Sexting, bullying and getting round security settings… young people tell Olivia Gordon what really happens on the internet.
Thirty years ago, children were taught never to accept sweets from strangers, but the equivalent modern message, about staying safe online, doesn’t seem to be getting through. For all its positives, the online world is full of potential hazards to young people. Sexting, bullying and sexual approaches from strangers are online dangers modern teenagers routinely face. And adults’ knowledge of what young people are doing online is often vague and complacent. , but how many parents of teenagers have actually visited the site and seen the – still disturbing – reality?
Nearly half of British children now have online access in their bedrooms, while a quarter of 12- to 15-year-olds owns a tablet of their own. The number of this age group using smartphones to send, receive and post photos online has risen significantly in the past year, and Ofcom points out that children’s online safety skills have failed to rise at the same rate, with particular risks coming from the lack of privacy on social networking sites. Most parents of five- to 15-year-olds believe they know enough about the internet to keep their children safe, but, according to research by internet security system McAfee in 2012, four-fifths of teenagers say they know how to hide their online behaviour from parents. reported that more than half of young people accept cyber-bullying as part of everyday life and yet while nearly the same number of parents admit they are struggling to monitor their child’s online activity.
Full article here.
I cry all the time – I didn’t realise being a single mother would be so hard. Thank goodness my mum is coming.
My son comes up to me, in his little voice, to ask, “Are you sad, Mummy?” and this makes me weep more.’
Instead of the usual TV-before-supper routine, I tell my children to do some drawing at the table. The results are interesting. “This is of a man abseiling down the Gherkin,” says my elder son, holding up a sombre charcoal drawing of a man with a rope around his neck. Then I’m handed a piece of paper dominated by a square that has been wildly scribbled over in clashing colours. “This is the angry house,” my youngest son says defiantly.
The humour and the pathos is evident in both of these images, but I wonder what is really going on in their heads. I also wonder what I would come up with if I was handed pen and paper right now.
I would probably try to express the lack of balance that exists in my life at present. A seesaw perhaps, with me on the end weighing everything down. Or, because Halloween has just been, a brain – my brain – exploding.
I am tired. Dog tired.
“I just didn’t realise that being a single mother would be as hard as this,” I tell my sister in an email. I’m also exhausted by the idea that this could be the future: the chances that R and I will get back together seem to be diminishing as each day passes. Our lives are drifting further apart and our reasons for staying separate outweigh those of staying together.
I cry in front of relative strangers. I can’t help it. I see the tears as a slow drip of indefinable emotion. Like a mystery slow puncture, this release of upset is not going to be easy to explain, or indeed expel.
At the door of my son’s child-minder, the tears begin. She asks me inside and just lets me sit. She gives me a cup of tea and tells me that things will improve. My son keeps coming up to me, in his little voice, to ask, “Are you sad, Mummy?” and this makes me weep more.
I feel guilty that he should see my like this at all, but I try to make him feel safe. I tell him that I am sad, then I hug him and say that I’ll be happy again soon. He seems satisfied with this and bounces off my knee to play on the floor with his friend.
As I step outside the flat, I cry more, but not through upset. I feel immense warmth to the woman who, until just a few minutes ago, was just my son’s childminder. Now she feels like a friend. I am able to go about my day and work with a clearer head. A simple act of sharing has improved things considerably.
In the past few days, I’ve felt choked by responsibility, and I have not reached out for help. I am trying to keep everything afloat, but it’s not always possible. I wouldn’t expect anyone else to be able to manage everything and stay calm throughout, but somehow, I put pressure on myself to be able to cope. But now I have admitted defeat.
R is drinking, I am sad, I am angry, I am tired, the children are demanding, I want more help, I need more hours in the day for work. I would like the reassurance that the children are not shackled by extreme damage created by all of this. Rather selfishly, I’d also like to have a bloody big drunken blow out with good friends, where I can forget everything and wake up after a lie-in, in a bed that has not been squatted in by my children.
