Bullying turns woman's formal night into nightmare
IT SHOULD have been the happiest night of her young life.
But when Sian Parkins pulled up to her school formal in a Jeep proudly wearing an outfit she and her mum made together, she had a niggling feeling she was in for some trouble.
After a year of turning the other cheek to people she previously considered friends, she hoped it was time to grow up, bury the hatchet and all move on to the next chapter in their lives.
Instead, she was pointedly ignored after her entrance, even after approaching a few people to say hello.
She felt outcast and anxious, standing to the side wondering if anyone would talk to her.
The only people to acknowledge her were "friends of friends".
While she had planned to dance the night away among those she had experienced the ups and downs of 12 years of schooling with, she ended up leaving in devastation, salvaging the evening with a nice meal out with family.
As she picked up the pieces the next day she vowed to put it all behind her, but not before passing on the message that people need to be kinder, especially when stories of bullying-related youth suicides hit the news so regularly.
She described the current crop of teens as being engaged in a "burn" culture, where coming up with witty insults is considered a normal part of life.
It's probably not so different to what many went through in the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s with pranks and jokes played on them by mates.
But the difference today is youngsters find it much more difficult to escape.
Ms Parkins said plenty of mean things were said to her via social media, including being called "disgusting".
She laughed it off, but it wasn't hard to see the pain.
After her experience, Ms Parkins said she would love to see people take a little more care with each other even when coming up with supposedly witty insults.
"When you can see it has hurt someone, it's time to stop," she said.
Like so many people her age, the problem began with young love.
Ms Parkins began dating another girl in her friend group, but when things went sour for the relationship, her life took a sharp downwards turn.
She admitted she wasn't completely innocent of any aggravation as the problems unfolded, but couldn't understand why it went so far that it ruined formal night a year later.
Ms Parkins' dad Neil said he was devastated to find out the true reason behind the constant morning bickering over whether she would go to school.
He thought she was being a typical obstructionist teenager, but when he found out it was actually the result of months on end of feeling outcast and victimised, he felt regretful.
Ms Parkins said she didn't believe bullying was a huge issue at her school, Toowoomba State High School's Mt Lofty Campus, but encouraged others suffering to get in touch with the school counsellor.
"I'd say go and find someone you can talk to and it was the school counsellor who helped me through it," she said.
"Don't bottle it up because that makes it worse.
"Also try and find something that gives you peace of mind; I do drawing."
But when she said that last statement, protective big sister Mikaela chipped in, saying, "she even used to get picked on for that."
A Department of Education spokesman said all Queensland state schools had a Responsible Behaviour Plan for Students in place that sets out student behaviour expectations and consequences for poor behaviour.
"Parents and students should talk to the school principal or other school staff including guidance officers, chaplains and welfare workers for advice," the spokesman said.
"Students and parents are strongly encouraged to report cases of bullying to their school principal or their closest Department of Education and Training regional office."