End double standards in bullying: RCPsych responds to ONS online bullying report

Statement / comment
20 November 2020

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently released a new report about the extent of online bullying. Dr Bernadka Dubicka and Dr Louise Theodosiou from the Child and Adolescent Faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists have written the following letter in response:

"According to ONS figures released at the start of this year’s anti-bullying week, one in five children in England and Wales experienced some form of online bullying last year. 

"This means that an estimated 764,000 children have to live with the impact of online bullying on their mental health and the potential long-lasting trauma well into their adult lives. 

"The second lockdown seems to be making the problem worse.  The restrictions imposed by the pandemic have led children - like all of us - to move most of their socialising online. <

"While no one is disputing the myriad benefits of technology, it’s naïve to assume that the negative behaviours we see in children when they interact in the physical world are not as rife in cyberspace, especially in the absence of other stimuli. Online bullying, like all bullying, can make children feel isolated and worthless. It can also lead to depression, anxiety and eating problems.    

"Yet, for some reason, there is a stunning lack of political will to protect children online with all the fervour we deploy to keep them safe offline. How can it be right that we have an anti-bullying policy in the school playground but not in the digital one? 

"Offline, we offer children protection from alcohol, cigarettes, porn and gambling but we have been woefully inadequate when it comes to protecting them from online harms. The Government must finally ensure safety by design principles online for children, the same safeguarding standards online as offline and keeping to their promise that they will appoint a regulator with teeth.  

"Schools also have an important role to play here. Educating children about using technology safely should be part of the curriculum, alongside raising awareness about the devastating consequences of bullying.  Effective whole-school approaches to bullying as part of the government’s green paper should be rolled out quicker than the current 10 years.   

"Our children need to be in charge of their digital lives and futures. It’s time we end double standards in how young people are protected online compared with offline." 

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