Saturday, 1 March 2014

Twitter - useful tool or self indulgence?

Must admit to being hugely frustrated by what I consider to be the misuse of a communication tool which, in its purest form, is a great way to expedite information and news. I'm talking about Twitter.

A recent Pew Research survey indicates that 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind. The predominant platform is still Facebook, but the use of Twitter and other platforms has seen significant growth. In fact, 42% of online adults use multiple networking sites. The Pew Research claimed Twitter had an online adult following of 18%; in November 2010 this figure was 8%. Not surprisingly, internet users in the age group 18-29 are the most likely to use Twitter.

Like most social networking sites, Twitter is used primarily as a communication tool. 'Tweets' of 140 characters or less are posted as frequently as the user chooses, and the communication shared may range from the useful to the outright dull, narcissistic and downright boring.

Twitter has great value as a news feed source; asking questions and receiving answers; socialising (although Facebook is still the preferred platform for 'real' friends communicating with each other); offering recommendations for business, articles, events etc and for simply acting as a time-filler or distraction.

So...why the frustration? I understand that in a fast-paced world we need to disseminate information quickly; we need to alert others in our professional field of events or current information that may impact business decisions or directions. I also understand that young people communicate in a totally different way now than previous generations, and that what is important to them may fall into the category of narcissistic or boring to others of a different generation.

I use Twitter rarely, and purely for the purpose of forwarding what might be considered interesting or relevant material to my network. I am absolutely certain no-one is interested in the milk being 'off' and my tummy churning all day; or that I am about to head off and do a workout at the gym. Might work if I was 19, but not now...I am a 'grown up'!

So why did two recent 'tweets' trigger this article? Paraphrased, 'about to play a game of backyard tennis' and 'packing a dress to head off to the Oscars'.......and this interests me, how? Yes, shows there's personality beyond profession, but really, this kind of information-sharing from professionals, not 19-year-olds, seems to add weight to the idea that perhaps we are all at risk of becoming a little too self-important.

We often criticise the 'younger generation' for being too self-indulged and self-focused. Maybe it's not just the young? If adults are guilty of believing that everyone should be interested in what we ate for breakfast, what chance do we have of teaching our kids that the world does not revolve around them? That self-promotion does not equate with being self-motivated and resilient?

There is great value in social networking as a quick and easy way to communicate without long-winded emails or phone calls....although I must admit to preferring the traditional 'face to face' or 'voice to voice' methods of communication over the modern, somewhat sterile versions. However, it seems some training in self-discipline when communicating a 'stream of consciousness' might not go astray.

Maybe I'm old, but I found great delight in Split Strategy blogger Mat Fitzgerald's claim that "mindless broadcast and promotion via Twitter has absolutely zero alignment with what people (real people) are on Twitter for."

By all means go to the Oscars and be excited about it, go and play backyard tennis if you want - but do we really need to tell everyone about it?

Photo credit: Gavin Llewellyn via photopin cc

Monday, 24 February 2014

Proaction vs Reaction

Much has been made in the media over recent weeks and months about changes to legislation regarding alcohol trading hours, curbing binge-drinking behaviour and legal consequences for coward punches etc.

Of course we need to do something - that is not up for debate. Everyone has an opinion on how we should address the problem, but I am not going to get into what I think because there are a lot of people who know more about how to correctly 'react' to the issue and what measures should be put in place than I do.

What I will offer, however, is a suggestion for one way which might go some way toward changing the current culture of a minority of young people who think it's OK to throw a punch, and a somewhat larger number of young people whose sole ambition is to wipe themselves out on alcohol on weekends. Yes, we need the 'reaction', but we also need a strong dose, and a forward plan, of 'proaction'. 

I have heard several within the media propose 'education' programs for young people - tell them about the dangers of binge-drinking; teach them respect for themselves and others; help them become more responsible and less aggressive. Sounds good.....but just ask someone like Paul Dillon, director and founder of DARTA (Drug and Alcohol Research Training Australia who has been running programs for teens addressing these very issues for years. I have worked with him and heard him speak, and his warnings are very powerful and very clear.  How much impact they have made - only Paul could tell you.

In addition to the work that Paul Dillon and others are already doing in this area, I feel there is a great need for parents to be more skilled and knowledgeable in the area of child development. In an earlier blog, I referred to recent adolescent brain research - suggesting parents need to maintain their parenting role beyond the school leaving age of their children.

