As a new school year gets underway, with fresh debate over the suitability of smartphones in schools, loveit coverit are looking into the impact mobile phones are having on our younger generation. We spoke to Jan Bloomfield from Essex Police to get her views on safety, cyberbullying, and the most effective ways to protect children on these issues and steer them to make the best decisions.
Thanks for speaking with us Jan. If cases of cyber bullying are reported to police, who normally seeks police intervention? Is it usually parents, teachers, or the child themselves?
I would say most reports of personal harm/personal victims will be reported by parents and not really ever the school or the child. Cyber bullying doesn’t happen in school – it’s before/after or at the weekend! Therefore, the school have no responsibility to report these incidents and they would be treated as a third party report and we would not act unless the victim or their representative reported it to us. Schools tend to want assemblies or inputs on the subject as a whole as a preventative measure. So, schools seek prevention of such behaviour and parents seek intervention when their child has been a victim of it. I don’t see many, if any, reports directly from children reporting to us.
Do you think authorities like schools, parents, government and police accurately equip people with the right information about cyber bullying and the abuse of technology. If not, what do you think needs to be done?
My personal view is that all these agencies try to equip children but I’m afraid you can tell a child on Monday of the risks and by a Friday night sleepover with friends, it’s all forgotten and they’ve made a mistake. A one-off presentation is helpful but the guidance needs to be subtle and trickle feed and from all angles but without becoming a moany, worrying parent and the child stops listening – gentle reminders, interest in what’s happening online, being curious and wanting to understand.
Cut backs will of course impact on how much agencies can do and how often. Some children aren’t in school and have challenging home lives where parents either have no interest or can’t manage the risk or aren’t even aware of them. Agencies also need to take a proportionate response when a crime is committed – bullying or sexting or sending indecent images. These issues are relatively new and it’s only recently that we’re starting to take a far more safeguarding approach to sharing indecent images instead of going straight to criminal action.
Do you think phones can actually keep children safe, for example on their way home from school? Do you think the positives outweigh the negatives?
Again, my personal view is absolutely – I have two teenagers and although phones have sometimes been the cause of arguments, I’d always want them to have them at all times whilst they’re out AND ensure they’re charged. A basic phone will keep you safe though – you don’t need apps and online tech to keep you safe you just need to be able to make a call or text, although try telling a child that a Tesco £10 phone will keep you safe; they won’t want the embarrassment of it and need the latest iPhone to keep them really safe!
Stopping a child doing anything doesn’t reduce risk – it merely puts it on hold but they don’t learn to make positive decisions, they sometimes need to make errors and they’ll learn the same as anything. This is why the ongoing safety messages are so important and perhaps at times when the risk is higher is when the message needs to pop back into their heads. At weekends, going into town, going back to school, evenings in their bedrooms, going online to play Fortnite for hours – these are all risky points. Kids in primary school have phones so the messages need to reflect if you’re 8 years old or 18 years old.
All views and opinions expressed are the interviewee’s own and not necessarily representative of Essex Police as a whole.
Read our interviews with Childnet and the Assistant Head of Shoeburyness High, or head back to Do Smartphones Steal Childhoods.