Monday, 3 December 2012

The Samson factor

Today's trigger article in The Sydney Morning Herald really did strike a chord, so after a long time away from this blog, I really did feel the need to write about this. Kasey Edwards, a journalist who writes in the Lifestyle section of the paper wrote a piece that, on the one hand taps into the ongoing celebrity watch/criticise that is rampant in the press these days, and on the other hand, highlights the issue of when it's OK to give our kids free reign on the choices they make - and which choices can be left to them without risk or potential harm, depending on their age and the circumstances.

The piece centres on Will Smith's eleven year old daughter, Willow, and her recent decision - upheld by her parents - to shave her head. You can read the full article here.

Those of you who follow the celebrity press may be aware that Willow Smith has been hailed as a budding fashion icon, and there has already been considerable flack leveled at her parents for some of the outfits she's been seen wearing. Will and Jada Smith have been extremely vocal defending her choice of self-expression, taking some pains to make it plain that they are not pushing her into notoriety. Characteristically, both parents have publicly defended Willow's new haircut, Will stating in a statement in Parade:
If I teach her that I'm in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she's going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world...She has got to have command of her body.
And this letter from Jada Pinkett Smith on Facebook:
This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don't belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination’, wrote Jada Pinkett Smith. ‘I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain.
She goes on to add the following, qualifying her sentiments about the length of Willow's hair:
... even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.

It is this last that really got to me, because I have lived this story with No. 2 son. When he was five, he up and announced that he didn't want a haircut the day I was making appointments at the hairdresser. He wouldn't tell me why, but when I pushed to get him there, I found myself dealing with not a tantrum, but a very determined small boy who refused to budge on the issue. In the interests of peace, I let it ride that day. However, when I revisited it a week or so later, I met exactly the same determination. It took me weeks to get to the bottom of it, and I was sworn to secrecy... He had a crush on boy band, Hansen, made up of three brothers who all had glorious manes of thick blond hair. Seems No. 2 HAD to emulate this particular fashion statement. I was sworn to secrecy because No. 1 son had already given him a considerably hard time about liking the band, so he didn't want any more ridicule.

The hair lasted four years. During that time, No. 2 endured teasing and condemnation from classmates, teachers, his brother, his father, and random members of the public. His father hated it and refused to help him keep it tidy, following that up with castigating him for having messy hair. I went to war with the hierarchy at his school when we were passing through the phase of getting the fringe past the point where it's going to be in the eyes because it's too long to not be and not long enough to tuck behind the ears... I made him navy blue bandanas so it could be tucked out of the way and keep his head neat. The school said they weren't uniform and he couldn't wear them. The school had recently supported the Canteen Fundraiser, which sells brightly coloured bandanas to raise money for child cancer sufferers, and half the student population at the time were sporting a wide array of pink, red, green, yellow and bright blue bandanas, while No. 2 was the only child in a plain navy one, which matched the school colours. As I said to the principal, in a somewhat heated exchange watched in wide-eyed amazement by then six year old No. 2, it was completely discriminatory on his part to single No. 2 out when all my efforts were to ensure that his hair was neat and tidy and out of his way so he could work without distraction while the school was peppered with small girls with loose hair that was all over the place as, being a public school, there was no hair code... Those small girls who were groomed sported a variety of clips, combs and headbands, none of which would have been suitable for a boy. The word 'discrimination' worked like a charm...the last thing the man wanted was a situation where that became a factor, and the navy blue bandanas were passed.

My issue with No. 2's father and stepmother was that, had he been a girl with long hair, neither of them would have hesitated to assist him, and would probably have gone out of their way to help make it 'pretty'. That didn't go down very well. By this time, No. 2 had realised the value of regular trims at the hairdresser, once he'd realised that that was what I - with my then waist-length hair - did. He had the added bonus - which wasn't extended to me (!) - that the hairdresser would do him a fabulous braid at the end of his session - and I wish someone had taught me how to do the fishtail he left with one time. Once his hair was long enough, he went to school with a ponytail. Eventually there was enough length to do a proper braid that kept all the ends in. He went through the same regime I had as a child with long hair - it was brushed out in the morning and braided for school, and then brushed out again and braided to sleep. He wore it out on weekends, unless he was doing something where it would be better in a braid.

So, why did I allow this 'anarchy' from a five year old? No. 2 is a highly gifted creature. He had an enormously turbulent time throughout his time at school - all twelve years of it. There was often conflict and trouble - with schoolmates and teachers. He didn't connect well with his peers, was often on the receiving end of resentful teasing, and he didn't always handle that well, resorting all too frequently to violence. Yet, for the four years of wearing what was a most spectacular mane of thick, streaky, ash-blond hair, he never once retaliated inappropriately to jibes about that. He did everything I suggested to keep it clean and tidy. He put up with the discomfort of having me wash it - how THAT experience came back to me from my own childhood... - and combing out wet tangles. He was never rude to people who, seeing only the hair and the big blue eyes, mistook him for a girl. I do believe that because it was his choice to grow his hair and wear it long, he was equally prepared to deal with the consequences of that choice in an appropriate manner, no matter how trying other people could be.

I have a lovely memory of watching him walk across the tarmac to a waiting plane, en route to a visit to his father who was then living interstate. He was nine, the hair had reached his waist. He'd pleaded with me just to have a ponytail for the trip instead of a braid, and as he cleared the building, the wind caught his hair and blew it out into a shining, blonde banner. Two weeks later, I walked past him in the airport...missing him completely when I arrived to pick him up. I didn't recognise him. The hair was gone, chopped by a hairdresser ordered by his father to cut it off, replaced by a messy layered crop. His posture was diminished - the proud, head-tossing swing was gone from his stride, and wordlessly, he placed the ponytail, still with its elastic grip, in my hand. He changed after that. There were increased issues at school. He hated his hair. He wouldn't speak to his father when he rang from interstate. He wouldn't discuss his hair at all.

Growing his hair was an exercise in self-expression that, for No. 2, in the midst of an often very difficult childhood, was a positive choice on his part with a number of very positive personal achievements for him. He wasn't given a choice about having it cut off, and that damaged something in him. Someone in the media frenzy that followed Willow Smith's crop made the comment, '"it's just hair", etc....It's not the hair...Kids not only need boundaries, they WANT boundaries...’ I remember having stuff like that leveled at me. Thing was, No. 2 had boundaries being placed all around him, many of which he challenged on a daily basis. With his hair, there were boundaries he then placed on his own behaviour, which were all to the good...because he didn't hit kids who teased him about his hair, he didn't smart talk teachers who said stupid things to him about it, and in the face of the campaign waged by his father, he knuckled down and learned to do his own neat and tidy ponytails much earlier than a lot of the little girls we knew at the time. Having made the choice to grow his hair against the prevailing trends for boy's hair, he empowered himself, learning alternatives to his usual knee-jerk reactions.

