STUDENTS from across the Wimmera and Mallee learned about a range of issues affecting young people at the second Yarriambiack Youth Summit in Warracknabeal on Friday.
Four guest speakers shared their experiences and passed on ideas about youth issues to year seven students from a handful of schools.
Horsham World Champion wheelchair basketballer Jannik Blair, cybersafety advocate Brett Lee, Horsham domestic violence survivor Simone O’Brien, and Melbourne youth support and advocacy expert Horace Wansbrough spoke to hundreds of students.
Mr Lee spoke about his work as a former Queensland Police detective, which involved him pretending to be a teenager online to expose paedophiles.
He focused on the nature of the internet and the risks of cyber bullying and sexting in his speech.
“The internet is a separate world that creates the illusion of anonymity, which gets children in trouble,” he said. “I wanted to pass on my experiences and expose the nature of the internet to help keep them safe and reduce the risk.”
Warracknabeal Secondary College student Rhiana Keys said the threat of social networking that Mr Lee discussed was pertinent.
“There are also texting problems in our schools and people are being cyber bullied,” she said.
“It’s a real problem because people are coming to school and are unhappy. They feel like they can’t talk to anyone.”
Mr Blair said he could relate to students and the challenges they faced, having grown up in the region.
He said he hoped to change attitudes.
“I wanted to remind the kids that while everyone is facing some form of adversity, it is about what you do next,” he said.
Nhill College student Miller Delaney said Mr Blair’s story was inspiring.
“He was around our age when he had his accident and he was able to overcome the challenge. I think if that happened to people my age, they would struggle,” he said.
Miller said family abuse was another issue some of his friends had faced.
Ms O’Brien shared her experience and hoped it would help empower students to speak out and create change.
“We were put on the earth for a reason and our lives are about turning a negative into a positive,” she said.
Yarriambiack Youth Action Council member Tom McGrath said students were engaged and responded well to each speaker.
“All four gave students at least one thing to take away, whether it be consciously or unconsciously,” he said.
“A lot of students were inspired by Jannik’s story. It resonates with a lot of them being of similar age.
“Most students have wondered how they would face those challenges.”
Mr McGrath said isolation in rural areas, family issues and alcohol and mental health issues were also important topics for young people.