That’s what I think I’d like, but I’m not telling anyone any of this. So in my support meeting, I tell the group how I feel. Then at the end, I summarise by saying, “What I really want is to see my mum,” and I’m left with the echo of a voice that sounds like that of a homesick child. But no one laughs and they all offer comfort.
My mum would help. She knows me and the children and our situation. She knows how to cook onions and run baths and fold laundry and pour wine. She understands the importance of early nights sometimes, and company and finding the humour in all sorts of dark situations. She has been through divorce, raised five children, dealt with difficult men, faced addiction in the family and juggled work and a huge extended family.
She sometimes fails, but she does not give up. She is by no means God, but she is as close to it for me.
“Mum, I have a massive work deadline that I just can’t handle because I have no time. The children are sad, R has gone Awol and I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
She’s on her way.
Full article here.
The Husband Store
A store that sells new husbands has opened in Madrid , where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates:
You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!
So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband. On the first floor the sign on the door reads:
Floor 1 – These men Have Jobs
She is intrigued, but continues to the second floor, where the sign reads:
Floor 2 – These men Have Jobs and Love Kids.
‘That’s nice,’ she thinks, ‘but I want more.’
So she continues upward. The third floor sign reads:
Floor 3 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking.
‘Wow,’ she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going.
She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads:
Floor 4 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Good Looking and Help With Housework…
‘Oh, mercy me!’ she exclaims, ‘I can hardly stand it!’
Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads:
Floor 5 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.
She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor, where the sign reads:
Floor 6 – You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor.. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store.
To avoid gender bias charges, the store’s owner opened a New Wives store just across the street with the same rules.
The first floor has wives that love sex.
The second floor has wives that love sex and are good looking.
The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors have never been visited!!
The shocking discovery that her smart, lively 15-year-old daughter was self-harming opened Anna Stone’s eyes to the scale of the problems afflicting our troubled teenagers.
The news that more than 22,000 children and teenagers were treated in hospital for self-harming last year comes as no surprise to me. When we discovered our 15-year-old daughter was cutting herself, it was a total shock. Her adolescence had, like that of many girls, been a period of increasing turbulence – but self-harming never crossed my mind until Sophie rang up from the other side of London saying that a cut in her foot was hurting too much for her to come home by Tube and could she have a taxi? Yes, of course, we said.
When Sophie got home, she was clearly unwell and I asked to see the cut. After a moment’s hesitation, she took off her shoes. It was immediately evident that the wound was serious. Infection had caused her foot to swell, a dark purplish stain was creeping up her leg and she was feverish. We rushed her to A&E, where cellulitis was diagnosed. This is a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, and for the next three days she was on an antibiotic drip in the children’s ward.
Worse was to come, however, for when the nurses undressed her she struggled to conceal her forearms. When I saw the ladder of fine scars, some old and some very recent, on her perfect young skin I almost fainted with horror. I had had absolutely no idea what was going on.
Later, Sophie told me that she had deliberately allowed her foot to become infected. She said she had wanted to die – we hoped that what she really wanted was our help. The hospital immediately called its paediatric psychiatrist, and once our daughter was physically well, we were invited in for family therapy.
What I saw in the waiting rooms of the hospital confirmed a dawning suspicion that self-harming is the new anorexia. An astonishing number of people I knew had children who were cutting themselves; in my world of ambitious, successful professional people, the proportion seems to be around 20 per cent. Like anorexia, it seems to affect girls in particular, but unlike anorexia, with its highly visible and dangerously fashionable edge – as explored by the new film How I Live Now – cutting is kept secret.
What is the attraction? Sophie describes it as a relief from intense pressure. “I felt as if I was bursting out of my skin, like a sausage under the grill,” she said. Cutting is, however, an addiction; another young woman told me that it’s as if there are two worlds, “the clean, white world everyone else knows, and the secret world of blood and filth underneath”.
Yet further exploration of the subjects revealed other disturbing features. Our daughter was at an all-girls’ school, whose emphasis on academic and sporting prowess would, we had hoped, reinforce her self-confidence as a quirky individual we adored. She was precociously clever, funny, beautiful and apparently without a care in the world.
