Parenting Against the Tide 4: Digital

Peer orientation, discussed in part three, is augmented by technology as a threat to healthy adolescent development. The things that are needed for successful maturation, namely space, boredom and genuine connection, are easily undermined by technology. The defence against this threat lies with you, the adult, staying in an active role.

Traditional Cultures

If parents let go of their child prematurely, a developmental tragedy plays out as the adolescent falls into the grip of peers, technology or a combined attachment to both. Traditional cultures provided what humans needed to navigate adolescence: interactions with relatives living close together (an attachment village); religious customs; ideology; mentors; elders; rituals based around nature; occupations; defined social roles and more. Without these factors in our society, it is more important than ever that the adult steps in to guide the adolescent.

In contrast to the traditional role of culture, modern digital culture is a mere palliative for those going through change. The digital world offers temporary, short-lived relief from the pain of separation by triggering the brain’s attachment reward system and releasing feel-good chemicals. Used to fill the void, social media, video games and pornography offer the adolescent a world devoid of real defeat or rejection. But in being depersonalised and dehumanising, these stimulants bypass the real-life experiences necessary for healthy development.

Like peer connections, digital connections shut the adolescent down emotionally. This can create the illusion of strength and independence. It can also reduce the pressure on the adult who can start to believe that their parenting work is done and enjoy new freedoms as their child does their own thing. But the adolescent needs adult guidance as much as ever.

Boredom

The digital world offers short cuts to relieve boredom, enabling young people to immerse themselves in worlds of fantasy where there is no danger that their pain will be known to others. The chemical release in the brain means they feel safe, but it is really only a short-lived respite, that will soon need to be topped up. In the process, healthy development is suppressed or strangulated.

The phrases social media and online community are oxymorons for adolescents. True attachments are made in person, through the senses, where significance, belonging and loyalty can all be nurtured. All of these qualities are absent in digital connections. Corporations use the human longing for attachment to advertise digital products that push young people away from profound fulfilment and development. Images of happy people connecting to each other dominate technology ads, and for a good reason: superficial digital contact between people is a goldmine for corporations precisely because it does not work. Their insatiable customers must keep returning for more because their need is never satisfied.

The changes that have taken place with peer and digital orientation invading the space previously held by adults are stark. From admiring and imitating, adolescents now tend to mock; from loving, they now loathe. It has also worsened social ills ranging from depression to self-harm to suicide. Boredom is not something people seek, but it is an ally in the maturation process, allowing the authentic person to begin to emerge from the fog of adolescence. This emergence requires a degree of teenage awkwardness, the digital world offers a way to bypass this process.

Damage

Pay attention for a few days, once this lockdown is over, to the snippets of conversation you hear in the street; you will notice that chat between two pre-teens (pre-mobile) is usually more intelligent and considered than that of people in their 20s, 30s or 40s. The reason is the infantilising effect of technology, specifically the constant availability of superficial gratification and distraction via mobile technology which has made contemplation a fringe activity in our culture.

Pre-mobile phone, pre-games console primary school children emerge with curiosity. But with unlimited access to digital sources, curiosity is dying out. Abundant quick fixes mean we can do a search to back up our pre-existing ideas and beliefs, with algorithms and overwhelming amounts of meaningless information reinforcing this cycle. Ready-made, socially acceptable personal identities based on the narrow parameters of what digital platforms allow do not necessarily support healthy development. The individual must emerge in her own sweet time, but digital orientation has intensified the pressures of peer orientation with adolescents particularly vulnerable to experiencing the isolation and alienation of this unsupportive culture.

Digital culture is not governed by the customs and taboos that protect healthy attachments and direct the adolescent to where they can be nurtured. The result is unhealthy fixations, with the average teenager sending thousands of texts every month and spending several hours a day on social media. Combined with family time being in freefall across western societies, there is less and less encouragement for children and parents to spend quality time together, a developmental disaster.

I recently witnessed a 14 year-old in genuine panic when her phone ran out of battery and she couldn’t find the charger – maintaining her peer relationships did not allow for this gap in contact and she did not enjoy strong, comforting attachments to the adults in her life. From the epitome of cool to existential shrieking, demanding to know where her mother had put the charger, she exists in the extremes of peer and digital orientation, her true self lost in the middle somewhere, without the time, space and nurturing required to emerge.

