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Boys and the rape culture crisis

Friday, April 9th, 2021
Ian Williamson

Boys and the rape culture crisis

The scale of the current ‘rape culture’ scandal is shocking. I would suggest that this crisis isn’t just confined to private schools and universities. The true figures probably dwarf the numbers currently being reported. If we can set aside the understandable shock and horror at what has been happening we can perhaps begin to try to think about how such abuse has come about and how it has become so normalised ? Moreover we need to acknowledge that it has been happening in plain sight.  How have we, as parents, not noticed ? 

To understand the origins of this we have to go back to the 29th June 2007. This was the day the iPhone was introduced. Slowly but surely this, and other similar devices, have now become indispensable to the smooth functioning of our daily lives. For teenagers these devices are as essential to their lives as food and water. They are umbilically attached to them. These Digital platforms have slowly but surely changed family dynamics. Households now consist of couples/parents, children, pets and digital devices. We share time with some of all of them. Through time the digital platforms have become more and more sophisticated. However the seminal shift, the real game changer, has been the move away from the ‘content’ of platforms to issues of ‘engagement’. In other words how long can we keep them on the platforms. They have found that they can now commercialise the human need to connect with each other. As a consequence of this the platforms can now reshape how we connect with each other. Teenagers spent on average 7/8 hours a day on digital platforms of one sort or another. That figure dwarfs the amount of time they spend interacting with their families. 

In the race to keep us ‘connected’ the platforms have started to redefine the parameters of what constitutes ‘relating’. Relating as we would understand it, the pursuit of knowledge, understanding, friendship and intimacy, is being replaced by the need for instant gratifications and excitements. In the context of the current crisis we could think of it as ‘courtship’ being replaced by the need for sexual gratification. 

To my mind there are two interrelated forces fuelling this crisis, the widespread consumption of pornography and the dynamics of the adolescent boy group.  

There are no reliable statistics for just how much porn teenage boys and girls watch for the obvious reason that they are hardly going to tell a random researcher the truth. Rough estimates suggest 90% of teenage boys have seen porn by the age of 14 and 54% believed that what they were seeing was a realistic portray of sex.  In other words what they think is realistic is that acting abusively towards girls is normal.  Porn doesn’t do consent, on the contrary it is about domination, submission, humiliation and abuse, all of which the women are allegedly supposed to enjoy. If these are the dynamics that boys are using as masturbatory fantasies, is it any wonder that this is what they pursue in real life.

However there is a second more subtle influence at play here and that is the dynamics of the teenage boy group. Teenage boys, however confident, live in perpetual fear of humiliation and shame. Their ‘masculinity’ is a fledgeling one and they mostly take shelter from this fear in the group. They are more confident and stronger as a group that alone. The price they pay for this is blind obedience. Social media has exacerbated these anxieties. A dress malfunction, a misspeak, not getting a joke can be shared with others in the group in seconds bringing with it a barrage of abuse and comment all under the banner of ‘having a laugh’. One wonders how much of this rape culture in driven by the fear of what the group will think if you don’t engage in it. Does a date with Emily which ends with holding hands or an exchange of phone numbers, rather than something more sexual, open them up to being belittled and humiliated in their group ? 

The question that institutions will be thinking about is what to do about it ? There will be the usual call for more talks in schools and more education generally. These undoubtedly have a part to play but since when did teenagers listen intently to what adults have to say about anything? At best it may increase awareness but will do little to change the internal dynamics. Ultimately the really serious changes will have to come from parents in the home. 

Those that have read my book ‘We need to talk, a guide to raising resilient teenagers’ will be familiar with some of the suggestions here.

Quite obviously there has to be a proper conversation about pornography despite some parents reservations. At the very least they need to understand that this isn’t a realistic representation of sex relationships. They also need to understand what consent really means. As a necessary part of this there needs to be a discussion about the part ‘getting hammered’ has in many of these incidents. The excessive consumption of drugs and alcohol makes the issue of consent much more complex.  

In my view we have to ‘track’ our boys lives better because we have clearly lost track of them. Before the mobile phone this was much easier because it primarily was an issue of geography, where are you going, where have you been? This tracking is now much more difficult. Furthermore any attempt to do so won’t be welcomed. 

