I remember 14. My life was about watching Young Talent Time, trying to learn the lyrics to the Bangles’ Manic Monday, perming my hair, writing fan letters to Michael J Fox and hanging out with my tribe – my two best friends, Lyn and Robin. That was 1986. It’s easy to look back at that time through rose coloured glasses. But girls are girls and I can certainly recall it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Year 9 is not for the feint hearted. But I was lucky that home was a haven and a respite if I’d had a bad day. At home I had peace. The internet was yet to come to Chapel Hill, Brisbane.
In 2018, thousands of Australian kids cannot find that elusive peace and we all know why. All those shiny devices and social media platforms we’ve rushed to hand over to our kids – kids who have yet to build up their empathy muscle or understand the consequence of their behaviour – mean that bullying is now a round-the-clock occupation for some angry and hurting teens. They are waging online bullying campaigns for little reason other than they think a fellow student is too up herself or lame or a loser or doesn’t wear the right clothes or listen to the right music. Or for no other reason than their target has a self-confidence they find baffling and enviable.
Our kids have no respite because we have taken it from them by allowing our kids all hours access to their devices with no monitoring of what they are doing or saying online.
Dolly Everett was just shy of her 15th birthday when she decided the online bullying she was enduring was too much to handle any longer. Last week she ended her life.
And Dolly is not alone. The suicide rate for 15-24 year olds – according to mental health organisation Orygen – is the HIGHEST it has been in a decade.
I feel gutted for Dolly’s beautiful family – how do you make sense of such a needless loss? Amy Jane “Dolly” Everett should be here.
And I feel heartbroken for every child who today is dreading the thought of going back to school later this month because school is a living hell, a place where they feel tormented and alone.
So where to from here?
I don’t have the answers. What I do know is that our children are watching us and so often they are modelling their behaviour on ours. And I just see so much anger and rage EVERYWHERE.
I see anger on our roads with drivers becoming apoplectic because why? Someone made a mistake? Cut them off by accident? Or was driving too slow in the wrong lane?
I hear about it at the school gate. Story after story told to me about GROWN WOMEN embarking on full-scale bullying campaigns against other mothers. It’s like something out of Big Little Lies.
I see it at social sport. I LOVE playing social netball but the bad behaviour, the UNSPORTING behaviour is at times mind-blowing to me. Sneaky, underhanded tactics. Swearing at opponents and umpires. General on-court agro as though we’re playing for sheep stations.
And we wonder why teenagers behave badly? What example are we setting them?
We all make mistakes. We all behave badly at times. I know I have – I’m not Mother Teresa either. But all this anger and bitterness is just making things worse. How about this:
1. Let’s cut each other a little more slack and realise that most “injustices” done to us aren’t personal and don’t require a big stick response. Take a breath before you race to admonish someone whether that’s in traffic, on court or at the school P&C.
2. Let’s communicate better. Think about the tone of your emails or text messages. If you have an issue with someone speak to them in person or pick up the phone. Emails and texts messages are easy to mis-mood — you are leaving it up to the recipient to decide on your tone and most of us choose the worst case scenario!
3. Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology.
4. As parents it is our job to teach our kids to be empathetic. Ask yourself what kind of behaviour you’re modelling to them. Are you mocking other people in front of your kids? Are you inclusive often inviting new people to join your group? Do you show concern for the feelings of others?
5. Can we stop smugly saying “We’re no longer hiring?” when it comes to meeting new people? Some of the greatest friendships in my life are with women I’ve met out of the blue in recent years. Make room for newcomers!!
6. Pay attention to what your child is doing online. Random spot checks on their social media is a good idea — sit with them and take a look together to see what types of conversations they’re engaging in.
7. If you’re spreading gossip – breaking confidences – at work or school — you are part of the problem.
8. I learnt a great tip from Jono Nicholas from ReachOut last year. He told me that sometimes it’s really hard for kids to articulate their feelings. So instead of asking, “Are you okay? How was school? How are you feeling?” – ask them to rate their day out of 10. And rather than ask them the moment they get home — it’s often later at night when they’re willing and ready to open up.
9. Can we all try and get a bit more sleep? Sleep deprivation unravels you.
Let’s try harder to walk into 2018 looking through a more empathetic lens.
Final thought: A friend once said to me, “When the shit hits the fan and you have to choose between conspiracy or f*ck up – it’s usually f*ck up.” In other words, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt that we WEREN’T deliberately excluded or cut off or whatever. So often it’s not personal and we need to be aware of the ‘story’ we create in our heads about a negative event.
You want to stop kids being bullied? It starts with US. You and me.
Do it for Dolly. #stopbullyingnow
*** If you are being bullied or your child is being bullied — speak up. You have a right to feel safe in your school or workplace. If you are struggling and feel alone, please call one of the following numbers …
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.