Anti-Bullying Week (14-18 November 2016) encourages people across the UK to take action against bullying. This year, the theme is #PowerForGood and the #AntiBullyingWeek campaign aims to help children, parents, carers, teachers and youth workers prevent bullying and create safe environments for young people.

With bullying often taking place online, it’s vital that the technology industry and other key stakeholders take action to help protect young people. Here at Vodafone, we’re involved in a number of anti-bullying initiatives, including:

#BeStrong compassion emojis

In February 2016, we launched Vodafone’s #BeStrong Anti-Bullying Emoji Keyboard App, which is available to download for free on the App Store. The app helps young people to be upstanders and show compassion and support for friends who are being bullied online.

Be Strong Online schools programme

We work with The Diana Award a charity that runs anti-bullying projects across the UK, to offer a Be Strong Online programme for schools. Be Strong Online encourages older children to pass on their digital knowledge to their younger peers, in areas such as digital footprint, peer pressure and bullying. Teachers have commented that Be Strong Online has helped their students grow in confidence and participants have described the sessions as inspiring and fun.

Digital Parenting

The Vodafone Digital Parenting website and magazine have helped millions of families across the UK get to grips with the digital world. They include expert advice about how to deal with issues such as bullying, sexting and inappropriate content as well as ‘how to’ guides to parental controls and other safety tools.

Q&A with Tessy Ojo of The Diana Award

To mark Anti-Bullying Week, we’re publishing an interview with Tessy Ojo, Chief Executive of UK charity The Diana Award, which runs a number of anti-bullying initiatives. With identity-based bullying proving to be a significant challenge in the UK, we spoke to Tessy about the concerns of LGBT young people in particular.

1. What are the risks LGBT young people might face online?

With increased access to the online world comes an increased risk for all young people of things like cyberbullying and seeing age-inappropriate materials. Technology means that bullying doesn’t stop at the end of the school day – it’s without boundaries and has a much wider audience online. LGBT young people might experience trolling and abuse because of their sexuality, for example.

2. How does homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse affect young people? 

Identity-based bullying and other types of bullying have long-term effects way beyond the playground. They have an impact on physical health and mental health and we know that young people who are bullied – particularly those who experience cyberbullying in front of a large online audience – are more likely to contemplate suicide.

3. Do you think it can be more difficult for LGBT young people to report bullying for fear of being judged about their sexual orientation or gender identity?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of silence surrounding bullying. Young people often feel embarrassed to report it. They don’t want to be seen as victims or snitches so there’s a culture of not speaking out. If an LGBT young person who hasn’t yet come out is bullied because of their sexuality, for example, it’s probably even more difficult to report it. One of the things our Stand Up To Bullying campaign does is empower people to speak out because, fundamentally, that’s how you break the power of the bully.

4. How does peer-to-peer mentoring help young people who are being bullied?

Studies show that a young person is more likely to confide in a friend than a parent so young people play a critical role in peer group dynamics, including dealing with homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and other identity-based bullying. We teach young people how to be upstanders against bullying within their peer group – not bystanders, not assistants, not reinforcers. Our Anti-Bullying Ambassadors programme has already had a transformational effect on thousands of young people and we’re going to be training another 4,000 ambassadors over the next two years.

5. How is the Be Strong Online initiative created by Vodafone and The Diana Award helping young people?

Schools have a duty of care to ensure that the 11,000 hours a year that students spend in full-time education are happy and bully-free but a lot of teachers are not equipped to deal with cyberbullying. So, we work with young people to develop resources and train their peers. There’s a lot of validation and respect when a 13-year-old receives advice from a 16-year-old and we’ve had some incredible feedback for Be Strong Online.

6. Recent research found that around 50% of young people do not identify as being 100% heterosexual. Do you think this might lead to an increase in young people exploring who they are through social media and other online forums?

Many young people explore their identity online. They ask questions to discover more about themselves – Who am I? What do I stand for? What do I like? The most important thing is that they can ask these questions in a safe environment and that they aren’t taking any unnecessary risks. Social media companies, for example, need to ensure that young people are safe when exploring their identity online.

7. If an LGBT young person is being bullied online, what should they do and where can they go for advice and support?

There are three things any young person who is being bullied should do immediately: take the evidence, block the person and report the incident. A lot of online services genuinely care about young people and have reporting features in place. I’d also remind young people to not retaliate and to not suffer in silence. There’s lots more information and advice on The Diana Award’s anti-bullying website.

More information

You can find more information about Anti-Bullying Week, including lesson plans and other free resources, on the Anti-Bullying Alliance website. Learn more about how children behave online and who children meet online.

Other useful resources:

Anti-Bullying Alliance

The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Campaign Support Centre

Parent Info

Young Stonewall

Vodafone Digital Parenting magazine