Extinction Rebellion

It’s the week after the week before in which many parts of central Bristol were brought to a standstill by Extinction Rebellion. Views on the cause, action and tactics varied.

I want to share some reflections. But I do this making clear that it is possible to question and challenge a group about its approach without being misinterpreted as undermining the goal, in this case, addressing the climate crisis.

I believe in protest as a lever in the democratic process. I am a student of black American politics. I participated in the Jubilee 2000 and the World Bank/IMF and anti-globalisation protests. They shifted public opinion and political awareness and supported real changes to the structures of international finance that drove poverty and the associated consequences for instability, migration and deforestation in the global south.

Extinction Rebellion has played an important role by putting climate change high up on the political agenda. I will be one of many city leaders who welcome this. We have been stressing the need for central government certainty and investment in transport and infrastructure so are be able to deliver the carbon neutral future we have committed to. Government for its part continues to disappear into itself, consumed by Brexit, power contests and delayed, unpredictable and zero-sum funding rounds. Anything that helps get Westminster looking outward is welcome.

But there are challenges.

Blocking the M32 was a tactical error.

Ahead of the planned protests, we agreed with Extinction Rebellion a Memorandum of Understanding to manage the protesters gathered in the Castle Park area. We closed roads around Bristol Bridge to ensure the safety of protesters and the wider public. The planned action was very high profile, and the message was being heard. But once protesters broke our agreement by blocking the M32, Extinction Rebellion began alienating members of the public with every inconvenience. I have been clear that this action stepped over the line, and I think it was a tactical error for the movement that ultimately proved to be counterproductive.

An emergency requires solutions.

I have asked XR for the specific actions they would like the city to take. The challenge is that beyond “tell the truth” and “act now” I have heard little yet in terms of specifics. There are obvious problems with this. If you have no agreed list of specific asks/demands, how do you know that what people are currently doing isn’t enough and isn’t being done fast enough? Secondly, if people say “OK, what do you want?” you have nothing to say.

This happened in the BBC3 documentary, Extinction Rebellion: Last Chance to Save the World. In an interview, the founder of the movement was asked “Does Extinction Rebellion have proposals for how to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025?” To which response was “No, because that’s not our job”.

I have noticed that when spokespeople are asked, they revert to highlighting the scale and immediacy of the crisis. I agree it is immediate, which is why I believe everyone must be developing solutions. If you are on a sinking ship, those who think through solutions, no matter how basic, are more helpful than those who continue to shout the ship is sinking.

As a council, we have successfully achieved our corporate target to reduce carbon emissions two years early with a 71% reduction of carbon emissions in 2017/18 (against a 2005 baseline) and last week we announced our action plan in response to the climate emergency declaration.

And the city is following our lead and stepping up to take responsibility. The City Office has established a city Environment and Sustainability Board to agree to a series of environmental goals up to 2050 through the One City Plan. I’m hopeful we can work with partners across the city to come up with clear steps and milestones to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030 and beyond.

Signing contracts, running procurement processes, addressing planning, participating in drawn-out negotiations are not as exciting or glamorous as protest, but it’s where many of the things that need to get done actually get done in local government. Again, protest has a critical place in our democracy, but it must be deployed wisely, understanding the people and institutions it is targeting, and with a clear set of actions it wants.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are vital to XR’s campaign if it is going to truly fulfil its stated aim of being a wide-reaching and representative democratic movement.

Democracy isn’t merely a question of voting rights for those in the club. It’s also about openness, connectivity and accountability to outsiders. Without doubt, class hierarchy and global racism are integral to a system whereby the global north has secured their growth without regard to the planet in general and Africa, Asia and South America in particular. These systems robbed so many people of the opportunity to shape the world and their place in it – now they threaten their futures too.

For XR to be successful, and bring people with them on their cause, becoming more diverse and inclusive is the challenge they have to take on.

We face a climate emergency, and we need action now. It’s about focused action and results. A friend of mine said a problem well defined is a problem half solved. We need a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the emergency itself, of the people and institutions in play, of what is required for success, and we need everyone developing solutions.

