Category Archives: Teenagers

What I've learnt since reaching my 50s

Just being Mum

It is another school week and the start of the final school term as we begin the countdown to the summer holidays.A life less fulfilled

Time appears to be the common thread that runs through the blogs I write.

My eldest, shortly to be eighteen will, with everything crossed, head to University in October.

My eldest step son and his wife are expecting their first baby in October.

It is ironic that as one leaves to start a new chapter as a grown up a new life will be born into the world and the growing up process starts over.

The time we get to spend with our children seems so short.

Zero to eighteen gone in an instant, a flash before your eyes, from baby onesies to torn and skinny jeans.

Good old days, nostalgia what does it mean to you?I am anxious and excited at the anticipated arrival of a newborn into our family.

As a fifty plus parent I feel like I’m starting over, but this time, it isn’t my baby and I can hand him or her back at the end of the day.

I am older, wiser and have had greater life experiences.

The lessons I’ve learnt are plentiful and I have much to pass on and share with my step daughter but I will not give out advice unless asked.

I have learnt that as a woman and a mother shelling out advice whether asked for or not is destined to failure.

Celia, a very good friend of mine told me this; ‘the best advice I can give you, is don’t give any advice, that way you can’t be blamed for the fall out if it goes wrong’.

But what if your children ask for help or advice, that is different she says,’ because if they are asking it’s because they either need genuine help and are prepared to listen, if they then choose not to follow it then it can’t come back and bite you’.

Wise words that I have followed except when it comes to my own children whom I can’t help but tell rather than advise what they should do.

I do tell my boys is to listen to their Mother embracing her little girl before leaving to workinstincts; that gut feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when they are pondering over a decision.

As a mum you learn as you go along not really registering the importance of what you are learning until out pops this information when you least expect it.

You become very good at talking to yourself; you can often find me in a store toilet muttering to myself reminders not to forget certain things. Other fellow mothers nod their heads and empathise, we are comrade in arms.

Motherhood definitely has some kind of biological effect on our brains, you can remember all the school activities for the week or term for that matter but as soon as you step into Tesco you forget the very thing you came in for.

It is a fact of life that being an experienced and older mother means you end up sitting on a plane with an infant screaming its face off only for the poor twenty plus mother to look at you beseechingly to take her child and have it sat on your lap for the rest of flight.

Am I really the holy baby shrine capable of soothing this crying baby?

Miraculously the wailing stops and everyone on the plane sighs with relief, the poor mother orders another gin and tonic, thank you, she says relieved.

Motherhood miraculously gives you a handful of wisdom way beyond your years, capable of solving all problems it seems, including climate change.

In reality we are all making it up as we go along and who determines what makes a great mother?

What I've learnt since reaching my 50s

With books, websites and online forums depicting the perfect family, career and children, we can easily feel that we must be bad mothers because we don’t have a glamorous hair do or primed manicured nails, ‘super mom’ more like ‘poor mom’.

And because you failed to to make it to that football match because the train got stuck at Watford or you missed the school play at 4:30pm due to your meeting running overtime, you’re in big trouble.

Any missed event goes down in the book of no shows, and children very rarely forget it.

Parental judgement is one of the worst afflictions of being a parent, what to wear on your feet let alone body can mean the difference between being seen as cool and relevant by your thirteen year old or a fuddy duddy boring mother.

So, not a lot of pressure being a mother then?

Accepting the fact that as mothers we can’t in actual fact have it all, home, career and children, some things have gotta give and perfect parenting and motherhood is one of them.

There are always the reminders of the failures of being a mum even though you do your best to give your children time, love and your all.

Sometimes you just have to accept that perfection is unachievable but being a loving, caring and giving mum is more important than anything else.

And when my thirteen year old old tells me he loves me because, “well, you’re just mum” it is  the most wonderful feeling in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How do we encourage our kids to read?

How do you get your kids to read?

If like me you’ve watched your children spend most of their holidays in front of an X-Box  or glued to a play station and absolutely no time reading you will understand how frustrated I get when the youngest comes to me at the last hour and says he has a book review to hand in after the half-term break.Getting your kids to read

I am not alone when I share the frustration I have with my boys when they tell me they are bored, pick up a book and read I say, “Booooring” comes back the response.

The love of reading has to start at an early age often instilled by parents, if they see you enjoying a good read you hope that this rubs off onto your offspring.

Given the exposure children have to screens and their use in classrooms and for schoolwork does printed content still have a place in our digital future?

death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work-6-of-10How would it feel to never read from a book or turn over the page of a magazine?

Imagine a world with no books, magazines, printed publications, catalogues and leaflets?

Print is all around us from advertising billboards in towns, bus shelters to newspapers and magazines you find at your doctor’s surgery.

Print is tangible, it evokes your senses, picking up a glossy, high quality magazine can appeal to our senses.

Publishers are able to incorporate different smells into the magazines we read making it more inviting to touch and smell.

I work in the print industry and I enjoy reading digital and print content, and, in spite of the misconception that digital has taken over print, nothing could be further from the truth.

How do we encourage our kids to read?
How do we encourage our kids to read?

Parents face the greatest challenge – to encourage the love of reading.

Whichever medium a child feels comfortable in is better than no reading, and, as long as they are reading something they are using their imaginations and developing the use of words.

The physical aspect of picking up a book and sitting down to read without any online distractions is far more beneficial than reading from a screen.

I attended a print seminar on the harmful long term effects of too much screen time on children.

latest top news on a newspaper page
latest top news on a newspaper page

Professor Susan Greenfield CBE presented a compelling case for the long term effects of screen time and the impact it is having on our lives.

In an article to the Telegraph in 2008 Professor Greenfield was one of the leading researchers on a project undertaken into research seeking to establish the effects of too much screen time.

The findings concluded that children who play video games have the same brain function as gamblers with side effects that include short attention span, anxiety, depression and boredom.

Children have become dependent on external stimuli with boredom setting in when they have to give up sitting in front of a screen.

istock_000025176791smallGreenfield went onto say that reading helps develop individual identities, imagination and the ability to tell and recall stories.

Screens do the opposite they demote creativity are hugely distractive, often cause anxiety and  reduce attention span.

The worrying aspect of her findings was the mindset of the future she pointed to a study where participants did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, preferring mundane external activities than doing absolutely nothing.

The implication being that we are incapable of sitting still, resting in a contemplative reflective way. We are just “too busy” and we use the phone as a means to escape to check in on social media.

How often do you check your phone each day?Death_to_stock_photography_weekend_work (7 of 10)

In a report by Deloitte 18- 24 year olds use their phones all the time while eating meals.

What is wrong in switching the damn thing off and staring into space or people watching?

The smartphone has become an integral part of our lives it is an extension of us, we are lost without it if it’s not in our hand or within easy reach of us.

Reading from a physical book is more restful enabling the person to think about what they are reading.

The greatest thing a human being can have is creativity and thought.

Print should be the first medium children come into contact with when they learn to read.

Good reading and writing skills coupled with common sense is essential.

Lily Cole, actress, model and ambassador for Project Literacy wants it to be on the humanitarian agenda unlike war, famine and poverty people won’t die because of being illiterate but being able to read and write equips people with the necessary skills to navigate the world in which they live, being able to read ingredients on an item of food to a road sign.

When people can read they are informed about the world around them, they can make choices.

The power of the printed word and the ability to understand what you are reading is a basic human right.

Comprehension and literacy are the cornerstone of understanding, from  instructions on how to build a wardrobe to being able to understand what medication the Dr. has prescribed for you.

Reading demands that we are constantly learning even when we think we aren’t or can’t be bothered.

94% of the vietnamese population aged 15 or over are literate.

The OECD rated english teenagers aged 16-19 children the worst of the 23 developed nations in literacy and 22nd out of 23 in numeracy.

In Korea, teenagers have the highest levels of numeracy/literacy of all the OECD countries.

Japan, Finland and the Netherlands are all placed highly for 16-19 year olds with good literacy/numeracy skills.

Contrast that to english teenagers where 1 in 5 have a lower level of literacy and the same in numeracy with more than 25% lacking basic skills.