These days' No. 2's hair changes colours frequently. Now it's me who lives interstate and I still have moments when I meet him at airports as to whether I'll recognise him... He said to me recently that now he's settled in his job and new apartment, the next plan is to lose some weight and grow his hair again...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Baby sleeping woes...

I spotted this article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day,

The writer, Pinky McKay, works her way through a list of myths/rules about how babies should and shouldn't sleep. I've not always agreed with various pieces of hers on parenting - she can be a bit extreme on some issues - but this piece is right on the knocker.

It brought back lots of memories of those conflicted, sleep-deprived, dizzy days of small babyhood, and made me think about how important the right information is when we're new mums. I was so very fortunate to have excellent support from my mother and a good friend when No.1 Son was born. There were some skirmishes with the in-laws and his father, who were, in their various ways, control freaks who believed in babies having routines that matched a clock... However, Mum and Rose were always there telling me to go with my instincts and follow the lead given by the baby. Consequently, he was fed on demand, put gently into bed more or less asleep (drunk on breastmilk) and in the afternoons when I was desperately in need of a nap myself, we both went to bed together with him plugged in, nursing on and off until we were both asleep. It worked. He was a very healthy, easy baby and slipped quite naturally into a 'routine' of his own that, on the whole, meant his awake times were during daylight and he slept at night - going back to sleep after night feeds that were just talk, no play, no lights, just a feed and back to bed.

No.2, born when No.1 was six and a half, and at school, posed different issues. There were clock issues - the school run, mostly. He was also a much 'busier' baby. He didn't do hours long sleeps in the day time - ever. It took me a little while to cotton on to the fact that what had worked for No.1, wasn't necessarily going to work this time around. So, he did a lot of his day time naps in a baby sling, if I needed to be out and about, or if I was at home, he was happier in a baby chair on the table where he was in the middle of everything - and would just drop off there and sleep for an hour or so in the midst of the activity. When I was desperate for a nap, I took him to bed, because being tucked in with me, all warm and cosy, meant he almost always dropped off while nursing - where, if I fed him anywhere else, he might nurse with his eyes shut, but the minute he was finished, they'd ping back open and he'd be wide awake sleep for me...and stressed, overtired mum means there's a really good chance of ratty baby right on dinner time when the six year old needs attention too...

The bottom line is, there are too many 'shoulds' for new mums - in my humble opinion. Gone are the days of the extended family living in close proximity where kids grow up alongside babies, and absorb a lot of baby-lore along the way. Nowadays, a first baby can often be, for both parents, the first baby they've ever really handled. It can be the same for their friends around them as well. There is more literature out there about how to 'do' babies than ever before, especially with online resources added to the welter of books. I remember THE book that came out when No.1 was tiny - all my young mum friends had a copy, it was THE bible... I also remember the woman in our group who ended up a complete basket case because she tried to use it as her daily guide, and when something didn't exactly match how the book said it should be she was just a mess. It was awful to watch. I put my copy away after that, and if I was stuck, I called Mum or Rose - both of whom reiterated, trust yourself, and do what feels right for you...

Babies are resilient little beasties, and each one is different. Having said that, they have very simple needs in those early months - sleep, food, and a dry nappy...  Putting away the 'shoulds' about how to be a 'perfect' mother (what IS that???) and feeding your baby when it's hungry, letting it sleep as it will, cuddling it if it's miserable, is what we can do best, if we are supported to do so by our partners, our family and our friends.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Men in frocks

It's been a has rather got in the way of keeping up with this blog. It's not been for lack of what my friends would call fodder. It's been a matter of time and headspace. My aim with this blog is not to use it as a space to vent - which would be all too easy. Rather to offer a considered view of parenting and family stuff as things pop up that trigger a response in me. And that takes care, which takes time, which I've not had a lot to spare for the last little while. However...something dear to my heart popped up in The Sydney Morning Herald today.
This is a photograph of German father, Nils Pickert, with his five year old son, which appeared in an article in today's Herald, which you can read here. Pickert's son is at an age where small boys quite often wish they could wear dresses - both of mine did around the same age (one more definitely than the other), as did the child of a friend of my mother's, and I daresay more within my circle of friends if I asked around. In doing so, Pickert's son became the brunt of a considerable amount of bullying and teasing and, rather than taking what could have been many different options, Pickert chose to don a skirt in solidarity with his child. The writer of the article, Christopher Scanlon, says Pickert should be voted 'Father of the Year — no, scratch that — Father of the Decade' for opting to stand by his son's choice, rather than try to impose a more general stereotype.

The media and Internet furor has, apparently, been considerable, with Pickert being accused of poor parenting, at least, to downright abuse. However, as the mother of two boys, I and they survived these phases. One of them, at four, bemoaned the fact - on viewing an extremely frothy theatre costume I'd brought home to re-furbish - that he didn't get to wear anything 'pretty' like that, and why couldn't he have dresses too? The other, at five, refused to have his hair cut and by nine sported a waist length mane of the most spectacular streaky, dirty blond hair. He also had amongst his toys a small baby doll that he'd begged for at two, which he cared for most diligently for long stretches of time - demanding that I sew new outfits for so she wouldn't be cold - and then neglected for equally long periods of time when other things took over. At eight, when all the children in his class were taking favourite toys to school for show and tell, 'baby' was in a period of being cared for and he insisted, despite my concerns about him being teased, on taking the doll to school complete with a small case of her entire wardrobe.

The one who wanted the dress had me chewing on an almighty dilemma. On the one hand, I didn't see anything at all unreasonable in his desire for something pretty. However, I knew his father would have very different views and wouldn't be above some pretty negative and unedited comments which I was concerned could be more damaging in the long run. So, some creative compromise was called for... I had just finished making myself a dress from some wonderful vintage, printed linen - cream background with an abstract, but clearly floral, splashy print. I pulled the scraps out and asked if he like it..the glowing eyes said it all, so I made him some shorts. He wore them until they threatened to split even when he was standing still. Then they were handed on to a friend's daughter. they came back and were worn by Son No. 2, then my goddaughter, and are currently in my sewing box awaiting new elastic to go onto small niece who will be just about big enough for them this Christmas.

No. 2 son loved those shorts. He didn't ask for dresses, but he also loved pretty things and beautiful fabrics - he still does. His hair was forcibly cut by his father just before his tenth birthday, and he's never been quite the same since. He's twenty one now and talking about growing it long again.