‘You’re invading my privacy’ is a popular gripe

‘I have my rights’ is another. 

All of this will be conveyed in the now familiar hysterical rant. Don’t be put off.

You need to know who your son’s friends are. Do you know who are the movers and shakers in the group? Do you know how much influence they have over him and/or what is his relationship within the group ? Is he a leader, a follower ? You need to find out. You need to talk about the importance of doing the right thing even if it means it incurs the group’s displeasure. Explain the dangers of ‘group think’. 

Don’t let them disappear into their bedrooms as soon as they come home. They learn about relationships by being in the family group not by being in their bedrooms. Try to impose a technology free part of each day. I don’t for one moment suggest that this will be easy, on the contrary it will precipitate all sorts of conflicts, but the issues are too important for us to ignore.

Imagine how you might feel if the police come knocking at your door wanting to discuss your son’s alleged sexual assault. 

Managing the lockdown with adolescent children.

Lets not sugar coat the situation. Aside from all the traumatic medical issues that are going on being locked down with adolescent children presents enormous challenges to say the very least. A combination of no school, no friends to socialise with and now being joined at the hip with mum and dad is not a recipe for creative family living in my experience.  Some writers speak of using the time to practice being a better person or learn a new language. All of these are laudable activities in themselves but I do wonder whether they have ever come across an adolescent. The major challenges facing most parents are how to get them up before midday and how to stop them being on their screens later into the night. With no structure or routine in their lives they are more likely to crash and burn than to practice mindfulness in their bedroom. 

So how might we tackle this period of isolation ? The first thing to do is be realistic and not to set the bar too high.  If you can get through this period without too many soul destroying meltdowns  then you have done a good job, period. Anything else is a bonus. 

There are two critical things to bear in mind though, the need for structure and some productivity. By all means let them have chaotic days mooching about doing nothing but they need a structure around them. Structure acts as a kind of container for being ‘adolescent’.  Without it they soon descend into chaos and acrimony. They may protest but they need it. They also need to do something productive most days, however small. This helps create a feeling of wellbeing.

Here are some ideas to consider in no particular order.  

Take some exercise

Speak to friends and family online

Get some good books and try to encourage a period of reading

Allow computer games but keep it in check.

Do some cooking.

If they play a musical instrument then keep the practice going.

Art, if they are interested.

Walking the dog.

Here are some of the things that are not worth bothering about. 

The state of their room.

How long they talk to their friends.

Good luck, see you on the other side !!

An evolutionary shift in the way we relate is underway

As parents we are too often guilty of battling away in the ‘long grass’ of parenting without being able to see the bigger picture. Screens and mobile phones are one of those areas. There is a great deal of discussion and conflict about the place of screens and mobile phones in the lives of children and adolescents. There is no doubt they interfere with family life but we don’t really know how seriously we should take this issue. More often than not we just busk our way though it, making decisions based on how irritated we are by them. 

What might be useful is to try to understand the bigger picture ? To do that we need to consider  two very important facts.

1.Our children’s use of screens is increasing rapidly. Currently children aged 8-18 spend an average of 7 hours a day looking at screens.

2.The companies that make and sell the technology are becoming much more sophisticated at ‘capturing’ their attention. A good example of this is computer games. They now incorporate the systems used in fixed odds betting machines. These machines are the so called ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. So if there is an ‘addictive’ quality to screen and phone use then it isn’t going to decrease anytime soon. 

In my opinion we are witness to, what is in effect, an evolutionary shift in the nature of ‘relating’. Relating as I, and most reading this piece understand it, involves the pursuit of knowledge, friendship, intimacy driven by both curiosity and the need for closeness. This is being replaced by relating driven by the need for instant gratification, excitement and self affirmation.  It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine a world where our technologies are more important than the people around us. Any parent who has tried taking a phone away from an angry teenager will testify to the truth of this.

So what you may ask? Evolution is evolution, we are changing all the time and so is the world around us. My point is this, relating in the pursuit of instant gratification and excitement is transitory, shallow and ultimately unsatisfying. It creates anxiety and a sense of emptiness. Furthermore this form of relating is not an add on, it’s instead of the way we understand relating.  A good example of this is the decline of what is called ‘deep reading’ ( see another post). Child and teens don’t tend to read long and complex books anymore because it takes too long, is too much of a struggle and too frustrating. 

