Words by S.H., 24 VIC
This piece was a runner-up of the ‘Get Comfortable Online’ Creative Competition 2021.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
That is what I feel as I answer the phone at after long day. It’s Friday and less than three weeks until school holidays. My year three class has grown increasingly unsettled as the term has progressed. They’re tired and I’m tired. I look at the pile of unread narratives on my desk as the office lady’s voice chimes through the phone. “Sarah Johnston’s calling, I’ll put her through.”
Wearily I thank her, then muster up my bouncy and professional phone-call- with-parent voice. “Hi Sarah, how are you?”
She’s driving. You can hear the rumble of the engine and chatter of children quietly in the background as we exchange pleasantries. The reason for my concern is then confirmed.
“I’ve just collected the kids and Mason has told me he hates school and he doesn’t want to ever go back.” Sarah Johnston says with exasperation in her voice, “I’m not sure what to do.”
This statement doesn’t surprise me. Mason, until recently, had been a friendly and bubbly boy. But over the last couple of weeks there’s been a shift in him. I’d had a conversation just this morning between him and a couple of his friends to try and get to the bottom of what was wrong. His friends, as children his age often do, insisted that there was no problem. Mason quickly agreed. My suspicions, however, remained. Even when pressing Mason further without his friends present, he still insisted that there were no problems. With Mason unwilling to talk, I let it be, making a note to keep an eye on him.
“I’m glad you called, Mason hasn’t been himself in the classroom recently,” I say, concerned, “has there been anything going on at home that I should know about?”
“It’s something to do with that Roblox game that he plays.” Sarah responds, but with Mason protesting loudly in the background.
This also doesn’t surprise me. Several months ago, a number of Mason’s friends began their obsession with Roblox. I’m largely unfamiliar with the game myself, but to my understanding a number of students in my class play it and will often play together online. I can recall Mason complaining that his parents hadn’t let him get Roblox yet, whilst drawing Roblox scenes at the bottom of his page from things his friends had described.
I can also recall the excitement that Mason has as he brought the news to the class in circle time that one weekend not long after this, his parents had allowed him to get a Roblox account during. In the subsequent weeks and months I would overhear many conversations between Mason and his friends about their various Roblox escapades and plans for the future.
As an early career teacher, I consider myself pretty ‘with it’ when it comes to internet culture. Occasionally I’ll overhear student conversations about certain memes or YouTube drama. Often, I recognise the things they’re discussing. But I must admit, I’m pretty clueless when it comes to Roblox. From what I can infer, it’s a multiplayer open world game where players can build and buy things and chat using text or voice. I’m also quite concerned that my eight and nine-year-old students are using such a service, often without supervision, sometimes without parental knowledge.
“Mason was saying,” the concerned mother continued despite her son’s protests, “that some of the older kids were getting on their server and being mean.” She continued and listed some names, many of which were in the year five and six classes, some of whom had completed primary school and were now in high school. “I think some of his friends are starting to pick on him too.”
At this point I feel pretty powerless. Yes, I am these boy’s teacher. Yes, I have had conversations about treating each other with respect. Yes, we’ve spent many sessions talking about being cybersafe. And yes, when asked, my students will be able to tell you the ‘right things’ to be safe online. But here I am, facing cyberbullying in my class of year threes.
I’m confident that after speaking with Mason’s friends about this, that I can help them understand that what they’re doing isn’t fun or funny and is actually hurting their friend. I’m confident even that with the assistance of the older students at the school’s teacher’s that eventually we can restore peace. But I am concerned that there are teenagers, and potentially even older people who are seeing Mason and his friends as targets to be toyed with. Especially when this is a game that occupies up a big part of their thoughts.
I hear more protesting in the car, as Sarah says, with defeat. “I’m just so concerned, and I don’t know what to do.”
Me too, Sarah, me too.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc