Giaan says bullying is not child’s playBy Rebecca Bodman | Jun 20, 12 08:10 AM
As an ambassador to The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, Giaan Rooney is passionate about keeping children safe from violence.
Giaan Rooney is a darling of Australian swimming. An Olympic gold medallist and former world record holder, the now retired swimmer has stayed in the public eye as a Channel Nine presenter on shows such as Getaway and Nine’s Wide World of Sports. Giaan is an active member of the community giving her time to various causes, including as an ambassador to The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (AMF). AMF are a national charity aiming to keep children safe from violence. One of their initiatives is The National Centre Against Bullying, which is a peak body working to advise and inform the Australian community on the issue of childhood bullying. Giaan felt a strong alignment with AMF and has a wish for all children to live a life free from violence and bullying.
Bullying is a major concern of young people. In 2010, it was ranked the third highest issue of concern for 11 to 14 year olds. Professor Debra Rickwood, Head of Clinical Leadership and Research for headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, says Australian data shows that over one-third of young people report being bullied in the past 12 months. Giaan herself reveals she is no stranger to bullying “I had a few nasty girls in primary school, but nothing horrendous or terrible like a lot of people go through. I was very fortunate that my swimming kind of saved me from bullying. I basically stayed out of it if you like and had my head stuck under water.”
Giaan believes extra-curricular activities, like swimming, are important for children. “Being involved in something outside of school gives you a sense of belonging. Whether it’s sport or a musical instrument, everything that is outside of school teaches discipline and hard work and breathes confidence into a child. To have those opportunities there, it makes you a stronger person when you’re doing something that you may be good at, but most importantly that you love. So I’m a big advocate for sport and music and anything along those lines that gives a child a sense of belonging” she says. Professor Rickwood supports this view, claiming that “activities that build competence, social skills and feelings of belonging are critical for children to develop confidence and a strong sense of self-worth”.
Although not a mum herself just yet, Giaan agrees that parents must play a role in protecting their children from bullying. “I think the biggest thing is communication between a parent and a child. The one thing I take from my parents is that the communication lines were always open. I felt that I could talk to my parents about anything. They always found that perfect line between being a parent and a friend. When it was called for, they were a parent first and foremost. I think it’s important to know when that line is drawn. Children need discipline, they need rules and boundaries and guidelines, because that’s what they don’t have in an immature brain and that’s where a parent needs to step in.” Rickwood agrees that communication is important; she also says that knowing your child well enough to recognise changes is essential too. “Some of the warning signs that might indicate that your child is being bullied are being scared or having nightmares, a sudden dislike in going to school, they may often feel sick or start to act aggressively” she says.
As an Olympic gold medallist, Giaan is a role model for many young Australians.. “I think anytime you can have a role model or a mentor in any capacity is worth its weight in gold. I had a few heroes. When I was young it was Susie O’Neill and Samantha Riley. They were obviously incredibly successful in their swimming careers, but I also loved the people that they were. I found them very humble and happy to teach and support and look after younger swimmers coming through. I found that really endearing and something that I wanted to take on board. I was really fortunate in that I not only got to swim against them but swim with them and pick their brains on a number of occasions and really soak in what knowledge they could teach me” Giaan reflects. Unlike most kids, Giaan got to spend one-on-one time with her heroes and role models. She acknowledges her situation was unique, but stresses role models don’t need to be Olympic champions. “Role models don’t need to be Olympic gold medallists or a sporting success. Children should look up to people that have lived their life in a way that’s compassionate towards others, that have achieved their goals and have gone about it in a very humane way. There are role models and heroes all around us.”
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