© Guardian photo by Jim Day
Parry Aftab, executive director of stopcyberbullying.org, challenged students at Grace Christian School Thursday to engage in thoughtful discussion about cyberbullying.
Charlottetown summit sees hundreds discuss issue affecting children, youth
Taking on a complicated issue such as cyberbullying requires a collaborative effort.
Which is why hundreds of youths worked with parents, media companies and experts in Charlottetown Saturday to start the process of putting together an “action plan” to stop the online form of harassment.
The International Stop Cyberbullying Youth Summit saw an interactive day of breakout sessions, student presentations as well as a discussions with experts on who needs to be involved and what needs to be done for bullying to become a thing of the past.
Parry Aftab, who organized the summit and is the executive director of stopcyberbullying.org, said the day opened up a number of ideas on what can be done to further prevent the acts and how to help those who have been affected.
“We’ve had kids and parents in tears, laughing, we’ve had people collaborating writing poetry and doing all kinds of things that show how much we really do care about this issue,” said Aftab. “That is just ... enriching to my heart.”
The day explored the issue of bullying through a number of different angles, with the students’ feedback taking the forefront throughout the day. They were allowed to ask experts questions and share their own first-hand stories of being bullied.
Aftab said many of the children had a strong grasp on what cyberbullying is.
“A lot of people wanted me to teach them (the kids) about cyberbullying. I don’t need to, they know about cyberbullying,” said Aftab, who is also an Internet privacy and security lawyer. “What they don’t know about is what they can do to get help and what they can do to help others and how they can stop it. That’s what we’re going to help them to understand.”
While bullying behaviours have always been problematic, there was a general consensus at the summit that the problem is now worse for many kids with social media and the Internet allowing harassment to continue outside of school hours.
Because of that aspect, the day also saw representatives from Microsoft, Google and Facebook join the discussion.
Jacqueline Boucher, of Microsoft, said addressing the issue is a shared responsibility of parents, youth, educators, school officials, government and industry.
“We produce technology and if we can do so in a safer, easier-to-use fashion, we certainly want to do that. Most importantly, what we can do at these early stages is raise public awareness and educate,” she said. “We create a multitude of forum factors, resources and materials for educators and parents to really make them aware of this issue and how to address it and how to stop it before it really starts.”
Aftab said there is a public perception that social media platforms such as Facebook do not care about victims of cyberbullying.
That is not the case, she said.
“They really do care and a lot of people think they don’t,” said Aftab, who sits on Facebook’s International Safety Advisory Board. “They work on it all the time they just don’t have the answers anymore than we do.
“So what we hope is by working together we’ll start coming up with some of those answers.”
Aftab said the feedback and ideas generated through the summit will be compiled into an “action plan.”