I have asked to meet with the leaders of Bristol XR again to suggest real solutions and actions for our city to tackle the climate crisis, so that they can be part of the conversation to affect real change.

#WeAreBristol

WeAreBristol Launch 3 - CB Bristol Design 2019

Today we launched a new campaign with the #WeAreBristol film. The film shows 60 Bristol strangers who were randomly selected to come together and take part in a social experiment.

IMG_6579The people in the film represent everyone in Bristol – young, old, rich, poor, people who have always lived here, and people who have moved here from other parts of the world. It is easy to say that on the surface these people are different. But what the film shows is that actually they have far more in common than you would think.

Films and campaigns like this are vital, particularly at a time when many people would say the UK has never been more divided. It is vital because it makes us stop and think. It challenges us to reflect on our own behaviour – do we judge people before we have even heard them speak? Do we make assumptions about a situation because of pre-conceived prejudice?

It is true that political fractures have led to a rise in race-related hate crime. These fractures and the anonymity provided by social media, have seen a surge in both subtle and blatantly obvious discriminatory remarks.  It’s led many people to think it is ok to openly share and display feelings of intolerance.

The #WeAreBristol campaign which starts today says in Bristol we can be different. We can take steps to shut down intolerance, be proud of Bristol’s diversity and stand side by side with our neighbours – no matter where they come from or what they believe in.

Our views, our lifestyles and even the way we look might be different, but deep down we are the same. We are human. We are Bristol.

Please watch and share the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g8ILrUEf1k

 

435 councils back Bristol’s pledge to deliver the UN’s SDGs and declare a climate emergency.

On Tuesday, I was proud to move a motion for Bristol at the Local Government Association (LGA) which saw 435 local councils declare a climate emergency and support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As co-chair of the Global Parliament of Mayors, the local leaders I meet rally around common challenges — rapid urbanisation or depopulation, delivering affordable housing and growing the economy without increasing inequality that undermines our social fabric, population health, air quality, and climate change.

The SDGs are a collection of 17 global targets for 2030, set by the UN General Assembly, that offer a coordinated framework for tackling these issues through sustainable development. They build on the Millennium Development Goals and cover a range of interdependent challenges that we are all grappling with. Poverty, hunger, climate change, decent work, inclusive growth and global partnerships are all central to the agreement

They SDGs cannot be delivered solely through the drive of national governments. All levels of government — local, regional, national, and international — must work together. Local leadership, with its immediate connection the complexity of people’s lives, is well positioned to tackle the challenges we face at a time when national governments are falling short. We are making a case for empowering local government to tackle the issues on the ground in our communities.

I was pleased to work with my colleague from Wakefield to amend the SDG motion to include a declaration of climate emergency in response to the IPCC report. Their report advised that we must limit global warming to 1.5°C, as opposed to the previous target of 2°C. Their review of over 6,000 sources of evidence found that, with a rise of 1.5°C, there would be risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security and economic growth. An increase to 2°C would be even more catastrophic.

In Bristol, we’ve aligned our One City Plan to the SDGs – underpinning a collective city-wide commitment to their delivery. What’s more, the SDGs ensure we recognise the interdependence of our challenges. One of the worst features of the Twitter-isation of our politics is single-issue campaigns, which give little or no thought to other vital areas of public concern. After all, ending poverty must go hand-in-hand with creating jobs, developing the economy and saving the planet from climate emergency.

Sustainability must be delivered by realising environmental, economic, social and political justice at the same time. While environmental injustice compounds social injustice, poverty — a lived reality which too many struggle with — robs people of the financial and emotional space to think beyond the crisis of today, to the crisis of tomorrow. With the SDGs insisting that we recognise interdependence, we are ensuring that our efforts to address climate change recognise this reality.

But as we know, cities and local government face a continued challenge from funding pressures and increased demand. Alongside our partners, leaders across the UK have a huge role to play, and this motion is an important milestone on this journey. We must be empowered to plan, implement, monitor, and adapt to deliver on the SDGs and avert the climate emergency.

