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‘As a society, we have a duty of care to build the digital resilience of our children’

Image: Ryan McGuire, CC0

Liam Hackett, founder and CEO of anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label, will be talking about one of the areas of young people's online life that most concerns parents and professionals at Digital Families 2017 – online bullying. Here, he explains why it's such an important subject

I am delighted to have been invited to speak at the Digital Families Conference 2017 as children and young people’s online lives are issues we are truly passionate about at Ditch the Label.  

Besides academic pressures, children and young people have to contend with living their lives publicly online. Digital identity is a relatively new concept and so there is no real precedent to show how we should integrate technology within our everyday lives and the ways to distinguish between online and offline personas. Whilst the internet is a powerful tool used to connect like-minded people and communities, it is often used as a platform to defame, harass and abuse people within the sanctuary of their own homes and often in clear sight of their family and friends.

With technology being so integral to modern living, for some people there is very little opportunity to escape the abuse, and this inability to escape and to feel safe means that for many children and young people, they are in a constant state of stress and anxiety.  One in three of those who have been bullied, have self-harmed as a result and one in ten have attempted suicide.

For all of us, our identity is sacred and something that we spend our entire lives crafting and evolving.

Identity influences come largely from protected characteristics and, as such, young people attach huge emphasis and importance to things like their religious and cultural identity, sexuality, gender identity or disability.

It is these very characteristics which are frequently used to abuse a person online. This can breed internalised resentment for oneself and as such, a child or young person who experiences, for example, homophobia online is likely to see their sexual orientation as the issue rather than the wider picture of it being the homophobic attitudes of the perpetrator at fault.

‘For children and young people in particular, it is not a process of learning how to prevent abuse online, it is about learning how to deal with it in productive and empowering ways’ 

Many young people turn to social media in the search for validation from their peers. This trend is problematic because self-confidence and esteem becomes a conditional trait that is heavily defined from an external perspective. It makes young people vulnerable to appearance-based insults online and creates a superficial culture of appearance-based values.

Now, anybody with a social media presence can be susceptible to cyberbullying and abuse online. The transparency and viral nature of the internet has the power to alter the temperament or even long-term fate of anybody within a matter of seconds, regardless of who they are or their life experiences.

For children and young people in particular, it is not a process of learning how to prevent abuse online, it is about learning how to deal with it in productive and empowering ways, without allowing actual or preemptive abuse to suppress their own thoughts or behaviors. As a society, we have a duty of care to build the digital resilience of our children and young people in order that they can safely, and critically navigate the internet. 

Hear Liam talk about these issues and ways to counter them at Digital Families 2017, 12 October 2017, Business Design Centre, London. FIND OUT MORE.

Ditch the Label www.ditchthelabel.org