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Don’t wrap me in cotton wool: NSW youth talk about disasters

About 31 per cent were affected by drought and 30 per cent by floods. When asked what they needed to prepare if another disaster struck, 46 per cent wanted more prevention and preparedness, 16 per cent said education, and 15 per cent said more information.

The children particularly wanted more honesty from adults, teachers and others about what was happening. “If there is a problem, don’t, don’t, like shelter us from it. We’re better off knowing about it, and being educated … than just being wrapped in blankets and cuddled and kissed,” one young person said.

A dry dam where an animal got stuck and died late last year.

A dry dam where an animal got stuck and died late last year. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Children needed more outside support during a disaster because adults and others were panicking and frantic. “Adults were just freaking out … and weren’t listening,” said one.

They also wanted to know how to help adults under extreme stress. “In drought-affected communities there are a lot of farmers knocking themselves off because they can’t afford to feed their kids or anything,” one focus group was told.

This generation has been confronted with more disasters than any since World War II, said NSW advocate Zoe Robinson. The statutory body’s role is to advocate for young people and encourage their participation in decisions that affect their lives.

Young people wanted others to listen and engage with them, she said. “It is not just about the picture of a young person watching a house go up in flames, or standing next to a dead animal, they have clear views on what they need,” she said. “They want more mental health support before it happens, and as it happens, and peer to peer.”

Members of a year six class said nobody had explained why they weren’t allowed to go outside to play during the fires, Ms Robinson said. When a teacher said playing in the smoke was equivalent to smoking 13 cigarettes, the students understood.

Young people also wanted their peers to better understand what they were experiencing. One participant suggested disaster relief education along the lines of sex education.

“[Disasters] are common in Australia and I’m shocked there isn’t a course in the curriculum.”

Siana said the succession of disasters had made her more prone to “stressing out”.

Students at her school often didn’t understand drought, many taking long showers. “When we were going through drought, they were watering their lawns. They didn’t have stock to feed so why did they need those?” she asked.

“We need to make [knowledge of these disasters] more known. People think it will only affect a particular area, but it can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. And we need to look after the environment,” Siana said. “It’s what’s keeps us alive, without everything that’s around us we don’t have anything. At the rate we are going, we may not have anything left.”

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