A survey undertaken by Two Sides, an independent not for profit organisation, in 2015 demonstrates that 88% of the respondents believe they understand and retain information when they read print on paper, the preference to read from paper rather than a screen was evident across all age groups.

  • When given a choice, 81% indicated that they prefer to read print on paper.
  • 81% indicated they are most relaxed when reading print on paper. Age group differences were minor with only 30% preferring to read from smartphones.

Encouraging children to read, to lose themselves in the story and the language can broaden their knowledge of words and spelling.

I have books lying around the home, bookshelves full of books, magazines, newspapers so there’s no excuse for my children not to read, but getting them to pick up a book is an entirely different matter.

With all these online distractions how do we get our kids to read?

  • We can start by limiting screen time, if it is a school night and they have to use the PC for homework then that is the way it has to be but, if they ask to play on the playstation the answer is a simple No.
  • Setting them a challenge to read two books in a month and the offer to take them out to their favourite eating place or cinema to see a film, this incentive has currently been offered to my thirteen year old, after I bought three books from Amazon (see the bottom of this post to see the books I bought)

This is not bribery it is about getting them into the habit of reading so it becomes something they miss when they don’t do it.

To my amazement last night he gave me a hug and kiss goodnight and said: “I’m going to bed to read”.

Not content with the spoken word I sneaked upstairs to check and there he was READING one of the books I had bought.

My youngest tends to spend time on the loo looking at his iPad so, I’ve taken it away and suggested that he reads a book instead, two things happened, he got out of the bathroom swiftly and strangely enough he now has more time to get things done.

Whatever it takes to get them to read.

  • Reading in bed before the lights go out is a great way to relax and get the brain ready for sleep rather than looking at a screen.  It is hard work but persist and the rewards will pay dividends because your child will get into the habit of wanting to read and going to bed earlier.
  • Set them a challenge – get them to read all the books by Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, there is a box set available from Amazon just click the button on my website to order it.
  • Ask your child what is the longest word they’ve discovered whilst reading and get them to find out what it means by using a real dictionary.
  • Get your child to read to you, they don’t have to be young to practice their reading, my youngest loves to read to me, he lies next to me in bed and reads a chapter we get mother and son time and share a great story often trying to figure what is going to happen next.
  • Photo copy extracts from books and encourage them to read it, if they enjoy it suggest you buy the book for them.
  • Read to them, this is a new one for me, I haven’t read to my children since they were very young. I started reading the book I’m currently reading, a dry throat and half an hour later I had one son snuggled up on the bed next to me ready to go to sleep but wanting more.
  • Let them read wherever their interest takes them they should be encouraged to venture from one type of book to another.

Finally, if you’ve tried everything else allow them screentime with Kindle and download books for them to read, yes, it is easier in some respects but at least THEY ARE READING a book and not glued to a screen.

My recommended books:-

Teenage Kicks: 101 Things to do before your 16 – Clive Gifford

The Art of Being A Brilliant Teenager – Andy Cope 

The Midnight Gang – David Walliams

teenage sex

Teenage sex and the forgotton boy

Sex, three letters and the mere mention of the word makes people teen sexvery coy, blush or hurriedly change the subject.

Unsurprisingly it always ends up being one of the main topics of our conversation at my friends termly meet up for lunch.

Teenage sex.

Should I let my daughter, nineteen and at University sleep in the same room as her newly acquired boyfriend?

What age are teens losing their virginity?

Should we let our offspring share their ‘bedroom’ and bed for that matter with their boyfriend/girlfriend when they are only seventeen?

Is teenage sex that bad? There are worse things happening in the world?

Seventeen – yikes I hadn’t even thought about it at that age, call me a late developer or late starter for that matter, nope I was way too interested in other stuff and one blonde haired blue eyed boy that I was hopelessly in love with but teenage sex, no way, didn’t even cross my mind.

I know at that age some of my friends were doing it or experimenting I should say and took great delight in sharing all the details with me, like I was ‘Aunty’.

Whilst sex was a regular topic of conversation with my friends from 15-16 and upwards it didn’t matter if you admitted you were still a virgin there wasn’t this taboo, you weren’t ostracised and hung out to dry just because you hadn’t lost your virginity.

I’m holding out for someone special said one friend, what happens if you meet him when you’re 32 said another?

teenage sexThere is never a dull moment when I meet with friends and the ‘teenage sex’ conversation’ comes up.

Two of us have boys, my other friends have girls, they want to get our perspective and try and understand what boys are thinking when it comes to girls.

Teenagers are more promiscuous than we were? A bit of a generalisation I said, not every single teenager from thirteen and upwards is having sex.

Most young people under the age of 16 will have an interest in sex and sexual relationships. Sexual exploration and experimentation are a normal part of childhood development.

The age of consent to any form of sexual activity is 16 for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender.

It is an offence for anyone to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. However, Home Office guidance is clear that there is no intention to prosecute teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age.

It is an offence for a person aged 18 or over to have any sexual activity with a person under the age of 18 if the older person holds a position of trust (for example a teacher or social worker) as such sexual activity is an abuse of the position of trust.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides specific legal protection for children aged 12 and under who cannot legally give their consent to any form of sexual activity. There is a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for rape, assault by penetration, and causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity.

Are teenagers becoming sexually active younger? 

The obvious answer is yes, but is it because we hear so much about teenage sex?

They see sex everywhere – on TV, in magazines, online, then there is peer pressure add to that pop stars flaunting what god gave them proving that sex does sell.

It is more accessible than when we were kids. Teenagers know so much more than we ever did but that’s because it is easier to access and view information. Therefore comparing the past with the present is impossible.

teen sexKids learn about sex in their personal development and sex education program, ‘orrible and yuk’ were the descriptive words used by my eleven year old recently.

Biologically factual but with no reference to abstinence.

And, if you don’t learn at school and your parents don’t tell you, friends will.

Sexting is considered a normal part of sexual development akin to the fumble and kiss behind the bike sheds – I’m not saying I agree with ‘sexting being normalised’ but there is an argument that suggests teens have been brought up in a social, online world and sending images could be viewed as part of their sexual development and almost a form of courtship.

It is similar in the way we may of passed on secret love notes to the boy/girl we fancied in school or scribbled a note in their exercise book, they use sexting, the difference is, it is online, invasive and has a darker side particularly if an image goes viral.

If kids are told not to do something, that just makes them want to push the boundaries even more.

My eldest son tells me that teenage sex amongst his peers is common, is that just showmanship or boys being boys?

My girlfriend recounted a funny conversation she had with her son and his friend on the way home from school.

They were talking about how having sex first is far more important than starting a relationship  with a person that way if the sex is no good you move on.

teenage sex

How can you be good at sex as a teenager?

Sex is the most natural thing between two consenting adults and can be a very beautiful experience if you are in love, but let’s be honest it takes practice.

I’m bringing up my boys up to respect women and to appreciate the differences between love and sex.

But, I’m not that naive to think that if they are going to ‘do it’, they will, but it is my job, our job as parents to point out the perils of having sex with different partners.

My twenty-four year old step son came to me when he was seventeen and told me that his girlfriend was on the pill, that was his way of saying we are having sex.

Following a long conversation about starting sexual relationships young, I pointed out that by the time he is thirty he could potentially have had eight different partners assuming the average relationship lasted a year.

I pointed to my then gorgeous three year old, as he toddled into his bedroom where we were talking, my stepson reflected on what I hoped were my words of wisdom.

I suggested that if they weren’t careful and didn’t use protection they might end up with a little bundle before they’ve even had time to enjoy the rest of their teenage years.

Now, what was I saying about my misspent youth…

 

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Mollycoddling parents. Are we really too protective of our kids?

Bang, I was hit over the head metaphorically speaking when I realised that I am simply doing too much for my kids.

Mollycoddling parents, I believe that is what we are referred to as. Group Of Elementary School Pupils Running In Playground

Am I really molly-coddling my children, am I stifling their childhood?

Or, am I an ordinary working mother who cares about how her children end up?

I am sick to death of the media  bombarding us with images of our children growing up in an unsafe country.

At every corner there is a peadophile or some extremist waiting to prey on our children and hurt them.

