Exam Pressure

The exams results are out!  Tribulation and tragedy abound.


I worry for our children.

When did we start to think that this was a good way to educate?  Focussing so completely on exams, all teaching geared specifically for taking these exams, limiting learning to a narrow curriculum, and judging everyone on how well they test during a few days at the end of it all.

It seems to me to be an education that does not serve our children.

I look at our education system and I don’t see a vibrant, exciting, learning environment.  I see children stressed by exam pressure.  Teens forced to rise earlier than is naturally healthy for them. Children having to sit for hour upon hour, studying a series of seemingly unrelated subjects, required to switch their attention from subject to subject every hour.

One exams fits all, tests all. Because we don’t trust our teachers, what they must teach is prescribed; because we don’t trust our schools, they too are tested and ranked against one another; students are coached for exam success with little leeway to explore their own interests; and despite all the research that demonstrates how much we are failing our children, we persist.  Testing everyone to tell us how well we are doing.

We are teaching them:

*  Fear.  If you don’t do as we say, you will fail – in exams and in life.
*  Compete against each other – you will be ranked against your peers.
*  Don’t collaborate – we call that cheating.
*  Everything stands and falls on how able you are to regurgitate what you know in a ninety minute period in several months time.

We are impressed when we hear a child demonstrate their knowledge by spouting facts

How does this prepare our children for adult life?

What I wish for my children is simply this:

To want to learn.
To know how they learn best.
To have confidence in their ability to learn.
To have enough free time for their own learning.

This is an approach that will serve them well

I do not want them to acquire facts and jump through hoops out of fear.

I want them to work together, using all the resources available to find information, asking guidance from experts, and helping each other.

I want them to be able to welcome mistakes as part of the learning process.

I want their own assessment of their progress to matter more than any others’ assessment.

Then I feel they are preparing well for the world that they live in and their adult life to come.

Photo: 123RF by Vladimir Voronin
Posted on 18 August 2014
Musings: Parenting girls

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Trusted teen

What if you could really trust that your teen was going to turn out all right?
How would your life be different?  And hers?

How many stressful conversations would be avoided if you weren’t trying to alter the behaviour of your teen?
How much better would your relationship be then?
Might that not have a more positive impact on your child than telling them what to do (however subtly)?

With all the best intentions in the world, can you be sure that your attempts to influence your teen will lead to the best outcome?  Can you be sure?

Ozkan Deligoz copy

How might your teen see herself differently if you had faith in their ability to make the right choices (even though they might not be your right choices)?
Think of the many adults that you know who have horrendous tales of their teen years, but who have made fulfilling lives for themselves as adults – and maybe not in spite of their adolescent experiences but because of them.
How many adults do you know who were ‘good teens’ but are not happy adults.

So can you be sure that what you think is right for your child, is what is right?

Notice when your advice to your teen is driven by fear – fear that she won’t make her own right choices, fear that she won’t know what is best for her, fear that she’ll do something regrettable.
Do you want your child to live as a fear-based adult?  Do you want her to be limited that way?

Do you trust her to want the best for herself?  Are you sure that what drives her decision-making is not as good as what drives your decisions for her?
Would you having faith in her maybe encourage her to take responsibility for herself?

Children do want the best for themselves – even when it doesn’t look like it.

If you feel irritated with me while reading this, because what do I know about your situation, then you’ll be having the same response that I have when I read this kind of stuff.  But, do you know, it works!  I resist it, every time, and it makes me cross while I read it, but if I let it affect how I think, then it makes a difference.  My relationship with my teen softens.  Conflict disappears.  And I don’t wake and worry.


Photo: 123RF by Ozkan Deligoz

Posted on 10 July 2014
Musings: Parenting girls, Parenting teenagers
Tags: , , ,

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She’s gaining weight – should I say something?

No!  Not unless you want her to worry about her weight her whole life long.
Tell a girl she should watch her weight and she is more likely to become fat.

A new study has found that simply labeling young girls as ‘fat’ makes them much more likely to be obese ten years later. (Hunger, J. A., & Tomiyama, A. J. (2014). Weight Labeling and Obesity: A Longitudinal Study of Girls Aged 10 to 19 Years. JAMA Pediatr)

We live in a slim-obsessed culture, so it is easy for a mother to worry when her daughter starts to show signs of weight gain.  Knowing how harsh society can be towards over-weight people, it is understandable when mothers try to protect daughters from this by encouraging them to watch their weight.  Sadly, this not only perpetuates the tyranny of never feeling slim enough – that many women carry through their entire lives – but it also raises the chances of a girl ending up heavier than if nothing were said.

It is normal for pre-teen girls to gain weight as they enter puberty.  A woman’s body does not look like a girl’s body – or at least it shouldn’t – so you would expect a girl to gain curves as she enters her teens.

For many the weight gain precedes the growth spurt that is part of puberty.  Some girls go out before they go up, and they will never again have the shape of a girl –  a shape that is sadly idealised in the fashion and celebrity world.

Encourage your daughter to have a good body image

Body image is how you feel about your body, not how well your body measures up to impossible ideals.
There is real beauty in seeing someone who is comfortable in her body.

Ryhor Bruyeu

Body comfort comes from eating well, sleeping well, and exercising.
Body comfort comes from feeling loved, cared for, and accepted.

Stop worrying about her weight unless you want to consign her to a lifetime of worrying about her weight.

Photo: 123RF by Ryhor Bruyeu

Posted on 26 June 2014
Musings: Parenting girls
Tags: , , , , , ,

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Would you know if your daughter was being bullied?