Once again, our administration is partnering with councils across the country to lobby Government for the resources to build a better Bristol, country and world.

Trading Places

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This week I led a delegation to Boston and Chicago in the USA.

The trip was focussed on growing trade and investment in Bristol and we took with us several businesses from Bristol and the wider region.    The visit was fully supported by the government, we were accompanied by the government’s Department for International trade (DIT), and my travel was fully funded by the Chicago Council for Global Affairs.

The businesses who came with us included:

  • Rixxo, which is a digital campaign agency, working with businesses in Bristol and around the world to engage wider audiences.
  • Sparkol, software company which produces videos and animation for other companies.
  • YellowDog, the most interestingly named company, which expands capacity for companies and simplifies complexity in digital processes.

The West of England Mayor and some businesses from the wider region also came.

As you can tell from the list above, this was a high tech-focussed visit  and we chose Boston and Chicago as cities who could be successfully targeted to grow contacts and inward business for Bristol’s tech economy. This is great for Bristol, as successful companies will grow and create more jobs for people. I have invited them to share their success in my blog next week – watch this space.

IMG-20190607-WA0002While in Boston, I also took the opportunity to meet with the Mayor of Boston, and several of his department commissioners, looking at issues common to our two cities.   Boston and Bristol have a lot in common and I’m not just referring to history.  Both cities have growing young populations and a strong migrant population.  Both cities have a high proportion of citizens with higher level qualifications and both of us have seen the widening of the inequality gap. We also both have housing need as our number one priority and both have to deal with a huge daytime growth of people in the city, from commuters coming into the city to work and visit.

We were able to share and learn with Boston and we discussed the challenges of physical participation in sport and mental health challenges. I was delighted to be able to introduce the work of Empire Fighting Chance and the work they are doing with mental health intervention for disadvantaged communities.

We also looked at the innovative transport infrastructure system, The Greenway, with tunnel systems which takes traffic out of the built up areas and instead provides pleasant green pedestrianised space.

We were able to look at the growing challenges of adult and children’s social care.  Major cities in America are facing even bigger challenges than we are so it was good to hear their experiences and solutions.

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In Chicago, I was honoured to meet Chicago’s newly elected first female black mayor,

Lori Lightfoot. I then joined the Global Cities Forum where I spoke with other mayors on the growing understanding of the leading role cities play in tackling the 21st century challenges, including migration and population growth.

Cities continue to grow and within 10 years, 60% of people across the world will live in cities.

The role of internationalism is important to Bristol as a major city and we must embrace the opportunity to make connections with cities and global agencies and crucially bring new trade and investment to our city. Investment in infrastructure is essential to a city with a rapidly growing population like ours and to hide away from that fact and the urgent need for modern infrastructure and inclusive growth would be an abrogation of responsibility of city leadership.

Look out for next week’s blog, including stories from the businesses who came with us.

Hit for Six – Cricket World Cup comes to Bristol

CWC photo 2Hosting three men’s ICC Cricket World Cup tournament matches next month is another landmark achievement for this city. It’s a reminder of the priority we place on sport, not just as a means to connect globally but to celebrate the inclusiveness of Bristol.

Reigning champions Australia, past winners Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as Bangladesh and Afghanistan are all in action in group games at the County Ground between 1st – 11th June. And with South Africa, the West Indies and New Zealand also playing pre-tournament warm-up games here this month, there is no better opportunity for our city’s diverse communities to enjoy a global sporting event together.

Bristol successfully hosted eight ICC Women’s World Cup matches in 2017 and our status as a host city for the men’s tournament this summer continues to show we are delivering world class sports events to the city.

The Circuit of the Mendips, the Tour of Britain and a future for T20 cricket internationals in Bristol are among events to have been hosted or secured in recent years. We have also declared our ambition for Bristol to be a host city for the football’s 2030 World Cup, should a bid from this country proceed.

But securing major events is only one of several priorities within our approach to sport.