The thing is, these are all external expressions - some of which may pass, some of which may be a bigger and deeper statement about core identity. Personally, watching No. 2 son battling through the trials and tribulations of a gifted child in an education system that couldn't cater to him, I felt enormously proud about the self control he exercised in the face of the inevitable teasing he faced from other kids and some teachers about his hair. I just wished he could do the same thing about some of the other issues - but nothing's perfect, right?!

But, back to the skirts and dresses. Ultimately, this is a cultural thing, and in the West, we've become so homogenised that we've lost sight of the fact that the way we may apportion gender characteristics and style is something that has evolved over time, and has been driven by a great many different factors at different times - and it's not fixed. A lot of it is driven by the fashion industry, and then there are cultural stereotypes that, as much as we might wish it otherwise, can have all of us condemning or celebrating particular decisions without thinking overmuch WHY we do that. A perfect example of this is the constant negativity around Shiloh Jolie-Pitt - daughter of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. This child, from a very early age, has been dressing mostly in boy-style clothing - and the media backlash has been damning at times...

I say...and this is a purely personal opinion...who the hell cares what people wear, as long as they're comfortable in themselves? And on the men with dresses of the most common negative comments is that it's 'gay' and that allowing boys to 'indulge' in wearing dresses when they're little will 'turn' them gay... I copped this over No. 2 son with his long hair and 'baby' in arms - because when that child was high on his list of priorities, where he went, so did the 'baby'!

Is it about masculinity, and is it that subverting a stereotype is deeply unsettling for many in the general population - and why is that? Have a look at this pic:
I don't know about anyone else, but I can't see anything here other than some pretty solid masulinity. Part of that, I have to say - and this was borne out when we went to the Highland Festival in the Souther Highlands this year and were surrounded by men in kilts - is that a man wearing a kilt with confidence is a darned sight more masculine to my way of thinking than a guy slouching along in drainpipe jeans that are hanging so low down I can see nearly all of his underwear... And this one:
Whatever your views on Arab culture and politics, I think it's reasonable to assume that most people are going to view the traditional Arab man as an inherently masculine creature - regardless of his long skirts. 

Coming back to the issue of sexuality - because this whole discussion inevitably comes around to it - I don't think that a gay man is necessarily any less masculine than a straight man. Or a gay woman, come to that, is more butch than a straight woman. That's character stuff, and the whole spectrum of character traits can be found across genders and sexuality types. That may be a bit of preaching to the choir - but I felt it should be said.

While I was chugging around the net preparing to write this post, I came across another article; this one about a British boy who borrowed a school uniform skirt from his sister to protest the lack of a comfortable summer option for the boys at the school. He cleverly exploited a loophole that stated - without gender specification - that tailored black trousers or a skirt with no splits could be worn in summer...but no shorts options for the boys. With the support of his family and many of his mates at school this feisty twelve year old wore his skirt to school to make the point that the boys were equally entitled to have a cooler summer uniform option. You can check out the article here.

Who knows what will happen with fashion - there are couturiers who are sending men down the catwalks in skirts. Vivienne Westwood certainly started it some time ago, and many of the other houses have followed suit at some time or another. Will it take off? In a culture like Australia, I suspect not. My father used to have a go at a friend of the family every summer - it was so regular that it became exceedingly tedious and everyone ignored him. The reason? Said male friend of the family spent as much of every summer in our very hot, dry country town in a cotton sarong when he was at home. He had a couple of very spectacular sarongs too, and in the evening would add a simple white collarless shirt to come to the table for dinner. He always looked impeccable - and cool.

And ultimately, isn't that what should come down to when we get dressed? Comfort...physically and emotionally?

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gen X, Y, Z - now what?

I wrote in a post a while back that I didn't know what to call the current generation. You can read that post here. Today I found an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald in which the writer dubs them 'The I Generation'. In her article, I want out of Generation I, Lynn Van Der Wagen tackles the issue from the perspective of the classroom, as a teacher. I would encourage my readers to follow the link and read the article - it's not long - before continuing here, otherwise some contextual misunderstandings may arise.
Firstly, I have to say that I chuckled all the way through Van Der Wagen's article. She exercises an edgy, sarcastic style that is hugely entertaining, and I'm very sure that anyone who has anything to do with today's teenagers would probably have found a similar level of enjoyment from her very pointed analysis. 

However, underneath the sarcasm and wry wit, there is a very real concern, with which I identify. I tutor teenagers and I live with one - and there's an awful lot of reality in this article. It's not a particularly pretty reality either. It's not just the current crop of teens either, my boys belong a generation back, and there are elements of what is described that can be attributed to Gen Z too. Back when they were 'Gen I's' age, I was teaching other Gen Z's and receiving assignments that were - as is described in the article - all too often pastiches of digital cut and pastes from websites, rather than the product of considered research and evaluation of the  source material from the reading lists I had so very carefully assembled for them. It worried me at the time, and I told them I'd automatically deduct marks if there were no books in their bibliography lists at the end of their papers. My sense then was that it was the thin end of the wedge. I didn't have any sense of that thought being prophetic. However, now I have students in high school whose first port of call - in front of me too, when we're working together - is Wikipedia... It's pure laziness - and I tell them so.

One of my students goes to a school which has an agreement with a number of university and industry based libraries, so that the students are able to access books and journals as well as online resources that exceed the scope of most school libraries. Does this student avail himself of this awesome resource? Of course not. That would take time, and effort. Much more time than leaving the assignment until the last minute and waiting for me to arrive for a tutoring session, then in a ridiculously thinly camouflaged fashion, sitting at his computer waiting for prompts from me on what to write... "What did you say? Can you say it again?" - you don't have to be too smart to realise he's waiting for me to dictate the text of his paper...and I'm far from stupid. 

What I don't get - and this is a characteristic that Van Der Wagen didn't mention - is why this batch of kids continue to set themselves up so clumsily. I watch it all the time. And it comes back to what Van Der Wagen said so succinctly:
The sheer weight of their viewpoints is growing exponentially as parents and teachers alike are counselled to hold a young person's opinion in the highest regard.
Current thinking in educational circles focuses on students' independence and empowering unwavering self-belief.
By 'empowering' this generation to believe in themselves implicitly, and expect others to 'hold their opinion in the highest regard' are we not depriving them of opportunity to think critically? To consider their opinions and potential effects before they open their mouths? To value substantiating information and actually be concerned about getting things right, to the best of their ability? 

What I see all too often is a certain element of bravado and swagger that is probably a necessary accessory to enable them to maintain their deliverance of a lot of hot air, followed by an enormous effort to put themselves in a position of humorous superiority by joking about it if their bubble is pricked by someone who isn't prepared to indulge them. Worse, if you get them on a bad hair day, you're quite likely to get a mouthful about how all you ever do is try to take them down, and what do you know anyway...?

