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