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18th Sep 2018

What Should Kids Be Taught About Image-based Bullying?

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An Australian school has recently introduced an image-based bullying course for students. In a world where cyberbullying has grown frightening common, and where the Internet can be used equally for good and bad, it seems like a logical step. But is school where this conversation should be taking place? Or should it be happening in the home? And most of all, what should be taught about image-based bullying?

Images on the Internet: The Weapon of the Modern Day Bully

There’s often a dark side to the most amazing of innovations. For the Internet, it could be the growth of cyberbullying, and in particular, image-based bullying.

Image-based bullying involves sharing photos (or videos) of a person without his or her consent, with the purpose of humiliation, shame, or reputational harm. Most often, this type of online harassment occurs with the sharing of intimate or sexual photos. Even regular, non-sexual images can be misused, altered, or doctored, with intent to embarrass or shame the person pictured.

Sadly, because of the nature of the web, and the speed with which things can be shared, such image-based bullying can quickly spread and reach out-of-control proportions.

Unfortunately, while not common, image-based bullying is definitely becoming a problem, particularly for females. Roughly 1 in 5 young women have experienced image-based bullying. More statistics demonstrate that a vast majority of teenagers have witnessed cyberbullying online. And it’s no surprise that this type of bullying can lead to serious negative outcomes including mental health issues, lowered self-confidence, and even feelings of self-harm.

The effects of online bullying can be devastating.

Image-based bullying has dramatically increased in the last decade. The ubiquity of smartphones, the connectivity of social media, and the rise of private photo sharing apps such as Snapchat, has likely contributed to the growth of this phenomenon. But what should be done about it? To best prevent these events from taking place, education and awareness are key. How can young people learn appropriately about image-based bullying?

Should Australian Schools Teach About Cyberbullying?

Earlier this year, it was announced that a Ballarat, Victoria school would be the first in Australia to present a course for students dealing with these matters.

A campaign aimed at teenagers and parents called Share This! was created recently to help combat this issue. A joint campaign between the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and Supré is designed to protect children by raising knowledge and awareness.

The school course would be a workshop course facilitated by the Share This! Creators on the Ballarat school campus.

The program is designed to help walk kids through potential scenarios that may lead to image-based bullying---and learn how to avoid them. Such scenarios often start with the practise of ‘sexting’ or sending nude or suggestive photos and messages to another person. While it’s alarming to think of our children doing such a thing, research shows it is happening. In one study, 10% of adolescents between the ages of 10-19 reported having engaged in sending a ‘sext’, while 16% reported having received one.

The workshop would focus on equipping young people with the knowledge and tools needed to avoid potentially nefarious situations. Primarily, it will show the process of how image-based bullying can start and give kids solutions for how to handle these interactions.

While such subject matter is understandably tough for schools to deal with, implementing an age-appropriate workshop to distribute information and guidance could prove extremely beneficial to solving a real problem. An in-school course can also help to normalise the topic, empowering both teenagers and their parents to have an awkward (yet necessary) conversation.

How Should Kids Be Taught About image-based Bullying?

There are plenty of arguments for covering this topic in the school environment. In other places in the world, programs about cyberbullying and image-based bullying are proving to be effective and welcomed. Some schools in America say their programs are growing each year, and some have also instituted anonymous tip lines and other services that allow kids to report an issue or potential issue.

But some parents and educators oppose the presentation of image-based bullying information in school, particularly as it relates to ‘sexting.’ There’s a possibility that this information will provide young people with guidance on how to send intimate images ‘more safely’, a notion which many are vehemently against. While it’s fair to say that discouraging young people from sending these types of images in the first place is the best approach to prevention, as in other areas, telling kids ‘not to do something’ can often have the opposite effect, promoting rebellion. Those who do support a kind of ‘safe sexting’ course may be cognizant of the fact that teens may still engage in this particular activity, but educating them on how to do so more responsibly (or in a non-identifying manner) could prevent more significant problems.

Nevertheless, it’s a heated subject.

In-school programs focused on image-based bullying can help spread vital knowledge to teens.

What Should Kids Be Taught About image-based Bullying?

Whether young people learn about image-based bullying in school or at home, it’s important that they receive an education about this real-world problem. And for those who have sadly been the victims of image-based bullying, (which includes 15% of girls 15-17 years of age), the key is to point the way towards support and solidarity.

There are three essential points to cover when discussing image-based bullying with young people:

Knowing How It Happens

While image-based bullying involves photos of an individual being shared or posted publicly without their consent, much of image-based bullying starts with a degree of consent.

A young person may be asked to send a risque photo of themselves via a messaging app, perhaps under the impression that it is to be kept private between themselves and the recipient. But it’s vital that they know what this decision entails and what the potential consequences can be. This graphic can be very helpful when talking about image-based bullying.

It can be easy for young people (and even adults) to think that sending an intimate photo is harmless, but it’s crucial to understand the impact of sending such an image.

Understanding the Dangers

Talking about image-based bullying is essential. Young people must understand the potential outcomes of sharing an image online. Whether intimate in nature or not, an image that has been circulated on the Internet can be extremely difficult to remove. Even images sent via text message or app can be saved, downloaded, and shared with the press of a button. It is vital that teenagers using the Internet respect its power and its possible security issues.

Not only should the discussion cover the possible consequences of image-based bullying, but teens must also be made aware of the legal nature of these images being shared. When an illicit photo of a minor is shared, stored, or saved (even if the minor pictured is sending their own photo) this is an illegal action that can have criminal repercussions.

One of the benefits of having a school-based course like the one to be offered at Loreto College, is that it offers a more in-depth look at the possible long-term consequences, which young people are likely not to consider when making the split-second decision of sending a photo. It also is likely to prove more effective than a simple cautionary tale.

Showing that Support is Available

It is alarming that many victims of cyber-based harassment don’t report it. One statistic showed that 76% of Australians who have experienced image-based bullying did not take action with regards to the bullying event. Without action being taken, it’s far more likely that the problems of image-based bullying will continue in the future. And if inaction is common, what will that show our kids?

Instead, we must point them in the direction of support, guidance, and understanding.

If a young person falls victim to image-based bullying, they are going to experience shame, embarrassment, and possibly even fear. Rather than passing judgement or providing a lecture, the adults in their life can be most effective by offering support and help. Letting the victim know they are not alone and are not at fault is essential. And taking the next steps with support (whether that is reporting an incident or seeking mental health resources) can go along way towards healing.

What do you think? What should kids be taught about image-based bullying, and where?

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