One of my colleagues said to me a few weeks back, when we were discussing this topic (he has teenage kids) that in his opinion, the destiny of 'Gen I' was going to be failure - in much the same way as family businesses can all too often go under when generations who weren't part of building the business inherit. My colleague's theory was that 'Gen I' have been too much indulged to have an understanding of long-term, hard endeavour, and sticking to things until they succeed. They're too accustomed to the instant gratification of things at the click of a mouse, last minute arrangements, making excuses and not being accountable. It will be their children who pick up, because they will have to find a different path... It's a scary proposition.

I do want to clarify one thing before I wrap up. I like these kids. They're very charming, and the ones I deal with are all very bright. They have piles and piles of potential. But I see so much of it going to waste, and I worry about their future when they don't have people standing by them who are there to continue to build them up because they lack the ability to do it for themselves.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Rules and regulations

I've been mulling a bit about this blog. It's easy to tell stories, to comment on what's in the press about parenting, and to come across - and I hope I don't - as someone who thinks they know it all. I don't. I know how it was for me when I was growing up - what I struggled with from my parents and what I can look back on with the clarity of hindsight and see as good commonsense. I know what I tried to do as a parent with my kids - and I know that some of it they see very differently to the way I see it. 

So, I  was thinking about the basics, the things that underpinned what I did, the way I did it, and why I did it - and I'll qualify that with the information that I also did it largely on my own as a sole parent. Even when partnered I was, largely, parenting solo - and that does make a difference. When you don't have someone backing you up, the terms of engagement have to be different - you can't play good cop/bad cop by yourself!! Seriously, a united front of two like-minded parents is something that kids might try to resist, but ultimately will respect pretty quickly - just as they will, equally quickly, play two parents off each other when they discern that said parents are not in agreement about something.
My basic parenting style was based on rules. The premise was pretty simple - there were a bunch of rules that I created that were intended to provide a clear structure of what people could and couldn't do, and what was expected of everyone in the household so that living together was manageable. Breaking the rules meant uncomfortable consequences - and the reality of that was, often the consequences were uncomfortable for everyone. They evolved over time as the boys got older and were more aware of the rights/responsibility equation, and they had to be something I could stand by without getting myself into hot water, because backing down wasn't an option.

The basics were - in no particular order, and I'm sure I'll forget some of them! It's been a while - and it's only now with a teen in the house again that I'm coming up hard against the results of a different style of parenting that I'm being made aware of them.
  1. It it isn't yours, don't touch it.
  2. If you use something, put it away again when you've finished.
  3. If you make a mess, clean it up.
  4. If you're going somewhere, leave a note so I know where you are when I get home to an empty house - this was pre mobile phones...
  5. Do not walk into a room talking - wait and see what's going on before you barge in with whatever it is you're wanting/needing.
  6. Don't yell from another room - if you want someone, go find them.
  7. Change out of school clothes straight away when you get home and put them in the wash.
  8. If you want some say in what's for dinner, be involved in making it. If you weren't and it just landed in front of you with no input on your part, the only thing you are allowed to say is, "thank you."
  9. Try everything on your plate - even if you think you don't like it. Your tastes change as you mature and you won't know if you don't try.
  10. Say hello when you walk through the door, and goodbye when you're leaving.
  11. Say please and thank you.
  12. When you're asked to do something, just do it - don't argue. 
  13. If you're angry about something, that's fine. If you want to talk about it then talk, if you don't that's also fine - but take it to your room and don't dump on people.
  14. Do not go into each other's bedrooms uninvited - people's space is to be respected.
  15. Do not interrupt people - wait for a pause and say, "excuse me." This includes interrupting people when they're on the phone.
  16. Don't just get up and leave the table when you're finished. Wait until everyone is finished their meal and then ask to be excused.
I'm sure there are more, but by now it should be pretty obvious what forms the basis of these rules.  They're all about courtesy, manners. It's something I see less and less. I do understand that styles of communication have changed, but I don't see why that should mean that basic good manners should go down the drain. 

My kids aren't perfect - let me be the first person to make that point. Neither am I. There were arguments about any and all of these rules at various times. However, one thing I can say about them - even when they're being distant young men, as is the current situation - is that I could, and did, take them anywhere and one consistent piece of feedback I got about them was how polite they were. They would sit at other people's tables and manfully wade through whole plates of food they didn't like without a murmur. I'd hear all about it later - at length - but they never embarrassed their hosts by complaining about the food. They would also thank said hosts for their meal. 

I could relate vast numbers of war stories about the breaking of these rules and subsequent consequences in all sorts of gory detail. But I'm not going to today. My point today is that a lot of parenting is about conditioning our kids - deliberately or unwittingly. They follow our lead. If we speak to them with courtesy, they will respond in kind. If we yell at them all they time, they will learn that that's normal and they will yell at us and everyone else all the time. If we let them interrupt us all the time, they will assume that's acceptable and they will interrupt anyone else they come into contact with. It's pretty straightforward cause and effect.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Growing pains

This image was posted on Facebook by an acquaintance the other day and it cracked me up, for obvious reasons.
But it also added to a train of thought I've been following so I'll try and pull the random fragments together into something reasonably cohesive.

All of us who have kids have been here. Don't you hate the supermarket checkouts with all those brightly coloured goodies right at kid eye-level height? Don't you hate knowing that it's almost a given that when you've finally finished fighting your way around the supermarket - you had a list, didn't you? And there were more than a few 'discussions' about items not on that list, were there not? - that you will face the final battle that could be prolonged my any number of factors - the length of the queue, the efficiency of the checkout person, how many kids you have with you, how determined you are, and how - equally - determined the kids are, and how proof you are against the condemnation in the looks of those around you...

It's a particularly nasty form of warfare on their part. If you've caved before in public situations, they know that they have you over a barrel. Sooner or later, they know you'll give in just to shut them up. Because they don't think so far ahead, they'll look at that short term gain as having achieved something big. It's manipulation of a most primitive type. Trouble is, it teaches them that the way to get stuff is to make a fuss, and keep fussing until they get what they want - and that if it's a good, loud public fuss, they have a much better chance of coming out on top. It teaches them to be tyrants...

