Ten Ways We Can Start To Change the World For Our Kids. 

When I was 20, I pledged to never buy another women’s magazine.

Even then I was frustrated by the unrealistic body image they consistently communicated to women.  It wasn’t long before that extended to the “cool” publications like Cleo and Cosmo, which I had convinced myself were different because they provided helpful articles on makeup, health and other issues relevant to younger women.
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Okay, so I was deluded about that, but it didn’t last long once I observed that these magazines also projected false and unrealistic body images that neither I, nor most of the young women I knew, could ever hope to meet.
 For longer than anyone can remember, our western society has had  an unhealthy fixation on looks. We’ve been getting it wrong since long before Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves based entirely on her portrait and promptly divorced her the minute he met her in person, citing as his reason the fact that she looked like a horse.
And it’s only getting worse. Chlidren as young as five or six are no strangers to the words “cute”, “handsome” and even “sexy”. Pre-teen kids have body image issues and the eating disorders that go with them. Peer pressure and bullying are daily realities in every school and friendship group that our kids belong to. Marketing is aimed at wearing the right clothes, having the right look, and doing what everyone else does. Social media can take those problems right into kids’ own homes. And it happens to boys every bit as much as it happens to girls.
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When does a kid ever get a chance to be themselves?
 
All of this leads to one challenging question: How do we swim against the stream when the current is so strong?
My answer is that we need to invest differently in people.  We need to model much more healthy and constructive behaviour, and encourage others to do the same.
Let me say straight up that I don’t have kids of my own. I have, however, been very active in helping a lot of friends and family raise theirs. Our house has, quite literally, been a second home for more than a handful of teenagers over the years. I’ve also been a teacher, youth leader and mentor for almost thirty years. It’s this accumulated experience upon which I base these comments.

I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does.
But I do have a few ideas about how we can start.

This is my starter list:

10 Ways We Can Change The World For Our Kids

  1. Don’t put kids or other people down. Ever. I can’t stress this enough. Never tell kids, or anyone else, they are stupid, useless or worthless. Criticise a behaviour if you need to, but do not make it about the whole person.
  2. Stop buying into what the media tell us is ideal. Choosing not to surround yourself and your kids with unattainable ideals helps to take your focus off how far short we fall. This decision had a significant effect in my own life, so I am speaking from experience here.
  3. Stop commenting on how people look. Whether someone looks beautiful, tired, or exhausted, don’t say so. Don’t comment on whether someone has lost or gained weight – in this case especially, you can safely assume that they already know. Just don’t comment on anything external. Chances are, the less you comment on it, the less you will think about it. And the more you think and talk about those things, so will your kids.
  4. Instead, comment on things that have intrinsic value. Statements such as “I love it when you smile like that!” or “You did such a good job of that! Well done” can make such a difference to someone because they emphasise one’s value rather than looks. Saying “I really appreciate your kindness” (or any other value) reinforces that behaviour as well as encouraging the person who hears it.
  5. Discuss celebrities differently. Instead of saying “I wish I looked like that!”, discuss the positive qualities of a person or the character they portray. There will doubtless also be opportunities to discuss negative behaviours and messages. Be honest about the consequences those behaviours carry for real people, even if they’re made to look funny’ popular or “cool”.
  6. Don’t comment on your kids’ or your own health, weight or fitness. Make an effort to do something about it instead of commenting on it. Model behaviours for your kids that help to establish habits that will help you as well as them – provide better food, go for a walk, go to the gym together or take up a hobby together. It doesn’t have to cost more to be better for you.
  7. Discuss feelings and values in a positive and purposeful way. Not every feeling or experience shared will be positive, but honest discussion lets kids and young adults know it’s okay to not always feel great about things and teaches them ways to handle different emotions and experiences. This encourages self-awareness, but more importantly, it builds honest communication and relationship that both they and you will value enormously.
  8. Make an investment of time, more than money, in people, especially in your kids. It won’t matter to kids what they have if they feel unloved or undervalued. Take an active interest in each one and find out what matters to them.  Building a strong, loving relationship with your child is the best gift you can ever give them. It will bear fruit in every other relationship they have.
  9. Celebrate worthwhile achievements. “You did it!” should be more valuable than “You’re so pretty!”
  10. Be realistic and constructive about disappointments and failure. Make sure they know you care about their disappointment and hurt. Don’t tell them it doesn’t matter, because it does matter to them – at least for now. In time, they will be ready for you to help them see the bigger picture and refocus their efforts and priorities.
We can’t expect to change the whole world. However, we can influence the way they see themselves, and we can influence the way our own kids see, experience and respond to the world they live in.  
And there’s no better time to start than today.

The Importance Of Minding One’s Manners On Social Media.

The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated.

I was motivated to write this post by an experience I had a few weeks ago.
I posted a question on a blog post by someone who presents himself as a successful and popular author.  He probably is, but his response to my question was quite scathing. When I explained why I hadn’t read every blog post he had posted, he was so rude that I took screen shots. Of course, he had no idea that I took screenshots, but it made me feel better because I had evidence to support my increasing dislike for him and his condescending attitude. Who did he think he was, anyway?
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(I’ve concealed his identity here because I don’t feel like getting sued or anything like that.)
At this point, I made a decision to never buy his books, nor to help promote or encourage him in any way. I suspect several others probably made the same decision. When a friend went to read the exchange between us, he had deleted the whole thing, so I am sure he realised it wasn’t a good look for him. I highly doubt that it might occur to him to apologise for his rudeness, but I will never know, because I had promptly unfollowed his blog, deleted him from my twitter feed and blocked him on all social media.

Sure, my question might not have been the brightest or best he’s ever read. Even so, his response was condescending and made me feel really low. Who needs that kind of negativity in their life? I certainly don’t.

