Author: Karl Hopwood, Insafe Coordination Team (European Schoolnet)
The Insafe network of Safer Internet Centres is part of a European Commission-funded initiative aiming to create a better internet for Europe’s children and youth. Each Safer Internet Centre includes a helpline which provides information, advice and assistance to children, young people, parents and teachers on how to deal with harmful content, harmful contact (such as grooming) and harmful conduct (such as cyberbullying or sexting). The helplines can be contacted by a variety of means including telephone, email, online form and chat.
For over five years now, the main reason for children and young people to contact a helpline is to ask for help and support with cyberbullying. Typically, between 15 and 17 per cent of contacts relate to this issue. The helpline network states that cyberbullying usually involves a child being picked on, ridiculed or intimidated by another child, other children or adults using online technologies. Bullying may involve psychological violence. Cyberbullying can be intentional and unintentional.
Cyberbullying is often defined as a deliberate and repeated action, but unintentional cyberbullying (referenced above) happens when someone posts something with no intended malice. They are not purposely trying to upset or offend anyone, they often think that they are being funny – just having a joke. In a face-to-face situation with the benefit of facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and some context, it is highly likely that their comment would not cause any offence or upset – but online it is much easier for things to be misinterpreted. In this type of situation, a helpline counsellor might talk about how to speak to the person who has upset the caller and discuss strategies to bring about a positive outcome.
As far as possible, helplines will seek to empower children and young people and give them the support that they need to take action and deal with the specific issue that they are concerned about. This may involve providing advice about how to make a report to a social media platform or block an individual who is cyberbullying them. Helplines will also support children and young people in broaching the issue with parents and carers or with teachers and other trusted adults within an education environment. Above all, helplines will listen and work alongside users of the service to find the best solution to the problem.
Many helplines are part of trusted flagger programmes with the most popular social media platforms. This means that they have a priority access channel to escalate cases to these platforms in order to get faster intervention and action. The aim is always to support individuals to report things themselves, but helpline counsellors are there to provide advice, guidance, and support and of course in cases where individuals are unable to report on their own the helplines will take action on their behalf.
Helplines provide a vital service in supporting children and young people with a wide range of issues that can happen online. With more and more people spending time connected, particularly in the past 18 months during pandemic lockdowns, they are more important than ever.
For more information about the Better Internet Project, funded under the Connecting Europe Facility Programme (CEF) visit: www.betterinternetforkids.eu
For more information about the helplines as part of the European network of Safer Internet Centres visit: www.betterinternetforkids.eu/practice/helplines