Schools to target cyber-bullying

PRIMARY school students will learn about internet dangers and how to be ''safe and respectful digital citizens'' in a bid to stop them from growing into cyber bullies.

Amid rising concern over the impact of social-media-based harassment, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will announce details of an education program to be rolled out in 3200 schools across Australia.

The cyber safety scheme, to be launched in Sydney on Wednesday, covers realistic scenarios young people may face online and how to deal with them.

The lessons will target children in middle primary school years and older - aiming to promote positive communication and discourage children from harassing their peers.

An education lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, Damian Maher, said students should be encouraged to keep a copy of the offending material and report the incident to parents or teachers.

Although the interactive sessions will give advice to students about what to do if they are the victims of cyber attacks, it is understood the focus will be on stopping such behaviour in the first place.

Cyber-bullying involves the use of technology such as the internet or mobile phones to harass or intimidate others.

A study of 500 Australian teenagers by internet security firm McAfee found about a quarter had been victims of cyber-bullying and half had witnessed a classmate or friend endure mean or cruel behaviour online.

The most common venue for this cyber-bullying was said to be Facebook.

Separate federal government-commissioned research suggested the vast majority of year four to year nine students had not experienced technology-based bullying over the school term.

But higher rates were found among secondary students and students from non-government schools.

Cyber-bullying seemed to be related to age or access to technology, with older students more likely to engage in cyber-bullying than younger students, according to the 2009 study by Edith Cowan University's Child Health Promotion Research Centre.

The new online safety sessions, set to include videos and discussion among classmates, have been developed by Life Education Australia and McAfee.

Life Education already sends its mobile vans to schools to provide occasional lessons on health, safety and drugs and will now expand the program to include positive digital behaviour.

Dr Maher, who specialises in cyber-bullying and computers in schools, said middle primary school was a good time to start having a discussion about online safety.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has proposed the appointment of a ''children's e-safety commissioner'' and measures to ensure offensive material can be taken down swiftly.

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