But... Let's go behind the scenes quietly for a moment to the grown up back stage area or this little drama... What's really going on in your head? What are the things you'd really like to say to your awful, screaming monster, and to the people who are being so sanctimonious in their condemnation - who, by sheer good fortune on this particular day might be shopping solo...? Have you ever contemplated just leaving the shopping and the screaming child and walking away? Have you screamed back? Have you - and you don't have to admit to this in a public comment if it's something you don't want to own up to - smacked them in public (earning even more condemnation, of course)? Do you then head home, with smug child, thinking murderous thoughts, knowing you have all the shopping to put away, meals to think about, washing you forgot to hang out earlier that will have to be washed again, only to face the next battle as soon as you walk in the door - whatever it might be?

Hold those thoughts.... I have a cross over here from my other blog - and if you're a reader I invite you to go look here - I just read Chocolat for the first time. Lovely, lovely book - but you can read more of my thoughts on it on the other blog. Early in, I found part of a paragraph that caught my attention,
... Children are born wild, I know. The best I can hope for is a little tenderness, a seeming docility. Beneath the surface the wildness remains, savage and alien.
We are conditioned to love our families, particularly that we must love our children. And we do. We do love them - it's deeply instinctive, and almost impossible not to love something that is so totally dependent, and that you are biologically programmed to care for. That doesn't always mean we like them.  It doesn't mean we don't sometimes look at them and wish, for an instant, that we could walk away sometimes and just not have to deal with whatever it is at any particularly nasty moment. 

That internal conflict between loving our children and sometimes disliking them intensely never really leaves us. For many of us, it's something we struggle with, especially if we've been conditioned to be 'nice' people and always look for explanations and justifications for other people's behaviour. 

One of my boys was a public tantrum thrower. The other was always rigidly in control - no one was going to see him lose it in public. There'd been enough of his  trantrums as he was growing up for me to learn the vital walk away tactic - but always safely at home. I just had to leave the room. There wasn't much profit for him in treating the empty room to his tantrum, so they usually stopped relatively quickly. The other one was a different beastie altogether and his supermarket dramas started early. I did walk away from him once - left him on the floor in the aisle, and kept going. I was in a complete state that someone would take him, or report me - but his shrieks continued as I made my way further through the aisles and I realised that no one in their right minds would want him like that and I was stuck. I actually abandoned the shopping that day. Went back and got him, left my trolley full of groceries, picked him up and tucked him under my arm and bolted, head down, so as not to have to face anyone, and headed home. I don't remember what I fed them - it was a big shop I was doing. But, give in and give him what he wanted and reward the tantrum - no way.

He was given to fighting for everything - never seemed to occur to him that there were alternative ways to achieve things. He'd come out of his corner fists flailing every time. My moment of clarity, and release, came one day when he was having another go, again in a supermarket, about something he wanted that he wasn't going to get. I looked at him, his face twisted in anger, frustration, and a certain amount of calculation and something in me suddenly shifted. He wasn't a toddler any more. He'd reached the messy middle primary school stage and was  tall and solid - too big to just pick up and exit with... But, he was also too big now for people to just blame me. They were looking at him, not me. He was too big not to know how to behave properly, and the looks I was getting were sympathetic. There was no point at the time trying to say anything to him, but I had that conversation with him later when he'd calmed down.

There was a period in my life, as an adult, when many of the things from my childhood came back to haunt me - it was time to do the work of dealing with my ghosts. It was a difficult time, particularly for my mother. After she died I found a letter she'd written to me during that time, but never posted. She wrote about her pain in not being able to reach me, not being able to talk to me, not knowing how to get past my anger. I wish she could have said all of it, but I knew at the time I'd put up huge walls round myself. I was angry. I was blaming her for many things. As parents, we're going to hit periods of time when we clash with our kids and they're going to be angry with us, and maybe shut us out. But, one of the biggest lessons we all have to learn, and one that is possibly the hardest to teach our kids, is that ultimately, we as individuals are responsible for ourselves. Other people aren't responsible for us. We can't blame other people our whole lives for the things that we don't like or don't have. At some point we have to stand up and go fix them and go get them ourselves. 

Saying no to our kids is the first step in teaching that lesson. Because it's not all about them. We hold our children in our hearts, but they're not ours to own, any more than we are theirs to be constantly at their beck and call. That wild thing - that's in all of us - is the essence of who we are as individual people. It needs to learn how to get along with the other wild things within its sphere - and then beyond. We shouldn't trample on it - and I don't believe saying no does that - but we do need to teach it not to trample all over everyone else.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Democracy or Dictatorship?

I'm picking up on a paragraph in my last post that was part of a stream of thought that didn't quite develop in that post. It's been niggling away at me though, and thinking through many conversations with friends and family members over the years, I thought it was worth a shot at trying to put it out there in some kind of cohesive form.

Current international events have many of us watching with some anxiety, as many countries struggle economically, politically and socially. The same colleague with whom I was discussing democracy the other day made some interesting comments about the European economic crisis - pointing out that Greece, Spain and Italy, all of whom are in serious financial crisis, are all countries who have experienced civil war within more recent history. As is usual in these cases, the conflict came about as part of the struggle to overthrow an oppressive regime and replace it with something that would offer people, among other things, freedom of choice about how they lived their lives and how their country was run. We're watching it in Syria now, and the question many of us ask while we watch the escalating violence is, "Who is coming after the previous leaders to take on the task of rebuilding the country, and will they be any better?"

And I'm discussing international politics on this blog, why? Some years ago, and I can't for the life of me think where, I stumbled across something - a book I suspect - where I read something that made its way into discussions with friends at the time who had kids of a similar age to mine. I don't know about those of you who may be reading this, but my generation of parents were saturated with 'how to' books on parenting at an unprecedented level. My mother and godmother had two books that they shared - there were six of us growing up together under the watchful eye of these two quite remarkable women, closely enough that to this day, our relationships are characterised by the kinds of dysfunctional markers common to siblings, rather than of two sets of children belonging to a pair of close friends. One of them was Dick Grantly-Reid's Natural Childbirth - more my mother's book, as my godmother's kids were all adopted, and another one that I know was called Ages and Stages, but I don't know who wrote it. A quick search online just yielded something with the same title, but it's a recent publication. Mum and my godmother referenced the latter book constantly as we were growing up - consulting with each other as they grappled with each new stage - often overlapping a different stage simultaneously with one of the other children, as we were all fairly close in age.

Ultimately, we grew up with a healthy respect for the authority of both these women, and all of us felt we'd grown up with, effectively, two mothers. My home turf was the inner western suburbs in Sydney, and later small town country South Australia. My 'siblings' were on ten acres of land in the foothills of The Blue Mountains - where my end of the family spent countless weekends and school holidays, and my brother and I spent a term - going to school there - when Mum had pneumonia. The rules were very simple, regardless of which mother dished them out or where we were - do what you're told, or there will be trouble. Go anywhere near the dams in the bottom paddock without a grown up (they were very deep and out of sight of the house) and there will be trouble. Ride the horses without permission and supervision, and there will be trouble. Answer back, and there will be trouble... You get the picture. Trouble, in my house meant a large wooden spoon. At my godmother's, it was a large tortoiseshell hairbrush. I have to say, none of us were actually on the receiving end of either of them very much at all - the threat of both was sufficient.