What we hadn’t counted on is the way that, in a school like this, competitiveness could apply not only to academic work or looks or popularity but also to self-harm. Our daughter had struggled to find a group of sympathetic friends. At 14, she fell in with a group of other girls whose rebellion took the form of cutting themselves in more and more bizarre ways. From what I have pieced together over the years, it was almost a form of showing off to each other: who had the most cuts? Who had the deepest? Who could cut themselves just before a lesson, or in a school toilet?
These were bright, privileged girls on the verge of womanhood. Two were sexually precocious, but the rest seemed like Sophie: confident, level?headed and normal. While sometimes unkind to each other in my presence, there seemed to be no group leader. They texted, chatted on Facebook and seemed to be enjoying a normal social life.
However, no sooner had my daughter turned 13 than an iron screen came down. The easy, loving flow of confidences stopped. I was suddenly her enemy, as she pushed herself to work late into the night and succeed on all fronts. A couple of years later, she told me that she envied me for being happy in my marriage and career. I was part of her problem, not a release from it.
From what I can work out, our daughter started cutting herself at 14 – the typical age – but what is even more disturbing is that younger and younger children are turning to it. The latest NHS figures show that in the past year, hospitals have treated 18,037 girls and 4,623 boys aged between 10 and 19 after they had harmed themselves – a rise of 11 per cent. Cases involving children aged 10-14 rose by 30 per cent from 4,008 to 5,192. Is it due to the general spread of information into younger and younger age groups? Or is it due to ever-younger children growing up too soon?
I have no doubt that girls and women have always turned their anger and fearfulness in on themselves; fairy tales are too full of women like Cinderella’s sisters cutting their heels in order to fit into too-small shoes for it to be a coincidence, or even a metaphor for the onset of puberty. But I also see this as a hidden epidemic among our young. My story is written pseudonymously, to protect my daughter’s privacy, but when I talked about my experience I was astonished both by the number of children I knew who were self-harming and by the number of parents who believed that to discuss it at all was wrong, and that their children were committing a shameful act.
“They’ll grow out of it,” said one; but then I found a number of middle-aged mothers who had continued, and who told me of addressing public meetings with blood seeping through their bandages, and the frantic desire to break their own skin. One mother told me that she even took light bulbs out of her daughter’s room because if they were left she would smash them and use the broken glass on herself; her child eventually had to be sectioned.
Incidentally, I believe that the contemporary craze for tattooing is a part of this. While some do it in the belief that a tattoo makes them look more interesting, many self-harmers have talked to me of deriving the same sensation of “release” from the (milder) pain of tattooing needles that they had from razors.
So, if your child has this addiction, or affliction, how do you move forward? We were deeply concerned for our child, but the family therapy we were offered in hospital was, we quickly decided, a waste of time. Discussing our family’s dynamic with a panel of shrinks, in our daughter’s presence, felt far too judgmental; we felt that being asked about our own teenaged experiences of depression weren’t helpful to our child, who needed her own suffering addressed.
It wasn’t as if these were exactly secret, either: my husband had always told her how he had exorcised his own anger at school through sport, and I had described how becoming a writer helped me. Our daughter already had similar outlets, together with a loving, stable, supportive family. It wasn’t enough.
Sophie was terrified of taking medication, and refused the offer of anti-depressants (though these have helped one or two other children I know). She continued to cut herself if we ever had a row. The slightest criticism from me had her reaching for a hidden blade. I felt as if I, too, was walking on knives. I would go into my daughter’s room to search for blades – knives, penknives, scissors – which she had hidden. It’s all too easy to obtain a blade. Even the lid of a tin can will do.
What did help was her talking once a week to a therapist on her own for a year. She didn’t want to discuss her feelings with us, or her grandparents or godparents or a teacher, but she did with a stranger qualified to explore her feelings of anger, self-loathing and hopelessness. Gradually, we could see a change as she rowed back from despair.
