Colchester: School’s Facebook ‘cyber-bullying’ warning

SOCIAL networking sites such as Facebook are leading to an increasing number of children becoming the victims of bullying “in their own bedrooms”, a school has warned.

Bernadette Dellar, assistant principal at St Benedict’s Catholic College in Norman Way, Colchester, spoke out about the issue as part of National Anti-Bullying Week.

“Every year sees the advent of new technologies and these play a huge part in allowing bullying to prevail,” she said.

“Facebook is a particular problem for everyone at the moment – students are effectively being bullied in their own bedrooms nowadays.

“However, we have strategies in place and we never allow ourselves to become complacent about this issue. We try to ensure that our students have the skills and confidence to confront bullying when it arises and we work alongside them to address it.”

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Ms Dellar, who sits on Colchester’s Behavioural and Attendance Partnership which involves all of the secondary schools in the town, said the problem of cyber bullying was prevalent in all schools and was a top priority for the group.

“Quite often we have found that parents are not aware of what their children are doing online and are not using the parental control settings,” said Ms Dellar. “In some cases we have had to print out messages that children have written and show it to their parents.

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“We don’t allow children access to Facebook at school, but with the increase of iPhones and BlackBerrys it is very difficult to control.”

School liaison officer for Colchester, PC Joe Loftus, who looks after 10 of the town’s secondary schools, agreed that parents needed to be better educated about social networking sites.

He said: “I have spoken to many Year 7 classes, who are all aged 10 or 11, who tell me that their parents have allowed them onto Facebook even though you have to be 13 to join.

“When I visit schools I teach children how to set their privacy settings properly so that only their friends can leave messages and why they shouldn’t make certain personal information available.

“And it’s not just bullying that’s an issue, we have had two cases recently where a man pretending to be a 13-year-old girl on Facebook has made friends with young girls in Colchester and has asked them for inappropriate pictures.”

To help combat bullying, St Benedict’s College has launched its Bully-Free Form initiative. All students follow a twelve-week programme to ensure that they can identify bullying in all its forms, that they are all skilled in the various ways of dealing with it and, most important of all, they pledge to deal with it when it arises.

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