Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thoughts from Heald Green

An initial diversion . . . Interested in what's happening in Cataluña, and so Spain? Click here for an overview from the US.

These, straining credulity, are said to be 50 unbelievable facts about Spain.

Redressing the balance, here, here and here are key facts about Liverpool. Sorry about the overlap.

A Spanish teacher of 20 years' experience, invigilating an exam, was alleviating his boredom by surfing porn sites on his laptop. Unfortunately, this was connected to a large screen behind him, presenting a severe 50 minute distraction to the pupils. The school thought this was above and beyond the call of duty and 'let him go'. Much against the wishes of the pupils, I imagine.

I'm sure many of you realised that yesterday's Beatles link took you to a tribute band – Them Beatles. Well, this is the real thing, in the real Cavern. One of the sweatiest places on earth. And here's Kennedy Center Memorial to Paul McCartney that's well worth a viewing.

Getting her own back on me, my younger daughter has presented me with some House Rules specially formulated for me:-
  1. Internet surfing to be confined to your bedroom, between the hours of 6am to 10am, 12 to 2pm, and 5p to 6pm
  2. Be quiet at nap time: 12-2pm
  3. Smartphone away!
  4. The surfaces to be wiped down after toast and porridge
  5. No setting tea-towels on fire
  6. Birthday and Christmas presents to make an early appearance
  7. No comments on how I do things with Gracie
  8. Only 10 sarcastic remarks a day.
You'd think she'd had a tough life.

Finally . . . On the theme of parenting, if you're a parent of a young child and aspire to be a BBF (best friend for ever), you might find this article from today's Times thought-provoking. Happily, my daughter doesn't need to read it. But I'll be copying it to her anyway. Naturally, she doesn't read my blog. Dragon's teeth and all that. BTW . . . I have no difficulty with any of his recommendations for churning out decent kids:-

It’s time to end the cult of the BFF parent

It was while struggling, yet again, to get a look at a five-year-old’s sore throat that Leonard Sax realised something was going seriously wrong with the way parents were bringing up their children.

The mum said to her daughter, ‘Darling, is it OK for the doctor to look at your throat?’ Of course, the girl said no, it wasn’t,” he recalls. “Then what should have been a five-second manoeuvre starting with ‘Please open your mouth and say ahh’, turned into a five-minute ordeal which only ended when the mum promised chocolate if she’d open her mouth.”

Sax, a family GP and psychologist in Philadelphia and the author of four books on parents and education, says this kind of exchange has become wearyingly common in the past 30 years because parents have lost authority and would rather be a “best friend” to their children. But he maintains that these BFF (best friend forever) parents are actually harming their children by not giving them the security of clear boundaries and rules for life. You can sense his frustration in the title of his latest book, published in the UK last week: 'The Collapse of Parenting'. “It’s not an over-statement,” he insists. “I have personally seen families where parents ask five-year-olds what they want for dinner, they reply pizza and ice cream and that’s what they get. Or parents who do their 11-year-old son’s homework while he’s playing computer games, or those who allow their teenage daughter to stay up on social media until 1am. In those families I’d argue there has been a collapse of parenting. Parents have become confused about their role, and it’s becoming more common. Many are almost comically incapable of speaking to children in a declarative sentence. Everything is a question, as in ‘Would you like to eat your broccoli?’ or ‘Do you think it’s time for bed?’”

As he sees it, we’re guilty of giving far too many unconstrained choices (“What would you like for dinner?” rather than “Which vegetable — broccoli or peas?”) especially to very young children. “It sounds great to give choice but for young children it’s not grounded in the reality of child development,” he points out. “A five-year-old is not an adult, and you can’t lay out the various options and ask them to make a rational choice.” Even with older children, the results of unconstrained choice are bad: you either have to make the unhealthy dinner they requested or overrule them, which leaves them feeling betrayed (like the girl with the sore throat whose opinion was sought and — unavoidably — ignored, leading to a five-minute meltdown).

Pleading with our children is another sign of the BFF parent: “Please, please go to bed/start your revision/eat your dinner.” “A parent should not plead with a child,” says Sax firmly. “It undermines authority. When you expect your child to do something, most of your sentences should end in a full stop.”

He says he can see why it has happened: we’re reacting against our unquestioningly strict 1970s upbringing and instead trying to be fair and decent, to cultivate independence and critical thinking. It seems outdated to be raising obedient automatons. “The idea of obedience and creating hierarchy seems politically incorrect and old-fashioned — as it should be when we’re talking about relationships of adults with adults,” says Sax. “But in relationships between parents and children, there has to be hierarchy: it’s the job of parents to teach their child the rules of the culture they live in.”

If we don’t, we create a culture of disrespect towards adults, which he says is now pervasive among middle-class children in the US. “It’s infiltrated even the most elite schools: children who are feigning membership of gangs and adopting the hand symbols and clothes because it’s ‘cool’; teenagers who see their parents as neither authoritative parents nor as friends but as clueless and pathetic morons who are useful only in an instrumental sense, as providers of money and clothes. If you set out to be your child’s best friend, you are unlikely to succeed either as a friend or as a parent. You are bending the parent-child relationship in a way that nature never intended.”