What has happened to good old fashioned parenting skills and mother instincts.

why I fear for my children's future

I remember as a child going off after breakfast with my friends to the park, this involved crossing a seriously busy road on my bike, then riding what probably seemed like five miles but what was probably only two and half miles to play in the park.

There was no rubber matting under the climbing frames, swings at best were marginally safe and as for stranger danger, yes we knew not to talk to strangers or take sweets, because it was on the television and it was the last thing our parents would remind us of as we left the house.

My mother particularly taught me to use my instincts, if it doesn’t look or feel right it probably isn’t.

I remember walking through the park to get into town, catching two

role models for teenagers

buses to get to the gym club on a friday night and cycle to the recreation centre to meet with friends on Disco night.

It is the 21st century and my children have less independence than I had and yet they have more than I ever had at their age and I find myself asking what is different, what has changed?

I drive my children to school, simple really I work in the same town as the school they attend, if I sent them on the bus which would make for a less stressful start to the day but it will cost me twice as much as it does now.

DeathtoStock_NotStock6When my eldest son now fifteen asks if he can go into town with his friends, it becomes an interrogation about where is he going, who he is going with, how long will he be there for.

He understands and respects our need to know that he will be safe and yet it feels like we are taking away his freedom.

The only thing that is driving that concern is the fear that he might be stabbed or mugged all for an iPhone.

Is the media to blame for this shift in the way we are so protective of our children or is it simply that we know more because of the news and the power of social media.

I do feel that they don’t have the childhood that I had, we had.

The school day is long, there are extra curricular activities that they want to do, then homework with little or no time for play.

When holidays arrive understandably they want to be on the playstation or watch films on the television and relax.

When I was fifteen I spent two evenings a week at my gymnastics club, every saturday afternoon and alternate sunday mornings and I still had time to watch television in the evenings after homework and I remember after training on saturday getting home for 6PM to watch the Bionic Man and the inevitable Bionic Woman.

We seemed to have endless amounts of time.

I watch two young children endlessly busy with homework, coursework and GCSE’s and wonder was it like this when I was their age?

Parenting is not rocket science and often it is a mixture of making it up as you go along with good old fashioned inner instincts.

Do I then fit into the category of being over-protective or is this the treadmill of life?

I know I don’t overprotect or smother my children, they simply have no choice but to rely on me to get them to and from school.

And as our town centre requires a fourteen mile journey to get there they rely on us to take and collect them when they meet up with friends.

As a parent we are dominated by the fear factor.

Are they ok, is it safe.

These weren’t the questions that my parents asked when I travelled on public transport.

Does this lack of independence mean that not just my children but ‘our children’ will be unable to cope when they are older, unable to buy a train ticket, understand a bus timetable, book a taxi on the phone?

Whilst I freely admit that I encourage my children to play the sports or do the hobbies they love I haven’t orchestrated this for my benefit.

I want them to be busy, it keeps them interested, gives them some independence, they learn new things and hopefully they have fun.

A good friend of ours related the tales of his eldest daughter who went off to University in September. For the first two-three weeks, his wife was making twice weekly trips with food and clean laundry.

‘You’ve spoiled her’, yes, he said. We’ve done nothing to promote independence, Julie has done everything for her, made her bed, cooked, ironed, given her lifts to friends.

When she left she was ill equipped for what university life had to throw at her, sharing with people she’d never met, unable to cook proper food, no organisation in her daily life, plan the food shopping list, when to change the bed, wash clothes and so on.

Initially she felt bereft and insecure and at one point considered moving to a University closer to home.

All because she had not been disciplined or had prepared for entry into the world.

When I mentioned that over the last few months we’ve been making an effort to teach the boys basic cooking like pasta with meat sauce, how to cook and english breakfast and prepare simple meals, how to iron a shirt or pair of jeans it was met with ‘I wish we’d done that’.

It was a decision my husband came to when he said I was cosseting them too much, but that’s ‘what mothers do’, I said.

You are are a mollycoddling parent, how I hate that word. In my view I thought I was doing the right thing but I thought about what I did when I was eleven and fifteen respectively and the realisation dawned on me.

At the time I wasn’t pleased to be accused of being a mollycoddling parent but deep down I knew that if continued I would not be helping them prepare for entry into adulthood.

Good parenting isn’t just about making sure they come top in english it’s about teaching them the mundane, everyday life skills. If we don’t show them or teach them how are they going to be ready for the real world.

Many young people just expect success will be easy, only to crumble and fall apart when they crash at the first obstacle?

How do we encourage independence when the world appears so unsafe and unwieldy?

Fear is the dominant emotion – the fear of something happening to them and consequently children are being denied the chance to learn on their own, to work things out and to take responsibility for their own actions.

I don’t have the answers but I do know that we have lost the confidence to trust ourselves as parents and to trust our children that they are actually more aware than we probably give them credit for.

 

 

 

Mums and daughters. You want to look like your daughter? So what!

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Any given Saturday you will find mums and daughters trying on and swapping the same clothes. 

Mums and daughters dressing in similar styles that it is hard to work out who is copying who.

Recently when holidaying in Spain I saw a daughter and mother giggling as they tried on the same clothes. They were in the queue I was in when they purchased the clothes they had both tried on.

I was curious; do they go out and wear the same clothes at the same time? Do they swap clothes even though mum appeared to be in her mid fifties?

I looked at these women quizzically. Do mums really want to look like their daughters?

By the time women reach their 40s and 50s they are asserting their own independence, sense of dress and style and I wondered if I had a daughter would I want to look or dress like her?

I don’t have daughters, some of my friends who do think I am blessed to have two boys.

I love my fashion, shoes, handbags but isn’t there a point where you have to say okay, absolutely love it, but am I too old for that, or, if I was in my twenties maybe.

Are mothers trying to slow down the onset of middle age by dressing like their daughters or does fashion simply lend itself to any age?

It seems that modern mothers want to be their daughter’s best friend or the peer they turn to when they talk about boyfriend troubles, or what they should wear to attract that boy they really like.

Should this type of conversation be between friends rather than mum? Can mum be a confidante in the same way a best mate can?

Teenagers

Does this now mean that mum should confide in her daughter at a time when a daughter needs her mother to be just that ‘mum’.

Does following their daughters fashion, hair-style and make-up give them the freedom to express and relive lost youth?

Has it become a worrying obsession with self-esteem or, is it a desire to stay young or is it both? Is it a vain hope to recapture lost adolescence?

As a teenager I don’t ever recall my mother wanting to emulate my dress sense and I can tell you I never wanted to dress like my mum.

But she did her best to impart to me the importance of being independent by not being a ‘follower’ but an individual even though I did my best to be a follower, like every kid I wanted to fit in. It met with a lot of resentment at the time especially when shopping in Chelsea Girl, Miss Selfridge and other favoured teen clothes stores.

I was angry at the ‘no you can’t have that, ‘that’s unsuitable’ and no you can’t wear that because you are too young’. Believe you me there were many arguments between my mum and me prior to going out about what I could and could not wear. I can honestly say that I hid clothes in the garage and darted back in again to change the top or skirt I was wearing.

The dress boundary if I can call it that has certainly helped me in the raising of my two boys and I now understand why. My mother set boundaries as to what I could and couldn’t wear because she was thinking of my safety and welfare.

Now it would seem that mothers see their daughters as role models, someone that can help them stay young looking, keep them up to date with fashion and make up. For teenagers the peer pressure to look and wear the same clothes and make up is immense and for many teens it is the fear of not fitting in or not looking the same. 

How then, does a mother say ‘No’ to a short-cropped top and mini skirt worn by her thirteen-year-old daughter?

It’s a dilemma facing many mothers when they should be empowering their daughters by educating and explaining to them that sometimes no should mean no.

In reality I’m sure they cringe and say yes to keep the peace. For some mums it’s teaching their daughters’ to have a healthy respect for their body.

Demonstrating to a teenage daughter that by wearing tight fitting clothing, mini skirts or cropped tops is likely to invite trouble from the opposite sex when the response is ‘but all the girls wear these’ is difficult to navigate around.

The media have done a good job by saying that our teenagers have been sexualised and that sex sells.

I’m pretty certain that most girls choose to wear what they want to wear because they love the fashion. They see it in their favourite shops, they are bombarded with images of products that will make them more attractive and they want it.