Space

As discussed in the previous articles, for adolescents to emerge as viable, healthy adults, certain conditions are needed. Space is crucial, but this does not mean being left entirely alone. Adults need to hold the space, playing the role of governor and gatekeeper of the solitude and experimentation that allow the real adult to develop out of the raw adolescent.

For the adolescent attached to social media, there is not enough space for the individual and no motive for the authentic self to emerge. Social media is dominated by deterrents to emergence. Other adolescents online cannot invite a youth to emerge, lost as they are in groupthink and the pursuit of acceptance. Virtue signalling dominates, sometimes in the form of cruelty to others. The desire to impress means that the adolescent cannot truly be known. If the authentic, vulnerable human self begins to present itself online, it is likely to be shot down by peers or faceless haters. The peer pressure means internalising and stifling one’s own needs, pure loneliness masquerading as fitting in. 

Adult Power

If an adolescent is hooked on digital stimulation in this way, it is a sign that his attachment needs have not been met in the right place at the right time by the right people. Here, the adult needs to step in again and reclaim their territory. If the teenager’s life lacks approval, closeness and warmth, the digital world is a problem waiting to happen. If his life is filled with approval, closeness and warmth, technology will be cleverly utilised by the adolescent to develop their skills and knowledge, instead of a short-lived attachment fix.

How does this latter eventuality manifest? According to Dr Gordon Neufeld, three things need to happen:

  • The adolescent needs to be in the process of developing their own ideas before they have access to digital technology
  • The adolescent needs to experience the developmental stage of futility, instead of bypassing it using technology
  • Loss and defeat are necessary developmental experiences. Without them, the adolescent will need to dominate others, leading them deeper into the pit of peer and digital orientations where this bullying can be expressed cheaply.

These positive, albeit painful, experiences mean that the adolescent can be free of the need for peer approval and be boosted with the confidence and fulfilment of their safe relationships with adults.

And what does an adult capable of facilitating a healthy, attuned attachment relationship with an adolescent look like? They believe in their own power as an adult and the role they must fulfil; they are comfortable with their teenage child being dependent on them even as their peers orientate to other teenagers with apparent confidence; they will enact rules and rituals that protect the attachment from outside harm, pointing the youth to the things that stay the same and reminding them of their next period of quality time together.

A confident adult will collect before they direct the young person and be prepared to pull rank to remind the child they are in a secure hierarchy. The adult will be confident that the adolescent will invite them to be a part of their lives, a key player in their development because the adult has cultivated a safe, caring relationship based on unconditional positive regard. None of this is available in the digital world.

A smart adult attachment figure will refrain from inviting the enemy onto their territory. Sleep overs with the school friends they’ve already seen all week and unfettered social media are developmental junk food unable to satisfy the adolescent. True nourishment comes from a profoundly beautiful adult-adolescent relationship. Everything else can follow.

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

This is part four of a series on adolescence based on the teachings of developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld,

You can read parts one, two and three here.

Parenting Against the Tide 3: Peers

“To know there was someone whom I could always count on but who also let me be whatever I wanted to be gave me more security than anything else could.”

Ilhan Omar describing her relationship with her auntie[i]

This is the third in series on raising children in 2020, focused on the tumultuous years of adolescence. It is based on attachment theory and the teachings of the developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld. Warning: The article features one anecdote unsuitable for children…

Click for parts one and two.

To allow humans to develop, a void opens with the onset of adolescence. The void is internal, with the child suddenly experiencing uncertainty; and external, with the adolescent now doubting and questioning the world around them. It is a necessary stage, but it can cause alarm for the child and the adults in their life. The crucial issue is what fills the void. In our culture, it has become the norm for things that have disastrous developmental consequences to fill the void. Here we look at one of those phenomena, peer orientation. In part four, we’ll look at digital attachments.

Thoughts & Feelings

With adolescence, the child is hit with an array of physical, biological and emotional changes. Perhaps for the first time, she is despondent, doubtful and irritable. It is so uncomfortable that she will be tempted to shut herself down emotionally to cope with her feelings. But shutting down blocks successful passage through adolescence, and here it is important that adults remain heavily involved and enhance their own status as mentors and confidants in youths’ lives.