However the absolutely central point is that this way of relating is incompatible with developing successful relationships with friends and partners in adulthood. And we know unequivocally that this capacity is at the heart of mental and physical wellbeing. 

It may well be that the explosion of mental health issues we are seeing in our children and teens is part of the fall out from this evolutionary shift. It is perfectly possible that there may will be some sort of backlash but in the mean time we, as parents, need to step up to the plate on this issue, busking it will not do. 

Dealing with the age of anxiety

From what we read and hear there is an epidemic of ‘anxiety’ amongst our teens. It would appear that they are anxious about everything in life. The latest article I read suggested that there is now something called climate change anxiety. How are we to understand all this ? And more importantly what can we, as parents, do about it ?

My understanding is that all the various anxieties have at their centre a fear of something awful happening in the future. This seems to vary from a fear of not having friends, not finding a partner in adulthood through to a fear of failing exams and a terror that the world will end soon. In psychology these kinds of worries are called ‘projections’. In other words something we fear inside us is ‘projected’ ( located in ) into an external person, event or situation. 

It’s my view that what is driving teen anxiety is the fear that they will be found out; that they will be found to be imposters in their own lives and they will be shamed and/or humiliated for it. Shame and humiliation, for a teen, is a fate worse than death. Remember that for today’s teens a misspeak, or a dress malfunction goes ‘global’ in seconds as photos and messages flash round the friendship group. They can become the focus of derision and persecution is seconds. 

In order to get a sense of where I am coming from its necessary to first understand an important part of the teen process. During these difficult years the teenage needs to develop a sense of identity, a sense who they really are, what they really think and what they really feel. Whilst this process continues into their 20’s and beyond it has to start during the 13-19 years. This is to some extent a process of trial and error, hence their intense and often passing passions for music, dress  politics and other activities. In order to start this process they need space to fully experience themselves. A caricature might be the teenage lying on their bed listening to Bob Dylan, thinking about the meaning of the world and their place in it. 

One of the problems they face now is that the world they inhabit is a world driven largely by excitements, distractions and instant gratifications. The result is this vital introspective, developmental process has been relegated to the margins of their lives. Today’s teens spend an inordinate amount of time on their phone or on their computers. What emerges from this experience, from a psychological point of view, is a sort of false self. Susan Greenfield, a neuro scientist in her book Mind Change, describes how teen’s online self is an idealised version of themselves, the kind of self they might imagine themselves to be. It is a long way from who they actually are. Teens also spend a lot a time on social media which is little more than a 24/7 evaluation site. Fear of missing out or feelings of personal inadequacy are the major drivers behind these experiences. As a consequence they spend more time identifying with an idealised notion of who they might want to be at the expense of understanding and developing who they really are.

As they move through the teen years reality checks start to impinge on their lives and test the authenticity of self. This is when the panic starts to kick in.  Will the confident academic, social and sexual self they have presented to others going to be outed as, at worst fake or at best, less than they really are? 

If we understand where this anxiety comes from, what can we do about it ? I’m of the opinion that in today’s world it is more important than ever that they take part in extra curricular activities with others. It doesn’t matter what it is but the ‘authenticity’ of the endeavour provides much needed solidity to their sense of self. Being together with others with an aim or a purpose provides a real life comparisons of the kind that social media never can.

Secondly you have to provide some respite for them from the incessant demands of phones/computer games etc. I have written and spoken about this many times before. I acknowledge that taking control of this is easier said than done but to my mind it is a non-negotiable part of parenting. They will argue till they are blue in the face that you are making their life a misery but you need to stay firm. The misery they are talking about is having to be alone with their thoughts and feelings. They need space and time to ‘experience’ themselves fully without the endless stimulation/distraction of modern teen life. A famous paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott commented that the capacity to be alone should be considered a vital component of psychological well being.  If they get to the later teen years and they don’t have some sense of who they are then ‘anxiety’ will kick in.        