It was a long process. She changed schools, passed exams, endured setbacks and learnt from them that they would not destroy her or our love for her. To meet her, you wouldn’t think for a moment that she had ever had any difficulties. Only her arms tell the truth, and she hardly ever reveals those.
My daughter was a lot more fragile than we realised but, while still prone to black moods, she no longer cuts herself. It took a good two years for me to feel she was safe to leave alone, and more for the old, easy intimacy to be restored.
We are enormously proud of her. The long battle with self-harming eventually produced an individual who is strong and sensitive, compassionate to others and not too hard on herself. My present to her when she went to university this year was a case of knives.
Full article here.
A million UK children are growing up without a father in their lives, says a new report on family breakdown.
The Centre for Social Justice report says lone parent families are increasing by more than 20,000 a year, and will top two million by the next general election.
In some areas fatherlessness has reached such high levels that they are virtual “men deserts”, it adds.
And it accuses politicians on all sides of a “feeble” response.
The report says the number of single parent households has been rising steadily over the past 40 years, and that now 3m children are growing up predominantly with their mothers.
‘Tsunami of breakdown’
This has led to a huge number of children growing up without a meaningful relationship with their fathers – which the report defines as contact twice a year or more.
The absence of fathers is linked to higher rates of teenage crime, pregnancy and disadvantage, the report says, warning that the UK is experiencing a “tsunami” of family breakdown.
And it highlights areas of the UK with very high levels of lone parent households – although this does not necessarily mean the children living in them have no contact with their fathers.
In one neighbourhood in the Riverside ward of Liverpool, there is no father present in 65% of homes with dependent children. Liverpool has eight out of the top 20 areas with the highest levels of fatherless households.
There are 236 pockets of towns in England and Wales where more than 50% of households with dependent children are headed by a lone mother.
And an area in the Manor Castle ward of Sheffield tops the lone parent league table – among households with dependent children, 75% are headed by a lone parent.
Mr Guy adds: “For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom. This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development.
“There are ‘men deserts’ in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong.”
For children growing up in some of the poorest parts of the country, men are rarely encountered in the home or in the classroom”
The CSJ report recalls David Cameron’s election pledge to lead the “most family-friendly Government ever”.
Yet, in power, the family stability agenda “has barely been mentioned”. Comprehensive action to tackle existing policy barriers to family stability “has been almost entirely absent”, it adds.
‘Transferrable tax allowance’
The report calls for concrete steps to encourage marriage, including transferrable tax allowances for married couples.
The Department for Communities, Local Government and the Regions responded highlighting its programme for highly troubled families.
A DCLG spokesman said the programme was helping to get thousands of children back into school, reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour and put parents on a path back to work, as well as reducing costs to the taxpayer.
“In the first year of the three-year programme councils had already identified 66,000 fully eligible families and were working with over 35,000. This is good progress considering many services have been established from a standing start and puts us on track to work with 120,000 families by 2015.”
Full details here.
Only a tiny proportion of couples who have children but do not get married will still be together by the time their offspring are teenagers, according to stark new predictions.
A study by the Marriage Foundation calculates that cohabiting couples who have children are more than twice as likely to split up as those who had tied the knot beforehand.
But of those who do not then go on to get married after having children, only a handful will still be together by the time the child is 16, it claims.
And it predicts that half of children born today will have been through a family break-up by the time they are 16.
The foundation, set up by the High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, said that the findings show that the idea of being “happily unmarried” is a myth.
And it accused the Government of being fixated with trying to “airbrush” the importance of traditional marriage out of discussion about family break-up, with an emphasis on “long term stable relationships” instead.
Full report here.
Men and women are different by God’s design. When we don’t understand the differences between us, we will experience rejection and long-term frustration.
For married couples, listening is one of the most important skills you can have. When couple counselling the single biggest issue is the couple’s failure to communicate. How well you listen has a major impact on your marriage, your job job, and on the quality of your relationships with others.
We listen to obtain information.
We listen to understand.
We listen for enjoyment.
We listen to learn.
Given all this listening we do, you would think we’d be good at it!
