Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system

cs-blog-2

A 2015 back to school survey revealed that 65% of children aged 8-11 in the UK own a smartphone. The internet and social media are now well and truly in our primary classrooms. While many schools have rolled out a phone ban during school hours, it is very difficult to enforce this. In addition, the widespread access to internet-enabled devices has enabled the rise of the cyberbully.

The rise of the cyberbully

Access to the internet and social media channels are the reasons for the rise of the cyberbully. But, they alone cannot drive negative behaviour. Social media and the net are meant to be used positively; to learn about the world, connect with friends and family.

Children act out what they see in their environment. On social media they are openly exposed to people being torn down for their looks, an opinion being smashed and trolls stirring controversy for the sake of it. This behaviour is what is emulated and gives rise to the cyberbully.

Many believe it is up to the social networks to tackle this. The sheer scale makes this impossible. We also need to remember, these networks are not made for children.

Counteracting the trend with a locked down system

The structure of the most popular networks like Facebook or Snapchat do not lend themselves to be locked down or even restricted to make them safe for children to use. There is also no way for children to slowly be introduced to these platforms. Kids are confronted with the world in their palm of their hands and they simply don’t know how to process all the information. Nevermind the behaviour.

This is where a locked down system can help. What we mean by a locked down system, is a social network made for children that does not allow unverified kids to join and offers a monitoring system and behavioural technology to teach good online etiquette.

The involvement of schools in a system like this is vital to ensure verification of children and to assist in the educational element of online etiquette. Within CyberSmarties, a locked down social media network for primary school children, notifications of attempted bullying are shared with the class teacher so he or she can react early. It also holds a variety of learning materials that help teachers tackle the subject of cyberbullying in their classrooms.

Getting kids and schools involved at primary level is key to creating a safe and educational experience online. Together, we can approach the subject in schools, at home and online.

CyberSmarties is available for free for primary schools. Complete our signup form to find out more.

 

Click here to Sign Up

Tackling cyberbullying in schools – Locking down the system was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough?

cs-blog-1

The internet and social media have grown at lightening speed. Today, our children are born as digital natives (those who can’t recall a time without the internet) and most of us use Facebook, Twitter and other networks daily. But, with the rise of the networks, we have also seen the rise of cyberbullying.

What are children saying about cyberbullying?

In the “Net Children Go Mobile” a UK report funded by the EU, it’s outlined that 21% of children aged 9-16 reported being bullied. This is a 2013 report and since then numbers have increased with more children being exposed to social media.

Children aged 10-18 were asked earlier this year in an Internetmatter.org survey in the UK whether social media companies take bullying seriously enough. Half said they don’t.

The stats are startling. As parents, teachers and guardians of our children, we have to find a better way to keep our children safe online.

Fundamental issues

There are fundamental issues that have to be addressed to find the solution. The initial one is taking a close look at the existing social networks and how they safeguard children. It is done in quite a straightforward way: an age limit is set (generally in the early teens) under which a child should not be able to have an account. These age limits are quickly bypassed and suddenly children are exposed to adult content (jokes, violence, sexual references etc).

This takes us right to the next issue. Children are exposed to social networks without any learning curve. Think about learning how to ride a bike. Before you let your child cycle on the road, you help him or her learn how to cycle safely with stabilisers and then move on to the next step when your child is ready. When it comes to social media, children are thrown right in the deep end.

Once in the deep end, children emulate others. Considering the volume of negative and throw-away comments, it is easy to see how children can quickly replicate this behaviour and see it as the norm on social.

Changing how we approach social media

Social media is a fantastic resource for all of us. We can stay in touch with friends and family far and wide, receive the freshest news and the occasional chuckle. This is what our children should experience. To make this happen, we need to change the approach we take to social media and start teaching our children.

It is difficult for children to understand how a comment sent and seen without body language can be interpreted as hurtful. They are not aware of this impact. This awareness needs to come from home and school where children already learn how to behave in the real world. These same rules should apply online where etiquette of being nice, please & thank you, and not hurting others verbally should be just the same as in the offline space.

It is unlikely that the large social networks will be able to do this. The simple reason, their platforms are built for adults not children.

