9 year olds, the Internet, and how much they access….

I genuinely didn’t realise quite how far the use of technology had spread through my year five class. I was quite close to crying by the end. First of all I asked them what a friend was; they came up with a few good things like someone who listens, someone who doesn’t walk away when others do, someone who accepts you for being weird, someone who listens – it was all very lovely but felt quite false.

Next I asked what bullying was and clearly the anti bullying week last term had worked as they could talk all about physical and verbal abuse, repetitive name calling, ignoring people, blah, blah, blah.

When I asked what cyber bullying was they suggested things like abusive emails, messages, texts, tweets, blog posts, prank calling etc. I was kind of horrified at what they already knew. Then I showed them a list I’d found on the Internet all about cyber bullying and the many forms it takes. Their faces turned from mild interest to mild horror; the list was long and their faces showed that they didn’t know all about it, there are dangers out there that they didn’t know about.

Then I got them all to shut their eyes. I told them that it was just so they felt comfortable answering my questions, they didn’t have to take part but they had to shut their eyes. I asked them:-
1. who has access to a mobile phone? The whole class put their hand up.
2. who has their own mobile phone? All the hands stayed up (bear in mind this is 31 nine year olds).
3. who has a contract phone which they can access the internet on? About 20 hands stayed up; I felt sick at this point. The children are NINE, a contract phone at that age is so unnecessary!
4. who has a pay as you go phone? 10 hands up
5. who has a Facebook profile? 18 hands – 18, almost two thirds of the class are on Facebook. You shouldn’t have Facebook under the age of 13. The children have had to lie openly about their age to be allowed to create a profile. Their parents even know that they have Facebook which means their parents have condoned lying and put them in a vulnerable position. Later one girl said that her mum knows she has Facebook but she’s only allowed to be friends with her family and cousins. All well and good but what can she see in the profiles of her cousins and family? Once you have an account in Facebook that’s it, you can access a Lot.
6. who has a personal profile online, Facebook or other? 23 hands.
7. who has a photo on their profile of either themselves or of them with a friend? 15 hands stayed up.
8. Who has received a bullying, hurtful or abusive message online? 22 hands.

Then I showed them the video (see last post). The looks on their faces was of pure horror. And I’m glad. These children are exposed to so much, so much – they mentioned things like texting, watsapp, snapchat (i mean come on), they talked about vines…..the list was endless. Now I’m not a parent, and I stressed to the children that the responsibility of how they operate online and whether they have a phone or not is none of my business, it’s up to their parents, but I really wonder if their parents know quite what they’re accessing? So I told the kids about privacy settings, the report abuse button and they knew nothing about this. Their profiles, with their photos, names, details, are public somewhere on the Internet.

I told them that :-
– bullying in school is unacceptable and we will deal with it using the anti bullying policy.
– bullying outside of school is unacceptable and they should tell an adult who will deal with it.
– cyber bullying is unacceptable and the police will deal with it and they will give criminal records to children their age if they see that they have been talking part in cyber bullying. That was the tipping point – the group of girls who’ve been causing us so much bother, half of them looked like they might be sick, one girl almost started to cry. They finally realised the serous nature of the way they’ve been treating each other. Hopefully they’ll stop now….but I’m no miracle worker and I doubt it’ll make an ounce of difference.

But you know, despite all of that, despite all of the hands up, the openness of the children, the horror on their faces, the bit that really got me was when the children started saying things like “yeah people kill themselves over stuff like that”, “I saw online about a girl, a boy, a child, who killed themselves because of stuff online”.

Every single child in that room room knew what self harm and suicide is. They are nine years old.

I asked them one final question: how do you know about self harm and suicide?

We saw it online.