It was only last month that 14-year-old Victorian schoolgirl Sheniz Erkan took her own life after becoming the latest victim of schoolyard and cyberspace bullies.
Its tragedies such as these that continue to spur Australian singer Vanessa Amorosi on in her fight against bullying.
After being on the receiving end of bullying for most of her childhood, Vanessa knows firsthand how easy it is for kids who are being bullied to feel alone and trapped in a situation they can’t escape but she believes that Kids Helpline can help.
“I used to deal with a lot of stuff on my own and that’s the main reason I wanted to get involved with Kids Helpline because if I had known about this service I would have definitely reached out and been able to talk to someone to let me know that I wasn’t a weirdo,” she says.
Yet she is quick to point out that the problem is much worse for kids these days since technology has made it possible for bullying to follow them into their homes.
I use to think it was only me and as I’ve grown up I now see that it happens to every one of us. None of us are special enough to be the only person picked on.
“Back when I was a kid we didn’t have mobile phones so the bullying was just happening six hours during school time. But I’d go home and be able to sing and live a fairly normal life outside of that. Of course I was upset about what was being said about me at school but it didn’t travel with me into my own home, into my bedroom,” she says.
As the Ambassador of Kids Helpline and Optus’ Make Cyberspace a better place campaign Vanessa is determined to get the message out to students around Australia that they are not alone and there is help available if they reach out.
“There are just so many forms of bullying and crazy stuff that happens that I think the more information everyone can get the better it is,” says Vanessa.
The initiative aims at educating young people on how to stay safe online by distributing educational packs to schools around the nation. These packs contain lesson plans for teachers that cover topics such as online predators and cyberbullying and hope to teach kids how to deal in these situations.
One of the most important things that kids need to realise is that if they are facing cyberbullying they can turn the technology off.
“Technology goes everywhere with you and you really have to protect yourself a lot more now and learn to put it down and switch it off because it’s not real life. Real life is the people that are with you and the air you breathe, the technology can actually be turned off and it stops,” she says.
Vanessa believes that the biggest misconception kids have about bullying is that they believe they deserve what is happening to them.
“They believe that it’s their fault, that they are the only one this is happening to or that they did something to deserve this and it’s absolutely not their fault and it’s got nothing to do with who they are as a person and what they’re about,” she says with conviction. “I used to think it was only me and as I’ve grown up I now see that it happens to every one of us. None of us are special enough to be the only person picked on.”
Kids Helpline is Australia’s only national children’s counselling service and provides professional counselling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone who can help phone 1800 55 1800 (Freecall).
As part of the launch of Safer Internet Day tomorrow, Optus and Kids Helpline are calling on teachers across Australia to introduce these lesson plans into their classes to help tackle the problems kids face online. The education packs were sent to all 10,000 Australian schools last year and can be downloaded from the Kids Helpline website at www.kidshelp.com.au.