We grew up in a dictatorship. A benign and loving environment, but a dictatorship nevertheless. Food was put in front of us at regular intervals, and we were expected to eat it without complaint. If we chose not to eat it - for whatever reason, and none of them were granted discussion time - then we went hungry. Up at the farm, that wasn't sensible - we were out doors most of the time, happily running wild - within strict parameters - and usually starving through expenditure of huge amounts of energy. Our days ran, roughly, like this: being hauled out of bed and sat at the kitchen table in various states of sleepiness in front of a bowl of cereal (porridge in winter, weet bix in summer) and toast. We were then sent back to make our beds - the big ones helping the little ones - and to get dressed. We were then - after hearing again what we were not to do (or there'd be trouble) - packed off outside with the border collie who accompanied us everywhere and, like Nana in Peter Pan, pulled us away from places we weren't meant to be, and with instructions to stay out of trouble and not show our faces at the door again unless we needed the bathroom or someone was bleeding - until the bread van came with the day's delivery, which we were expected to collect from the box at the end of the driveway and bring to the house. Six hungry ragamuffins then waited at the door until large platefuls of sandwiches were handed out with apples and bananas, and instructions to bring the plates back - and then back to the great outdoors. As soon as darkness began to fall, we were expected back inside, to be lined up and shuttled through a sequence of baths, then pyjamas, dinner and bed. There was no television - my godmother didn't buy one until all her kids had finished school. We had one, but my mother turned it on for us for selected programs of her choice. 

I have to say though - it was a halcyon childhood. We built a raft and sailed it on the home dam (in view of the house and where we swam). Not for very long, it wasn't very good and sank in the middle rather suddenly! There was one horse - a small Australian Stock Horse mare, the only horse we could ride any time, and on whom we were all taught. There was a small patch of natural bush in the paddock beyond the tables and we bashed our way into the middle of that to make a camp; building huts with fallen tree limbs and old feed sacks from the stable (there was trouble over the feed sacks, which we took without permission). We asked for, and received permission - after the mothers had been down and cleared the site properly - to build a proper campfire, and they then gave us a frying pan and sausages for our lunch. We built a corral for Trinket, the horse, so that it was a 'proper' camp, with a horse... The corral was made of leftover binder twine from the bales of hay, strung from bush to bush - that remarkable mare, helped along with generous, regular handfuls of lucerne, never attempted to break out! That one summer holiday, we spent all our time there when the weather was fine, taking our sandwiches there when we didn't have sausages.

In the city, we didn't have as much physical freedom. We could roam the street and have the run of the vacant lot at the top of the street. We built forts in the trees up there and had grand wars. We played rugby league with mismatched teams of boys and girls of all sizes and abilities. We lined up at the top of the hill with a motley collection of bikes, trikes, scooters and billy carts and then raced each other to the end - how none of us wasn't badly injured is beyond me when I look back on it now. As it happens, the afternoon before our belongings were all packed up to transport across the country when we moved interstate, I took my scooter for a last ride - no wild careering down the hill, just a last ride on my street - and took a header over the handle bars down into the footpath below the actual street. I was winded and pretty bashed around and my mother had the lovely task of getting a bruised and scraped nine year old through two days of train travel covered in plasters!

There are many more stories, but the bottom line is that we grew up within a strict set of rules that, in their specifics, were adapted as we grew older, but the spirit of them was unchanged. Our parents were in charge, we did what we were told - or there was trouble. And trouble there was. The wooden spoon and the hairbrush took a back seat to increasingly restrictive consequences as we got older and our parent's perceived sense of the possible dangers we might face rose to greater levels. Did we break the rules - of course we did. Were there consequences - oh, yes! Did they leave us with terrible scars. No, they didn't. There were other things in our childhoods that left all of us with a variety of different issues - but not that one.

By the time I had my kids, there were many, many more books and teaching styles had changed too. A common thrust in the books and at daycare, kindergarten and school was the 'rights' of the child. My kids got taught at a scarily young age that they had rights - at an age when they had scant hope of grasping the reciprocal concept of responsibilities. Kids should have choices - was another - from what they ate for breakfast (even if that meant - theoretically - if you had six kids and they all wanted something different they should have it, or risk them feeling oppressed, which might damage them for life), to what they wore each day (how I LOVED school days and the school uniform!), to what time they got up and went to bed and everything in between. I remember a conversation I had with No.2 son's class teacher once when No.2 was about nine and acting out in class - we were talking about his routine, and this teacher was absolutely gobsmacked when I told him No.2 was in bed with the light out by 7.30. He wanted to know how I achieved that, because his kids were still up and running around until 10-10.30... I told him that I couldn't afford to have either of my kids so worn out and overtired that they were more of a handful than two very bright, healthy boys can be, as well as having no down time myself in the evenings to get things done for the next day - or just to veg out - so it wasn't a matter of how I got it done, because there was no argument. That was bedtime - and any arguments from No. 2 about it - particularly through the week - meant consequences. I had a repertoire of consequences that impacted on them quite effectively. I ran into all sorts of trouble with many of my friends - who, while deploring my fairly draconian methods, were constantly telling me stories where they'd been engaged in a massive, emotionally wearing battle with their children over something that, to my way of thinking, just shouldn't have been an issue.

Democracies, as my colleague so rightly argued, work effectively when all the members of said community are fully aware of both their rights and responsibilities and are committed to contributing their share so that everyone's needs and rights are met, and there is a sustainable balance. Families are small communities - particularly these days, when so few of us live close enough to our extended families to have the support of many generations of hands and experience as we make out way through the maze of parenthood. But, families, particularly nuclear families, are not a group of equals. There are - if we're lucky - two adults, but sometimes one, who have/has a mighty load of responsibilities - financial, emotional, domestic, professional, and countless others. Then there are the kids, who require love, care, time, attention, and countless other time-consuming and energy-demanding things. Is it an equal balance of work on each side? Of course not. Little children can't, nor should, be expected to shoulder adult loads - they have to grow up and learn how to be adults before they can do that. In turn that means that they shouldn't be the ones running the show when it comes to how people's energy is taken up in the daily transactions between family members. We've all seen people we care about being held ransom by a child's behaviour. I've been through it myself - battling as I was in a social environment very different to that of my mother's, attempting to parent old-style.

