{Victims of Bullying Won't } {Stay Silent}; Two Courageous High School Students Tell Their Painful Stories at This Week's Youth Forum

Article excerpt

Byline: sue short sue.short@northernstar.com.au

IT TOOK courage for two Alstonville high students to stand before 100 of their peers and about 35 teachers, counsellors and community representatives at a youth bullying forum held at the Wollongbar TAFE campus on Wednesday and talk about bullying.

But when they spoke the room hushed to silence, not a rustle could be heard.

Alice McCarthy, 17, quietly and confidently spoke about her own experiences of being bullied for many years over her physical appearance.

"I was told this was part of normal life," she said. "But any behaviour that causes psychological, physical an emotional distress is not to be tolerated.

"No person should be made to feel unworthy."

Keely Gordon-Smith, 18, said it was hard to say why bullying continues to happen.

"As a culture we have to ask why. It has been dismissed because it is so common - some say it is a natural right of passage," she said.

"We are all guilty of it at some time.

"Bullying cements itself in the memory of the victim and it is magnified 1000 times.

"It is easy to inflict with words, looks, glares, leaving someone out ... pain is easy to cause.

"Bullying changes a person. But we all deserve basic respect."

Keely called on the audience to make a commitment to help and support those around us who are the victims of bullying.

The youth bullying forum was part of collaboration by The Northern Star, TAFE, The NSW Department of Education, the UNCLE Project and the Richmond Local Area Command, and was convened by Regan Harding, youth project officer for North Coast TAFE, and Mark Gasson, CEO of UNCLE.

Ms Harding said the young people created the forum agenda and facilitated the day.

Students came from high schools, TAFE, ACE and youth groups.

During the day students workshopped five questions: How do people bully? Why is bullying so pervasive? What role can media play? What are the obstacles to address bullying? What are some good things that are happening to stop bullying?

Adults worked as a separate group in another room so the students could discuss issues without any inhibitions.

Several of the adults who attended included school counsellors from the Department of Education and TAFE, who helped facilitate the student work groups.

DET district guidance officer Steve Holmes was impressed by the response.

"The depth of thought and confidence of these young people, and their commitment to take ideas and turn them into action, is inspiring," he said.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell attended part of the day and said adults had a lot to learn from young people.

"Comments about peer expectation, joining the pack, glossy magazines and media being part of the problem were really insightful," she said. …


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