Helping young people Be Smart online

Executive Producer, Media Literacy, BBC Learning

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Capturing young people’s intimate thoughts on film can be a challenge, especially when we’re asking them to talk about sensitive subjects like the pressures they’re subjected to online. That’s why the Be Smart team at BBC Learning decided to take an unorthodox approach to marking Safer Internet Day 2015.

We’re installing a self-op video booth in a secondary school, so students can tell their stories on camera without all the usual film-making distractions. St Margaret Ward Catholic Academy in Stoke-on-Trent is the school taking the plunge, not because their students are any worse than other kids when it comes to online behaviour, but because they see internet safety as a big issue which they want to help us highlight. It’s a brave move, so huge credit should go to the students, parents and staff.

We’re doing this because all the research tells us that children and young people respond best to their peers. Whether they’re under pressure to take part in a dangerous prank, or to victimise someone, or whether they’re an online bully themselves, stories told by other young people are most likely to resonate and to help them cope, or change their behaviour.

The young people at St Margaret Ward are being invited to tell their personal stories: how they deal with online pressure; how they helped a friend get through a difficult episode; why they became an online bully... and what made them change. After an exhaustive compliance process, the stories will be posted online, along with links to BBC content and to external organisations that can give help and advice. We’ll be using the content on television and radio too, building it into films and radio output in the weeks following Safer Internet Day on 10th February.

It’s not the first time a video booth has been installed in a school for this reason, but we think it’s the first time it’s been done in the UK. In 2012, CBC in Canada ran a similar project, focusing on bullying. From a school roll of a thousand, 200 students made recordings. Some were very frank and moving and often positive and constructive too. Both the programme and website won numerous awards, and the school principal now frequently speaks about the positive effect of their involvement.

The Be Smart campaign is all about helping young people understand and deal with the pressures of being online. As well as the video booth, BBC Learning is helping Radio One produce a range of content fronted by hugely popular vloggers, including an hour-long live debate show. We’re also working with CBBC to make sure the issues are reflected on Children’s output ranging from drama to news – and we’ve commissioned a poll to provide us with a snapshot of how the issue affects young people across the UK.

Not only that, but we want famous BBC faces to tell their stories and to give their tips and advice about how to deal with online pressure. So after its week at school, we’re taking the video booth to BBC North at Media City in Salford so some of the famous faces there can tell their stories.

There are risks involved, of course. Who knows what kind of contributions we’ll get from the students. Perhaps we won’t get any at all. But if our experiment works, get ready to hear some frank and moving personal stories from the heart of The Potteries. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Sinead Rocks is Head of BBC Learning

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