Australians were deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic death of young Queenslander Tyrone Unsworth.
The 13-year-old Brisbane boy who, after years of incessant bullying because of his sexuality, sadly saw no other choice but to take his own life.
In our desperate attempt to understand such a tragedy, we often try to lay blame.
But the truth is we all played a role in the death of this young man. We all have a burden to bear.
Because schoolyards are mirrors of our society, as children reflect the world around them.
We need to understand the consequences of the discussions we have, at the kitchen table and the Cabinet table.
We need to accept some responsibility for the example we set for our children.
It is no coincidence that 61 per cent of young people who identify as LGBTIQ reported verbal abuse to a 2010 La Trobe University study.
It also found that 18 per cent experienced physical abuse, and 69 per cent reported other forms of harassment because of their sexuality, like exclusion and rumours. School was identified as the most likely place of abuse.
That’s why the Alannah & Madeline Foundation works with schools around the country, including in Queensland, to give teachers and parents the skills they need to identify and stop bullying.
We know that one in five children is bullied in this country and we know one in seven is cyber bullied.
But the research has shown that LGBTIQ young people are at much greater risk of bullying and gender-based harassment, relative to their heterosexual peers, in both online and offline environments.
So we need to look beyond the classroom and into our community for the answer.
Why do children think someone’s sexuality is something for public ridicule and abuse?
It is time we answered this question honestly because children who bully grow up to be adults that bully, or abuse, or beat their spouse.
And adults who were bullied at school experience negative mental health outcomes as a result; in the short term, high rates of suicide and suicidal ideation, self-harm, and in the longer term, alcohol abuse and drug use.
And in the most devastating of cases, a young person takes his or her own life.
Many people say that “bullying is just part of growing up”. This fatalistic belief is wrong and is the reason children, like Tyrone, are bullied and believe they have no other choice.
Education is key to this. Not just stern words from a school principal or a teacher.
But a holistic approach to education that teaches children respectful and inclusive behaviours, from the beginning.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation – through its body, the National Centre Against Bullying – works every day to educate the community about the prevalence and ways to reduce bullying across the country.
Our Better Buddies program – which is in almost 1,800 schools – promotes both respect and camaraderie for students as soon as they start primary school under the day they graduate year 6.
More than 2,300 schools across Australia are involved with the Foundation’s eSmart Schools program, more than half of Australian public libraries use eSmart Libraries and more than 200,000 Australian students use the eSmart Digital Licence.
Unfortunately only 199 Queensland schools are registered for eSmart. And while Tyrone was not cyber bullied it’s poignant to mention that his school is not one of the 199.
Tyrone’s loss is a devastating and cruel reminder about the urgent need to change the way we understand bullying in schools. Tyrone’s loss is why I feel obligated to write this piece.
As we mourn Tyrone’s loss, please let us as a country look at bullying and homophobia through new lenses. We must all accept some responsibility for the society we live in and make a change for the better.Lesley Podesta
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