Cyberbullying fight in Central

Some members of the Central Otago Sticks n' Stones anti-cyberbullying project which is featured...
Some members of the Central Otago Sticks n' Stones anti-cyberbullying project which is featured on Prime tonight. Photo supplied.

Central Otago high school pupils tackling cyberbullying feature in a documentary tonight.

Bullies is a New Zealand-made series that has been screening on Prime.

The third and final part, highlighting cyberbullying, includes the stories of southern secondary school pupils, both bullies and the bullied, who are working together to fight the problem among their peers.

''Some of the most inspiring people in the episode aren't actually adults'', executive producer Gary Scott says.

''The Sticks n' Stones kids have taken total tragedy among a group of young people, and are driving change and awareness about cyberbullying. Online is truly their real world, even though it's digital.''

Karla Sanders, of Alexandra, is facilitator of the homegrown, youth-led, anti-bullying Sticks n' Stones project.

Mrs Sanders says an ongoing survey of Central Otago young people shows that in the past six months 15% of 11 to 18-year-olds have been subjected to cyberbullying, a similar percentage have taken part in cyberbullying, and 37% have witnessed it.

Cyberbullying can be particularly devastating, Mrs Sanders says.

''Because what you read online, particularly if it is posted anonymously, you hear it in your own voice. It is easily internalised.''

Sticks n' Stones participants use social media to provoke discussion about online bullying, to challenge bullying behaviour and to direct those who need support to appropriate organisations.

In the documentary, one of the Sticks n' Stones founders Emily Boud (16), of Alexandra, shows how she and her father coped when a hate page targeting her was set up online.

Following several suicides in nearby towns, she and about 50 other young people from five secondary schools throughout Central Otago have inspired massive change, working to minimise the effects of cyberbullying.

One of those young people is Ashleigh Smith (17), of Ranfurly.

She became involved after three fellow pupils, including a cousin who had been text-bullied, committed suicide.

Miss Smith says the cyberbullying project works because it is peer-to-peer.

Standing up to bullying behaviour online empowers other online bystanders to act instead of being passive, she says.

One of the group's members, a reformed bully himself, says ''One of the things I have learned is that it doesn't take that much to help someone. A small gesture can mean everything''.

The documentary includes stories of cyberbullying from other parts of New Zealand, as well as interviews with experts about the effects and steps to reduce the risk and mitigate the effects.

''I think, for parents it is the nightmare scenario,'' Mr Scott says.

''That your child could be targeted, perhaps on a platform you don't use or don't know about, and that stays a secret until something tragic happens. It's uncharted territory, unless you're a teenager.''

• Bullies screens tonight at 8.30pm on Prime.

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