Computer games

We need to wake up to what’s really going on with video computer games.A lot of the chatter about gaming centres on issues about whether it makes our children more aggressive or not. This is not the most important issue. What we need to be thinking about is whether gaming is becoming something much more akin to gambling.  Here is an abbreviated outline of some of the issues we need to be thinking carefully about. You can make your own mind up about it.

The video gaming industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. The rise of casual gaming on mobile platforms has led to a massive expansion of the industry. The structure of the games has changed as well. In the 1990’s video games were ‘premium’, meaning you paid once to gain access to the game for life, rather like buying a book. Video game companies have shifted to more profitable models known as ‘Free to play”. The aim of the FTP game is to get as many players playing for free, with the hope that some, if not all, will keep buying in-game content.

In-game game content includes things like ‘visual enhancements’, ‘digital trophies’  and ‘virtual goods’.

These companies are increasingly using ideas and technologies that are used in casinos to keep children playing for longer and in many cases get them addicted. Commonly they use fake currency. This helps create a disassociation effect in the player, meaning that he is more likely to  spend more using a fake currency than a real one. This is the same psychology behind the use of the credit card.

They have added another dimension from casinos known as ‘progress gates’. The typical slot machine charges you to keep playing as soon as you lose, this is known as a ‘hard progress gate’. By way of contrast a ‘soft progress gate’ prevents a player from playing for a period of time, which can be bypassed by paying to keep playing. Hard and soft progress gates are part and parcel of video games.

Among the other more dubious gifts from the gaming industry is the the ‘loot box’. This is in effect an in-game lottery ticket; for a small amount of money a player can purchase a variety of items that promises to enhance the game experience. For example in FIFA 18 a Premium gold pack ‘might’ get you a top player and note the emphasis on ‘might’. The odds are something between one in eleven and one in thirteen of this happening. You are more than likely to get a low level player that you have to trade if you can. These Loot boxes have been at the centre of the rise in ‘smartphone ‘freemium’ games which although free to download cant be properly enjoyed unless the player pays for in-app boosts.

Perhaps the most important game changer if you will excuse the pun is that the games now use the variable-ratio reinforcement reward system. This was a system designed by behavioural psychologists to eliminate aberrant behaviours. This same psychology is behind Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, FOBT, that are known as the ‘crack cocaine’ of gambling. The end goal is to keep people playing on the machines regardless of whether they win or not. Computer games use the same psychology. This system comes from behavioural psychology and works as follows. The theory is that you don’t reward behaviour every time you play. You vary how often a person gets a reward when they accomplish the target behaviour ( in this case keep on playing the game). You might start to reward them say every 5 times or 7 times they play randomly until the behaviour you want is established ( ie they are locked into playing the game ). Once the behaviour is established ( the player is addicted//or in the zone if you prefer) then you can lengthen the time between rewards. It is proven that eventually the extended time between rewards becomes no deterrent to playing because the behaviour is now hard wired into the brain. The end goal is to induce the ‘state of flow’ or being in ‘the zone’, in which all of the player’s attention and consciousness is pulled into the game and nothing in the outside world matters.This helps explain the explosive rages our children get into when we try drag them away from the game.

Of course while the system was originally devised for eliminating aberrant behaviours it is now the science behind FOBT and more importantly gaming. The question parents have to get to grips with is that unlimited playing of computer games is not good for your child whatever they tell you to the contrary. By all means let them play but it has to be time limited.

Are there lessons we need to learn from the Molly Russell tragedy ?

The tragic suicide of 14 year old Molly Russell has once again raised the thorny issue of the influence of social media on teenager’s lives. There will likely be much huffing and puffing from government and media companies about this tragedy but it’s more likely that nothing will be done about it. The bottom line is that parents will have to deal with it as best they can.

This piece is an attempt to offer parents some help and guidance. Let’s start with some facts about adolescent development. It is a period of immense turmoil and insecurity. Intense anxieties about self are never far from the surface even with the most secure of teenagers. The second important fact is that all teenagers have a very ‘private self’ that they don’t share with their parents. This needs to be borne in mind so parents don’t fall into the trap of believing their teens tell them ‘everything’. The bottom line is teens are invariably economical with the truth.  It’s a fallacy to believe that because you have a close relationship with your teen that you know exactly what they are up to and what they are feeling. 

