April 27, 2008 12:00am
SECONDARY students are dividing themselves up in Queensland school grounds into groups called Plastics, Gangstas, Goths and Emos, pupils say.Anyone who refuses to join are labelled nerds – or, worse, become nothings or rank outsiders to be bullied or, in extreme cases, bashed and have their home invaded.
An 18-year-old former Gold Coast secondary school student, who has survived two bashings and a home invasion, told The Sunday Mail last week that the school gang culture was on the rise and a direct import from American campuses.
The former student, parents of bullying victims and psychologists pinpointed several reasons for the bully/bash revolution. They included:
• The negative influence of some American films and rap music.
• The internet, which provides plenty of opportunity for cyberspace bullying.
• The failure of working parents to police some sort of moral code for their children.
"The Americanisation in our schools is really bad," the 18-year-old former student leader said.
"Kids even talk in American accents, use their phrases. I've got a friend who has arrived from overseas and she has never seen anything like it. At school, everyone is broken up into different groups like you see in those US movies like American Pie. There's Plastics, the Gangstas, Emos and Goths."
The groups are large and easy to identify from their fashion accessories and their arrogant attitudes, but only one – the Gangstas – presents a violent threat.
"The Plastics pack on the make-up. Their hair is really hacked at, they work on it so much," the former student said.
"They change their uniforms to make their shirts tighter and their dresses shorter. The guys love them, but they're called Plastics because they're so false."
The female schoolgirl obsession with good looks surfaced last week at St Patrick's College in Mackay, where students had ranked themselves from 1 to 21 – they write the number on their wrists – as part of Club 21 or Big 21.
Gothics are identified by their dark clothing and heavy-metal taste in music, and Emos (from "emotion") by being sensitive, introverted types obsessed with depressing rock bands.
But it is the group stealing the US gangsta-style culture, with its love of violent rap music, which students fear the most.
A gang of suburban teenagers armed with bats, machetes and a sword stormed a school assembly at Sydney's Merrylands High School early this month injuring 18 students and a teacher.
Queensland students told The Sunday Mail they were aware of similar gang members carrying pocket knives around secondary schools in southeast Queensland. "They all have baggy clothing, they're all bling, they have the hats with the stiff shades worn backwards and the pants around their knees showing their undies," the 18-year-old said.
"They carry boom boxes (sound systems) around the school. The Gangstas are the ones you worry about. They need to be so cruel all the time."
A parent who has a 16-year-old son at a southeast Queensland school, and an older daughter who recently graduated, has kept a diary of dozens of assaults on her children since 2003.
The concerned mother, who asked not be named for fear of reprisals against her children, described the gangs as "organised groups of thugs".
Some of them had been gang members since primary school as 10-year-olds, following the "career" of their drug-addicted parents by robbing homes before bashing students at secondary school, she said.
"There were six or seven of these students in Year 8 who surrounded my daughter. They punched and kicked her, rammed her into a brick wall. They picked her up and dumped her head-first into a garbage bin. She ended up with renal bleeding," the distressed mother said.
Police from the Juvenile Aid Bureau later cautioned the most violent bully but the other girls, including the ringleader who organised the bashing, escaped without punishment.
It took the school six months to get enough evidence to expel the female gang leader.
"These gang members single out the kids who are good kids, kids who don't want to smoke or drink," the mother said.
She recalls making many complaints to Education Queensland and school administrators, but after disciplinary action the gang would choose a more indirect form of bullying: "It becomes more covert and indirect. The student is usually defamed. This is through verbal abuse in the playground or through the internet."
The parent took notes of conversations. An education bureaucrat told her: "Your kids have to learn to swim in the mainstream. Society has changed. Get over it."
But the impact on her son, a Year 12 student with a promising sporting future, has been devastating and he recently took several weeks off school after receiving threatening emails.
When he considered returning to school this term, he sat down, in tears, and wrote a letter to his parents:
"I don't want to go back to (school name) because I have no friends.
"I get bullied by (group) and teased by (group). When they come out from the office seeing the principal . . . it's all back to bullying again.
"What do I need to happen for me to feel OK about (the school)? The two groups gone, that's what I need."
The concerned mother's diary also includes many entries recording that her children have woken up early in the morning after nightmares about being bullied at school.
She said many gang members roamed the streets as late as 10pm on school nights and appeared to have no parental supervision.
She believes a key reason for the violence in schools is that many of these non-academic children were forced to remain at school.
In previous decades, they would have left by Year 10 for a trade.
"These kids are like magnesium. These kids – they're white light. They're in your face immediately," she said.
"And they're sneaky. They make out they're OK when they go to your place, and then they go up to our local park and club the plover population to death."
Dr Marilyn Campbell, lecturer and psychologist with the School of Learning at the Queensland University of Technology, agrees there is a problem created by having the less academic children stay at school longer.
"I'd agree, and in some ways . . . we are keeping children as children longer," Dr Campbell said.
"We're prolonging their adolescence. You no longer go to work (full-time) at 12 years of age."
Dr Campbell makes two critical points in the gang debate, which provide some balance about the role of schools and parents in reducing the amount of bullying.
She explains that gangs of teenagers are not a new phenomenon, but the lack of parental supervision and advent of the internet and bullying in cyberspace is.
"The Mods, the Rockers and the Beatniks (in the 1950s) had a huge American influence. So I don't think it's an incredibly new phenomenon," she said.
"Young people have a seamless online and offline life (now). Bullying happens in both worlds.
"Any violence is a worry, whether it is imported or home-grown. But if you look at the five groups (including the nerds), only one-fifth of them identifies more with a violent culture and I would say only one-fifth of that group would practice violence."
Part of the solution would be to provide schools with more resources to handle troublemakers, and steer those bored students earlier into apprenticeships and trades.
But working parents could not expect schools, which have their children from 9am to 3pm, to be responsible for teaching them a moral code when their focus was on preparing their class for maths and English exams.
"High schools don't teach violence, but TV and the internet and their parents do.
"Schools aren't the ones to raise children. Parents are supposed to raise them," Dr Campbell said.