Building strength in rural Australia

Rural, remote and regional areas can be terrific places for children to grow up. The deep sense of community, the beauty of the landscape, the strong cultures of sport and volunteering – there are so many reasons why raising your family in rural Australia can be a great experience.

But what about when bullying strikes?

Bullying can happen to any child, anywhere, but the impacts on rural communities can be especially distressing. Last year, the Queensland Anti-Cyberbullying Taskforce raised particular concerns for children from remote areas who move away to boarding school. These children can be vulnerable: far away from family and old friends, struggling to adjust to an intense new environment, and often without much prior experience of social media. Meanwhile, children who stay on in rural areas can face their own problems. For example, many rural towns have little access to the sorts of services that might help a person affected by bullying, such as mental health services, legal services, disability advocacy, or alternative schooling options.
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Ten years ago, a national survey found that students at rural schools tended to report higher rates of bullying than their peers in the city. While a lot of progress has been made since then to change attitudes and practices around bullying, problems still remain. Last year, a survey of young Australians found that young people living outside of Australia’s major cities were more likely than their city peers to report feeling extremely concerned or very concerned about bullying.

So, what can parents do?

1. Educate yourself about bullying and cyber bullying, including how to recognise the warning signs and how to talk with your kids about difficult topics. There are some great ideas on Dolly’s Dream Parent Hub. You might also explore Bullying No Way and the National Centre Against Bullying.

2. Teach your kids to ask for help. For example, does your community have access to a supportive GP, counsellor, local government youth worker, or school chaplain? You might also reach out to the following services:

3. Support your school to address bullying. For example, you might connect with your parents’ association and encourage them to treat bullying as a priority. You might also encourage your school to hold events for the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence on 20th March, or join eSmart, a long-term change model that helps schools prevent, measure, educate and respond to bullying and cyber bullying.

4. Draw on your community’s strengths. Many rural communities show incredible creativity, leadership and partnership in spaces such as sporting clubs, volunteering centres, libraries, local media, local businesses, local councils, adult education settings, and mentoring programs. You might bring together people in these spaces to learn more about bullying, develop an anti-bullying plan, pledge or campaign, or create new opportunities for children to build confidence, empathy and social connections. Via Dolly’s Dream Facebook, you can also connect with parents and communities right around Australia.

5. Take the DigiPledge with your kids: make a pact together to say ‘no’ to bullying and champion kindness.

Jessie Mitchell, Senior Advisor Bullying, Alannah & Madeline Foundation