He argues that this loss of parental authority results in fragile children with inflated egos who give up at the slightest setback and are ill-equipped for adult life. They look to their peer group for approval and their sense of identity instead, which creates anxiety because friendships are by nature more transient and unreliable than the unconditional love you get from parents.

You can see the results in the statistics, he maintains. One of the first casualties of a decline in authority is healthy eating (33 per cent of American children are overweight or obese), followed by behavioural problems, lack of sleep, and depression and anxiety, which have spiralled among teenagers. “You also see it in the huge growth in the number of young adults who leave or drop out of university and return to live with parents: young people whose dreams don’t come through, who then give up, return home to be supported by their parents and retreat into their bedrooms and play computer games.”

Sax believes the problem is worse in the US, but is becoming more prevalent in the UK; he agrees with Jenny Brown, head of St Albans High School for Girls, who warned in November that parents who wanted to be their teenager’s best friend were damaging their confidence and life chances.

Many parents now perceive a tension between ‘strict’ and ‘loving’,” says Sax. “They don’t think you can be both so they’d rather be a friend figure to their child.” He points to extensive research — especially one study following 20,000 US children from the age of 12 to adulthood — that shows children with authoritative (not authoritarian) parents are likely to do better in school, less likely to have problems with alcohol, drugs or unsafe sex, and go on to have happier romantic relationships.

Sax believes he has hit a nerve with the book. He has had emails and letters of support from those who work with children — teachers, psychologists and doctors — thanking him for speaking out. “They’ve said — at last, it’s so welcome to see someone saying these things who is citing pages and pages of research rather than just venting an opinion.” He believes parents can reassert their authority and see changes in their child’s behaviour in six weeks with some simple changes:

Make teenagers go on family outings
If a teenager refuses to go on a family holiday or day’s outing on the ground that “it’s sooo boring”, it’s tempting to concede, not least because we believe we are helping them by stepping back and letting them decide for themselves. 

However, that’s wrong, says Sax. “It seems harsh to say, ‘Sorry you don’t like hill walking but you’re coming anyway,’ but that’s what you must say because having fun together is the foundation of family life. Your kids need to value time with you and they can’t do that if they rarely spend any time with you doing fun stuff.” We shouldn’t invite their friends to holiday with us, either, he says. “The main purpose of a holiday should be to strengthen the bonds between parents and children, not to give the kids an expensive play date.” He advises creating weekly bonding rituals: walking to the coffee shop, shopping, sport. And keep in close touch with the wider family to connect your children to their culture.
Cancel some of their after-school activities

Extracurricular activities are positive but too many can leave children thinking that what you are is what you do. “It’s all about boosting the ego and inflating the self. “So many parents I know are stretched thin with work and chores, yet are ferrying their child to every activity. It’s as if they want to say, ‘Look at me, I’m a successful professional and a great parent’. I’d say, don’t push your child to live her life as though she’s continually preparing her college application: it’s not living, it’s performing. The priorities should be free time, relaxation, family meals, good conversation and listening to others.” All psychologists sing the praises of the family meal, but you don’t have to be the Waltons. Sax points to
a Canadian study tracking 26,000 adolescents and how often they ate meals with their parents: behaviour improved and anxiety levels fell with each tiny increase in the number of weekly meals shared. “Every meal you take together brings benefits, so parents need to fight [with their employer] for time with their child: your kids can’t attach to you if they never see you.”

Don’t be afraid to make them unpopular
If your 12-year-old is the only one not allowed to play the computer game Call of Duty (rated 16 or 18), it’s tempting to give in so as not to alienate them from their friends. “I hear parents say, ‘I’m just trying to find the right balance here,’ as if they are choosing between strict and loving,” says Sax. “Sometimes to be strict is to be loving, especially when you are protecting them from violent games.” Research from the University of Virginia shows that cool kids at 13 were more likely to run into problems by 23. They had a 45 per cent higher rate of alcohol/drug problems and were worse at getting along with others. “Helping your child become kind, well-behaved and self-controlled is important; your child being popular with peers is not.”

Self-control matters as much as self-esteem
The best predictor of future happiness and life satisfaction when a child is 11 is not high self-esteem or even IQ or academic achievement, but self-control and conscientiousness, according to several large-scale studies. “How do you teach it? You say to an eight-year-old, ‘No pudding until you eat your vegetables’, or to your teenager, ‘No social media until you’ve done your homework’,” says Sax. Chores are essential: “In affluent families you see parents hiring landscape gardeners, cleaners and housekeepers because their kids’ time is far too precious to spend on menial tasks when they can be preparing for exams to get them to the right school or college. That can easily morph into the unintended message that you are too important, which inflates the already bloated self-esteem that characterises many American children.” Chores should start at the age of three or four, he maintains. They should be useful jobs that contribute to family life and you should teach them properly so you don’t have to redo their work.