Therefore we can hardly blame teenagers for wearing daring outfits at a young age if it is being branded as being suitable for young girls by marketers’ and retailers alike.

As mothers are we at risk of taking away the independence of daughters by indulging their wishes and letting them buy and wear what they want and then using it as justification for fulfilling their daughters’ own self-esteem and needs? What message are we giving our teens if we say yes you can wear that?

Are we powerless to change it? After all we do want our son/daughter to be with the ‘in’ crowd’ and to fit in. We remember how it felt to be different just because mum refused to buy the fashion of the day, we felt left out.

What teenage girl or boy doesn’t want to look attractive, sought after and popular and why wouldn’t any mum do everything she can to make sure she helps.

And has it really changed that much from when we were teens?

The difference is the wide availability of porn, social media and targeted branding that influences the teen audience more than it ever did say 35+ years ago.

Sue Palmer, author writes:

The next generation is thus being trained to value themselves in terms not of any human worth, but of their possessions. So ownership of this week’s consumer must-have is now the driving force of playground politics and the marketeers’ definition of ‘edgy cool’ is the new infant religion.

This culture of cool also affects role models and youthful aspiration. There are no old-fashioned heroes for children to worship any more, just celebrities. 

The constant daily message received by children is that success is measured in ownership, money is the new currency of love.

For teenagers great emphasis is placed on the look, wearing make up, what the latest trend is with the added fear of not ‘fitting in’

Is it right that we look at our children as role models, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Ultimately we are the adults that need to be good role models for our children, set an example so that as they grow up they will hopefully adopt our values, give them a strong foundation so they value their own skin and not feel they have to copy and be like everyone else.

We only know if we’ve been successful once they leave home and forge their own independence.

As for mothers looking like their sons?

Aside of the hair and make up definitely not but why did I buy those superdry joggers and hoodie again?

What do you think? Do argue with your teenager about what they can and can’t wear?

How do you persuade them not to wear something you think is risky or unsuitable?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future of our children. Why I fear for my children’s future?

why I fear for my children's future

I had second thoughts about writing this because I know from the outset anyone who reads it will presume I’m the voice of doom and gloom, a voice of an overly anxious mother or maybe old-fashioned.

In actual fact I’m neither of the above I am a realist.

When a friend said to me recently nothing much bothers her anymore my response was “pretty much everything bothers the heck out of me”.

I’ve been penning this blog for sometime as I watch my boys grow into young adults wondering in this crazy beaten up old world what future do they and the rest of our kids have to look forward to.

The world has definitely become a smaller place. News is instant and you can pretty much stay ahead with what is going on in the world if you are on twitter or social media for that matter.

But with it has come a more sinister world where acts of sexual depravity, pedophilia, indecent images and generally bad behaviour seem to be the new order.

Have our children become anaesthetised to it all?

Do they recognise the differences between good and bad?

The violence acted out on playstation consoles, do they understand that unlike GTA 5 if someone gets shot in real life they don’t get up again and carry on playing they die.

There is no easy answer and is there really anyone to blame? Probably not.

All I know that as parents we can only be the best we can be.

“In England’s green and pleasant land” the final words in the inspiring hymn Jerusalem sung at many british sporting events yet sadly doesn’t seem to inspire many today.

The country is lacking decisive leadership, there is a pressing immigration problem, there is anger and aggression in our midst, no positive role models for children to emulate and a lack of motivation to work.

Apathy is endemic, some people believe they can live off the very generous welfare system not worrying how their bills are paid, we pay them.

We are supporting this system through hard work and through taxation. We are over burdened with financial insecurity, salaries haven’t increased to keep pace with the rising costs of living and still we contribute to the framework of this fragile state.

Labour, should they be elected, want welfare to be more rewarding than good old fashioned honest work.

The party established to protect the interests of the working class has effectively become the voice piece of a dependency culture.

A society where teenagers think work is a non essential activity.

What kind of society sets the tone for its future generation by rewarding those for living off the state and penalises others for working hard and paying high taxes.

The government’s plans to reduce the benefits plague is working but how long will it really take to be rid of the freeloaders?

Surely, the question that needs to be asked is why people believe they are entitled to live off the system and why they feel they don’t need to work?

It requires a massive cultural shift and a change of thinking.

The UK faces a wave of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria when the restrictions on EU freedom of movement are relaxed allowing a potential influx of some 29 million people who will have access to full rights to live, work and claim benefits in Britain.

The Prime Minister disclosed that Britain should not be seen as a “soft touch” for foreigners. (The Times 14th February 2013) access to all government benefits and services should be governed by a common sense approach. Access to housing, health service, justice which are the right of a british citizen should not be the automatic right of an illegal immigrant or any immigrant entering the country.

Fine words but under EU law (european union law) any restrictions or reduced access to any of the welfare services would be viewed as unlawful by the european parliament.

Our government, the one that creates laws, sets policies and  rules the country is based in London and not some distant outpost in Strasbourg, Brussels or even Luxembourg.

Yes, the european parliament has three offices.

The EU is intent on dictating to our government and indeed its people how we should live and breathe.

The last time the UK experienced a large influx of migrants was in 2004 under Blair’s government when EU rules were relaxed and residents of Poland were granted access to live and work here.

The Labour government under-estimated the number of poles arriving and the figure is now in the region of 250,000. The national census of 2012 revealed that over 1.1 million eastern europeans are resident in the UK with polish being the second most popular language.

Given that Romania and Bulgaria are the poor relations of europe it’s not unrealistic to assume that many will want to relocate to the UK for a better way of life and as a legal immigrant be entitled to claim benefits.

Who is going to support this?

The government are working hard to reduce the deficit left by the last government, the NHS is straining at the seams due to austerity measures and school classroom sizes are beyond the maximum number of pupils per classroom (30)

Annual births in England have increased every year since 2002 with the exception of 2009. Births in 2010 were 20% higher than in 2002 and 13% higher than in 2004. The recent projected population increases are likely to increase demands for teachers and classrooms. (Department for Education)

In 2012, the general population increased by more than 420,000, the highest birth rate recorded since 1972.

Six out of ten are as a result of rising birth rates which lead to  254,400 more births than deaths and around four in ten of the additional people are immigrants. The total number of people living in the UK at the end of June 2012 was 63,705,000 (Office for national statistics)

England has the fastest growing population than any of its other european union members.

What affect will this have on our infrastructure – housing, health, education, transport, utilities and employment opportunities?

Where does it leave our children? The next generation of entrepreneurs, critical thinkers, future industrialists?

As a teenager I don’t ever recall a society that was more disparate than it is now.

In 2011, Cameron in his pre-election speech talked about a broken society he was proven right when the UK was subjected to riots that year.

It’s not solely the responsibility of the government to make society better surely it is down to individuals, families and schools.

We must take responsibility for our actions. I am always teaching my children that for every action there must be a consequence.

How or why has society changed seemingly for the worse?

Why do we appear to be so angry and aggressive?

Britain is a far cry from the society I grew up in the 70s and 80s.

There was the miners strike, the cold war and the fight for the Malvinas which resulted in the Falklands War but our nation was strong and highly regarded on the world stage.

You would be hard pushed to recognise that Britain today.

Old, broken and run down like an old car. A broken society

A democracy that is frightened to use the word ‘black’, ‘white’, ‘muslim’, ‘asian’ for fear of being called a bigot or worse still a racist, fearful of overstepping the mark in case we are not politically correct.

There are 1,958,000 single parent families (2011 office of national statistics) there are children living on a diet of junk fat foods, children addicted to computer games.

Teenagers being treated for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) has doubled over the last thirty years and the marketeers who brand their products blatantly in front of our children lure them into the belief that to be part of the ‘in’ group they must have the latest ‘it’ item.

Why are children lacking in self-respect and pride?

This can’t be blamed on the government. Good behaviour begins and ends at home. As parents it is our responsibility to manage our children’s expectations of life by providing a loving and nurturing family environment.

But how can we when there are so many pervading external influences many of which we don’t have any control over.

Liberalisation and instant access to social media sites like facebook, twitter, Youtube and porn sites allow children to view the excesses of human depravity.

