A girl dries away the tears, while one of her classmate starts to apologize to the others, then a hug and many smiles (not emoticons!), with a round of applause. This happened in a class of twenty students of the third class of the secondary school.
It was not about cyberbullying or sending offensive sms messages or images in a chat, or failing to respect the privacy of others. Nor about sexting, the dissemination of texts or sexually provocative or pornographic images of themselves or of known people. It was simply an example of life skills (positive attitudes to life), of non-verbal communication that outside of the virtual one, mended the relations in a class group in which again for the umpteenth time the ” collective I do not like”. was about to erupt
And in front of the thousands of relations of the internet users – those that are born fast in the network with a click and equally fast can be destroyed – this was certainly a success in terms of prevention. The network is full of traps: Instagram, Facebook and Ask are often used to convey anger, narcissism or emptiness, with the result that many kids of 12 and 13 years become online bullies or, worse, risk of being lured by unscrupulous adults. Then better to dialog between equals, telling one’s digital world by asking advice to serious adults and thus prevent!
Prof. Cristian Simoni is the referent for cyberbullying in the Istituto comprensivo of Portomaggiore in collaboration with the CTS (territorial centre of support of the Ministry of Education) of Ferrara that has promoted in the month of march the project “In the net, not in the trap” with the operators of Association Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII.
What are the reasons that pushed the Secondary School to join the project? Really already at twelve, thirteen years, one can become online victim of their peers? Or worse still, of adult predators?
“After several events reported by the media, as teachers we felt the need to be better trained on these internet risks. At regional level, we have followed a research program with skilled lawyers, psychologists, educators that have confirmed that the phenomenon must be addressed precisely in the age group between 12 and 16 years. They even suggested to start to introduce the interventions already in the primary schools… The thing that puts kids at risk is especially the culture, the narcissism conveyed by the mass media, the idea that we must win on the other and not meet him. On the cultural question, we need to work more. We also feel a great educational problem. The families live a withdrawal from the educational responsibility, from the rules on the use of the internet… The experts have told us clearly that the educational interventions alone do not have sufficient effects if all the educational agencies are not involved, if there is not a global intervention that requires a strong cohesion among everybody”.
How much time the pre-adolescents of today spend “online”? Do families and school still have space and educational tools to help them in the proper use of the network?
“Often by asking the question to the kids we observe that the average is high. There are those who are connected to the internet for two hours, others for the entire afternoon or in the evening after dinner. Certainly we do not know how true these statements are, but according to me they spend in average 4 – 5 hours per day online. And the time dedicated to study or to friends is significantly reduced. Certainly the family and the school can already intervene and help kids to say no to the excessive use. Often the kids tell us about episodes and unhappy stories of which they are aware or in which they have been involved. However, it is very difficult to involve the parents even when the school tries to communicate with them, proposing training paths with experts of cyberbullying and other ‘traps’ of the net’.
What do they tell you about the digital world? What needs students try to meet online today? How have their relations changed?
“The stories that they told me up to now go from insults, to posting photos and images with great unawareness of the fact that what they post is now no longer theirs. It is clear that these tools are meeting a human need to communicate however we have induced needs, of false needs which we could do without. Sometimes educating means also ‘remove’, also means to understand that many needs are ephemeral. For example, the need to appear is an induced need while communicating instead is unavoidable, anthropological. The fact of being there, of being important, is often surrogated by this possibility that makes everything easy and fast because just one click and you are already ‘on stage’. With regard to relations lived by the new generations, this is the most obscure part. We should make a study of the relations that they are entertaining online. There is the problem of the use of the word, that is abused and that is used to go against the other. The use of the chattering, of slandering, of racketing online against someone. They make racket also through insults, offenses, swearing. They make racket also through not adequate photographs or video. All this contributes to make the relations not genuine and to not allow anymore to understand what the word friendship means. Then there is this tremendous yardstick of the reality with ‘I like’ or ‘I do not like’. The ‘I like’ which is generally used for something special, something that breaks the routine. The estimation of the truth of things, of things that are obtained with fatigue, the estimation of the commitment, of the study is in this way completely lost. This dynamic of ‘I like’ or ‘I do not like’ is creating considerable distortion in the minds of the kids. Here it is necessary a massive educational intervention, it is necessary to understand the variety of existence, and to see that our parameter of judgment must be different, must be based on the quality of the relations, on love, on truth, on liability. This is the element which worries me more because it concerns the judgments that the kids will form about life and about the others”.
After the project of the Association Papa Giovanni XXIII, was there some episode of change in the way of relating among school mates or even had someone the courage to indicate those who were trying to “destroy him”?
“We have touched with our hands some satisfaction. Educate is an act of hope and in some way is rewarded and in general the signs are seen in the long term. However, one will understand when kids are struck by the operators who speak to them: they understand that it is about real stories and they start to question themselves and this demonstrate that something inside of them is changing. Especially many have really understood that they should contact serious adults and not to stop at the “do-it-yourself’. They have finally realized that the comparison with parents, teachers, educators is the first step for the change and also for the consolation when one has been offended. There was a guy in particular that after three days, has expressed his inner workings, publicly apologizing before the class to his class mate. It was a strongly emotional moment: it means that our intervention shakes something in the souls even in the short term”.