Traditionally, the role of culture in human development was to augment the work of parents in their child’s transition into adulthood, providing rituals and pointers for the adolescent to help them navigate change. Our culture no longer fulfils this role and is, in fact, heading determinedly in the opposite direction. Culture has abandoned our adolescents, meaning the adult role needs to be greater than ever, and it calls on adults to be greater than ever if our young people are going to mature into healthy adults. Secure attachment needs to form the basis of the adult-child relationship if adolescence is to be fruitfully navigated.

In adolescence, the young person will be tempted to resist thoughts and feelings that seem too intense. Without secure adult attachments, he will not have ways to make sense of the changes and is more likely to fall into the arms of alternative attachments. These alternatives – peers and technology – are the enemies of parents, but are often welcomed as saviours when they distract the disorientated teenager. The adolescent must attach to something, it is a developmental imperative and the basic instinct of all creatures, but if a safe adult does not present themselves, the youth will pick from one of the other options.

Peers

Orientation away from adults and towards the peer group is a misunderstood phenomenon, commonly seen as a healthy, natural part of growing up because it is so widespread. Peer orientation often starts long before adolescence, pushed by parents who are anxious for their children to be ‘socialised’ at a time when attachment to family should be the priority. An adolescent child is incapable of the maturity required for multiple attachments to peers who often have their own complex needs. But the pressure on young peers to interact intensively before they are ready is “an epidemic in society” leading to disease and regression, according to Dr Neufeld.

The focus in early adolescence should not be on peers but on the self. A narcissistic phase is a foundation on which a focus on community and other people can later be built. The only way to truly socialise the adolescent is to insist on strong adult attachments. Emphasis on peers will block true socialisation as it stresses conformity at the expense of being comfortable, confident and able to truly fit in with ease.

Vocabulary

It is easy to identify who an adolescent is attached to – they speak like them. Rampant peer orientation is evidenced by diminishing vocabulary among young people and the phenomenon of a language barrier between youths and adults, sometimes labelled as youths speaking in code. The language barrier causes misunderstandings and tensions between the adults who should lead and children who need to be led. The vocabulary isn’t there to bridge the gap and the wider culture is undermining the notion that adult attachments are at all valuable.

One place in our society where adult-child bonds can be actively encouraged is in mentoring of young people who have fallen into crisis. The attachment dynamic, in the form of a relationship with a youth worker or counsellor, is inserted as an emergency measure to rescue a desperate situation. The adult in this situation faces an uphill battle, not because of the particular trouble the young person is in, but because the youth has already shut down to adult influence and is difficult to impact.

Attachment

To attach, the adolescent needs to be shown that she is valued, welcome and can rely on the person they are attaching to. These attributes are impossible in peer relationships, which do not provide more than a superficial attachment.

The tricky thing for adults is that the warm invitation to attach has to be delivered at exactly the same moment that the adolescent also needs space and time for themselves. It’s not an easy balancing act, but the alternative is a lot of deeply felt emotional pain that explodes in incidents that should be labelled attachment crises, but rarely are…

One manifestation of attachment crisis is bullying. Securely attached adolescents are less susceptible because they are less needy. They will not stay in a peer relationship in which someone seeks to dominate them or exploit their vulnerability. Those with secure adult attachments are also much more likely to be able to express and process their pain if they are bullied and to move on rather than staying, tormented, in the misery, hoping to gain the bully’s approval.

So much is lost when peers replace adults. Studies show that family time is in sharp decline and this means adolescents are losing the opportunity to play in a consequence-free way. In genuine play, an adolescent’s tentative self emerges, he develops problem-solving skills and his mind can open. True learning, creativity and the safe expression of emotion and intuition all have an outlet in play. In contrast, peer groups are places of perpetual tension and competition without space to freely explore.

Cool

Being cool dominates peer relationships, where soft emotions are untenable. This makes many youths miserably lonely, but the primal need to attach keeps the peer-attached adolescent returning to these doomed dynamics, suppressing their tender emotions, their true selves – they have no choice.

Many other social ills grow out of peer orientation including gangs, knife crime, drugs, underage pregnancies, self-harm and child suicide. These phenomena are labelled as crises, but the root crisis is that of lost attachment. The bully who kills another child is unable to say ‘No’ to those he must impress – he cannot break the peer attachment. The victim hung around because he had nowhere else to go and he desperately, unknowingly was trying to attach.