Rick Johnson in ‘That’s my teenage son” provides advice for mothers wanting to understand their teenage sons. He refers to adolescence as ‘dangerous times for boys’ and that mothers have ‘feminised’ them.

Being exposed to female influence and dominance renders them incapable of doing or thinking for themselves.

This is especially prevalent in single parent families where mum protects her son from the realities of life thinking she is helping him but in reality she creates a man who is indecisive, passive and unable to commit to a relationship.

Fatherless boys have no confidence, no self-esteem because they are afraid of humiliation through failure which is the normal part of growing up. The consequence of this is they become angry dysfunctional young men with behavioural problems.

Young girls are growing up too fast they are being ‘sexualised’ (the forcing of a sexual identity onto a child) into looking older than they are.

12 year olds now look like 15-16 year olds, they are dressing in ‘sexy clothing’, having sex, binge drinking, sexting images of themselves because they they are under pressure to do so.

It is part of the new culture of growing up too fast. We see it as parents when we drop our teenagers to parties, girls who look 16 or older, they exude a frightening level of overconfidence that belies their years.

Who is to blame?

The rise of social media sites, adverts, magazines, alcohol marketing, sexually explicit TV programmes, access to porn on the internet.

A society that is evolving and developing so fast technologically that we’ve been unable to keep up with the impact this is having on children.

Children know more by the age of ten then we did when we reached fourteen.

Sue Palmer’s “Toxic Childhood, how the modern world is damaging our children and what we can do about it” calls it toxic childhood syndrome, ‘there’s no point looking for someone to blame, no one intended it – the culture changed so rapidly that we’re only just beginning to notice the extent of the collateral damage’.

She goes on to write, ‘I’m not suggesting we turn the clock back on our cultural revolution, I love new technology, the buzz of twenty-four living. But in order to maintain the new global culture, we must acknowledge what it’s doing to our children and work out how to detoxify their lives’.

Psychologist and author Steve Biddulph talks about ‘a damaged generation that may have lifelong problems forming loving relationships. Never before has girlhood been under such sustained assault. The result is that many girls lose four years of crucial development.’

He goes on to say, ‘the current generation is utterly unique it’s the first to grow up exposed to hard core pornography.’

Teenagers by their very definition are feisty, wilful, insecure and moody.

They need parents who set boundaries and curfews, adults acting as parents not mothers or fathers behaving as friends.

Teenagers need advice when they ask for it, feel comfortable being able to talk about sex, alcohol, boyfriends and girlfriends.

In Steve Biddulph’s words ‘there are two weapons we can all deploy to help our sons/daughters grow up unscathed, our love and our time.

Fine advice for parents. I only hope we can make a change.

The only question that remains is how will the next generation of children turn out?

What do you think? Should we worry or is this just part of society changing?

Should we accept the status quo or should we be doing more?

What could we be doing?

Share your comments what do you really think?

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Back to sckool. How to survive the next school year.

Back to schoolMost children in the UK went back to school earlier this week and if you are a working mum there was a sense of relief tinged with sadness when you dropped them off at the school gates.

As much as we love our kids there is only so much holiday time one can bear before fights break out and the arguments ensue.

I’ve enjoyed a great summer with my family as I hope you have too.

Summer 2013 will probably go down as one to be remembered and to reflect with affection, in future years.

As the start of the new school term gets underway I am feeling reflective.

I know that you should always look forward, focus on the next good thing you might have planned and don’t look back but it’s hard when eight weeks have passed so quickly.

Dropping the kids off on their first school morning in new school uniforms, new blazer with sleeves longer than they are and trousers that are so baggy they hang over their shoes its difficult not to have a heavy heart and that sick feeling in your stomach.

You also know they are feeling the same way. At least mine were this morning, quiet and contemplative staring out of the car window.

It’s all new.

New school uniform, new friends, new teachers, new timetable and for my 14 year old the start of the GCSE program.

school's inThe school year will fly by and in an instant it’ll be July again bang and another school vacation.

Our children grow up so fast and each year merges into the next.

As mums we hit the ground running. No let up for us.

Back to the school routine, after-school activities and taxi servicing on demand.

Looking back brings a sense of sadness and quiet reflection on what was and what might be.

Working mums have two calendar years, the academic one and the year calendar (Jan-Dec).

It is a fine balancing act managing work and children.

By the way this isn’t a tirade on the virtues of working women stay at home mums contribute and add just as much to the welfare of their families and the economy as working women.

But as I am not a stay at home mum I can only share with you my thoughts and feelings.

So in an effort to provide how to get through the next term unscathed, or for that matter school year, I came up with my top tips for managing the fine art of being a working mum or dad.

time management
My ode to keeping sane this new school year

I call it ode to keeping sane

1. Balance work with being mum/dad – if I had a pound for every time I get asked that I’d be a millionaire and wouldn’t have to work. Last night over dinner with my boys and husband we made a pact and that is if any one of us gets too involved in school, too involved with work and our jobs, any one of us has the right to say hang on mum/dad we are more important than your job, spend some time with us. In short, knock knock are you really there mum and dad.

It’s all too easy to let work spill over to evening and weekends.

2. Don’t feel guilty – ask any working mum or dad who are the primary care givers and I doubt you will find one that doesn’t at least once a week harbour a feeling of guilt and a what if… There are many dual income families that have to work, it is what it is. Get your head down and get on with it and let your children know that you will be there for them whenever you can.

3. Plan the night before – this has saved me so many times. Kids have school uniforms so it’s not a case of making sure  which clothes they are going to wear. I do a quick check to make sure they have everything ready for the morning this should include sports bags and kit, the right school books packed in their bags and and snack boxes made up the night before. By having their school timetables pinned on my fridge I can shout out to them when I’m cooking and make sure they’ve got what they need ready.

I also decide on what I’m wearing in the morning so I am ready to go and don’t get struck with the dreaded ”I don’t know what to wear today syndrome’. If you are anything like me and I forget to do this my morning fashion statement is a walking disaster and I hate having a hand-bag that doesn’t match my shoes.

4. Plan meals a week in advance –  this not only cuts down on buying voluminous amounts of unnecessary food but cuts down on your shopping bill. I literally map out a Monday-Friday plan of what I am cooking this also has to fit around after school activities and then I buy what I need for the weeks meals.

If I can get ahead start for the following evening’s meal I do. For example last night I made a shepherd’s pie ready for tonight. All I need to do when I get in is pop it in the oven and prepare some veggies. Job done.

5. Get a head start – which brings me very nicely to plan meals in advance so if you are making lasagne make an extra big one so you can freeze half of it and then you’ve got ready made meals for when you forget to do your meal planning or when there is some extra school activity that hasn’t been factored in to the diary. The same applies to cakes. I’ve rediscovered scone making so have made two batches of scones, frozen a set and kept the rest for the kids this week for their snack boxes.

6. Family calendar – if you don’t use one get one. I have one in my kitchen and our names each have a column for what is happening and when. I do have my own diary as I am the sole manager of who needs to be where and when. But in the event of death (mine) at least my husband can find out who needs to be where, when and with what!

6a. A wipe clean easy peel every day planner with the days of the week is a great way to add those impromptu dates or to do’s. I got mine from staples, it sticks to the fridge door and is great for reminders and for writing down each days activities which usually change week on week.

7. Stay connected – during the working day it’s difficult to find time to think let alone contact your kids but I text or email them once a day to ask how are they are getting on, how’s the day going and that I love them. I don’t often get a response until I collect them from school but my elder boy will often call me at lunchtime to say hello.

8. Any work related stuff that’s not important but takes time at work to do like reading emails or catching up on memos read after the kids are in bed or on your commute. Use this time to pay bills, follow up important but not urgent emails and set yourself a time limit.

9. Plan family weekend activities and diarise them- it’s so easy for one week to roll over to the next so I try and plan one or two outings in a month where we go out just the four of us it might be to the cinema, a long walk, or trip in to London. Once it’s diarised it’s immovable.

The most important thing is that time as a family is scheduled in to the diary when everyone knows they can get their whinging and whining out of the way before the event.

10. Spend time with your partner – sounds easy yet two people living in the same house can pass each other like ships in the night especially after a summer holiday when you’ve been together 24/7. Make time to talk with no TV or distractions.