Too many children who are bullied tell no-one.
A bullied child often feels shame and believes that she is to blame for being bullied.  The impulse then is to cover it up.
Too often a child’s experience of tentatively reaching out for help served only to make the situation worse.  She’ll be less likely to tell next time.
Teens are even more likely to take bullying as a sign of their own personal weakness, won’t want others to know, and believe they should be able to handle it themselves.

Too many parents complacently believe that their child would come to them if they run into difficulties.  Perhaps they are unaware how hard it is to speak out.  They miss the signs.

Vladimir Voronin

How can you be sure to know if your daughter is struggling?

Read the signs.  Pay really good attention – her behaviour should alert you.
- you’re an expert on your daughter, you’ll notice when she is acting out of character

Trust your instincts – if you feel something’s not right, then it very well may not be.

Take unusual behaviour seriously – avoid your temptation to think it unimportant.

Don’t put challenging behaviour down to ‘being a teen’, ask yourself what might be up.

If you can, ask her friends or others who know her.

Create opportunity for her to tell you - but she still may not be able to.

Don’t try to handle it on your own – find support (your friends, child helplines, on-line)

A message from a young friend: “Bullying is horrible.  It makes you want to die.  But you can’t tell, you just can’t.  If you think you know someone is being bullied, don’t pretend it’s not happening, even if they tell you that nothing’s wrong – if you think there is, then do something.”

Photo: 123RF by Vladimir Voronin

Posted on 17 June 2014
Musings: Parenting girls, Parenting teenagers
Tags: , , , ,

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Teenage girls’ opinion of themselves is shocking

In my work with pre-teen girls, their sense of themselves is still relatively positive.  This is why I like to begin my work with them at this age, to strengthen them against what is to come.

It’s a different story when I talk to teen girls.  Too many have learned to hate themselves:
they hate their bodies
*  they don’t seem to know their own best qualities
*  they focus on what they perceive to be their weaknesses
*  they rarely feel good enough
*  they have lost some of the trust they once had in their friendships
*  their feelings for their parents are more ambivalent

Samo Trebizan

Who gets the blame?

Teen girls are fiercely self-critical and then blame themselves for not feeling good.  Life for teens can be intensely challenging.  Sadly, when the pressures are too much to bear, many girls blame themselves and, worse still, some then punish themselves as a way of coping with the strong feelings.  Rather than looking outside of herself for the reasons for her distress, she makes it her fault.  Rather than looking outside of herself for support, she tries to cope on her own, finding ways to numb the feelings.  No wonder eating disorders, cutting, drinking, drug use, promiscuity, and suicide attempts are on the increase.

Self punishment

One in ten 16-year-olds surveyed in a new study at Queen’s University Belfast has considered self-harm or taking an overdose. “By far the most likely reason why young people self-harm remains self-punishment. This suggests that young people with mental health problems keep blaming themselves for these, rather than appreciating external stressors such as pressures arising from school work or financial difficulties,” researchers said.

The key findings of the 2013 survey on 16-year-olds’ mental health include:

  • 28 per cent of 16-year-olds said that they had experienced serious personal, emotional or mental health problems at some point in the past year.
  • Just over one third of these respondents had sought professional help for these problems.
  • 13 per cent of respondents said that they had, at some point in the past, seriously thought about taking an overdose or harming themselves, and 6 per cent had thought about this in the past month.
  • 13 per cent of respondents said they had self-harmed — 5 per cent had done so once and 8 per cent more than once. The most likely reason (60 per cent) given by these young people for doing this was that they ‘wanted to punish themselves’.

Endless pressures

We know that the pressures on teens can be high.  We want them to study hard, we test them endlessly, push them to do well in exams, and even then a job is not secured at the end.  Teens need money, to keep up with the right phone, clothes, and outings.  We expect more from them at home.  Meanwhile they are shifting their attention to their social world with peers, navigating an increasingly complex emotional landscape, where gossip is rife and alliances are made and fail repeatedly.  Teens have little down-time, with the demands of social media invading the home and the night.

When we adults fail to reduce these pressures, or to support them in living through them, then teens seem to be blaming themselves and then punishing themselves.   For ten percent this may even be life threatening; but actually when I listen to teen girls talking, their quality of life is seriously affected by their view of themselves.  It’s very troubling.

How does this affect girls?

Teens low self-opinion is affecting the choices they make every day:
what they will do
what they will eat
who they will meet
what they will venture
what they will study
what they will sign up to
what they will watch
who they will spend time with

Teens low self-opinion is profoundly affecting their futures.
We can change this. It is never too late.

What can you do?

Every time you interact with your daughter with love, it supports her.  Each time that you are able to empathise with her — you feel her feelings with her without being devastated or trying to solve them — you help her to learn how to manage her feelings and to take her feelings seriously.

Although your daughter may have many faults, and her behaviour may appall you, and you may hate how she is running her life, still look for her strengths and her gifts.

You may need to strengthen yourself to endure some of her worst behaviour, so surround yourself with supportive people.  When in your daughter’s presence hold in your mind that any bad behaviour is a sign of her suffering, and focus on what is good in her.  Spare her from your comments about how tough she is to parent, and share them with your best friend instead.

Never miss an opportunity to tell any teen girl that you know what you like about her.  She may squirm, but she’ll still hear you.

Many grown women are afflicted by not thinking highly of themselves, underestimating what they are capable of, running themselves down, constant dieting, and continued numbing out activities.  Let’s interrupt that cycle.  Figure out how to stay connected and communicating with your teens, even when it seems impossible, and let them know that you care.

And while the statistics are sobering, I like to remember that the majority of teens are coping magnificently well, despite the pressures.  So while I want to stay alert to the signs of girls needing extra support through their teens, I also celebrate the strength of our girls to withstand the stresses of adolescence.

Photo: 123RF by Sasin Tipchai

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Posted on 21 May 2014
Musings: Parenting teenagers
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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