It is only part of a much bigger picture and plan, but state or federal governments should consider subsidising and providing mandatory (not optional) parent training. Until more parents are trained in understanding the critical stages of adolescent brain development, then we will continue to see parents step back, throw their hands in the air and say "He'll learn the hard way." Yes, he or she will - but it will be the wrong way, and the rest of society will be paying the price.

Clear and simple explanations can make a massive difference to how a parent views their child - and how they learn new ways to support, role model appropriate behavior and attitudes, and apply consequences for behaviour. I have seen the blinkers come off on so many occasions....and more importantly, parents are glad to have the chance to vent their frustrations and hear some possible solutions.

There's a lot to be said for the KISS principle - Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Just wondering if the 'simple' approach might be one worth considering.

photo credit: dmitri_krendelev via photopin cc

Monday, 17 February 2014

Kids and Contracts

Anyone having trouble 'negotiating' with their teens about the time they spend on technology? Of course I'm talking not only about general internet use, but also social networking and mobile phones. Sound familiar?

This thorny topic arises almost every time I work with parents - and for the most part these are parents whose kids aren't even legally old enough to be registered for the majority of online sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. These are the parents who are looking ahead to potential issues because they see what is happening around them with older kids ....and they are worried.

Adolescents crave independence, increased responsibility, a sense of 'self'. Largely, it is up to parents to provide opportunities for their kids to step up to the plate and be accountable - but it's unlikely to happen if we either act as dictators ("My house, my rules") or as one of the three wise monkeys (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil). As my previous blog cites, the adolescent brain is not fully developed until early to mid-twenties, so we have a delicate path to navigate.

Several years ago I attended a parent information session when my oldest was in Year 10 - so we are going back to 2005. This was well before the introduction of Facebook and other social networking sites. This was in the days when MSN Messenger was the enemy! That dreaded 'blip' was the instant give-away sound to tell us that our kids had the messenger site open and were being distracted from more important tasks, like homework! How many more distractions do our kids have now?

Our school had organised this session due to parent demand for more information on how we, as parents, could take more control in our own homes, and how we could keep one step ahead of potential issues around cyberbullying. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg ( was the guest speaker and those who attended hung on every word.

A parent raised the issue of  'how much is too much computer...and how do we say no.' Dr Carr-Gregg spoke of contracts - both verbal and written between parent and adolescent. He suggested that if our young people are looking to be treated and respected as adults, they need to held accountable to the same kind of limits and expectations adults face every day. If we simply threaten to confiscate the laptop or refuse to allow them to have an MSN account (now it's Facebook etc!) we are either preventing them from making sensible 'grown up' choices or, even more damaging, forcing the issues 'underground'.

Quite simply, Dr Carr-Gregg encouraged us to sit down with our kids, have a chat about the constant tug-of-war, and come to an agreed, amicable set of limits - a contract. Some parents, he claimed, decided to make the contract a written agreement, while others simply made it verbal. The scenario went something like this:

"OK, we have a problem with constant distractions while you are doing homework. We don't want to nag every night and we don't want to be looking over your shoulder either. What we want is to be sure that you are doing the right thing and it's our job - whether you like it or not - to keep you safe and provide you with the best options to do well at school. So, let's agree on a time frame for use of the computer/mobile phone for messaging friends etc." When parents and teens communicate like this, there is more likely to be resolution than a Mexican stand-off.

The decision might be made that the teen does 45 minutes of uninterrupted homework, research, study etc and then a 10 minute break when he or she can message, text, 'Facebook' before returning to work. The conditions and time frames are agreed upon......but most importantly, there are consequences for 'breaking the rules' of the agreement. Dr Carr-Gregg's example suggested that if the teen spends 15-20 minutes on  social networking instead of the agreed 10 minutes, then that extra time would be deducted from their 'break' time the following night.

Do contracts work? According to Dr Carr-Gregg, they do. I can vouch for that as well! Not only did I employ this strategy with my own boys, but I have also suggested it at every parent session where this topic arises. I have received feedback from parents whose initial response has been "Nah, won't work", but who have contacted me later to say that not only does it work, but everyone is happier. What is particularly pleasing to parents is that their kids seem to have developed a greater sense of responsibility and independence....and they are getting more work done! Worth a try?

photo credit: One Way Stock via photopin cc

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Parents as Models

Whether you have sent your five year old off to 'big school' for the first time recently - or your pre-teen off to high school - now is NOT the time to sit back and expect that schools can now take over the reins of responsibility for your children.