11. Book a moment for yourself – so far it’s been about everyone else but looking after YOU is key because without you it all falls a part. Diarise a facial, massage, pedicure or a long walk in a place you haven’t seen before try and do this at least once a month. If you can manage to do this once a week let me know how you do it!

12. Make a list of priorities – isn’t it amazing how we seem to make lists and lists which keep growing and getting longer and when you finally tick them off there’s more to do but in reality they are tasks that are important but not urgent. So create a list for what really needs to be done and by when then you will see that it’s not as bad you first thought. If you are into apps and gizmoes like me then I can recommend Nozbe there is a free and a paid version.

I use the paid version. It’s taken me 20+ years, 10 filofaxes give or take, god knows how many free and paying apps to find something that works for me and this one does.

13. Manage a chore a day – if your not in the enviable position of being able to afford a ‘domestic goddess’ then do a chore an evening. How long does it take to dust the upstairs unless you live in a 20 bedroom mansion or clean a bathroom? By the weekend you wont have a mountain of cleaning to do.

14. Set your alarm clock 30 minutes before the kids are up so you can shower/wash and get ready before the rush starts.

15. If you commute to work use this time to catch up on email chasing, reading, planning see No. 8.

16. Get a dictaphone or use your smartphone to dictate reminders, lists, things that need doing so you don’t forget.

17. Shop once a week – if you follow point No. 4 you will get a great head start.

18. Plan, plan, plan – if you don’t plan, you won’t know what’s coming up and it will quickly fall apart causing you more stress and frustration which ultimately leads to more alcohol consumption.

19. Remember what matters most – this relates to point No. 1 getting the balance right and taking time out or being reminded that there is more to life than WORK.

20. and finally… outsource your ironing who the heck wants to iron every night or do a big load at the weekend. I’ll iron the kids school wear and my own but draw the line at anything else. There’s more to life than ironing.

I hope you make use of some or all of the above.

It works for me but it took a bit of time making it a habit but now I do it automatically just about until one of the boys comes in to the kitchen and says mum I need a cake for the cake stall tomorrow, I forgot to tell you, it’s our class’ turn… and it’s now 9:10PM graaa….

Let me know what you do to manage it all?

How has your first day gone with the kids back at school?

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What no role model. Do teenagers need role models?

Role models
What, no role model?

Young people have an abundance of celebrities, actors, athletes’, business entrepreneur role models to look up to.

Jess Ennis, David Beckham, Adele, the late great Steve Jobs and Sir Richard Branson the entrepreneur.

These people have become synonymous with success through hard work, commitment and dedication.

Today’s children are exposed to violent acts and sexualised behaviour. Sexual innuendo and violence is prevalent in songs, pop videos, films and television and this pervading influence can have a profoundly negative effect on children and teenagers who perceive celebrity behaviour as the norm and want to emulate their heroes or role models.

role models
Positive or negative role models can have a profound influence on the way teenagers behave. [Source: www.rihannadaily.com]
Celebrity culture has permeated society via television, magazines, advertisements projecting everyday people to celebrity status almost overnight without having achieved any major or notable achievement and are “famous for being famous.”

Teens are influenced not just by their peers but by the behaviour they see on the television via social media and through the behaviour of others whether good or bad.

When values are institutionalised and behaviour is structured in terms of them a state of social equilibrium is achieved. But this can only happen through socialisation whereby society’s values are passed on from one generation to the next.These values become an intrinsic makeup of the individual personality. In other words these values are part of our very core. The family and the education system are primarily responsible for making sure these values are passed on. (Talcott Parsons, american sociologist, Harvard University)

Sue Atkins “The parenting coach” says that as parents it helps to be involved with our children and to encourage them to choose who they look up to as role models.

Teenagers by their very nature are feisty, demand to be independent and certainly don’t want to be dictated to when it comes to whom they choose to follow or hang around with at school.

role models for teenagers
Most teenagers are feisty, demand independence and will follow who they want to.

Most teens during their developmental years look up to and idolise pop stars, footballers, film stars and athletes and Ms. Atkins goes on to say that choosing a role model or a hero says a lot about who you are as a person.

Ms. Atkins’ courses for Parents and Children include the confidence classes she takes into schools teaching youngsters the value of having goals or aspirations.

She says ‘it’s a good thing and helps teens focus on work and life goals.’

But she shares her concern ‘it worries me when I show them a timeline and get them to think about goals and what they want to achieve in life, often many of them see being on X-factor, achieving fame, fortune or marrying a footballer as their ultimate goal and often all they talk about.’

Ms Atkins goes on to say ‘that the importance of working hard, dedication, application, hardship and overcoming obstacles doesn’t register with some teenagers but achieving fame is and not necessarily for the right reasons’.

She explains the importance of ‘talk and teach’ whereby if we see bad behaviour for example a footballer swearing, spitting or making racist remarks that we discuss the incident with children and explain that just because a footballer is good with the ball doesn’t necessarily make them exponents of good behaviour.

Talking through and explaining with teenagers why that action happened and that it doesn’t reflect well on the individual is a positive way to enforce in youngsters the importance of values and qualities.

Positive parenting and reinforcement of good behaviour in turn promotes high self-esteem. Good role models don’t make teens feel inferior because they are not stick thin or may not have model looks.

Teenagers copy what they see. Even with good parenting they will want to be seen acting a certain way to ensure they are part of the “in” crowd or at the very least not singled out for being different.

If they see their parents swearing at the television during a football match or getting drunk then they see this as the norm.

Teenagers watch a parent’s behaviour too, so if we slip up naturally they think its okay to emulate similar behaviour.

Parents can also serve as positive role models since children mirror the behaviour of their parents; parents’ can’t ask their teens to refrain from behaviour they themselves engage in.

They remember what we do rather than what we might want them to do.

Parents have an enormous role and influence in child upbringing, after all aren’t children the by-product of parents?

A survey of teachers in the UK conducted by the Association of teachers and lecturers in 2008 found that young people chose sports and pop stars as role models.

Teens are influenced by what they see whether the role models are positive or negative and they can have a major effect on young peoples attitudes during their most formative and impressionable years.

If the media projects the very worst of celebrity role models do teenagers really need them?

Tabitha, Jemma, Anya and Olivia (surnames with-held) are 15 year old school girls who have their own view.

They have aspirations to do well at school go onto University and have a career but they’ve also got their own views on how they see role models.

Positive role models are important but there wasn’t one individual they singled out although they admired Jessica Ennis because she had worked so hard to achieve her gold medal at the London Olympics.

Respect is there for people who work hard and achieve celebrity because of hard work rather than being famous for the sake of it.

But the pressure to behave and look a certain way runs deep and becomes evident from 13 years and upwards.

Wearing the same clothes, looking and behaving the same, wearing make-up is the safest way to get through school unscathed.

Tabitha describes her school experience as ‘it’s about blending in rather than sticking out. If we don’t do our hair or we go to school without make-up the other girls and boys look at us’.

Teenage behaviour is often presented in a negative way by the media and there is an automatic assumption that all young people behave the same way this was one aspect of being a teenager that all the four girls felt very strongly about.

‘Just because newspapers depict photos of 18+ girls or boys throwing up in a high street after having gone out drinking doesn’t make us all the same’ says Olivia.

Does the behaviour of these high profile celebrities influence teenagers? 

Teenagers
Teenagers by the very definition are not fit for human participation!

The girls were adamant, ‘no, as teenagers we are going to try different things even if parents have warned us against it but we do know the difference from right and wrong and the good from bad. It’s about growing up and learning, how else do we learn if we don’t try. We know getting drunk is a bad thing we know what harm it can do but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to ever try alcohol.’

Jemma says, ‘we’re not bullied into trying anything whether it’s smoking or drinking but subconsciously I want to so I’m not the odd one out. At the end of the day we will do want we want to do. Between the ages of 15 and 19 school work is hard with lots of work and by the time we are 19 years old we just want to have fun thereafter we know we’ve got to start behaving responsibly.’

A positive role model establishes a sense of identity, defines a sense of purpose and gives teenagers confidence in which case the person to whom they aspire to doesn’t necessarily have to be a celebrity.

