Fight against cyber-bullying is 'doomed', says top psychologist

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Author claims internet safety policies will fail without proper consultation of children, teachers and parents

Policies against cyber-bullying in British schools are "doomed to failure" because children, parents and teachers are not properly involved in tackling the problem, a leading Australian child psychologist has said.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg claimed that the British approach to cyber-safety was "anaemic", as it failed to allow children a say on the drawing up of policies.

The author of numerous parenting books, including The Princess Bitchface Syndrome, a guide to raising adolescent girls, told The TES: "Policy from the top down is rarely ever effective, when working with young people. If the vast majority of students have little or no ownership in the cyber-safety policy, all you have is a digital paper tiger."

Dr Carr-Gregg said a big gap had opened between policy makers and real people, with teachers requiring much more training on the issue.

He said it was not enough to simply "whack up" a document on a website and expect it to be effective.

Dr Carr-Gregg, who is a founding member of Australia's National Centre Against Bullying and chair of its cyber-safety committee, said: "All the teachers I have met have a keen appreciation of how important it is to address these issues.

"Awareness of the problem is high, but there is not a concerted framework to get the message through. There are lots of policies and plans but they're not worth the paper they are written on if they are not backed up."

He said alongside child involvement and teacher training, there needed to be intense training for parents and regular curriculum back-up for e-safety policies to work.

Policies should also be reviewed regularly by special committees of staff, pupils and parents, to ensure they were keeping up with advancements in technology, he added.

Dr Carr-Gregg spoke out before giving a seminar on cyber-bullying to the Boarding Schools Association on Wednesday this week.

He said boarding schools faced "unique challenges" in terms of cyber-bullying and e-safety, because children are using the web in very different ways at "home" in their boarding houses.

The outspoken psychologist is also in England to meet with representatives at British schools' IT agency Becta, hoping to drum up interest in Australia's eSmart cyber-safety initiative, currently being trialled in 100 schools down under.

His damning comments come just over a year after the launch of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, a body set up to implement the recommendations of Tanya Byron's wide-ranging review of the issue. The council has already launched a co-ordinated strategy for internet safety, and the first stage of a public-awareness campaign and a new "digital code".

Becta itself has been providing information and guidance on e-safety for some years, and last year produced two publications for schools on safeguarding children using the internet.

THE EXPERT'S CV

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a leading Australian child psychologist specialising in adolescent mental health. He is the author of several bestselling parenting books including The Princess Bitchface Syndrome: Surviving adolescent girls.

Other books include Real Wired Child: What parents need to know about kids online and When to Really Worry: Mental health problems in teenagers and what to do about them.

He is also a columnist for Australia's Girlfriend teen magazine, and Australian Doctor magazine.

He is consultant psychologist to the Australian Boarding Staff Association and the Australian Ballet School, among others.

He is a founding member of Australia's National Centre Against Bullying, and chair of its cyber-safety committee.

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