Students show how to beat the cyber bullies
ECU Cyber bullying expert Donna Cross with students Aleesha Spalding and Viknesh Ponnuthurai at All Saints College. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

WA school students are turning the tables on cyber bullies by teaching each other how to look after themselves online in a world-first program.

Edith Cowan University set up its "cyber-friendly schools" program after research found children were not asking adults for help for problems online - and most of the information they got from peers was wrong.

Many teachers said they did not have the skills or knowledge to teach students how to stay safe in cyberspace.

Now in its third year, the scheme has involved more than 3000 students at 35 schools.

ECU cyber-bullying expert Donna Cross said there had been many studies trying to find out the extent of cyber bullying but no research on finding a solution.

The cyber-friendly schools program trains Year 10s to mentor younger pupils in online safety using a closed ECU web portal.

In some schools students have also been asked to teach teachers and parents.

"It's a world first," Professor Cross said. "Young people are the authorities in this space, so they are far more influential."

Professor Cross said some schools were not doing as much as they could to stop cyber bullying, which was becoming more prevalent as physical bullying decreased.

But others were on top of it, even creating a new prefect's position of cyber-safety leader.

Professor Cross said schools which tried to deal with cyber bullying by banning sites such as Facebook could not teach students how to navigate it safely. They needed guided access so they could use such sites at home.

"It's like teaching children to swim without letting them go into a pool to practise," she said.

Anecdotal feedback was the program made a difference.

All Saints College Year 8 students Aleesha Spalding, 13, and Viknesh Ponnuthurai, 14, said they had learnt that their digital footprint could never be erased.

Teacher Helen Aguiar said students found they had more power than they realised. "Positive education is more effective than negative consequences," she said.

The West Australian

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