I am so thrilled to have the amazing Rosie Thomas, co founder and director of Project Rockit interviewed here on The Modern Parent. Rosie, along with her sister Lucy, began Project Rockit to empower young people with the skills and understanding to stand up and lead change in the schoolyard and beyond. Described as a ‘youth driven anti-bullying movement’, their message has reached over 80,000 Australian school kids so far. What I love about the team at Project Rockit is the way they look at this issue through the eyes of a young person but all the while using their own wisdom and experience to help children and teens garner this power for change. For me, this is very much my philosophy when it comes to Parenting with technology and the online world. Take the time to understand their world, connect with them, accept their challenges and use your experience and wisdom to help teach, guide and support them.
In striving to help our kids navigate a safer online experience, I, like yourself, am very much focused on empowering parents with the knowledge and skills to enable them to teach and support their kids. How do you endeavour to help parents with these skills without scaring them into a belief that it is ‘all too hard’?
At PROJECT ROCKIT, we have a ‘no-scare zone’ policy when it comes to helping parents understand the digital world. Instead, our family forums bridge the generation gap in a really positive and non-judgemental way. This can be really tough as if we listened to mainstream media we would believe that technology is evil. Instead, we focus on the strengths of technology and look at the issue of cyberbullying through a social lens. The way that we see it, cyberbullying is a social issue that takes place in a technological space. Technological strategies alone can never combat cyberbullying. Instead, it’s about equipping young people with the empathy, values and social tools to make the right decisions online. It’s impossible to keep up with the ever-changing world of apps, games and social media platforms so parents often feel overwhelmed and are scared into the belief that it’s “all too hard”. However, while the technology might be fast-evolving, the experiences of adolescence remain fairly timeless. Young people still face historical adolescent questions around many of the same issues, such as belonging and identity. If we strip it back away from the technology, parents are much more confident in supporting their kids online. Young people might be experts on social media but when it comes to growing up, parents are the experts.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in getting the anti bullying message out to kids?
Our motto at PROJECT ROCKIT is: When it comes to bullying, are you going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? It’s a question that we’ve all had to ask at certain points in our life. Because it’s such a tough question we hear all sorts of excuses. The most common excuse is, “I’m not going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. I’m going to stay out of it and mind my own business”. However, we believe that ignoring bullying is part of the problem to bullying. If we see it happen, it’s our responsibility to do something about it.
This excuse doesn’t mean that young people don’t care. They do care about bullying but often lack the skills and the confidence to make a difference. At PROJECT ROCKIT we believe that the recipe for a proactive bystander is credible and low risk strategies and empathy. Without credible strategies, a young person is powerless. Without empathy, a young person will not be compelled to implement those strategies.
The other great challenge we face in addressing bullying with young people is their negative expectations around what an anti-bullying “presentation” will be about. Young people expect a “boring, judgy lecture”, which is why we take a show not tell approach. Using a range of social experiments, challenges, music and real-life stories we work with young people to develop ‘cool’ and credible strategies to tackling bullying.
It’s pretty amazing to finish a PROJECT ROCKIT workshop with a bunch of totally energised and empowered young people equipped and willing to tackle bullying in all its forms. I guess our major goal at PROJECT ROCKIT is simply making bullying “not cool”.
Following recent much publicised tragic deaths largely attributed to the devastation caused by bullying, there have been further calls to put pressure on governments to enforce laws against cyberbullying. There are already laws in place, albeit not being used. Why do you think they havn’t been utilised thus far?
Bullying robs young people of opportunity, extinguishes potential and in some cases, destroys lives. The pressure on governments to address the growing concern of cyberbullying is positive and sparking really healthy debate in the cyber safety community. It’s become strikingly clear that with the rapid explosion of the digital world, the law is yet to catch up. While we have existing laws in place, they are dated and inadequate when applied to current breaches of cyber safety. For example, it’s ridiculous that a young person caught ‘sexting’ could be charged and convicted (with a record) for producing and possessing child pornography. This is a strong example of how the current laws simply do not fit the social issues around young people and cyberbullying.
We know that many kids get caught up in the moment and end up being labelled bullies when they are not necessarily bad or vindictive, but maybe simply unaware of the damage their words are doing. We also know many kids who are bully victims won’t go to adults or authorities as they don’t want to bring attention on themselves for fear of making things worse. Is there another way we can better deal with the kids at a young age who may need more education and lessons in empathy rather than prosecution?
Labelling young people can very dangerous. At PROJECT ROCKIT we’re all about smashing social labels. Because of this, we don’t use the term “bully” or the equally damaging label of “victim”. Instead we focus on bullying as a behaviour and not a person. Rather than prosecute, young children often need to develop the social skills and the ability to reflect on their behaviour. Sometimes a clean slate or fresh beginning (for perpetrators and targets) can create strong cultural change within a school. In our experience, this frees young people and gives them the opportunity to make positive changes.
How much of the responsibility for the fight against cyberbullying must lay with schools? I have had many parents come to me telling me that some schools do very little as it happens outside school hours? In your opinion is cyberbulling something that should be dealt with by schools, by parents, the law or a combination?
When it comes to tackling cyberbullying in our communities we are all responsible. It’s up to schools to create safe and supportive learning environments and parents to raise ethical children. We need governments to legislate change and industry to take responsibility for the tools they create. As individuals, we too must be role models to young people and create a culture where bullying, hate and prejudice simply aren’t tolerated.
Thank you so much to Rosie for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience here, and more importantly with the children of Australia.