28 Apr 2016

Youth led group tackles online bullying

From Nine To Noon, 11:26 am on 28 April 2016
Sticks n Stones

Sticks n Stones Photo: supplied

A group of young New Zealanders have created a programme that aims to address the causes of cyber-bullying and encourage realistic approaches to it.

Founded in Central Otago four years ago, Sticks n Stones is run by young people for young people, using their own online experience to educate others on how to use social media platforms in a positive way.

The Sticks n Stones project is now implemented in five secondary schools and seven primary schools in the Central Otago region, with resources being used by more than 140 students.

Ashley Smith, Nicky Wheeler and Sarah Villela are three of the founding members.

The projects aims to empower young people to intervene when they notice bullying behaviour, they say.

“We were really focussed on the bystander and getting them to stand up and say they don’t agree with it, because that is really powerful.”

They say the usual advice of “just log off”, is unhelpful and unrealistic.

“Cyber bullying has now become a part of every teenager’s life, and the cyber world, we’re so involved in it all the time, so I think there was a real need to have a support network there and try and approach cyber bullying a different way.”

The project is targeted at students between the ages of 11-19 years old, with a lighter touch being taken with the primary school students.

“We’ve got some more fun approaches that we bring in. We’ve got a card game that we’re making at the moment, and wheel of misfortune, something else that we have created.”

The group sees the importance in starting the anti-cyberbullying message at a young age.

“We believe that is a great age group to change a culture and to be able to change the way that they see bullying to be something that they don’t accept in their own lives.”

It is not unusual for the younger students to have smartphones as a way for their parents to stay in touch with them, but the smartphones also allow easy access to social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook where most of the bullying happens.

“When you’re online… you can’t see people’s emotions. You can’t guarantee that you know how they’re feeling that day. That is half of the problem. You might just be teasing them in a friendly way but for them that could be the fifth or sixth thing that has happened to them that day and that could make them extremely upset.”

They have also provided resources and support to parents who are concerned about their children’s interactions online.

“They’ll come and talk to us about what is happening with the young person in their lives and we will give them a perspective of another young person… we think that is a really important way that we work with parents and we can give them a few ideas of what would help in that situation.”

The organisers behind Sticks n Stones recognise that educating and providing support for the bullies is another way that they can help to curb negative behaviour online.

“For someone who is bullying, often there is a reason behind that, so it’s really important to us that we put support systems in place for that person and people who are going to help them work out why they are doing what they are doing and how they can be supported.”

With their experience dealing with online bullying, Sticks n Stones is now looking to get involved in advocacy, such as with the recent Harmful Digital Communications Act. They say information about how to get involved in decision making at a higher level is lacking and were disappointed that their views weren’t taken into consideration.

“Something like the Harmful Digital Communications bill is something that affects youth so much. It’s going to be a significant part of our lives. Where was the young people’s involvement in that?”

They are also looking to expand the programme to schools in Auckland and have already had a meeting with Massey High School.

“We don’t have… “This is how we work and we have to function this way”, anyone can take our values and then do what they like and how it would work in their schools.

“Massey are looking at doing something that might be a little different to how we run, but we are so excited to see how it might work out for them.”