With these thoughts as the back drop where precisely does social media come into all this. The first thing to remember is that social media is a 24/7 evaluation site where teenagers habits, compulsions and vulnerabilities are laid bare for everyone to comment on. Envies and jealousies abound unchecked, it’s a veritable bear pit. No teenager however stable and secure is going to be immune from the anxiety inducing effects of these evaluations. The second thing to remember that the sites are specially engineered to keep teens on them for as long as possible. In other words they are addictive.

I suspect many reading this already know what I am talking about,  but feel powerless to do anything about it. If we are honest, too many of us take refuge in the myth that everything works out in the end and/or its just a phase they are going through. This, to my mind, is a cop out. What it really means is that it’s too difficult and time consuming to do anything about. 

In order to try to keep a lid on all this we need to be clear about what does and does not constitute teenage privacy and we need to know how to deal with teenage tantrums.

In my experience we seem to be in a muddle about this privacy issue. I frequently hear parents say they are uncomfortable about looking at their teens phone or tracking what kind of sites they visit on the internet. They argue that teenagers are entitled to their privacy. In theory this is fine. But my question is privacy to do what ? To make the picture more confusing many parents are adamant that they know exactly where their teens are when they go out for the evening sometimes to the extent of putting tracking devices on their phones or phoning other parents. In short most parents would never dream of letting their young teenager go out in the evening without knowing where they are going and what they are doing.  We don’t consider this an invasion of privacy but an issue of their safety and here is the rub. We don’t actually think that what they engage with online is a safety issue and this is where we get it wrong. In my opinion adolescents are at just as much at risk from what they are looking at on their screens as they are when they go out for the evening.

So what do we need to do?  Here are some thoughts.

  1. A young teen (13-15 or it could be 12-15) can have a password on their phone/screen but the parents should know what that password is ? This doesn’t mean that parents should be looking at their messages every 5 minutes but the fact that they can will have some effect on inhibiting what they write or watch. If they wont agree then I suggest you remove their phone for a while.
  2. No screens in their bedrooms. If they want privacy to call one of their friends that is different  but absolutely no screens/phones in bedrooms.
  3. They have to hand in screens and phones at bedtime.
  4. Use the technology that is available to control how much time they can spend on these sites. This is especially important if they take their phones to school. The less time they spend on social media sites and the like the better.

I don’t for one minute think your teenager is going to greet any of the above with anything other than absolute fury and if we are totally honest its the fury that intimidates us. The volcanic rages, the verbal abuse are exhausting to deal with, but if we are parenting our adolescents on the basis of how fearful we are of their reactions then we aren’t doing our job properly.  Try to hold in mind that adolescent fury is little more than a sophisticated temper tantrum, there is a lot of noise but not much else, stick to your guns. Also hold in the forefront of your mind the fact that having a smartphone isn’t a basic human right despite their protests to the contrary.

            

Do your children read

Do your children read ?

I will come clean on this one, mine dont. They will read magazines and novellas but not the long, difficult, and complex tomes. No Bleak House or the Brothers Karamazov. These books are too long and complicated for them. They would much rather watch a screen. But does it really matter that they don’t read these sorts of books? According to Maryanne Wolf, writing in the Guardian newspaper, it most certainly does. The gist of her argument goes something like this. We are becoming a generation of skim readers. We dont have the time or the inclination to grapple with complex story lines or challenging ideas. The brains ability to read is subtly and rapidly changing as a result of this process.

She writes,

‘Neuroscience shows us that the acquisition of literacy necessitated a new circuit in our species’ brain more than 6,000 years ago. That circuit evolved from a very simple mechanism for decoding basic information, like the number of goats in one’s herd, to the present, highly elaborated reading brain. My research depicts how the present reading brain enables the development of some of our most important intellectual and affective processes: internalized knowledge, analogical reasoning, and inference; perspective-taking and empathy; critical analysis and the generation of insight.’