Our suggested approach is simple;
1. Integrate social media and online behaviour into primary schools’ curriculums
2. Make conversations at home about social media easier through shared resources
3. Allow children to learn social media in a safe, monitored and fun environment just for them.

CyberSmarties helps teachers and parents teach better social etiquette to children while providing a social network just for kids. Just like the other social networks it is free. But, unlike others, it performs child authentication, combats bullying through technology and teaches positive behaviour online through unique behavioural technology.

CyberSmarties is simple to set up in your school. When you sign up, we contact you to discuss your school’s needs and how you can get everyone involved:

Click here it to Sign Up

Are we taking cyberbullying seriously enough? was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

Only a Closed Mind is Certain

DSC_5530

Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”
–Sherlock Holmes

I watched a film recently called “Dean Spanley” which was about a man, who when he drank the famous wine “Imperial Tokay”, believed himself to be the reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel dog. (Similar hallucinations have long been documented in Ireland after a particularly joyful wake!!). Was this a children’s movie I hear you ask? No on the contrary, it was a very satirical, but brilliantly acted movie featuring an all-star cast of Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. As to the veracity of whether past lives were in fact possible, Sam Neill declared that “Only a closed mind is certain”. And this statement got me thinking.

When I was a young man (or rather should I say, a younger man) I was certain of many things. I was certain that I would be famous, I was certain that Limerick would win an All-Ireland, I was certain that I would one day most likely rule the world, I was certain that women would find me irresistible and I was certain that I would not get old (or should I say older). It has been quite a rude awakening to find that I have been proven wrong in all of my certainties and even though the gate hasn’t been closed on all of them yet, I am becoming less and less certain. When I think about this statement from its truest, non-satirical standpoint then I find myself thinking about the importance if not necessity of having an open mind. Despite ourselves, our conditioning forms our opinions on society, religion, beliefs, politics and people. We are quick to judge and hold steadfast to our beliefs without ever really questioning why we think the way we do.

I often wondered about this in relation to religion and the vigorous way in which people would argue their God was the only true God, even going as far as cause wars in their name. I wonder if their conviction is actually rooted in fear, not in belief. Is it the fear that they may actually be wrong? and if so, would their belief system be shattered? everything they thought or believed to be true could be wrong and so rather than face this, is it easier to rail against it? Being certain, by its very nature, can be very dangerous as it rules out all other possibilities. Being certain excludes all other opinions except ones own and those who agree with you and this could be a very narrow way to live. Until Ferdinand Magellan conclusively proved the world was round by sailing around it, for millennia everyone was certain the world was flat. Within decades, whole fleets were circumnavigating the globe. Being certain that something cannot be done is extremely limiting to our potential as individuals and society. I know that there are numerous things I have convinced myself that I am incapable of doing or am bad at without ever really trying to see if I am wrong. It is “easier” not to try, it is easier not to have to face the truth or work at something to dispel the myth I have convinced myself of.

When we started building Cybersmarties over two and a half years ago, everyone told us what we were attempting wouldn’t work. They said behavioural technology could not be built. They said there was no way to authenticate a child as a real child. They said nothing could really be done about cyber-bullying. They said a lot of things. Tomorrow, Primary schools around Ireland begin using Cybersmarties for the full academic year. Today we were contacted by schools in the UK asking to join the network and yesterday by schools in the US. It was not that we were certain we could build behavioural technology but we kept an open mind as to the possibilities of what could be done. One cannot rule out anything until it is explored and after what was a very hard struggle, the Cybersmarties Team now know that our technology not only helps prevent cyber-bullying by educating positive behaviour but that it will spread into other countries education systems. The Socratic Paradox where Socrates was alluded to have said “I know one thing; that I know nothing” is actually very liberating. It allows the mind to roam the full spectrum of possibilities and I think we should approach education in this way. What we can do as individuals and achieve in this life is down to how open we are to life’s possibilities and how we deal with what life throws at us. We are working on new technology know which pinpoints “creative skills” in different fields as a means to encourage children to pursue their natural talents. We may not get it right, but by keeping an open mind at least we leave open the possibility of getting it right. I may not believe I will come back as a reincarnation of a Springer Spaniel but who then who am I to say…..I could win Crufts one day.

Only a Closed Mind is Certain was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

3 Questions

DSC_5530

Diarmuid Hudner
CEO of Cybersmarties Ltd.

