Up to 42 per cent of girls and nearly as many boys have been affected by cyber bullying, it emerged at a youth conference at Islesburgh last week.
The issue has become so widespread that young people in S1 to S3 from all Shetland’s secondary schools were invited to the #VirtuallySafe #VirtuallySound youth conference, aimed at keeping them safe online and in the real world – and showing them what to do should they get into trouble.
Besides bullying, the issues of online grooming and unsafe relationships were tackled.
A group of 10 young people representing their schools took the lead in planning, organising and helping at the event, a joint venture between Yell Youth Cafe, which received £3,000 of lottery funding, Shetland youth work services and Shetland child protection committee.
All the young people agreed it was very worthwhile. Young volunteer organiser Edward Hallam from Sandwick said: “They [pupils] can learn things and get support. Sometimes they’re too scared, they don’t know where to go.”
Two of the other organisers said the day had been helpful, especially on the issue of cyber bullying.
Thirteen-year-old Rona Brookes from Unst said: “I know of people being cyber bullied and it’s not nice. It can happen at any age, 10, 11 or even younger, when people are just starting out in the social media world.”
Sometimes people did not know how to support others, or how to block the bullies if they are being bullied themselves. Now, Rona said, after an incident of cyber bullying, she is “a lot more careful”.
She added that teachers and parents were “constantly encouraging us to tell someone” if bullying takes place, and she thought the workshops would “definitely” help young people.
Another topic aired was grooming and Rona said: “You could think the person speaking to you was [aged] 12 but they could be any age, they could have got anybody’s photo.”
Freya Balfour, 14, from Brae, also thought cyber bullying was one of the main issues, and it had affected some of her friends.
She said: “Nowadays cyber bullying is more common and more hurtful than normal bullying because it’s anonymous, certain apps can make it completely anonymous. People can say horrible things about everybody, it’s definitely frightening.
“It’s quite a new thing and no-one’s really sure how to handle it or how it affects you.”
Youth worker Sharon Jack said cyber bullying was “huge”, with 42 per cent of young girls admitting to being either the victims or the perpetrators of bullying.
She said: “Every young person has a phone and can be cyber bullied or groomed quite easily. Bullying makes people feel so isolated. It’s really emotional, especially for girls.
“We are showing the young people ways to protect themselves and get help, some didn’t know about it.”
Youth worker Wendy Lowe said: “I really believe this is a worthwhile and very important project because the internet plays a very large part in our lives of young people.
“It has become apparent the use of inappropriate behaviour on the internet, cyber bullying has risen over the years.”
The dance workshop is being run by young people who are working towards their Youth Scotland dance leader award.
Summing up, child protection lead worker Kate Gabb said the day had been: “Brilliant. In recent years we have seen an increase in young people being in unsafe situations online and we’ve done a lot of work with the staff.
“Now we are broadening it to share the message with the children.”