Despite various choices that I made, that we all make, that weren't perhaps the best ones I could have made that impacted variously for me and the kids, I don't know that many of the issues they both might have to deal with now stem from growing up in an environment where there were rules, consequences when the rules were broken, where they weren't asked constantly what they wanted to do, wear, eat, watch, and where they heard the word 'no' - a lot, sometimes. No.1 son, after watching some of his mates spinning out of control in their mid teens actually thanked me a few years later, for being a dragon. He says that for a lot of those friends, they didn't know where the fences were, there weren't limits around them - consequently, they kept pushing and pushing to find them, and the results weren't always very safe. 

Did I get it all right? Of course not. None of us do. Are there things I wish my parents had done differently? Yes. And do I think that there are things my boys wish I'd done differently? Yes to that too. The thing is, all of us parent the way we do because it's what we have to work with at the time. The choices we make are sometimes based on what we experienced as children - either to do it similarly or to depart radically in another direction. Regardless of those choices, there are times we get it wrong, and that's inevitable. We're dealing with families, people - people who, while we love them, we might not always like very much. That's a messy business sometimes. I think that if we can get our kids to adulthood more or less in one piece and they're capable of looking after themselves and standing on their own two feet, then we've done well. They'll probably have some issues, and some of them might well be with us, but so do we about our parents and our childhoods - because it's part of the human condition. We just tend to focus more on that stuff than generations past, who put more energy into just getting on with stuff... So, don't be afraid to give your inner dragon a voice - rules and limits are reassuring for most kids. It means they know where they are with us, and it gives us a fighting chance of perhaps anticipating roughly where they might attempt to break through so that the learning can happen safely and sustainably - for all of us, parents and children.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The 'me' generation

It's funny, the things that happen when you starting putting stuff out there. After the long hiatus between conceiving the idea of this blog and then finally plucking up the courage to commit myself to words, things are flowing thick and fast towards me that are relevant.

A friend of mine posted this 'image' on Facebook yesterday. I'm not sure of the origins of this story - if you Google the school principal's name and the school, there are a gazillion entries listed that all repeat the statement made by the judge - who isn't named anywhere. If anyone out there can find the back story behind this image - which seems to have been posted and quoted everywhere from Facebook to LinkedIn, commercial sites and various people's blogs - I'd be interested to know.
The comments that accompany this on the various sites appear to come from a very broad range of individual viewpoints, but there is consensus on one point - to quote one of them, 'it's about time someone said it.' It just happens that, earlier in the afternoon yesterday, I'd got into a conversation with a colleague at work about our changing society - we get into these hefty philosophical discussions semi-regularly. He was speaking about the essence of true democracy. That in a democracy there is, essentially, a relationship between the individual and a governing authority, but that there is an active participatory aspect to that relationship. On the part of the individual, the benefits are that we belong to a community which has an obligation to protect us; here via laws and policing and from external threats via our armed forces. That same authority is responsible for helping create and govern the resources that are required by the community. Our part, as individuals - as he put it - is to vote, because unless we participate in the business of choosing our leaders, we have no right to complain if tey fall short of our expectations. We must also pay our taxes - because without funds, our leaders have nothing with which to create the services we require. And, we must also be prepared to be part of national service when required, and contribute to that protection of our community. Also, he stressed that this is not a relationship of equals. As individuals, we have to accept that we are part of somethingwhere the other 'party' is something much more powerful than we are...

Now, I get confused about which 'generation' we're up to, and exactly where the boundary lines are between the different labels we have asigned to different generational groups. According to some definitions, I was born right at the tail end of the baby boomer years, and others indicate that I belong to Generation X. I do know that my oldest son definitely falls within Gen Y, but I'm not sure about No.2. In any case, there are various attributes that have been collectively assigned to members of these generation gropus - not all of them complimentary.

This un-named judge hits out at the current generation - I'm not sure what they're called. My own appellation, 'the me-generation' isn't new, and has been applied to generations past, but I've used it again deliberately because I'm not sure it isn't apt for this latest crop far more than any preceding generations.

I brought my kids up pretty old-school as I mentioned in my previous post. We didn't have a lot of money - like my parents before me - so they didn't have a lot of 'stuff'. I covered what they needed, and managed a few of their wants. Anything over and above that had to wait for birthdays, or presents from other family. Like me, they made a lot of their own fun.

They both spent time as RAAF cadets - the eldest for some years. Great character building stuff. With the eldest, that was a deliberate choice on my part - following up on his, then, intention to join the RAAF when he left school. Thing was, he wasn't actually doing anything towards that particularly, at the time, school work wise, activity wise, or anything else - just a lot of talk about being the next top gun and flying fighter planes. So I challenged him to put his time and effort where his mouth was and join the cadets because I figured that if he couldn't deal with the services at that level, he wasn't going to make it for real. It was good for him. He's been doing his own ironing since he was thirteen - I begged ignorance of service standard ironing and left him to it. I left him to sew all the badges onto his uniforms too - again feigning ignorance as to how they were to go - MUCH cursing and needle pricked fingers in the background! But he did it. He learned that if I yelled at him, I'd probably lost my temper for a pretty good reason, as opposed to a drill seargeant yelling at him just because they could...and that he stood a good chance of other people in his future going off at him for whatever reason and he'd just have to learn to deal with it and work out the rights and wrongs of any given situation for himself and respond appropriately, rather than just going off in a sulk because he felt hard done by.

I could go on giving examples, but that isn't the point really. I guess, in reading the judge's comments, I felt myself responding internally with something along the lines of, well, yes, of course. As adults, we know that if we need something to happen, we have to get up and do whatever our part in it is to achieve that goal. If we want something, we have to get up and go earn the money it takes to buy it. If we're not happy about a situation, we have to face up to what is going on and do whatever we need to to rectify it and if that's not possible, find a way to learn to live with it. We know, because life has shown us, that if we put effort in, we get something back. If we sit around waiting for the world to shower largesse upon us, we'll be waiting a long time - probably getting hungry, thirsty, cold and tired while we wait... I don't believe that there is a lower age limit for when we should start teaching our children any of this. When they're tiny, they love to be involved. Doing 'grown up stuff' makes them feel like they're ten feet tall when they aren't even hip high to us. If they think washing dishes looks cool, we can give them a stool to reach the sink, invest in shatterproof crockery, accept that it might not be done perfectly, and allow them to become part of the cooperative that every household needs to be if everyone in it is going to function in a sustainable fashion. In time, they'll learn, with practice, how to get them squeaky clean.