“Humans don’t have eyes on the back of their heads for a reason…you can’t move forward if you’re continually looking back”
From the novel “Im Happy Now.Com”

I was listening to a radio program recently as I drove home from work which told the story of a man living along the border during The Troubles. This man, a farmer by profession, said that on his journey to and from his farm, which spanned both sides of the border, he was continuously stopped by army patrols asking him the same three questions.

Where have you come from?
What are you doing now?
Where are you going?

As I listened to this man recount these questions over and over, I thought to myself that, albeit yes, it must have been extremely annoying for the farmer, but on a different level, the questions themselves could be used for an altogether different purpose. I thought if we asked ourselves these same three questions in relation to our lives, what answers would we give?

Take the first question. Where have I come from? Think back about all the decisions you have made in your past to bring you to this point in your life today. Are there things you would have done differently? Different choices you would have made? Things you would have said but didn’t? Would the “one who got away” have got away? Was the faraway field any greener? When many of us look back at our past, we see the things we didn’t do, the life we could have had if only this or that had happened. Few of us look back at the massive amount we have achieved, the struggles we have overcome, the family losses we have learned to live with, the love lost as soon as won, the disappointments, the courage it has taken to get up every morning, despite all the setbacks, despite all the pain and obstacles, despite it all and still kept going on. Truth is, we can’t change our past, you will never breathe the same air you did a moment ago and yet sometimes old ghosts need to be put back in their closet in order to move on. To me we are not defined by what has happened in our past or the choices, good or bad, we have made; We are defined by the choices we make today because that is all we have control over. You cannot put back together a broken egg but you can still make an omelette out of it. Give yourself credit just for being here today, you are a success, despite everything, you are still fighting the good fight.

Let’s take the second question. What are you doing now? This I felt is an interesting one. Are you where you expected to be at this point in your life? Have you exceeded or fallen behind your expectations of yourself? My friend and author, Alan White, recently wrote in a blog for Creagh Castle Publishing, that we all have a negative or positive perspective on things, people and situations based on what has happened in our lives and the environment we grew up in. I agree with Alan on this. I must have been looking the other way when God was handing out the optimism cards that day because I don’t remember being given any. I struggle with it. I don’t bound out of bed every morning with the joys of Spring, rushing to take on the world with a smile on my face. I have to work at it, tell myself throughout each day to keep going no matter what happens. However I do find that over time I don’t have to tell myself as often or struggle so hard to convince myself because I do believe that we have the power to change our circumstances at any given moment. We have a choice in every situation to look at things in either a positive or negative way, to keep bouncing like a cork on the crest of a wave and to never go under. So I choose to look at the second question in a positive way because where I am today is not necessarily where I am going to be in the future but it’s up to me.

This leads us to the third question. Where are you going? The motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (yes he must also have been looking the other way when God was handing out names) asked the question “How can you hit a target you cannot see?” Yet nearly every major human endeavour or goal ever achieved was born out of such short-sightedness. The answer to this question is that it is possible to hit a target you cannot see. This is where hope comes in. However you will never hit a target if you don’t have one. I believe that the Universe alters or changes with you when you change. If you decide and then take action towards a goal, your mind and perspective will move you in line towards it. An example is a car that you might fancy buying. If you like the look of, for example an Audi A6, then you will see them everywhere; not because there are more of them around but because you have reprogrammed your mind to focus on them and where focus goes, energy flows. This how Cybersmarties happened, one idea, lots of focus and now we are helping children through behavioural technology to use social media in an entirely new way. We couldn’t see that target either.

I always think there are little messages being given to us every day; like these three questions I heard on the radio, these messages can make one reflect on how far one has come, where one is and where one hopes to be. The power lies in the decisions we make today and the commitment to see those decisions through. I truly believe that power is within us all and that’s what we tell children on Cybersmarties, every day, through positive messages; there is nothing they cannot do. P.S Big congratulations to our adopted Chinese Systems Administrator, Wenqian Xu on passing his driving test in Ireland first time, unlike his boss who took a little longer. He hasn’t quite got the Audi A6 yet so The Cybersmarties Team emptied our wallets and bought him a toy Fiat Punto instead. From small acorns…

3 Questions was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog

A future day with Cybersmarties

DSC_5561

Wenqian Xu
System Administrator of Cybersmarties Ltd.