It's pretty easy to stay in touch with what's going on at the primary school level, and we all do what we can in terms of offering our time as either a fund-raiser, a committee stalwart or a classroom helper. Unfortunately it all goes a bit pear-shaped in high school. I am not about to re-hash earlier posts about the ins and outs of developing a good relationship with your new high school, but I am going to remind you of the importance of maintaining a good relationship with your child!

In my last post I spoke about the importance of listening, particularly when dealing with teens. It seems that it's not just the words we use (or how we use them!) when communicating with adolescents that's critical, but it is also very much the way we conduct ourselves.

Despite the fact that our young people can pick up their L plates at 16 and can legally drink and vote at 18, the most recent brain research indicates that they are not really 'adults' until their mid-twenties. As parents, this puts us in a very responsible, and somewhat powerful, position. Whether we like it or not, our sons and daughters are still in a state of developmental 'flux' well after they have finished their final school exams. Just because they head off to uni or a new job doesn't mean they don't need us; of course we are not supposed to be running their lives, but what we do, what we say and how we behave can still impact the potential future adult choices and behaviours of our young people.

Professor Ian Hickie from the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Research Institute ( believes that once our children finish high school "It is not the time to simply abandon your kids to their friends and think that everything will be fine." Recent brain research suggests that this is far from the truth.

New techniques for tracking brain growth show radical changes extends beyond teens and into the 20's - suggesting responsible parenting should too! Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.......

photo credit: Saad Faruque via photopin cc

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

It's not always about talking - we need to listen too!

In a recent post I expressed my frustration with the increasing trend towards communicating with each other via an array of technology tools - and used the mobile phone as an example of how many parents miss perfect opportunities to communicate with their kids because they are too busy texting or tweeting someone else!

I claimed that if our reliance on these tools continues, we risk losing (or at least debasing) the most basic method of communicating - talking to each other. Messages on a screen are one thing - but facial expressions, tone of voice, hand gestures, body language are all additional ways of communicating how we feel and what we want to say. Pretty hard to accurately interpret a clear message from words on a screen.

But talking is only one part of true communication - listening is a skill as well, and one many parents (and teachers) need to practice a little better. When it seems we can't get our message through, particularly when dealing with teens, my experience in working with parents tells me that discussion quickly turns into nagging....and no-one wins.

Dr Thomas Gordon (, a pioneer in teaching effective communication models for teachers, parents, young people and business leaders, claims that  active listening is a skill critical to effective communication - and effective parenting, teaching and leading.

Sometimes it's hard for parents to stop talking, but if we want to consolidate what has hopefully been strong communication ties within the family, we need to utilise this skill throughout the difficult teen years. 

In simple terms, active listening is allowing the other person to express themselves without interruption. As parents, we need to simply let our kids talk and hold the floor - even if it means we need to take mental notes of points we want to clarify or questions we want to ask. We don't interrupt!

By allowing your teen to unload, or even challenge a decision you might have made, you are giving yourself the golden opportunity to listen to it all, assess the whole picture and then possibly explore the problem (or find a solution) together. Often parents join the dots before they really hear the whole message. Half-listening is a dangerous practice, and can often lead to that conversation I'm sure we have all had which concludes with "I told you that...but you never listen!"

So, next time you are in the middle of a conversation with your son or daughter (or partner for that matter!) put your emotions or your conclusions to one side and hear them out...completely. When they have finished, clarify with a comment like, "From what you've said, am I right in thinking....?"or "It seems like you are angry/upset/disappointed about.... Am I right?"

You might like to conclude the discussion with a comment like "Well, where do we go from here?" or "Have you thought about how you are going to handle....?" 

How's your active listening skill? Practice makes perfect...and everybody wins!

 photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

Monday, 18 November 2013

Education: Conservative vs Creative

An article in The Age recently opened up, yet again, the discussion around education and the pros and cons of a conservative approach to teaching and learning or a more innovative, creative approach. It made for thought-provoking reading. Check it out

I make no apology for being a huge fan of Sir Ken Robinson and his ideals of a creativity-centred philosophy of education. I am also aware, however, that after 25 years in a classroom we need some of the basics of what might appear to be an outdated system of teaching and learning if we are to adequately prepare our children for their future - a future we know little about.

Our current education system is based on preparing students for a current raft of careers and jobs. But for how long is current current? How can we prepare students for careers that do not yet even exist? How can we prepare students for a work-lifespan which will probably see them change jobs more than 25 times and career paths more than 5 times - based on current statistics?