One sixteen-year-old I knew in my youth was peer orientated and would get attention from young men, and social status from female friends, through sexual promiscuity. This accelerated when she and her friends would go to a big shopping centre at weekends and meet groups of lads, smoke spliffs and have sex. Things always go too far in peer groups and one evening this girl laid on a bench outside the shopping centre and seven young men lined up to have sex with her, one after the other. At the time, I didn’t think that this girl, from respectable suburbia, was ‘peer orientated’ – I didn’t know the word peer. I had no concept that she was in need of guidance, that she was just acting out her attachment needs in the only way available to her. She could not say No. Once she was in that situation, there was no No.

Peer orientation has the added danger of often appearing to be the opposite of disastrous. It can look successful and independent as if the bridge to adulthood is being crossed with consummate ease. Parents may misread the signs and believe their child’s natural drive for autonomy should be met with permissiveness, a ‘job done’ mentality and a cigar. Parents might also view peer orientation as a positive sign that their child is becoming independent. This could not be more wrong. True individuation looks awkward and geeky. In contrast, peer orientation looks impressive, but it is a confidence trick played by the culture. Underneath is a confused little boy or girl.

The adult role is to resist superficiality and to insist on holding the space, maintaining the void until it has done its job and the adolescent is ready to move on.

Be closer to your children than they are to their friends.

 

by Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

 

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[i] From Ilhan Omar, This Is What America Looks Like, p.34, Hurst Publishers, 2020

Parenting Against the Tide 2: Adolescence Begins

This is the second in a series on raising children in 2020, focused on the tumultuous years of adolescence. The articles are based on the teachings of the developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld and my own experiences as a parent and working with young people. Attachment parenting is distinct from other parenting styles as it seeks to build love and trust between child and adult as the basis for healthy development. It contrasts with the more popular approach of controlling children by using punishments and rewards. ‘Parent’ here refers to anybody in a parenting, caring, or mentoring relationship to whom the young person would naturally form an attachment.  ‘He’ and ‘she’ are used interchangeably.

Part one can be read here.

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Adolescence

According to Dr Neufeld, adolescence (from Latin, to grow into maturity) in western societies now stretches from the onset of puberty into a person’s 20s. The adolescent phase makes sense only in terms of where the young person is travelling to: adulthood and the rest of their lives. Trying to fathom adolescence in isolation is plain confusing. In traditional societies, the adolescent was treated as an adult but in modern urban societies, the situation is far more complex, as anyone who cares for or works with adolescents will testify. We adults have to adapt.

During the early years after birth, parents set the tempo for the child’s life. Nature takes over with the onset of puberty. With a sudden jolt, our children are not ours in the same way anymore. Their attachment needs change and a gap opens between the child and their parenting figures. This is nature’s way of initiating what Dr Neufeld refers to as ‘crossing the bridge’ from childhood into adulthood, immaturity to maturity.

As well as the increased space between the child and significant adults, adolescence hijacks the child with changes to the body; sudden awareness of the realities of the world and a questioning, ‘who am I?’ Nature has initiated the move from childhood to a new phase in which they set out to find autonomy and discover sexuality.

Adolescents race ahead from where they were, and it is a long catching up process, taking years for them to understand and integrate all that they are absorbing. And the role of the adult changes too, whether we are ready for it or not. Crossing the bridge of adolescence is a messy time for everyone involved.

Messy

Parents’ confusion and anxiety during adolescence are a reaction to the dramatic developments being experienced by their ‘babies’ and a reflection of an instinctual desire to protect children from pain. Parental anxiety might also be a reflection of the adult’s own unresolved traumas from their own adolescence. Problems arise when the changes are not embraced.

One messy change will see the adolescent become egocentric. Reacting to the flood of new ideas and other stimuli, the young person presumes that, becuase everything is happening to them, the influx is a signal that everything is about them.

In adolescence, the child will also start to develop ideals, believing that these high standards should manifest in the world around them. They observe that adults often do not live up to these ideals, adding to the adolescent’s increasing propensity to reject parental guidance. And the harsh criticism directed at the parent is also turned inward as the adolescent finds that they themselves have fallen short of these newfound ideals.

