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Cellphone bullying a growing concern

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Cellphone bullying a growing concern

An internet safety expert says schools need to include cellphones in bullying and harassment policies.

Internet Safety Group Director Liz Butterfield, a speaker at this weekend’s New Zealand School Trustees Annual Conference in Hamilton, says more and more young people are using cellphones. Her comments were part of a broader presentation on governance issues for trustees in establishing a safe internet learning environment in their schools.

Liz Butterfield says it is important parents and teachers stay abreast of technology and are aware that text messaging has become an important social environment, much like an internet chatroom.

“The safety messages we have been giving about the internet now apply to cellphones – they can be used for harassing, bullying and leaving threatening messages.

“It is important young people are aware that they don’t need to tolerate such behaviour. They need to know that they can tell a trusted adult and the behaviour can be stopped because neither cellphones nor the internet are completely anonymous environments; you can often find out who these people are.”

She says most schools are well aware of the importance of establishing a safe internet learning environment, and cellphones should be included in that as part of information communications technology.

“It is important to have harassment and bullying policies in place that include cellphones as well as internet use policies.

“Technology can play a very positive role in the lives of young people, as long as they are educated as to the risks and the resources available for help if they have a problem,” she says.

Liz Butterfield says the main problem with text messaging is that parents and teachers often don’t know what young people are receiving in the way of messages or what they are sending.

“So it’s a two pronged approach – on the one hand young people need to be educated in how to deal with unwanted messages.

“But on the other hand, research is starting to indicate that young people can lose their inhibition in these environments, thinking that what they say over the internet or on cellphones isn’t as serious as if they said it face-to-face.”

Liz Butterfield says the Internet Safety Group will be working to educate young people about the importance of treating others over the internet or on cellphones in a way in which they themselves would want to be treated.

She says the next issue parents and teachers need to face is cellphone access to the internet.

“Fortunately not many young people can afford cellphones with internet access yet so it gives us a chance to prepare and get that safety information out,” she says.

Liz Butterfield says schools have worked very hard to keep pace with new communication technologies and to use them in innovative educational initiatives, but she says they also need to keep up with the social impact to make sure students get maximum benefits with minimum risk.


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