This is powerful stuff. She goes on,

‘We know from research that the reading circuit is not given to human beings through a genetic blueprint like vision or language; it needs an environment to develop. Further, it will adapt to that environment’s requirements – from different writing systems to the characteristics of whatever medium is used. If the dominant medium advantages processes that are fast, multi-task oriented and well-suited for large volumes of information, like the current digital medium, so will the reading circuit. As UCLA psychologist Patricia Greenfield writes, the result is that less attention and time will be allocated to slower, time-demanding deep reading processes, like inference, critical analysis and empathy, all of which are indispensable to learning at any age’.

Research suggests that these ‘deep reading processes’ are gradually being lost. This has implications for all aspects of life, from understanding contracts to following complex ideas. The old adage from neuroscience, ‘use it or lose it,’ remains true. 

If we accept her arguments then the next question is what do we do about it as parents? In one sense we are faced with a variation on a familiar parenting theme- the importance of delayed gratification to our children’s development. A 400 page novel may not provide the kind of instant gratification that other mediums do. We need to train our children, but how do we do that?

Lets start with what we can’t do. We can’t sit them down and force them to starting reading Lord of the Rings or In Search of Lost Time . And if we could we would more than likely put them off reading for life. But we can introduce them to reading by carefully selecting the appropriate material and we can set aside a time in the week for reading just like many parents set aside time for learning to swim or playing the piano.

 

How many of us actually think or research what sort of books might engage our children, not many I suspect. The bottom line is that once they can read we leave ‘all that stuff’ to school.

Once we have selected the reading material we perhaps need to factor in a time during the week when they have to settle down to read. Might it be possible to have a ‘reading evening’ rather than watching TV or scrolling through phones. And could we commit to discussing what they have read in the same way we discuss TV programmes or films. None of this seems particularly difficult given the array of other more complex parenting problems we have to deal with. It just needs us to commit. If Maryanne Wolf is right then by committing to ‘deep’ reading we are not only broadening and deepening our children’s understanding of themselves and the world they live in but we are helping them live more fulfilling lives.  

 

why all the fuss about mobile phones ?

Why all the fuss about mobile phones ?

Matt Hancock the culture secretary has suggested that schools ban mobile phones. This follows on from President Macron’s banning of mobile phones in French schools.  What has brought about these dramatic interventions ? The debate about whether mobile phones and social media are good or bad for children has been going on for some while. The research is far from conclusive but the general drift seems to suggest that they are bad for children’s mental health. 

In order to think a bit more clearly about this issue it’s helpful to reclassify what we are talking about. They are phones, but in name only, more relevantly smartphones are 24/7 entertainment centres, children hardly ever use the actual telephone function. 

Many parents duck the issue of phone use in the home despite knowing that they are disruptive and sometimes destructive to family life. If you have ever tried to take one off of a teenager you will know first hand how difficult it is to get between a teenager and his/her phone.

There are two issues I want to look at that might get us start taking this problem more seriously at home.

The first is the issue of addiction. Children’s screen time has been rapidly increasing. Teenagers spend up to 9 hours a day online. Older teenagers on average check their phone 2500 times per day. The top 10% look at their phone 5500 times day. 

Every time a child checks his/her phone their brain releases a chemical called dopamine. This is the chemical that the brain releases when you gamble, take drugs, drink, watch porn or play a computer game. This has important consequences for the child’s developing brain. It is also the reason they can go into a meltdown when you take their phone away. They are experiencing a form of withdrawal symptoms. Computer games and social media sites are specifically designed to keep children on them as long as possible. In other words they are designed to be addictive. 

It is also worth bearing in mind that time spent looking at a screen is at the cost of real face to face time. This is important because it’s how our children learn about social interactions.

The second less serious but nevertheless important issue is what happens to their thinking when they look a their phone. The research is now quite clear. If you look at your phone for even a second it takes 25 minutes for your thinking to get back to the level prior to checking your phone. This has huge implications for productivity generally but is especially relevant to children and their school work. Many teenagers find it difficult to do their work without their phone at hand, they are anxious that they will miss something. However there are two important consequences of this phone checking. Firstly any assignments will take substantially longer than they should and secondly the work will be of an inferior quality to that which could be produced if they could turn their phones off before they started.

My three suggestions are;

1  Give some thought as to whether they really need a smartphone. Just because they want one   doesn’t  mean they should have one.

