YOUNG people in the Bega Valley are getting the message it’s okay to speak out about cyber bullying.
The school community has launched an ongoing campaign to explore various ways of addressing the potential risks associated with social media.
Young people are increasingly spending their lives online.
The world of social media, texting and apps is one most young people inhabit and although there are lots of benefits, the cyber world also has the potential to be a very dark place with research indicating clear links between online bullying and mental health issues.
The negative impacts became obvious in 2010 following the suicide of a number of young women in the Bega Valley.
The school community was confronted with online memorial pages (which were often seen to glorify the situation) and negative comments appearing on Facebook.
As a response, leaders working with young people formed the Bega Valley Cyber Strategies Committee.
It included members of Auswide reconnect program, South Coast workplace and learning brokers, the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP), NSW
Police, the Department of Education and Training, and Bega High School,
Eden Marine High School, Lumen Christi Catholic College, Sapphire Anglican College and Mallacoota College.
Young people and their parents took part in focus groups to identify issues associated with online social media, including possible dangers and ideas on how to address them.
Besides cyber bullying, other issues raised included internet addiction, password confidentiality, hackers, fake pages, sexting, community gossip pages, damage to digital reputation, copyright and lack of privacy.
From this came the idea to hold a forum that presented these issues in a fun way, including a musical component.
The committee gave the schools direct support and information on cyber issues and the schools worked with students to develop a stop cyber bullying campaign for the joint schools forum.
Schools incorporated the project into their music, drama, multimedia and art curriculums.
More than 500 students attended the inaugural forum at Sapphire Coast Turf Club Kalaru and each school made a creative presentation. DJ Finn provided the music on the day.
NSW Police and Cyber Smart Outreach Program representatives talked about identify theft, digital reputation, GPS trackers and cyber bullying.
Feedback from the day showed 80 per cent of students said they learnt more about getting help if they were being cyber bullied.
“The feedback from individual schools was that lots more students came forward and reported cyber bullying,” said Rural Mental Health promotion officer Jennie Keioskie
“But how do we know they actually used the information?”
This year the project is being embedded into each high school with programs as diverse as peer-to-peer mentoring, a 40-hour Facebook famine, random acts of kindness and the development of an app to assist students know how to assess local support.
The Bega Valley youth council is also in discussion with the Ministry of Sound to put on a music event with an anti-cyber bullying theme during the summer holidays.
Jennie said the event also highlighted that educating children from a young age the importance of being safe in the cyber world was crucial.
“This information needs to be taught to younger and younger students,” Jennie said.
“By the time they get to high school it’s too late.”
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This article was first published in The Land's 2013 Glove Box Guide to Mental Health. To read more from the guide, click here.