Bristol was named as a European City of Sport for 2017 because of our sporting facilities, level of participation, success of local teams and sporting events – and our Bristol Active City website continues to promote activities taking place across the city.

Our proud cultural and sporting history is a core contributor to the ongoing success of the city and to making Bristol a better place to live. Our ‘City of Openness, Imagination and Originators’ strategy sets out our ambitions to ensure that every citizen should be able to participate in and benefit from the city’s cultural and sporting life.

Bristol is the most active of the Core Cities, with over 70% of citizens meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s Guidance on physical activity, but the challenges posed by economic and social inequalities remain.

Sport and general physical activity plays an important role in both physical and mental health and well-being. We want to inspire all people to get involved, be it by providing services, being open to ideas and enabling others to run events, or continuing to work with community groups to promote sport and physical activity in under-represented groups.

Campaigns such as ‘Bristol Girls Can’ aim to break down the barriers around exercise and inspire more women to get active, while the Empire Fighting Chance boxing project challenges and inspires young people to realise their potential. Run4Life has been delivering Beginner Running Courses across Bristol since January 2015 and the 16th June Let’s Ride cycling festival, in partnership with British Cycling, is an example of a fun activity open to all.

I hope that the arrival of the men’s Cricket World Cup in Bristol will connect, entertain and inspire our citizens and visitors alike, helping us to achieve the goal of creating healthier and more resilient communities.

Children Rights at 30

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Those were the words of the great Nelson Mandela who was a powerful advocate of the rights of children and the responsibilities nations and communities have to support, develop and protect the next generation.

At a gathering in London today, I and Cllr Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Women, Children and Families, joined others from across the UK to celebrate the world’s foremost commitment to children, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). We discussed and debated the impact of this monumental declaration of the rights of the child whilst also reflecting on the reality of being a young person growing up in 2019.

The challenges that face children, young people and families are laid bare by the many headlines written about child poverty, increasing inequality and the impact of austerity on the services people rely on. But the question that I ask and is asked of me is; “what are you doing about it?”

Nelson Mandela also said: “Each of us as citizens has a role to play in creating a better world for our children.”

Those words are reflected in our own city’s commitment to children and young people, The Bristol Children’s Charter, which addresses its 10 commitments by saying: “No single organisation or agency can make enough progress towards these aspirations alone. Partners commit to working together to deliver this vision for all children to create a thriving city that is good for everyone.”

Our approach to support, develop and protect children and young people is a collective one. We work together with other agencies, charities, schools, colleges, universities, businesses, youth organisations and most importantly families, to put in place the structures and activities needed to deliver on our shared ambitions.

As a council we have invested £3.2m a year in youth services, which is delivering targeted services for the most deprived communities in the city. We can only do this by working with charities, youth organisations, NHS, Police and many others.

As a city we’re on the road to eradicating period poverty by pulling together the creative and organisational wealth of the city. All sectors are engaged in this movement that Cllr Godwin is driving ahead with our partners.

We’re building schools, tackling youth homelessness, delivering apprenticeships and feeding children during the summer holidays.

This and much, much more is being done because we, like the UN community, agree that the rights of the child are our responsibility to uphold and deliver.

Environmental fines increased by Cabinet

steve-pearceToday’s guest blog comes from from Cllr Steve Pearce, Cabinet Member for Waste, Commercialisation and Regulatory Services.

The government has been consulting on Household & Business recycling recently and the consultation ended yesterday, 13th May. But this is the action that we were taking locally last week to make Bristol’s streets cleaner.

Environmental crime has a significant and wholly detrimental impact on the wellbeing of our residents and to the city’s visitors, so on Tuesday the 7th May I was delighted to approve:

  • increasing fixed penalty charges for flyposting, graffiti, distribution of printed matter and fly-tipping
  • removal of the early payment rate for flyposting, graffiti, distribution of printed matter, failure to produce waste transfer notes or a waste carriers license, and
  • the introduction of a new fixed penalty in relation to the new Domestic Duty of Care.