Learning to engage with life, all of it, not just the fun bits, used to be an automatic part of growing up. We all had chores when I was a kid. Certain things had to be done before we were allowed out to play. And when play time came, it was up to us to find things to do. I remember complaining once to my mother that I was bored, only to be told, with devastating matter of factness, "only boring people are bored." I hear a lot, these days, about how tough life is for kids, how much pressure they're under, and how hard it is for them to fit everything in. Undoubtedly many things have changed since I was a teen. Certainly, in many ways, life was simpler then. But I don't believe that the complexities of contemporary life preclude the basics of being an active, participating member of a household, doing chores, finding things to do, getting on with the things that have to be done even if they're not the most fun activities in the world, and going out and getting an after school job if having extra cash of their own is important to them.

If we don't teach them these skills incrementally, exactly when are they going to learn them, and understand that the world outside our front doors isn't going to provide them with everything they expect just because they want it?

Monday, 28 May 2012

Parenting then and now

I set this blog up in direct response to a  newspaper article in the Sydney Morning Herald - my local paper - and then life got in the way and I never got around to writing that blog post, or any since. However, just recently, there have been a swathe of articles on modern parenting that have caught my attention, so I decided it was time to get on with it, wrestle with the inherent family politics of writing a blog about parenting issues (and the possible fallout), and yet another article this morning surfaced when I read the paper, so here goes. 

This morning's piece, The screens that are stealing childhood, resonated strongly with me for a number of reasons. The writer, Andrew Stevenson, examines the 'connectivity' of our children; the amount of time they spend these days plugged into some kind of device as a matter of course. In my own household, I watch Sixteen crawl out of bed in the mornings to land in front of the TV while he eats breakfast. When he gets dressed for school, the last part of his accessorising is the complex wriggling to feed the earplugs of his iPhone through his clothes from the iPhone in his pocket so he has music while he travels in the car to school, where he will spend much of his day alternating between real-time teaching and computer screens for written work and research. Home again, and the TV goes on as he walks through the door, the laptop is set up on the coffee table for homework in front of the TV. If offered a choice, dinner will be on the couch in front of the TV, and after dinner it's time to get together with friends, on Facebook, while continuing with homework. At all times the iPhone is within reach for the constant texting that punctuates all the other activities. 

And this is totally normal. Not only for him, but for most kids his age, and younger. 

In the article, the author looks at the hours our kids are spending engaging with devices rather than people; in stationary rather than physical pursuits, and opens the discussion for the potential long term effects on the way our kids interact, learn, play and rest. The sheer amount of time that is estimated for kids' use of all this technology is staggering,
Parents used to worry only about TV use. Now school students' screen use may begin at home with TV in the morning, continue with interactive whiteboards, laptops and computers in class, smartphones at lunch and on the bus, and continue at home with TV, computer, phone and tablet. Wayne Warburton, a psychologist at Macquarie University, says US studies show that beyond the school gates, teenagers are using screens or listening to music for more than 7½ hours a day. In Australia it is more than five hours and rising.
Discussions in the media suggest that this has all crept up on us, as parents. That the advances in technology that we have seen as beneficial and helpful have, perhaps, blinded us to the potential hazards in the long term. On breakfast TV just this week, there was a segment on monitoring our kids' use of the Internet and social networking sites; the importance of setting limits as to how much they use them, and how they use them. But then, there is the argument that this is their world, this is their norm, and to deprive them of it robs them of something that is intrinsically theirs. He quotes author Wayne Warbuton, author of Growing up Fast and Furious,
"Parents say to me they would love to put some limits on their kids' media use but that it is so much a part of their identity - playing the same games as their friends, being involved with the same media - that they feel they would be losing friends, losing identity and having problems if they didn't have access,'' he says.
Another part of the discussion looks at attention issues, and this generation has to always have something going on around them. Gemma Ackroyd, principal of a local Sydney primary school says,
''I'm worried about a loss of time spent thinking creatively and thinking imaginatively because all the time there has to be visual stimulus, otherwise [they say] 'I'm bored','' she says.
To put this into context, I am from the first generation that grew up with Sesame Street. I remember - many years later - when my own children were watching it, becoming aware of the studies that were emerging that showed statistics about kids with extremely short attention spans, particularly in learning situations. Details behind the studies included the fact that there were various sample groups, importantly those who had spent every day in front of Sesame Street from early pre-school days. The segments in Sesame Street averaged three minutes - and that was the average time these kids could focus on a concept. 

My mother was the dragon mother before me... Our exposure to television when I was growing up was severely limited, and there are programs today that many of my generation know and love and are reveling in the reappearance of on the many new free to air TV channels that are cropping up that I've never seen. I did much the same thing with my own kids. The TV never went on in the morning on school days - EVER... Saturday morning cartoons, yes, occasionally, if we weren't doing anything else. Sesame Street and Play School after school some days, if we didn't have anything else planned or it was a cold rainy afternoon and I couldn't kick them out into the back yard. Once they reach homework age, it didn't go on at all until homework was finished. My eldest was given a Nintendo when he was nine, totally against my wishes. It lasted six months when, in response to the constant warring over whose turn it was, and tantrums because the 'stupid game' cheated (!), I sent it to their father's house with strict instructions for it to stay there permanently. When their mates came over and it wasn't nice enough to play outside, the board games came out - amazing said mates, many of whom had never played one. That, or the huge Lego collection.

They are 27 and almost 21 now. They both have iPhones; No.1 has Foxtel and loves it; No.2 plays networked computer games and loses himself in virtual worlds, and has an iPad to which he is semi-permanently connected... Notwithstanding the considerable trials and tribulations of their childhoods, they both have good memories of mad Monopoly wars, building cubbies under the kitchen table, family movie nights with cheap junk food that they didn't normally have, getting into the kitchen to bake cookies or scones for an after school snack, and any number of less 'connected' activities. I don't know that this current generation of kids have the wherewithal to entertain themselves if you take their gadgets away, and that bothers me...

At the bottom of it all - when did we, as parents, stop saying 'no' to our children when it comes to them doing things we're not entirely happy about? It's a word I heard a lot when I was growing up. If I trotted out the usual, "but everyone else...", I was told very firmly that, "you're not everyone else...", and there wasn't really much comeback to that! Despite the resolutions  we all make to never say certain things to our kids that we hated hearing from our parents when we were kids, I did use that one. A lot. I copped it from many of my friends, who were much more permissive than me. But I still said 'no'. A lot.

My kids aren't perfect human beings. I was not a perfect mother. There's no such animal. I stuffed up, I made mistakes. But one thing I can say about both my boys is that they are independent, self reliant, and are both out there living useful independent adult lives, and doing it very well... I don't think 'no' damaged them over much.