In fact most of us are not. Especially married couples. Depending on the study being quoted, we remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when you talk to your boss, colleagues, customers or spouse for 10 minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation. This is dismal!
Turn it around and it reveals that when you are receiving directions or being presented with information, you aren’t hearing the whole message either. You hope the important parts are captured in your 25-50%, but what if they’re not?
Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, you will improve your productivity, as well as your ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings. All of these are necessary for workplace success!
Good communication skills require a high level of self-awareness. By understanding your personal style of communicating, you will go a long way towards creating good and lasting impressions with others.
The way to become a better listener is to practice “active listening”. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.
In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.
You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.
Tip: If you’re finding it particularly difficult to concentrate on what someone is saying, try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
To enhance your listening skills, you need to let the other person know that you are listening to what he or she is saying. To understand the importance of this, ask yourself if you’ve ever been engaged in a conversation when you wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying. You wonder if your message is getting across, or if it’s even worthwhile continuing to speak. It feels like talking to a brick wall and it’s something you want to avoid.
Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” You aren’t necessarily agreeing with the person, you are simply indicating that you are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge you are listening also reminds you to pay attention and not let your mind wander.
You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information if you need. While nodding and “uh huhing” says you’re interested, an occasional question or comment to recap what has been said communicates that you understand the message as well.
Becoming an Active Listener
There are five key elements of active listening. They all help you ensure that you hear the other person, and that the other person knows you are hearing what they say.
Tip: If you find yourself responding emotionally to what someone said, say so, and ask for more information: “I may not be understanding you correctly, and I find myself taking what you said personally. What I thought you just said is XXX; is that what you meant?”.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break, and if your listening habits are as bad as many people’s are, then there’s a lot of habit-breaking to do!
Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors and concentrate on the message. Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!
Start using active listening today to become a better communicator, improve your workplace productivity, and develop better relationships.
A very thought provoking letter from Jimmy Evans, Marriage Today
I haven’t been shy about detailing the rocky early years of my marriage to Karen. Both of us were certain that our marriage was destined for greatness—that we would never fight, never get tired of each other, never worry about money or kids or any of the petty things other couples argued about.
We both knew we were the perfect match and nothing could stand in our way. We were confident. It only took two weeks for us to realize how misplaced our confidence was.
I don’t remember the first argument Karen and I had after we were married, but I do remember wondering if the fighting would ever stop. One argument would flow into the next one, like an endless raging river. Though we kept fighting, neither of us ever won.
After three years, we hit rock bottom, numb and out of love. We were barely speaking. Both of us were thinking about leaving.
What happened to turn things around in our marriage? How did we ever get from that point to where we are today—two giddy old married people who can hardly keep their hands off each other?
The truth is, it wasn’t any one miraculous event, but a long series of small decisions and attitude changes followed by more decisions and attitude changes. It was a journey.
But like all journeys, it began with one critical, monumentally important first step: We gave up.
There came a point when we both realized we simply could no longer make it on our own. We understood we were completely incapable of putting our marriage back together again—at least on our own power. So we quit trying. We put down our weapons and surrendered.
No one would have blamed us for leaving each other. Looking back, I’m surprised I never got to that point of no return, and even more surprised that Karen didn’t. I was an emotional bully. Almost anyone else would have left me.
But somehow we both found the strength to do the right thing. We surrendered our marriage to God. We opened our hands and hearts and gave ourselves over to His will, recommitting ourselves to the relationship. Little by little, day by day, we began to rebuild the love that had died.
It didn’t happen overnight. It was a daily process of dying to self, getting up each morning and deciding to be nicer to each other than we were the day before. More forgiving. More loving. More selfless and caring.
In short, we did with our marriage what God asks each of us to do in our own Christian walk. Instead of focusing on our own selfish desires, we focused on the needs of the other. I started learning Karen’s needs and looking for ways to fill them. She did the same for me.
We gave up trying to make it on our own and instead leaned on God to rebuild the love affair we had so callously destroyed. That has proven to be the most supernaturally rewarding decision we could have ever made. What about you? Is it time for you to give up?