This is where the adult needs to embrace change and offer sympathy and forgiveness when the youth speaks out of turn. The adolescent is not making a conscious choice to be demanding and obnoxious; nature is driving them forward on this, the only path. It is crude but it is nature’s way of allowing the youngster to separate enough from his parents to start to become a viable, independent person.

Parent’s New Role

Like moving from one career path to another, the adult carer of an adolescent takes on a new role, whether they like it or not. It is a significant change that is largely ignored in a culture which tends to stoke adversity between parents and teenage children, often in order to provide convenient excuses for adults to disengage and to push adolescents towards compulsive capitalistic thinking and away from the wisdom of their elders. 

With the onset of adolescence comes the urge to resist. The youth resists not only her parents but aso her new uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, her doubts. In our culture, even in lockdown, there is a long menu of distractions for the youth to choose from for distraction. And if they are not securely attached to the parent, these distractions will soon dominate.

Counterintuitively, the parent’s new role is to ego centre the adolescent rather than to push back. The urge for most parents is to hit back against the overconfident, acid-tongued attitudes of their child. But to parent against the tide is to accept the adolescent is involuntarily experiencing a pivotal stage in their personal development. Dr Neufeld identifies that true help can be provided by the parent when they actively and skilfully tease out what is stirring inside the young person, rather than by rejecting what is expressed on the outside.

The adolescent is filled with thoughts and feelings: ideas, plans, questions, doubts; searching for certainty but feeling the opposite; rejecting guidance but needing it more than ever. He needs ways of understanding and organising these thoughts and he needs to know that his struggle does not threaten the parenting figure.

The parent can indulge the child’s idealism, safe in the knowledge that the world will burst that particular balloon soon enough. They can trust in nature’s plan for human development rather than resist it and they can provide tools and space to help the adolescent develop the self-regulation that is essential for maturation. Parents can buy notebooks, journals and sketchbooks for the young person and give them a physical space and time to scribble, processing the thoughts and feelings swirling inside.

This simple step of purchasing stationery is what allows the young person to start to navigate adolescence and reach their potential. Dr Neufeld returns to it again and again in his teachings. If some of the other developmental insights are about energy rather than material, abstract instead of concrete, then buying paper is not, and it seems to be the single most important step for parents to take, in practical terms at least.

The adolescent needs love as much as she did as a new-born baby as she faces two diverging roads: individuation and conformity. Whether or not loving attachments are maintained and strengthened will determine whether she takes the road of individuation, becoming a whole and high functioning person. The other road is to conform to peers and a culture that has abandoned its nurturing role. More on those dangers in part three…

 

By Tom Charles @tomhcharles

For Jenni & Tahlia

Parenting Against the Tide 1: Attachment

“For his soul he required nothing. Security, attention, tenderness, love – or whatever all those things are called that children are said to require – were utterly dispensable to the young Grenouille. Or rather…he had utterly dispensed with them just to go on living…”

From Perfume by Patrick Süskind [i]

 

This is the first in a series of articles on raising children in 2020, focusing on attachment, particularly during the tumultuous years of adolescence.

Attachment Parenting

The teachings of the developmental psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld provide the theoretical and intellectual basis for these articles and ideas. Dr Neufeld’s work has reinforced and given confidence to my own intuition on attachment parenting. Equally important to these articles are my own experiences, thoughts and ideas, as a parent to a daughter entering adolescence and as someone who has worked with young people in west London for the best part of a decade.

According to Dr Neufeld, in western societies adolescence now lasts longer than ever before, from around 12 into a person’s 20s. The forthcoming articles will focus on adolescence through the lens of attachment, but before diving into adolescence, this first article considers what attachment means in the parenting context and asks what is needed for a child to fulfil their full human potential.

 

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Potential

In a 2012 address to the European parliament, Dr Neufeld explained: “Every child has the potential to become fully human and humane, but not every person comes to realise that potential.”

Dr Neufeld explains adolescence as a distinct phase, when we can cross the bridge between childhood and adulthood; a time in our lives when we are set up to successfully realise our potential, or not. Ageing is inevitable, but maturation is not, and without maturity, human potential cannot be realised. Continue reading

Writing/Poetry Workshop #2

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Photo from Baraka

During the Easter holidays, Urban Dandy held its second writing and poetry workshop for 20 children from across Kensington and Chelsea at Canalside House on Ladbroke Grove.

