I remember the morning I heard about Amanda Todd’s death. It was a Friday and I was just about to walk into a local school to speak to a group of grade five and six students. I watched her video, choking back tears and gathered my equipment for my cyber safety presentation.
I remember looking at the bright faces of the students before me and calmly telling them that they were going to hear about a girl named Amanda, that she had made a tragic choice to end her own life, and that she had suffered horribly from online harassment. I asked them to talk to their parents about her and to share their own stories and concerns. I left knowing that for them, like for the rest of us, we would never look at the online world the same way again. Amanda Todd’s death, caused by much more than cyberbullying, nonetheless delivered a crash course in the issues youth were facing online in greater or lesser degrees. The public caught sight of the online problems.
It’s been a tough year since then. We have had more high-profile suicides, initiatives to change legislation and create legal remedies, and the flurried efforts of academics to understand the causes and the trends.
There are no simple answers to stop online harassment and its often horrifying consequences. If there were, we’d know by now.
That’s why we at SOLOS are so pleased to support the launch of the TELUS WISE education program. We need as many different approaches, diverse partners and unique perspectives as possible. The challenges are urgent and varied: encouraging parents and their children to have honest, helpful conversations about online consequences is so important; helping youth find relevant assistance to deal with mental health issues is urgent; and the search for ways to minimize the inherent risk-taking and school-yard insensitivity of adolescence from manifesting exaggerated events online is ongoing. It’s not a simple as labeling ‘cyber bullies’ and ‘victims,’ or telling youth to ‘be careful’ about their private information and refrain from sending naked photographs of themselves. We need to see the world through our children’s eyes and help them make sense of the revolution in communication they carry in their pockets.
We need to understand that drawing attention to good online decisions as opposed to controversial ones, will go further to create good digital citizenship. And that scaring kids with shocking stories of what has happened to their peers online does more harm than good. It’s important to teach students that responsible online activities are the norm, regardless of coverage in the media and popular culture.
One voice, one approach, one new law isn’t going to be enough to change our vision of community, of communication, of compassion in the new realities of online culture.
The TELUS WISE program is a welcome ally in the movement to improve online safety.
Safe OnLine Outreach Society