BY GUEST WRITER KELSEY READING 

Like most teenagers, my down time involves checking out social media, watching videos and a decent amount of mindless scrolling.  Being online has become part of my life. It’s how I connect with friends, where I learn, laugh and relax. Most adults I know see this as a massive problem. I get it. Things online can make you feel a bit down at times or like you don’t measure up.  The support we have offline and how we see ourselves on a day to day basis play a big part in keeping things positive.

A few times a year we have someone come and talk at assembly.  Some of them are awesome, funny and relatable with good ideas.  Others, not so much. They talk about risks, danger and statistics.  Then they leave and somehow that hour is meant to change how we think, feel and act.  It’s not that easy.

When I had the chance to be part of a Sticks ‘n Stones Activator day in Wellington recently, I was curious about how different it would be. Sticks ‘n Stones are New Zealand’s multi award winning, youth-led bullying prevention charity. They were founded by young people and involve young people in all of their decision making.  They believe ‘If it’s about us, without us, it’s not for us’. Since 2013 they have been empowering young people with confidence and skills in Central Otago and this year they are taking their work across the country.

The Online Advocate Training programme Sticks ‘n Stones is offering across the country is powered by Facebook to create positive social change, online and off.  It starts with a regional activator day where you learn alongside students from other local schools. But it doesn’t stop there. You continue to collaborate and learn through a range of training modules that have been co-designed with teens.  There are also monthly webinars where you can connect with industry experts and innovators to ask questions and get insights.

What was different?  Instead of sitting and listening for an hour or two, we worked in small groups facilitated by a young person to help us take part in discussions, hands on activities and problem solving. Keeping the activities, including breaks fun meant everyone felt more inclined to participate and engage in the learning.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the tone was engaging and real.  This was important as we were having heavy conversations and students felt they could be vulnerable and contribute without feeling weighed down after they leave.

We got to know students from other schools and to hear their ideas and experiences, one person taking part said “It was awesome to meet other students with the same motivation to prevent cyberbullying”

We explored User Centered Design Scenarios where we came up with ideas and solutions to a range of issues including teens accessing support online, anonymous comments or reporting online issues.

We learned the difference between bullying and other kinds of harm and then used this to work through different examples of these, looking at different points of view and what could be done to offer support.

We used lessons and research from the NZTA to look at the way fear based messages are not effective. We looked at the impact ‘Ghost Chips’ style messages have, and the way in which they connect with young people to provide practical options they can then put in place when things go wrong.

We then learned more about how to continue this learning through the ‘Power Up Online Training Platform’ with a range of modules covering everything from running focus groups, to standing up to hate online.  We also learnt about how we can collaborate with students from other schools across the country to share ideas and learn from each other.  

After the workshop the group of High School students I worked with said they felt more confident about how they could be positive online and how they could support their friends when things go wrong.  They felt excited about being able to keep learning and develop more skills through the online modules and how to avoid fear to get attention. They were able to think about how doing nothing when they see hate or harassment online sends the message that it is ok.  

If you want to connect with other young people across the country standing up to create positive environments online and off, Sticks ‘n Stones would love to have you join them.  Check out https://www.sticksnstones.co.nz/course/fb/ to have a look at their Info pack and sign up your school to be involved!

Kelsey Reading is a Year 11 student at Te Kura and a new member of the  Sticks ‘n Stones team and a student facilitator at Wellington Activator Day.

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