In collaboration with Baraka Community Association, Urban Dandy delivered two one-hour sessions. The first hour was on self-expression through writing with skill and purpose. The children discussed the importance of language, and the motivations behind the words they choose.

They looked at different types of writing, tone of voice and having a clear aim. The children also learned key techniques such as planning, finding a ‘hook’, writing with depth by backing up arguments and valuing and nurturing their own voices and opinions.

The young people then wrote their own pieces, which ranged from articles to adverts.

The second hour was a poetry workshop. The children heard from Urban Dandy’s Mark Bolton, who read some of his own poems and recited the famous ‘I Am Somali’, written by the poet Yam Yam. Mark outlined some of the techniques he employs in writing his poems, but again the emphasis was on the children’s expression of their own thoughts and feelings.

Each child then wrote and read out their own poem, with their styles ranging from conventional to acrostic to haiku, with the participants receiving warm applause. 

We will showcase some of the children’s work here soon. For more information on Urban Dandy’s workshops, contact us via our Facebook page.

 

Tom Charles

@tomhcharles

Lloyd Williamson Open Day

With the ever increasing take over of North Kensington real estate by the socially detached, we’ve seen learning facilities invade our community that are not even close to home-grown.

Not so with The Lloyd Williamson Schools. It’s probably the most local private school in the area with most students living within a mile or two of the school. On observation, it seems to express more of an interest in the teaching of ethics, cultural diversity and also, equipping the students to tackle the changing world, with an entrepreneurial spirit of open-mindedness.

I find their strict mobile phone rule fascinating. As insignificant as it may sound, I can say with confidence that you will never see anybody neglecting one and other distracted by a mobile phone, neither staff, parent or student. I don’t think the reason needs an explanation. For those who realise the distraction that devices have been on children and adults, you will be thankful for this little policy in your child’s surroundings, rest assured. The unique way that kids of all ages gender and race interact is very Montessori-ish, though it is not a Montessorri school.

 

Lloyd Williamson open days Wednesday the 14th March (10am to 7pm) and Friday the 16th March (10am -3pm).

 

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Writing/Poetry Workshop with Local Children

 

During half-term, Urban Dandy delivered a writing and poetry workshop to children at North Kensington charity Baraka Community Association. Eighteen children from local primary and secondary schools attended and explored methods for self-expression through writing short articles and poems.

As it was the 14th of the month, children considered memories and feelings evoked by the Grenfell Tower fire, eight months on. The group mind mapped their experiences during and since the fire. They then shared their memories of that day and how they have seen it affect their community, from the surreal experience of attending school on the 14th June to how people coped over the long summer.

Producing a piece of writing, the young people were free to choose their subject. Many went for Grenfell, but others wrote on other aspects of their lives. In both cases, the focus was on expressing ideas and feelings from their own experiences, rather than conforming to ideas about what they should write.

As the workshop was designed to be off-curriculum, the children heard about finding their voices, how to have a real impact, identifying a ‘hook’ for their pieces and writing for an audience, not a teacher.

London’s finest poet, Mark Bolton, then explained the process of writing poetry, and his own poetic journey. He read out his first ever composition, followed by the much more recent Aisha and the Sea, which was written in the aftermath of the fire.

Inspired and encouraged to open up, the kids then set about writing their own poems, and the workshop ended with everybody reading out loud what they had produced.

A number of the children took their work away to develop it and complete it. We hope to be able to publish a few pieces on Urban Dandy soon…

Writing workshop 6

 

By Tom Charles

 

Child’s play: Attachment Theory in Practice

By Lucy Wright for Urban Dandy

In my capacity as a family support worker I often get asked which are the best toys to teach children to speak, read, write and reach other various developmental milestones such as knowing shapes, colours, numbers and being able to read.

I get met with a mixture of mistrust, confusion and occasionally interest when I suggest that just giving their children the opportunity to explore, play, get messy, make choices and mistakes in equal measure will arm them with a plethora of skills for life.

I feel sad as both a parent and professional that we feel a societal pressure to live by results and achievements even when bringing up our own children and sometimes forfeit making our children feel reassured and loved for conforming to societies expectations of parents.

