For the kids who get bullied, school days are a far, far cry from the ‘best’ days of their lives.
Bullying, in all its forms, is a major problem in Australian schools today.
Not only do kids suffer from emotional and sometimes physical bullying while at school, smart phones, social media and instant messaging mean that bullying can now follow them wherever they go. While home used to be a haven from bullies when we were growing up, today’s bullied kids are subjected to harassment or potential harassment every minute of the day.
And shockingly, one in four Australian kids will be bullied at least once during their thirteen years of schooling, sometimes the abuse can last for years and years.
And this is where Brainstorm Productions come in.
Brainstorm Productions is a touring theatre company that visits over 350,000 children in schools every year and aims to give kids the tools they need to withstand peer pressure and deal with bullies.
“Our plays are developed in collaboration with teachers, counsellors and psychologists,” Brainstorm Production’s head writer, Jenny Johnson, told Mamamia.
“For the very young children, our programs incorporate more ethical messages, including the importance of manners, self-respect, respect for others, cooperation, honesty and positive behaviour.
“Whereas, for the older students, we tend to lean towards more cautionary tales involving stronger themes including binge drinking, violence, cyber safety, their cyber footprint, digital reputation, substance abuse and the legal ramifications of issues such as sexting.”
As long as documented history allows us to remember, children have learned best through interacting with engaging and inspiring figures. Whether it’s Captain Planet on their television screens, or Peppa Pig on the iPad, or The Wiggles at a concert, children learn best when they get whisked away by the magic and forget they’re even supposed to be learning.
So that is exactly what Brainstorm does.
“There is a certain magic that only live theatre can create which reaches out and grabs onto all kids; regardless of age, gender, background and religion,” Jenny said.
“Students come to the realisation that they are not alone and their feelings are validated through the characters on stage. They see the characters demonstrate perseverance and resilience and that gives hope to any child who may be struggling with similar issues.”
“For children that are bullying, they can see and feel how their negative behaviour is affecting their victim and we provide scenarios for children to change these anti-social, destructive and unacceptable behaviours.”
Jenny says the transition she’s seen due to the introduction of the internet and social media has been devastating for kids.
“There is no ‘off’ switch so the effects can be more pervasive,” Jenny said.
“The increase in children having smart phones with cameras has made it possible for bullying to be filmed, posted online and made public, almost instantaneously.
“Children are also vulnerable to sexting, which can be humiliating and disastrous. Bullies can now access their victims at all hours of the day and night, anywhere, anytime, and cyber bullying is becoming more inescapable for some kids.”
And we thought we had it hard.
For Millennials, they have to endure bulling across a range of social platforms, from Facebook to Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and Snapchat, there is no such thing as privacy for the generation that puts everything online.
“Children are vulnerable to measuring themselves and others by their social media ‘likes’, which is causing self-esteem and depression issues,” Jenny said.
“The definition of “friend” is being seriously challenged by social media, so we try to educate our audiences on the importance of having regular and meaningful offline conversations.”
Last year, Brainstorm Productions partnered with not-for-profit organisation R U OK? to provide advice and tips to the students on how to ask someone if they’re okay and to regularly check in, face to face, with their mates.
“With more and more children using smart phones and the web for communication, sadly, the skills required to have meaningful conversations can be almost unknown for some kids,” Jenny explains.
Anti-bullying advocates were pleased to see legislation passed last month, which provides the new Children’s e-Safety Commissioner with the legal right to demand social media sites take down offensive material, with fines of up to $17,000 a day for failing to comply.
These laws and safeguards are what are needed in this day and age to protect our children online in the most extreme circumstances. But for the more day-to-day events, which are sadly part of the normal rough and tumble of school but can be absolutely devastating for a kid – organisations like Brainstorm are making a real difference.
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