I believe that removing the early payment rates and increasing penalty rates for some offences sends a clear message that Bristol will not tolerate behaviour that disrespects our fellow citizens.

I should point out that there is no proposal to increase the penalty rate for littering or to remove the reduced rate for early payment in relation to that offence.

The fixed penalty in relation to the new Domestic Duty of Care is a new measure so we have set the fixed penalty rate at £200. This will be reviewed in 12-18 months once it has been more widely publicised.

Our annual Quality of Life Survey highlights that litter, dog fouling and other street scene issues are of particular concern to Bristol residents.

  • According to our 2015/16 Quality of Life survey nearly 3/4 of people who responded identified street litter as a problem.
  • More than 3/5 of residents felt that dog fouling was a problem in their local area.
  • And 30 percent of respondents identified anti-social graffiti as a problem.

It is apparent that these problems are more pronounced in the city centre and some of the more deprived areas of the city.

For example, while 30.3% of respondents identified anti-social graffiti as a problem, that number rose to 47% in the City Centre and over 60% in Ashley Ward.

Groups such as Keep Britain Tidy have also noted that those living in more deprived areas are less likely to feel satisfied with the appearance of their local area compared to those living in more affluent areas.

The approach adopted in the Clean Streets plan emphasises education and community engagement alongside a more robust approach to enforcement.

The Mayor has made a pledge that Bristol will be measurably cleaner by 2020 and the Clean Streets Plan which underpins the pledge is designed to change the behaviour of people in Bristol in order to reduce litter, dog fouling, fly tipping, graffiti and other environmental crimes. This will be done by:

  • Sending a clear message
  • Cleaning up the city, and by
  • A robust, zero tolerance approach to enforcement.

Although the cleanliness of the city has improved in many parts more work needs to be done particularly in relation to behaviour change.

Although between 16/17 and 17/18 there was a reduction in the number of fly-tip incidents of over 12%, the cost of environmental crime to the city remains high. In 17/18, 8206 reports of fly tipping were made to Bristol Waste Company (BWC) costing £392,551 to remove. In the same year we spent £100,000 on removing graffiti.

The Domestic Duty of Care Fixed Penalty S34 (2A) Environmental Protection Act came into force from 7th January 2019. This enables local authorities to issue a FPN to a person who has failed to comply with the duty relating to the transfer of household waste.

The Domestic Duty of Care requirement means that householders must ask the person or business they transfer their waste to (or who arranges the transfer) for evidence of their authorisation, such as a copy of their waste carrier’s registration or proof of their exemption registration issued by the Environment Agency.

The Clean Streets publicity and communications plan will include a campaign to highlight householders responsibilities when making private arrangements to dispose of domestic waste and will highlight low cost/free options for getting rid of unwanted household goods.

Fixed penalties relating to dog fouling and dogs off lead are governed by separate legislation and are already set at the highest level currently available.

Making the streets of Bristol cleaner is one of the key objectives of the 2017-2022 Corporate Strategy. The strategy says that we will put Bristol on course to be run entirely on clean energy by 2050 and introduce a safe, clean streets campaign. The Clean Streets Campaign will be a main focus to help us improve the cleanliness of the city and focus our resources on the areas of highest need.

Environmental Sustainability Board

We’re working with the Bristol Green Capital Partnership to establish a Bristol One City Environmental Sustainability Board and we’re seeking members to shape the city’s journey to the highest standards of sustainability in the shortest possible time.

This is timely in light of the UK parliament yesterday acknowledging the Climate Emergency, led by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and which Bristol was the first city in the UK to declare, following the lead of cities around the world.

Bristol is fortunate to have a strong foundation of partnerships, networks and groups actively contributing to the city’s environmental sustainability.  The One City Plan’s environmental ambitions for Bristol – including to be carbon neutral, zero waste and with environmental equality, creating a better quality of life for the next generation by 2050 – are hugely challenging.  So the Environmental Sustainability Board needs members with the capacity and influence to help lead and make systemic and radical changes where needed, and inspire others to take action.