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Prescriptive Approach

I’ve watched hundreds of parents, including myself actually ending up controlling, bribing, guilt-tripping, belittling, shaming, not listening to, threatening and humiliating out of a misplaced desire to achieve with their children. We aim to get to an end result instead of relishing and learning from the process. Continue reading

Let Your Children Melt Into You

The case of the seven year old child, Yamato Tanooka, left in a forest by his parents, was widely covered by the international media. The child was hospitalised after spending six nights alone, sheltering in a hut and drinking water from a tap outside.

Yamato was abandoned by his parents as punishment for throwing stones in the car. His father was already unhappy with the boy for getting in to trouble at school. “I tried to show him that I can be scary when I’m seriously angry” he said.

Shocking stuff but not that surprising when you pause to think of the punitive measures meted out to young children every day in our schools and homes. The parenting style used by Yamato’s parents represented an extreme case of what has become normal in western societies.

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Parenting ‘experts’

Phoney celebrity parenting ‘experts’ like Kathryn Mewes (‘Three Day Nanny’) and Jo Frost (‘Supernanny’) have helped popularise the idea that children need to be punished in order for their behaviour to be corrected.

What this really amounts to is punishment of children until they conform to what adults want. This can produce short-term results, with a child expelled from the classroom and a lesson resuming, or a child sent to their bedroom so that an adult can concentrate on what they are doing.

But any immediate result is offset by detrimental long-term consequences. Popular methods, including time outs, the naughty step and withdrawal of treats give the message that the child is not acceptable as they are. Continue reading

Terror Impact: Preferential Coverage and Little Ears

Beirut Iraq Paris Syria

Last Friday evening following the repulsive terror attacks, we were careful to limit the news in our household, mindful of the fears that might awaken in our 6-year-old.

From Beirut through Paris, and in so many other regions, people were going about their daily lives when horror erupted. Accompanying death were traumatic, chilling sights and sounds imprinted on survivors and transmitted to onlookers near and far.

We began to weigh-in on what to tell a young child: whether to share or shelter her from the news that was, after all, not on our shores. The question of the location raised its head and merits some attention.

The continued pervasive coverage of France’s tragedy is neither surprising nor an insult to other countries or populations that have equally suffered. This is not a competition. In the UK the coverage of 7/7 was intense and on-going for months. Last year the October shooting in Ottawa, Canada saw international coverage but nowhere was this coverage more concentrated and extensive than in Canada.

Paris is an international city; one of the most visited and well-known even to those that have only toured it via films and books. This fact is precisely why coverage of the tragedy here in Canada is more intense than the coverage of similar attacks. Paris is a relatable, familiar location where many of us have participated in the exact activities, in the exact locations where these events unfolded. Familiarity breeds curiosity. The 2013 Westgate Mall siege provoked blanket media coverage. There have been attacks before and since in Kenya however that assault occurred in an everyday familiar location– a shopping mall – riveting global interest. Paris belongs not only to the French but is a global outpost which many call “home” whether they’ve taken up residence or not.  The population of Paris is not simply French but vibrant, massively multi-cultural; where Eid and Diwali are as well-known as Hanukkah or Christmas.

Comfort must overrule the cynicism in the perception of preferential coverage. If anything, the coverage of Paris shines a light on bias and can, if allowed, frame an understanding of life in war zones and build empathy towards refugees fleeing these exact horrors.

So, recognizing that media will be intense and pervasive, does one shelter or share with a child? We all make our own choices as parents but for me open discussion should rule. Parents, families, friends, aunts and uncles are best placed to open this sensitive dialogue even in a selective, imprecise manner. Children, even the very young, are acutely perceptive whether to a news report playing in their home, a magazine, newspaper or iPad story left open. A media-blackout at home cannot control what is overheard on the streets, schoolyards and playgrounds. Far worse than having this delicate, uncomfortable conversation is a child being burdened with almost incomprehensible information from another child who may have been exposed to the horrible details without an opportunity for follow-up and exchange. So we sit with our children and tell them that some people were hurt in Paris and that this has made us and the world incredibly sad.  We light a candle and take them to a memorial if they need comfort.  We start a dialogue enabling them to come back to us should they overhear disturbing news, have questions or fears. Together, regardless of age, we open that interchange, held in unconditional love: we fumble, we improvise, we speak; we simply do our best to ensure the communication is there for solidarity, empathy and reassurance.

 

By Jennifer Cavanagh