Ella felt isolated in the suburbs of Melbourne, until a rural community opened its arms

Ella grew up on a quiet street in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

With two loving parents and exuberant younger siblings, the 14-year-old says her life was “like any other kid in Melbourne”.

However, her neighbors were all much older than her, many were renters, and there weren’t many other children on the street to play with.

“We really don’t know a lot of people. There are a lot of rental locations. Everyone comes and goes here,” Ella said.

Then her family bought a farm in the Gippsland area, and Ella’s eyes suddenly opened to what a community might be feeling.

Host country

As Ella’s family car pulled up to their new property, neighbors rushed to greet the new faces.

“They came just to discover us and introduce themselves, to tell us about themselves and the neighbors,” Ella said.

Immediately the family was introduced to the community.

Ella says she was surprised by the openness and welcoming of their new neighbors to newcomers.

“Right away we found out all the gossip that went around,” she said.

“Everyone knows everyone and their story, and they all care about each other.

Ella embraced the openness of the Gippsland community.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

With a sudden abundance of friendship opportunities with people of all ages, Ella wasted no time in building relationships.

“We all get along,” she said. “Regardless of age, everyone gets along.”

As she talks about the bonds she has forged, Ella’s mom intervenes with a smile: “[The kids] go out more than they hang out with us.

“In particular when [a neighbour] has baby sheep, they are going to bottle-feed the sheep at lambing time, or they are cleaning the troughs or training the neighbor’s dog.

A white sheep with a black face watches three lambs frolic in the grass.  One is standing in a trough.
Ella’s mother says her children spend all of their time with the lambs.(Provided)

It is the shared experiences of livestock responsibility that, according to Ella, gives the community the opportunity to provide the “acts of kindness” that make the rural way of life so rich.

“Our neighbors watch over the cows and, if there is something wrong, someone will call my dad. We always know if something is going on, ”she said.

“Try on different hats”

The benefits of a supportive child development community are greatest in early adolescence, says Lisa Mundy of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne.

“These early teenage years are when young people determine where they fit in in the world and find a space they feel comfortable in, so friendships become really important to that,” Dr Mundy said. .

“So getting into a community where you feel connected and where you can bond with friends and peers, and meet people who are interested in what you’re doing and have time for you is really important. ”

A woman in a lab coat smiles at the camera.
Dr Lisa Mundy says it’s important for parents to encourage teens to connect with a range of people.(Provided)

Dr Mundy says building relationships with people of different ages and lifestyles gives children and teens a key advantage in developing not only their social skills, but also their own sense of identity. .

Not everyone has the opportunity to join a rural community like Ella, but there are other ways for parents to help their children broaden their experiences.

“Allowing [teenagers] space to make their own connections and establish their own relationships with friends or other people in the community as appropriate, but giving them clear boundaries within that is really important, ”said Dr Mundy.

“So allow your teenager to have these opportunities, to have the choice, to encourage the healthy risks and to let him have new and different experiences that can help him build his identity.”

A girl in a purple beanie laughs as three brown horses press their noses against her
Ella says the shared experience of caring for animals brings the rural community together.(Provided)

It is inevitable that a teenager will not always make the right decision and often face preventable consequences.

Dr Mundy says the best thing a parent can do when things go wrong is to see it as a learning opportunity and support their child through it.

“Their brains are still developing, especially the prefrontal cortex, so they actually make decisions in a different way than how we as adults do, so they won’t always approach the making process. decision-making the same way we do, ”says Dr. Mundy.

“As long as you’ve set clear boundaries together and understand why these are in place, discuss what happened and why it went wrong and what decisions they might have made. differently in another situation, then they begin to develop that ability to make sound, risk-based decisions. “

Building a community through COVID-19

Ella brought this sense of community back to Melbourne and began to seek out people around her at a crucial time.

When COVID-19 arrived in Melbourne and the city was plunged into its first lockdown, Ella worried about the well-being of their 96-year-old neighbor.

“A lot of her family members who normally go there every now and then… couldn’t come that often,” Ella said.

“We helped her, gave her meals, left her paper at her door, took out the trash.

“She left a bag of goodies every Sunday to say thank you.”

Dr Mundy says there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the difficulties of the blockades helped foster closer relations between neighbors.

“This is what we hear, that there is a positive side to COVID in terms of spending more time at home and building relationships with your neighbors who you may not have had a history of. time ago, “she said.

Taking what she had learned from her time in the Gippsland community, Ella also began using the family dog ​​to build relationships with other Melbourne neighbors.

A teenage boy in jeans and a white shirt pats the stomach of a smiling border collie lying in tall grass.
Ella has learned that animals are a great place to start chatting with neighbors.(ABC News: Karen Brookes)

“Everyone with a dog will say a quick ‘hello’ and then continue their walk,” she says.

“So you can talk to more people when you have a dog. You can talk about the dog’s experience and the training. “

Ella says the time she spent with the people on the farm changed her outlook on life in the suburbs.

“I realized there is a whole community out there waiting for you. You just have to start talking.”

ABC’s Takeover Melbourne program gives voice to the youth of Greater Melbourne. If you want to find more stories or learn more about Takeover Melbourne’s upcoming admission, head over to the Takeover website.

About Keneth T. Graves

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