The ES Board will sit alongside economy, health and wellbeing, transport and learning boards to lead, support and advise on action to realise the ambitions of the One City Plan.

The Board will have a pivotal role in realising the One City Plan’s ambition for Bristol to be a carbon neutral city, with environmental equality, zero waste and healthy, ethical and sustainable local food practices and supply by 2050.

I invited Bristol Green Capital Partnership to create and facilitate the new ES Board. The Partnership has more than 850 member organisations from across sectors, and contributed its ‘Our Future’ vision to the development of the first iteration of the One City Plan.

An ‘expressions of interest’ process to join the ES Board has opened, inviting  organisations and individuals with the qualities, skills, experience and/or influence to enable changes on the scale needed to achieve the environmental sustainability aspects of the One City Plan.

Expressions of interest can be submitted between 2 May and 9am 20 May 2019.  Full details and information about how to apply are on the Bristol One City website.

Smart phones, social media and cyber-bullying

Today’s guest blog comes from Dr Susie Davies, Founder of Papaya, and considers the impact of smart phones, social media and cyber-bullying on the mental health of adolescents.    

Never before has one small object with its shiny gleaming surface and multiple apps been such an iconic symbol of modern life. From alarm clocks, to bus passes, calendars, and contactless payments our phones have become an essential part of the mechanics of our every moment. In addition are the social media platforms which help us to connect to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Even as adults, there is no doubt that smart phones, and especially the social media apps which they arsade home to, hold an addictive lure. However, most of us over the age of 30, can still remember a time before we owned a smart phone and the forgotten days of reversing charges from a phone box late at night to beg our parents for a lift home.

However, it is different for those born in the so called iGen generation (1995-2003) and the years there-after. Today’s young adults’ neuronal pathways have been formed alongside apps, social media and smart phones. Many haven’t had a tech-free window in adolescence in which to develop their sense of self or relationships without technology at the core of their interactions.

Concerns about the impact of social media and smart phones are reported in the press almost daily. The recent tragic case of Molly Russell has highlighted to parents one of our deepest fears. Even from the supposed safety of their bedrooms, our children can access harmful content online, which can potentially lead to the most devastating of consequences. But Molly’s case is sadly not an isolated one. The BBC reported that more than 30 parents have approached PAPYRUS (a support charity for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts) to say they believe that social media was implicated in their child’s suicide (1). However, suicide is but the tip of the iceberg. There is a huge mountain of mental health issues, which are potentially triggered or compounded by social media, affecting our children today.

The evidence for the effect of the potential harm of social media and smart phones has been contested. Despite this Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, has advised that parents should take a precautionary  approach with regards to phone use  in children because of the potential risks, which are as yet unmeasured.(2) Personally, it feels similar to the denial of the smoking – lung cancer link in the 1950s. The rise of lung cancer and the potential link to smoking was becoming apparent, but the evidence was not yet clear (or as was the case with smoking the evidence was actually being hidden by those who sought to profit from tobacco). Do we as a new generation of parents shut our eyes and pretend the negative impact of social media is not happening? Or do we have the courage to decide to act differently for our children?

Apart from the obvious issue of lost time – time which could be spent pursuing hobbies, doing home-work, and socialising with real people – what are the other issues?

To me, the real heart of the issue is the effect that social media is having on our young people’s ability to develop a robust self-esteem. Self-esteem is our unique internal mirror. It can be a true reflection of self, or as is often the case in adolescents, it is a negatively warped perception of our true self and value. This is rather like looking at a distorted image of yourself in a fairground mirror! Self-esteem goes up and down with the world around us or even more importantly varies according to how we perceive our role (either good or bad) in these events. Adolescence is notoriously a period for poor self-esteem. Puberty, exam pressures and relationship issues all arise in a narrow window of time when many teenagers will inevitably experience some emotional turbulence.