A great teacher or sports coach can equally inspire young people giving them confidence, self-esteem and the belief that they can achieve their goals.

Adolescence brings with it a major change in appearance, temperament, attitude and the conflicts associated with taking on responsibility of becoming an adult.

Teens are on a voyage of self-discovery and are trying to make their own way in life with the steadying guidance of the parents.

They have a way of selecting their role models to follow consciously or unconsciously.

Although some teenagers are in danger of not having realistic ideas of what hard work is but rather harbor unrealistic dreams of fame and fortune.

Whatever the influence of the role model it is down to the parents to take every opportunity to reinforce values that are important to them to ensure young people have confidence and are secure in their own skin.

Sue Atkins says, ‘I think teenagers represent our potential and unlimited possibilities so I think it is important who they look up to’.

Positive parenting and positive role models are contributing factors to teenagers with high self esteem, fostering hard work ethics and a determination to succeed.

What do think? Do teenagers need role models? What are you’re children like?

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International Missing Children’s Day May 25th 2013

International Missing Children’s Day is on Saturday May 25th 2013 and I wanted to give it some air time. For 2 reasons firstly I think too many children are going missing, the statistics speak for themselves but also as a mother I think it is vital that we are protective of our children.

It is also a subject very close to my heart and I felt compelled to dedicate some time to the importance of today and to support those who are having to cope with a missing person whether it’s a child or adult. It is an experience unimaginable a mixture of grief, loss, anger and frustration and the more people that are made aware of the plight of “Missing Persons and Children” the more we can do to help, be vigilant and be more aware.

It almost happened to us and it could happen to you.

The gift of raising children comes with a great deal of responsibility and care. We can’t protect them all the time, we need to be aware of what is going on and as parents we are always learning.

Parenting is no mean feat, we spend much of our time in a state of constant worry, did they get to school safely, are they ok, who are their friends, are they happy, am I a good parent, what can I do to be an even better parent, what if my son/daughter runs away, what would I/we do if our child was abducted.

Parenting does not come with a manual what method employed in the upbringing of a child by one set of parents may not be right for another and their children.

As parents it is our duty to prepare them for life as best as we can. Most of our guidance will be based on our own upbringing as children.

Children deserve and need our love, affection, care, support and courage. We can teach them right from wrong and pray that when confronted with something or someone that doesn’t feel or look right that they have the courage and strength to act instinctively.

Many children go missing each year either forcefully and unintentionally (abduction) or decided and intentional.

What does ‘Missing’ mean?

There is no agreed definitive statement that determines what missing means because there may be any number of reasons why a person goes missing and each of the parties involved will construe what missing means very differently.

From an abducted child to adults unless they are within the criminal justice system or detained under various sections of the mental health act have a legal right to go missing.

Slide1

This makes defining ‘missing’ a complex issue because people go missing for many different reasons.

Imagine a continuum at the one end there are those who have decided to go missing – intentional in other words it is their choice; along the continuum are those who have drifted out of contact with family, friends or loved ones this is a gradual process and one that has happened over time.

At the end of the continuum is forced and unintentional; those who are missing due to unintentional absence, they maybe lost or have lost contact by accident. At the end of this scale you have people who are missing as a result of force through abduction or kidnapping.

There isn’t a day that goes by where we are not made aware of a missing child most recently the three american girls Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held in captivity for almost a decade.

Madeleine McCann abducted in Portugal in May 2007 and still missing.

Missingkids.co.uk has a list of children that are missing or have been reported missing the list is endless.

In spite of the statistics 99% of all missing cases are solved within one year, in 2010-11 91% of missing incidents reported to the police were closed within 48 hours (NPIA 2011). 51% of missing people are male, 49% are female (NPIA, 2011)

Approximately tw0-thirds of missing cases relate to children and young people this is equivalent to 140,000 people under the age of 18 that go missing each year (Home Office 2010)

Why do children go missing?

Problems at home, conflicts with parents or carers, physical or sexual abuse, missing by force where children are abducted by a stranger and parent abduction.

Children are at risk from being nurtured and trafficked for sexual exploitation and girls are at risk from older males who seek to gain their trust prior to committing sexual offences.

David Finkelhor, director of crimes against children research center at the University of New Hampshire USA says there are 5 myths about missing children:-

1. Most missing children have been abducted by strangers

Children taken by strangers or acquaintances represent one-hundreth of 1% of all missing children an estimated 115 in a year. It is more common for children to run away, to have got lost or injured, have been taken by a family member usually in a custody dispute or aren’t where they are suppose to be because of lack of communication.

2. More and more children are going missing

The high profile cases of the Cleveland girls in the USA and in the UK, Maddy McCann gives the perception to the public that we are facing an unprecedented epidemic of abductions and yet the opposite is true there are fewer missing children one of the main reasons for this Finkelhor explains is because of the prevalence of mobile phones among children that allows them to call for help in situations where they may well be threatened. Parents are able to call them when they aren’t where they should be.

3. The internet has made kidnapping easier

The rise of social media platforms and the ease with which children can view the internet has undoubtedly raised concerns because children can meet nasty people on line they are naive and vulnerable to internet predators. The idea that the internet amplifies the problem is open to conjecture.

Finkelhor says ‘that the web has changed the way young people take risks: they do it more often at home. Instead of going to an unchaperoned house or to a party without telling their parents the exact location, young people are likely to experiment and socialise on line.

Although they can meet bad people on line with bad intentions, the physical distance means that more time elapses between an encounter and a crime. Electronic interactions leave trails which are more likely to be foiled either by parents or the police.

4. Prevention  lies in teaching children to avoid strangers.

As children we always recall one thing that our parents drilled into us almost from the moment we could walk and talk and that was don’t talk to strangers and don’t take anything from strangers. Finkelhor takes issue with this because he rightly says that for most children everyone is a ‘stranger’ to begin with,  it depends on the context of the meeting.

Children come to more harm from people they know than by people they don’t. As parents it would be better to try and educate our children to recognise the warning signs of people behaving badly for example being touched inappropriately, being overly personal, trying to entice them to be on their own with them, acting drunk or wielding weapons.

As parents we need to show children how to be assertive and just say NO, how to summon help when feeling threatened and how to extricate themselves from a situation they don’t feel comfortable about.

5. The main goal should be to reunite children with their families

Police officers and the relevant authorities are tasked with finding missing persons, reuniting them with their families and charging the perpetrators. But in many instances children that have gone missing because of free will are reunited with families who systematically abuse them physically and mentally, they suffer from neglect or there is on going conflict with siblings or parents.

What’s being done to counteract missing persons?

Missing Children in Europe (MCE) was established in 2001 by the european parliament.

It is a europe wide umbrella organisation representing 28 voluntary members organisations from 19 member states which work against child disappearance and sexual exploitation.

With the relaxation of border controls across europe and the freedom of movement between countries, the adoption of a europe wide approach to the problem of missing and sexually exploited children had to be implemented.

MCE exists to foster co-operation across borders to prevent children going missing, being abducted or sexually exploited. It supports the extension of members’ activities and helps members to implement european legislation.

One of its most vital projects was the implementation of a pan european telephone number 116 000 as a hotline for missing children. Launched on International Missing Children’s Day 2009 the hotline works across 22 european countries providing support for missing children and their families by linking them to a national dedicated organisation.

Child Alert Mechanism

Enables information to be broadcast to the public about children who have gone missing in unusual or worrying circumstances and child abductions by means of electronic media, advertising, emails and SMS.

The EU’s aim is to establish the alert mechanism across all member states it is operational in 11 member countries including the UK.

Child Rescue Alert (CRA)

The CRA is a tool based on the ‘AMBER’ (america’s broadcast emergency response) alert system which originated in the USA and has been operational since 1997. The system was set up after the abduction, rape and murder of Amber Hagerman in 1996.

The system is used by UK senior investigation officers for use in abduction or kidnap cases involving a child. Its main objective is to locate the child and bring them to safety by using media to publish details regarding a child’s disappearance.

The public are asked to call: 0300 2000 333 if they have any information in relation to a missing child this number is only available when a CRA is activated.