2 Try and get them to turn off their phones when they do their homework.

3  Implement an electronic shutdown in the evenings so they get respite from the incessant demands of social media. 

These suggestions aren’t easy to implement but in the light of the research do we have a choice ?   

 

tips for the exam season

Tips for the exam season.

The exam season is nearly upon us. For teenagers it’s a difficult and stressful time. It’s their equivalent of a mini Olympics, a one shot deal. Frantic revision sessions, or not as the case may be, can be accompanied by sleepless nights and much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the family.

If you have teens going through exams it’s worth thinking about how to best support them.

A crucial developmental issue to get hold of at the outset is that this age group are experts in avoiding reality, its too painful. Deadlines and time constraints feel a bit too much like adult life. It’s much more comfortable to live in a world of shifting goalposts. The tension between these two world views has to be grasped if you are to support them.

The second point is don’t fall into the trap of labelling your teen lazy. This isn’t helpful, it is better to understand that their lack of effort is more likely a fear of failing or not meeting expectations. 

Lets start with what not to do.

  1. Don’t deliver monologues on what to do. These are pointless. They know what to do they just cant do it.
  2. Don’t frighten them with stories about how their life prospects will be irreparably damaged if they don’t work. They are perfectly aware that exams are important.
  3. Don’t buy into the ‘I don’t care’ mindset. Panic is just below the surface. 

All these tactics do is create more anxiety and more fear. 

What to do ?

  1. Create realistic work routines. Little and often is better than endless hours of study.  The issue here is productivity not number of hours. I am highly sceptical of those teens who like to tell others they study for hours and hours at a time. 
  2. Try and create a peaceful study area preferably not in their bedroom. This is more of an issue for those studying for GCSE’s.
  3. Get them to agree to hand over their electronic devices for the duration of their study period. Recent research has found that if teens check their phone for 1 second it takes the brain 20 minutes to get back to the previous level of functioning. This is a colossal waste of time. There is absolutely no justification for having their phone by their side as they study.
  4. If they are reluctant to study talk to their about their fear of failing. Reinforce the notion that it is better to try and fail than not try at all. Not trying has a negative effect on self esteem
  5. Try and get them to let go of worrying about grades ( outcomes) and concentrate on putting in a shift on a daily basis ( process). If you have done your best then the grades become less of a focus. 
  6. Make sure they have a revision timetable that leaves plenty of time for rest and relaxation.
  7. Make sure they get to bed at a reasonable hour.

 

whats your view of social media and media platforms ?

What’s your view of social media or media platforms ? As parents you might be a Facebook user, even a WhatsApp aficionado. You may even watch a movie/TV series.However the chances are these are ‘add ons’ rather than central to your life. But this is not so for our children. Read and inwardly digest these following stats.

Teens are spending up to 9 hours a day on social platforms.
30% of all time spent online is now allocated to social media.
60% of social media time is facilitated by a mobile service.
And here is the really worry trend- all these figures are rapidly on the increase.

To my mind it is possible to imagine a time in the not too distant future when these activities and devices will have a bigger influence over our children’s lives that we will as parents. Thats a bold statement I know but cast your mind back to the summer when you asked your teen if he or she would like to come out for a walk and they said no they wanted to stay inside on their phones. Or consider this 1/2 of all pre school children spend on average 8hrs a week online.

What we are also increasingly coming to understand is that these activities are highly addictive and this is something we need to get our heads round. If our teens were smoking dope or drinking alcohol 9 hours a day we would be in total panic yet somehow we treat these activities as benign. Benign they are most certainly not. Every time your child clicks onto one of these sites and reads a message or sees a picture and checks the ‘likes’ or ‘dislikes’ the brain releases a feel good chemical called dopamine. This is the same chemical that the brain releases when you drink, take drugs, gamble or watch porn. It’s highly addictive. The bottom line is that while you’re sitting quietly enjoying the peace and quiet of family life downstairs, your teen is upstairs getting quietly addicted. Try taking a teens phone away and you will more often than not witness full blown withdrawal symptoms.

It is imperative that we get some control over these devices and their use if social media. It is not an option to do nothing. At the very least there needs to be some clear guidelines for their use. How about the following,

1 No phones at meal tables or during family activities.
2 An evening lockdown.