It is into this toxic mix of hormones and self-doubt that the Pandora’s Box of social media has arrived. Instead of learning to self-reflect in a positive way, which is an essential part of the healthy  adolescent journey, social media sites have externalised self-esteem to social media platforms making young people dependent on ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ for their self worth. The search for the perfect selfie or the need for an affirming response from followers is, at best, an exhausting place to inhabit.

“Social media and its dopamine induced high of likes and followers doesn’t actually translate into real life experiences or happiness.”

Social media is inadvertently reducing young people’s ability to self-evaluate. By making them dependent on other people’s opinions, it is having a dramatic effect on their ability to develop a robust self-esteem and to build emotional resilience. At the simplest level, it is virtually impossible to feel happy if you don’t like yourself. Young women seem to be particularly affected by this with a quarter of 17-19 year-old females having a diagnosed mental health problem.(3) This is a very significant statistic and it should ring alarm bells to parents, politicians, and anyone who cares for the future welfare of our nation.

Recently, I received a despairing email, in the middle of the night from a mother whose daughter was being cyber-bullied. The mother was desperate and said her daughter was self-harming and suicidal. This had been caused by the hateful messages she was getting online. I don’t think anyone can really deny the potential harmful effect of cyber-bullying on young people’s well-being.  Issues traditionally resolved in the playground are now, very publicly and relentlessly, being played out online, both during the day and, worse still, at night. A recent study found that 18% of children have been bullied online.(4) This is a potentially public and highly humiliating experience which can, and often does, result in anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.

“The experience of being cyberbullied was associated with greater stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness. Victims were also more likely to exhibit a range of behavioural, emotional and somatic symptoms, and the findings identified a moderately strong association with suicidal intention. This suggests that victims were significantly more likely to have contemplated committing suicide.” (5)

However, research suggests that only 13% of children being bullied online will delete the app. On the other hand, 24% turn to self-harm and a further 22% will attempt to change their appearance in response to the abuse. (6)

These figures reflect the power that social networking sites have over children; that they are almost twice as likely to self-harm as they are to delete the app on which they are being bullied.

Returning to my story, I was able to advise the mother to encourage her daughter to delete the app she was being bullied on or alternatively to have a period without her phone. Her mother emailed back to say her daughter had voluntarily given up her phone and was now a different child. She was back in control of her life and had cut the magnet by which the bullies could access her.

In my work as a GP I am regularly seeing young adults with significant and enduring mental health problems, which include anxiety and depression, personality disorders, self-harm and suicidal intention. Is it more than coincidence that these young people are the first generation of adults to grow up with unlimited access to smart phones and social media?

As parents (I have three children) what can we do in this tumultuous season? We don’t want to live in fear but equally, none of us want our child to be the victim of cyber-bullying or of self-harm algorithms on social media. All of us, I believe, would want our children to thrive in making personal connections and relationships.  Cynics will say that it is a digital world and that tech-savvy teens will have an advantage in their future work place. However, social skills and resilience are essential if the next generation is to navigate the complexities of the real world and relationships.

What do I propose? The charity I have set up PAPAYA (Parents against Phone Addiction in Young Adolescents) aims to help children thrive in the digital age. It is also to support parents to make good, positive choices around their family’s use of technology. However, to achieve this, we as parents, need to be prepared to work together. We all know how hard it can be to say no and the persuasive tsunami that our children assault us with when they really want something. However, how much easier is it to set positive boundaries when we know other parents are doing the same thing? One parent that I recently met said their community of parents had all agreed their children could only play Fortnite (a very addictive online game) at weekends (and even then for only set periods of time). Another mother, phoned all the parents of the children that her son was gaming with. They agreed a set time that they would all get their children to stop.

As parents, what are our options? At PAPAYA we encourage parents to come up with their own personal solutions and also solutions at a community level. There are no set answers and each family will find something different that works for them. Some groups of parents have collaborated and sent their children to secondary school with nothing more than a basic phone. By doing this en masse you ensure your child is not alone. However, this is not the answer for everyone. A huge step forward would be to follow the advice from Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, not to allow phones in rooms at night. It is within the isolation of a bedroom that most of the dark side of technology occurs (such as online grooming, pornography, inappropriate content about self-harm and cyber-bullying).