Limit social media
It’s unrealistic and unfair to expect a 14-year-old girl to regulate the time she spends on social media. “What does she say when her friend says, ‘Why didn’t you like the picture I put up (at midnight)?’ She has to be able to say, my evil parents locked my phone away at 9.30 so I could go to bed. We have to be the bad guys here: the parent not the friend.” He says parents should make greater efforts to learn more about what their children are doing online. He laments the passing of the traditional teenage girl’s pastime of writing a diary. “A diary involved writing at length, it was private, it was about finding out who you are. Social media is about performing, entertaining people. For some kids, that performance never ends, which is very damaging to long-term mental wellbeing.”

Enjoy the time you spend with your child
It’s telling that when professional working women in the US were asked by researchers to rate their enjoyment of various activities, at the top were socialising outside work, supper/lunch and exercising. Time with children came in at number 14, even below housework. That might be because mothers (more than fathers) are trying to multitask — answering work emails while playing half-attentively — Sax believes. “It’s no fun for anyone: when you’re with your child, focus on your child, which means no devices for either of you, no screens at dinner or in restaurants and no headphones in the car,” says Sax, who says he always tries to take his nine-year-old daughter outside when they have free time together so he’s not tempted to sneak a look at his phone.

Teach humility
Telling your children how amazing they are has its roots in good intentions: we know how hard it will be for them to succeed and want to build them up. 

However, the culture of self-esteem can lead to disappointment and resentment later when reality hits and they’re 25, working for the minimum wage and still living at home. “Soaring self-esteem in childhood and adolescence, carefully nurtured by parents and teachers, predictably leads to a crash after university, typically about three to five years after graduation when it slowly dawns on the young adult that they are not as talented as they thought,” says Sax. The best antidote is to teach children humility: listening to other people, being interested in what others say before giving your own opinions and being willing to give something a go even if you might fail at it. These attributes foster a “can-do”, resilient attitude.

Don’t allow disrespect
I’ve heard many parents say, ‘When my teenager talks back to me or is disrespectful I try to see that in a positive light — as a sign she is becoming more independent’,” says Sax. “But this is a misconception — it’s not the same as true independence of thought.” He says parents should come down hard on disrespectful language (“shut up” and swearing at parents/siblings). Instead, cultivate proper independent thinking by encouraging dinnertime/in-car debates about current affairs or music; listen respectfully to your child’s position then state why you don’t agree. Stay away from personal topics. “The point of the exercise is to develop the skill of disagreeing respectfully, building independence without hostility. Once that skill is honed you and your teenager should be able to navigate more personal disagreements .”

Redirect them towards fulfilling pastimes
If your child spends hours a week on video games, uploading pictures to Instagram or watching YouTube, don’t be afraid to redirect their attention to something more educational/fulfilling. “Parents have said to me: ‘I know he plays 20 hours of World of Warcraft a week but it’s something he’s good at and I just want him to be happy.’ But that is confusing happiness with pleasure,” says Sax. “The pleasure derived from a video game may last weeks or even months but it will not last many years: the boy either moves on to something else or the happiness undergoes a malignant transformation into addiction.” Research shows real happiness comes from fulfilment, living up to your potential, he says, so it’s the job of a parent to redirect their child’s attention and restrict the amount of time spent on satisfaction of immediate desires (usually screens).

Enforce bedtimes
In every age group, children are sleeping less than the recommended levels, and the older they are the more sleep-deprived they are likely to be,” says Sax. American ten-year-olds get 9.1 hours a night, at 15 they get 7.3 and at 17 just 6.9. (The recommendations are 10+ for 6 to 12-year-olds and nine hours at 13-18). He believes this is because parents have lost authority in determining bedtimes, allowing teens to take mobile phones and tablets to bed. Parents are sympathising with teens who complain they will be left out of the group if they’re not allowed to “chat” until 1am rather than confiscating their phones to prioritise sleep, he says. It’s now somehow expected for teens to have their way on this, he says. “When the American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations in 2013 that no screens should be in children’s bedrooms, there was a somewhat scornful response circulating with the hashtag #goodluckwiththat. Why have parents ceded control here?”

The Collapse of Parenting” by Leonard Sax, Basic Books.


Alfred B. Mittington said...

Best Friend For Ever… Should that not be BBFE??

(Since the Davies Dictionary is now also scrambling the adverbs of time…)


Colin Davies said...

It's not my invention, of course.

Here's one for you:- WDYGAFY.

Phil Adams said...

From the extract, seems to me a very sensible book.
On similar themes, I can heartily recommend the pioneering book "Toxic Childhood" (2007)by my old friend Sue Palmer.

Asger Harlung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Asger Harlung said...

"Best Friend For Ever… Should that not be BBFE??"

No. "Forever" is one word.

Just stressing how the adverbs of time relate to the acronym ;-)

Colin Davies said...