As a technical guy, I always believe that it’s better to do more rather than talk more. Personally, I seldom promise things unless I have 80% or 90% chance of getting something done. However, what I want to do in this blog is to free my imagination and share something in my mind about what Cybersmarties is working towards. By the way, some good ideas are not from me, they are from members of the Team here at Cybersmarties.

As you know, Cybersmarties is a safe educational social network specifically for primary school kids. The age of our users is between 6 and 12. Students at such an age are naturally curious about everything. They love to experiment whether things are good or bad. As I mentioned in my previous blog – “Educate rather than Punish”, young kids are naturally kind or as in my home country of China, we refer to it as of “pure white” paper. No matter what you draw, your feelings will reveal themselves in the corresponding colors and pictures eventually. So, we need only to provide a completely safe environment for them to grow up, not only in reality, but also on the Internet. The best way to do that is to create a locked-down environment. The first step is to restrict the network just to kids, who are authenticated through schools as being real kids. But in our view, in the future, there must be a way to identify each person. To prove kids are real kids, parents are real parents, teachers are real teachers, we probably need to use kinds of “cross-verified technology” with unique biological information like fingerprint, facial recognition etc.

Very soon, the Cybersmarties world will be formed into two parts – Cybersmarties School and Cybersmarties Home. Based on research, it’s not enough for kids to form good behavior only during school time. Actually, kids will spend almost half of their time at home. This is why we developed the Fully Monitored Version of Cybersmarties.

In Cybersmarties Home, kids receive every morning an inspired message, pictures, videos or to be even more interactive, like VR (virtual reality). Our System can automatically give some suggestions based on agenda, today’s temperature, festival events information etc. With certain wearable devices (smart watch etc.), it can also combine health data (heart rate, sleep data etc.) to send alerts to parents about their kids. At the same time, parents will also receive some useful tips about kids welfare. Topics will be picked up based on parents’ own browser history and corresponding keyword trends from search engines. Of course, all content will be finally checked by Cybersmarties Experts before delivering to both parents and kids in order to make sure they’re all suitable and appropriate.

In the Cybersmarties School version, Teachers and Kids will have two kinds of roles in the system. Cybersmarties School will be highly integrated with the school curriculum. Before every class begins, a reminder will be delivered with class information and notes from teachers to kids. So, kids can prepare in advance what is better and convenient for their learning. With an improved Reward system, teachers can reward kids if they have done something good or showed excellent behavior. And vice versa, kids will lose some points because of bad or inappropriate behavior. All these points decide whether kids can play more games in the Cybersmarties Game Playground. Also, some certifications will also be delivered based on each kids’ accounts. (Sounds like Hogwarts in Harry Potter, doesn’t it? This idea is originally from Brendan Woodage, Operation Manager of Cybersmarties.com). After each class, teachers can use Cybersmarties Homework system to leave homework for kids which is available from September. So, for kids, they don’t have to worry about losing their homework anymore because they can check their own homework at any time and any place if they use Cybersmarties (This idea is originally from Diarmuid Hudner, CEO of Cybersmarties.com). Furthermore, SMART content filter system will be much “smarter”. It will not simply pick up inappropriate words based on sentiment analysis engine, with each reminder, it also contains corresponding suggestions with appropriate words. In some typical scenarios, videos with results of kids using such positive words will be displayed. Or with the help of the VR device, a VR video will let kids see the result more interactively making it more real. All these methods will educate kids better, teach them how to use social networks properly and form better behavior and relationships online with their friends. We have also introduced a Coding System for schools (available from September) which teaches kids how to code using fun interactive games through our Coding Partner in the US.

In conclusion, some of assumptions above will become reality very soon or are already a reality, but some are not easy to implement. However, finding a way to deal with cyberbullying is still a long journey for all of us. But it’s necessary and worthwhile to investigate and try. The aim of the Cybersmarties Team is to be a global pioneer in anti-cyberbullying and always do our best to educate kids in making social media be an engaging, safe and enriching experience for the future. Thank you.

A future day with Cybersmarties was originally published on Cybersmarties Blog