If as parents we can get back on the front foot and make unified decisions together we can see our children advantage from all the positives of technology without being negatively affected by its darker side.

Dr Susie Davies

Founder of PAPAYA

www.papayaparents.com

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47019912
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/07/children-parents-screen-time-electronic-devices-bedrooms-uk-medical-officers
  3. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46295719 
  4. The Health behaviour of school aged children survey http://www.hbscengland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/National-Report-2015.pdf
  5. Kowalski,R.M.,etal.,Bullying in the Digital Age: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Cyberbullying Research Among Youth. Psychological Bulletin, 2014
  6. https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/the-wireless-report/

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Bristol Talks

Bristol has a long history of debate and dissent often delivered through a biting wit. We are a city that is simultaneously immensely proud and robust with itself. This includes a rich commitment to publicly debating every potential weakness of the city and those who rise to prominence within it.

This can be an asset. It speaks to the city’s authenticity and is a safeguard of our democracy. Bristol has harvested the fruits of this. It’s enabled it to carve out a niche in the nation as the city that does things differently. It’s enabled the city to avoid “group think”, driven creativity, innovation and political change. But there is a view that in some ways this great quality may have become so distorted that it now hurts the city. People have been racing back and forth on Twitter and the comments left beneath news articles.

This distortion is part cause and part consequence of the tendency in today’s culture to polarize and “other” those who hold a different goal or even those who share a goal but may differ in their view of how to get there. It is part cause and part consequence of the social media platforms that drive us toward short, single dimensional arguments of a complex world, feed addictions to faceless affirmations through “likes”, “retweets” and “reposts”. It reaches its height of toxicity when this culture and these means of communication become THE means of interaction between politicians, journalists and the public as journalists look for division and conflict, politicians serve up division and conflict, and the public are entertained by division and conflict.

Although politicians have come to expect a poor public reception, but we know that some political debate has reached new lows when threats of violence are commonplace. It would be bad enough if this remained in the political world. But I fear it doesn’t.

Over recent months a number of people from business, public sector, voluntary community sector, health, faith groups and the media have come together to share concerns with me about what they see as a deterioration in the tone, quality and as a consequence usefulness, of Bristol’s civic discourse. By civic discourse they mean the conversation the city has with itself about itself.

A doctor friend of mine runs a charity tackling phone (social media) addiction in young people. Poor mental health is a huge consequence. We were discussing the implications of the way we undertake our civic discourse for young people. The question we got to was this: to what extent does the example set and culture created by fifty odd year old keyboard warriors sitting around late at night writing mean things about people shape the way young people begin to communicate with each other? We struggled to see an upside. We concluded the consequences of the culture our young people are growing up with are real, with consequences that will resonate through the decades to come. It suggests to me that how we behave and disagree as city leaders, journalists, private citizens and commentators is as important an input into the lives of our young people as the houses we build, services we fund or campaign for. The ability to disagree well could be one of the most important gifts we give our children in what seems to be becoming an increasing fractured world.

A cartoon I was sent had a little boy sat at his computer about Cartoon - Civic discourse

to post in the comments. His father is standing next to him with furrowed brow saying:

“Son, if you’ve got nothing nasty to say then don’t say anything at all”

It’s an amusing cartoon, but the humour fades if we reflect on the possibility that this is actually what we have come to, that nastiness is the mode of communication we are making the norm for our young people.

Those who have come together have suggested we need a city debate. Let’s have a chat with ourselves about the way we chat about ourselves. In a school, in a workplace, in a home we can be intentional about reviewing our culture. I think we can and should do the same as a city. We can take a proactive approach to assessing the quality of the civic discourse we currently have. Let’s take a view on it. If we like what we have, then fine. If not, then we can think about what we would like and how we get there. I don’t think its beyond us as a city to do this.

Here is a suggestion: let’s take Lent to do this. 40 days. #BristolTalks.

Let me know what you think.