My argument is simple - why can't we have a little of both? Our new Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, claims that we need a return to the basics, and that we need to provide parents with 'what they expect' for their children. I've worked with thousands of parents and, regardless of educational experience, status or achievements, there remains one constant. Parents want their children to achieve whatever their potential might be and to be happy, secure, responsible and employed adults! Yes, there are those high-achiever parents who want (for a variety of reasons) to see their child succeed above all others and above all else. In the main, however, this is not the case - so Christoper Pyne should not assume that our education system needs to be based on a principle of giving parents 'what they expect'. That is such a narrow view of education.

We need to teach the basics - absolutely true. Regardless of what career paths may or may not exist right now, and the educational requirements of these career paths, I think it's safe to say that we need to be both literate and numerate. How we achieve these goals is still up for discussion. I wince at some of our methods of inspiring children to read and write creatively - there's nothing creative about it! In my opinion, we kill off the capacity for creative literacy in primary school ...and it continues its deterioration throughout high school. Unfortunately, our obsession with testing for testing-sake tends to create a 'one size fits all' approach to teaching - there are so many boxes teachers need to tick, so we drive ourselves through the curriculum the best way we can - leaving little room or time for a more relaxed, dare I say, creative approach to teaching.

In a more creative learning environment, there is room for student-centred learning - students steering the learning, but aided by an enthusiastic professional skilled in their subject; and there should also be times when the professional is steering the ship. I can't see why we can't have both.

Educational change will not happen overnight. What it takes is an innovative and collaborative approach - there should be no such thing as a 'one size fits all' education. Every child is different, and I believe every child has an intrinsic capacity to learn and achieve - if the spark is lit!

What we don't need is a constant battle of wills - we need people with knowledge, people with passion and people prepared to listen to each other and take the best ideas on board to create a system that targets all children to be the best they can be.Who's up for that challenge!

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Friday, 15 November 2013

Put the iPhone down and talk to your Kids!

I know I'm not Gen X, Y or Z - happy to admit I am a Baby Boomer - but if the trend of poor communication between parents and their kids continues, it won't matter what generation you will be losing the art of communication in its most basic form - talking! The impact of this can reflect long term on the relationship you have, or are building, with your kids.

This blog is not about research, it's not about theory, it's not about the positives and negatives of the new age of technology. This is about the simple art of effective communicating...and effective parenting. Now, put down your iPhones for a minute and consider this scenario - maybe it looks familiar. 

A few months ago I was sitting in a local Hungry Jacks in Victoria, sipping on coffee before heading off to one of my afternoon workshops. There, across the way, was a young mum (probably about 30) with her pre-school aged daughter. Typical of girls, the youngster was talking non-stop; asking questions; pointing at passing traffic; asking if they could go to the park before heading home.

The restaurant (for want of a better word) was decorated in '50's style, with pictures of James Dean, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley adorning the walls. Mum and daughter were sitting directly underneath a photo of Elvis Presley. Now, mum had not made eye contact with her daughter the entire time, responding to her daughter's chatter with nothing but a "mmmm" and preferring to continually text whoever was on the other end of her iPhone.  Daughter looked up at the photo and asked "Who's that, mummy?" Mum might genuinely not have known who it was - although I find it impossible to believe that a 30 year old would not recognise Elvis Presley. A fleeting glance was followed by a "Dunno" and mum continued to text. I could have walked over and throttled her! I said to my husband on our way out, "When that little girl is a teenager and doesn't tell her mum anything, she is simply paying forward the favour her mum has paid her!"

I could trot out all kinds of research to support my claim that relationships with our children are forged from a very early age - infancy - not when we think they are verbal enough for us to have a conversation, or when we think they can understand what we are saying! There are so many ways to communicate our interest in our kids - not everything needs to be put into words. It can be an expression, a touch, a smile, eye contact - but texting is NOT one of these ways. Texting while our kids are talking to us is even worse. What kind of a message are we sending?

There are many more examples I could detail, but I won't. Sadly, the habit of texting as our prime method of communicating is not confined to the young. We 'oldies' do it too. Many of us do know the alternative methods of actually speaking person to person, but in our hectic world we often choose the easy way to keep in touch.

My fear is that if we don't put our phones away and make more genuine attempts to keep lines of communication with our kids open while they are young, it may be too late once they hit puberty and adolescence - a time when it is typical for teens to display 'attitude' and non-verbals! Don't wait until it is too late - make the effort to talk to your kids; make eye contact; show genuine interest in what they are doing. If we wait until we're ready, it may be too late.

 photo credit: camknows via photopin cc