In the UK the sussex police were the first to introduce a CRA system in November 2002.  By 2005, every force in England and Wales had their own CRA in place. Relaunched on International Missing Children’s Day 2010 this marked a nationally co-ordinated system which enables police forces in england and wales to collaborate more effectively should a CRA be launched.

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

CEOP manage the CRA by providing advice and support and working in collaboration with the UK Missing Person Bureau to help investigate and publicise cases where a child has been abducted.

CEOP works with police forces to ensure best practice across the UK’s police forces and european countries and to make sure the CRA system is managed effectively.

There is still much to be done and no one process or system will be perfect but there is hope in the knowledge that there are many organisations working in a voluntary capacity to raise awareness of the plight of missing children and adults

We must also remember the parents who live in constant despair and anguish not knowing where their child or loved one is alive or dead, well or sick.

The impact on the family of an abduction or a missing person can be nothing less than catastrophic.

Imagine waking up every morning in a state of utmost despair, anger, frustration, sick to the core, the fear of not knowing will I ever see my baby again.

No parent should ever have to experience that.

PLEASE SPARE A THOUGHT TODAY FOR ALL THE MISSING CHILDREN AND PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN TAKEN AGAINST THEIR OWN WILL OR WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO GO MISSING.

SHARE THIS AND LET’S GET THE MESSAGE OUT THERE.

INTERNATIONAL MISSING PERSONS DAY ISN’T JUST ONE DAY, FOR MANY IT CAN SEEM LIKE A LIFETIME.

Here’s our story.

[Statistics taken from missingpeople.org.uk and missingkids.co.uk]

 

How our son was almost taken away from us.

August 2011

Let me set the scene, we are currently holidaying in Spain. We come to this particular destination on the Costa De La Luz, most school holidays and on a very clear day you can just about make out the Coast of North Africa some 65km away.

Missing children

We love the people, the easiness with which they go about their everyday business, the way they make us feel so welcome and their genuine friendliness. We are reasonably well known here as we are the only english speaking people in the surrounding area.

Back in July, I started reading Kate McCann’s book “Madeleine”, I am not sure why I chose to download it onto my ipad but I did. I would counter that it is my subliminal conscience working, there are still the old remains of the “Find Maddy Posters” on the walls of the Gibraltar Airport, the campaign driven by the now defunct News of the World, it’s where we fly into before heading on into Spain.

As a mother I make a point of asking my boys to surreptitiously study the poster and familiarise themselves with her face as our brain has an enormous propensity to remember even the most inane details.

My husband and I talk about Maddy’s abduction when ever we come into Spain and her disappearance is more prevalent as I am still only two-thirds of the way through a very moving and detailed account of the night of Maddy’s abduction and all that the McCann’s have had too face over the ensuing four years.

I am a fairly measured and fact based person I’ve learnt through age and experience that you should always get the facts first before making a judgement on a situation or person. This has always stood me in good stead with customers, suppliers, friends and employees alike.

On this morning an episode took place on the beach and we experienced first hand both as a mother and father a little of the terror that Kate and Gerry must have experienced that night Maddy was taken.

We have two beautiful boys Mickey who is 7 (8 in October)and Ollie who is 12 years old and this morning we watched a scene unfold in front of our eyes which may have possibly changed all of our lives forever, in the same way as it has for the McCann family.

I am sitting in the beach bar it’s quiet 11:30am and people are starting to arrive at the beach.

I love this time of day time to read watch people or just reflect.

My husband Mark is sitting under a beach umbrella a little farther away from the boys making some business calls.

The boys were as usual winding each other up and messing about. Missing children

Mickey my younger son had taken off his watch and left it on my sunbed despite numerous efforts to remind him that it is waterproof and he doesn’t need to take it off.

I settled back into my writing and instinctively became aware that Mickey wasn’t there.

You know the feeling you get at the back of your neck that sets your hair on end.

I looked around he wasn’t sitting next to Ollie where I last saw them both together it must have been less than a minute.

Mark was still on the phone and was looking out to the sea and although he was literally three metres away from the boys his white t- shirt and the position of the white deck chair obscured him from the unwelcome visitor.

What I didn’t see was a strange man unknown to us walking down the steps to our sun beds.

He picked up Mickey’s watch that had been left on my sun bed and I can tell you there is no way you would be able to see a watch from the top of the steps or the main walkway.

He boldly walked over to Michael and I later learn’t how he stroked and carressed his cheek in an over familiar and affectionate way.

He showed Mickey the watch turned and walked back toward the beach steps at the same time encouraging Michael to follow him which of course he did, it was his watch and he wanted it back.

You might be wondering what Ollie was doing at this point?

He was watching what was going on and his initial instincts he told me later was this isn’t right but for a moment he thought it was either a friend of ours or Freddie, our lovely friend and sunbed attendant sounds plausible doesn’t it?

The man apparently smiled at Mickey and then he actively coaxed him up the steps.

Mickey was already on the beach path before Ollie reacted instinctively and shook Dad from his mobile phone.

My husband unaware at this point of what was going on hastily ran up the steps toward the man with Ollie telling him what had happened. My husband’s actions were swift. He grabbed the man by the arm and looked at him directly in the eyes.

The stranger looked at him, smirked, returned the watch, turned around and walked off.

Mark recounted later to the Police that it was that look that chilled him to the core, he later said it was like ‘you got me, you caught me out but there’s nothing you can do’.

I later learned from Ollie that the man had a set of car keys in his hand and Ollie said ‘that it looked like he was hurrying to get into a car’.

If my husband spoke better spanish he probably should/would have questioned him as to what the hell he thought he was doing with our son intentionally or unintentionally.

Straightaway we alerted the Police of the incident and Mark went with Ollie to the Police Station to give a detailed description of the man.

chipiona lighthouseThey were swift to send down a plain clothed Police Officer and tomorrow (Friday) Ollie and Mark will be going to the Police Station to make a full statement with an interpreter.

Was a crime committed No.

Did this man cause any harm No.

It was the blatant audaciousness of this man, in his late 50’s to walk up to the boys.

It is obvious now he didn’t spot Mark sitting on the sun bed nor did he see the watch. Was it a random incident an opportune moment to do what?

If he wanted to steal the watch then why not just take it?

Why was he over familiar with Michael and then willingly encourage Michael to follow him?

Is it because the natural instinct of a child is to follow an adult and demand that their toy be returned when it has been confiscated especially if they’ve been naughty?

After the incident we were calm and analysed the situation asking the same questions.

Are you sure we didn’t misjudge the situation? It’s easy to imagine someone behaving strangely in that kind of situation, easy to misinterpret an innocent act.

He was just being friendly. He saw two young kids on the beach alone, so he thought and spotted the watch and used it as the opportunity to coax a young child away from the beach.

Why did he appear to lure Mickey up the steps?

Why when stopped by my husband did his look make Mark shudder, instincts or just imagination?

We won’t know the truth behind this man’s actions.

The reason why I am writing about this?

Things often happen for a reason

My husband Mark later told me that the Police Officer said they have some problems with abductions and missing children in Spain, I knew this anyway from Kate and Gerry McCann’s book; it’s not just Spain, it’s Portugal, UK , USA and so on….

Since the boys have been old enough to comprehend not to go off with strangers we have done our best to instil in them the importance of taking care of each other and not to talk to strangers or take things from people whom they don’t know!

That said, a child instinctively goes after their possessions if it look’s like it’s being taken away from them.

We read about missing, abused, abducted children it’s a sad world and I cried later in the sea when I thought what could or might have happened had fate, god or my husband not intervened or if Ollie had just decided to wonder off to the beach toilet as 12 year old’s do.

Mark is very vigilant I often accuse him of being too over zealous with the security of his family’s welfare.

He say’s it stems from his days as a youngster helping his Dad in the shop that made him street wise and savvy.

I am a typical italian Mummy in very protective, the boys believe I really do have eyes in my butt!

Today could have turned out to be very different and my heart goes out to Gerry and Kate and so many other parents who have missing children and who are living in a permanent night mare!

I’m grateful for reading Kate’s book because if this was a wake up call to be more vigilant with our children then it worked and it is a reminder of just how easy it is for a child to forcefully go missing.

Please retweet and send this out to all you know as a reminder of all the missing children and to teach all our children the importance of being careful!