task was to read the scenario and talk about (a) how they would feel in this situation and (b) what they would do. The different scenarios we gave were:

1. You make a new friend online, who you don’t know in real life. You trust them and think you know them. You share something personal. They threaten to tell everyone that secret, including your parents. They tell you that they will go away and leave you alone if your send them a picture of yourself.
2. You see an embarrassing video online posted by someone you know from school (who isn’t a good friend) - they are singing karaoke pretty badly. There’s a space where you can add anonymous comments below the video. Some people already have and you can see that some of the comments are quite upsetting and say things that you think will really hurt the person who made the video.
3. You are playing around with some friends. Someone thinks it will be really funny to take a photo of your private parts to send to your friend on an instant messaging site as a joke.

Group 1. In both of the year groups, the conversations centred on blackmail. Quite a few of the children already knew what that was and we let them explain to the rest of their group. We let the children take turns in writing down how they would feel and asked them to explain why they would feel that way (giving them the responsibility of neat writing on a piece of paper in front of their peers kept them amazingly focused). Asking them to explain why they would feel like that gives them the opportunity to not just blurt out emotions with the hope of getting to write on the paper but actually thinking further about how that would affect someone.

Group 2. This scenario gave a few mixed responses: some thought it wouldn’t be the end of the world and would be funny to write an anonymous comment, others said they’d feel embarrassed and sad if it was them. We touched on cyber-bullying and how it’s significantly hard to escape with the easy and constant access we have to other people. One thing we tried to highlight in this group was whether they would say the same thing face to face as they would online - just because you are anonymous it doesn’t make what you say any less hurtful. If you wouldn’t say it face to face, should you be posting it?

Group 3. In this group we got a lot of (infectious) laughter from the children (I wonder at what age ‘willy’ stops being funny??). But the scenario was extremely and worryingly plausible considering the access to instant picture messaging apps they all had. And as expected there was a gap in knowledge around what you can and can’t get rid of ‘I’d just delete the post I sent’ Ok, but what if someone has already seen it? ‘I’d ask them to delete it’. Ok, but what if they have already sent it to someone else, how do you stop it once the ball starts rolling?
For me, it was important not to tell the children that their options wouldn’t work, but to give them time to think ‘what if?’ This started an interesting discussion about friendships and peer pressure - not wanting to be left out. I left my group with something I hope they will remember: your social media is YOUR social media, not your friends’. If you decide you don’t want to do something or post something, that’s fine – and if they don’t like that and they push back then how good a friend are they being? I hope the message sticks.

For all groups the suggested actions were:
Report it to a trusted adult, friend or teacher
Block people you don’t know
Block/unfriend people who are bullying you
Use the CEOP button
Talk to a friend if you are feeling down
End the conversation
Call Childline for advice

But most importantly, there is no shame or blame. If you have been in or find yourself in any of those scenarios, don’t put off doing something about it because you are embarrassed or you think you’ll get in trouble - it will only get worse the longer you leave it (especially Group 1).

Some felt it was necessary to retaliate rather than report: ‘I’d get some information on them and use it against them’. It was a struggle to get them past the revenge path and took time to explain that at the end of the day they still had something on you - so the paths to take are don’t send it in the first place, and report it if you do!

After coming back together as a class and discussing what we had learnt (each group had a few child leaders who fed back to their peers), we showed a quick animated video called I Saw Your Willy (more laughs) which depicted scenario 3 with disastrous consequences. We then regrouped to go over the key learning from the day taken from their ‘what would you do’ list.

At the end the children were let loose with sticky notes and completed feedback on the session using ‘Feedback Man’. Notes on the hat are things you learnt, notes on the heart are things you loved, notes on the briefcase are things you are going to take away, things you put on the walking stick are things you found useful and things on the bin are things you thought were rubbish.

Feedback man
Socks feedback

Some of the quotes from children about what they had learnt were:
‘Don’t play/talk to strangers online’
‘Choose the right friends’
‘Don’t share anything that’s personal with a stranger you don’t know’
‘Look at Think You Know’
‘One wrong post can lead to a big problem’
‘It’s always a good thing to report it’

From things they loved:
‘Watching the videos!’
‘Working with all the teachers’
‘Working as a group and working together to get ideas’
‘I loved learning about what could happen if I was in the situation’

Things to take away:
‘Report to a trusted adult’
‘Don’t tell strangers secrets’
‘Be careful and suspicious and watch what you post’
‘Delete people you don’t know’
‘Know who you’re talking to’

Things that were helpful:
‘Knowing not to share personal pictures or secrets with a stranger or a friend’
‘Working together’
‘(Knowing people) Catfish’

Things for the bin:
‘Talking about profile pics’
‘Not telling people secrets’

The whole day was such a change of pace for me, but so rewarding to have stimulating discussions with 8-11 year olds about things that are such a big part of their lives, knowing that you have given them at least enough throughout the day perhaps to pause and think before making mistakes online. It was shocking to find out how many of them have people they speak to in some capacity - be it online gaming (!!), Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or even Tik Tok - who they did not know in real life. One child said he had over 1000 followers on Instagram - at the age of 10. Nearly all of the boys spoke to strangers daily on their Playstation, many reporting verbal abuse from them.

The year 5s and 6s use a similar amount of social media and speak to a similar number of people online who they don’t know. But the year 6s were definitely more engaged and eager during the session; the younger ones needed some prodding. And it was such a quick and easy session, something that could be teacher-led with one class at a time with the help of some teaching assistants or even by themselves (we managed 60 students in each of the two sessions). The programme is easy to pick up, easy to implement, and easy to run, even if like me you don’t spend a lot of time with young children (apart from my very adorable 9-year-old niece). For anyone who is interested in doing the same or if you have questions, please get in touch with Hannah, ( she is more than happy for others to pick this up pending a chat with her. If you are local to Paddington we may be able to come and do a session with you, depending on everyone’s schedules!

Tips (in bold throughout):
speak the language (a little goes a long way)
play dumb - get the children to explain how something works, and then discuss
visual cues – reactions to videos
split into smaller groups
give the children a chance to lead (writing or speaking to the group)
tailor it to what the group uses, i.e. Playstation and Instagram
try and have a go with a younger class, getting them aware before the social media wave hits!