As an author who uses social media to build a following and hopefully sell my books, I can confidently state this is the least desirable outcome from interacting with others.
There is a valuable lesson that, whatever our profession might be, we can all take from this: never, ever, be an asshat to someone on social media. It’s far too easy to damage a reputation or a brand that you’re trying to establish and promote.
The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated. If people ask a question about your book, your blog, or your dog’s hind leg, simply be thankful they are interested enough to ask. Engage with them. Being friendly doesn’t cost anything, nor does it mean you have to pledge eternal friendship.
You will walk away with your integrity and your potential readership intact, if not a little more loyal towards you. As a writer, you can’t put a price tag on that.
*My original working title for this post was, in fact, “Why One Should Never Be An Asshat On Social Media”. I tidied it up a little. You’re most welcome. 

Teachers, eh?

Just now I was in my local Woolworths store on my way to work. 

The cashier was chatty.

“Much on for the day?”

“On my way to work.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a teacher.”

“Oh. And only on your way to work now?”

“I work part-time.”

“Teachers, eh?”

Stunned silence. I looked at her pointedly. 

Then I said, “What does THAT mean?”

She didn’t reply. 

So I continued: “Whatever it meant, you’re probably wrong.”

I really wanted to tell her that she probably makes almost as much per hour as I do, and she didn’t need a university education to achieve that. 

I wanted to tell her that I only work part time because my health issues mean I can’t work full time.

I wanted to tell her that teachers do as many hours outside the classroom as they do in it, and that “all those holidays” usually get eaten up by planning, preparation and a pile of marking. 

And I wanted to tell her that assuming something about what a person does, whether they’re a teacher or a checkout chick, is not okay. 

I didn’t, though. Ijust took my bag of shopping and left. 

Great start to my day. Thanks, lady. 

PSA: How to proceed if we disagree.

Please, be very, very careful about what you defend.
More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.

I don’t take sides in politics.
I take sides in life.
 
I side against prejudice, hatred, family violence, oppression and injustice.
 
Therefore, I will state quite openly that I do not endorse Trump as POTUS. At the same time, I do not endorse Madonna’s comments either. There are Australian politicians and various other public identities that I do not endorse, for exactly the same reasons.
 
If something I post offends you because you don’t agree politically, stop and think before you jump down my throat and give me grief about it.
Am I saying “I hate this person”? No.
I’ll be saying “I don’t like this action or these words”.
They’re very different things.
Chances are, if someone on the other “side” did or said that, you’d criticise them for it, too.
 
Consider that I will call *anyone* out on bullying, lying to the nation/world, or inciting mistrust, hatred and violence. I will not accept misogyny, sexism, sizeism, ageism or racism as “humour” or “lighthearted”. 
Today, it might be someone you like. Tomorrow, it might be the person you don’t like.
 
Please, be very, very careful about what you defend. More importantly, please be careful about how you defend it.
 
I am not your enemy unless you make that choice.
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A horrible chain of events occurred in Melbourne today. A man drove a car into a group of people, killing some and injuring others, including children.  Some of the injured remain in a critical condition. 

It wasn’t terrorism. Just an angry man in a car. 

Funny, though. Nobody has mentioned his religion, and there have been no popular calls for his particular ethnic group to explain or apologise for his actions. 

Nor should they be expected to. Ever. 

It’s his responsibility, not theirs. 

But you can bet your sweet patootie that it would be a different story if he were a Muslim or a recent immigrant from the Middle East. 

We’re not judgemental, though. Nor racist. Mmmkay?

Spotting the problem.

And again… there are public health alerts in Melbourne for a measles epidemic.

And again… there are public health alerts in Melbourne for a measles epidemic.  Seriously?

What part of “if you’re sick, stay home!” do people not understand?

After shaking my head at the lead story about two kids who have travelled internationally, gone shopping, and heaven knows what else for the past two weeks while they were highly contagious, I wrote this.

Look out, look out, the spots are about
Because some folks won’t immunise their kids,
But when the “did nots” find their kids have the spots

They’ll be sorry and wish that they did.
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I’ve heard all the arguments against vaccination, and I simply do not believe them.

As someone with compromised immunity due to a chronic illness, I am certainly glad that my parents made me have that needle that made me squawk for two seconds as a child. After 29 years of teaching, it’s probably the reason I’m still alive.

Love Trumps Hate. 

In the aftermath of the US election, it’s important to remember that there’s anger on both sides. Many, many people in the US, as well as elsewhere, feel marginalised and overlooked. For some, it’s been many years of actually being treated that way. For others, it’s hopes and dreams that have been kept out of reach by social forces that they haven’t been able to change or address. You only have to study a little bit of US history to see those things happening.

I think of this election as a pressure cooker – after a long time on “high”, the thing blew its lid off and left a heck of a mess when it did.

We must remember that people don’t always vote from a perspective of good policy. People vote because they long for a change, they yearn to be heard… or at least to feel as though they have been heard. Sometimes it’s a reaction to something as visceral as revulsion over what one candidate or the other has done or is accused of doing. There was a whole lot of all of that in this election.

This election in itself won’t fix anything. A new president, regardless of identity, is a figurehead. The real problems lie in the structure of the society under that leader. The anger and polarisation of the American society will only get worse while people engage in anger, vilification and distrust – of their leaders, yes, but particularly of each other.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t hold their government and its actions to account. I’m a very firm believer in doing that. But let’s not destroy each other in the process. Let’s ensure that our commentary is focused on what needs to happen, what needs to change, and how we can work together to achieve that.

Personally, I don’t think either candidate was a good choice for uniting the country, or solving the underlying problems. That has to come from the people, and it starts with one, then two, then more, choosing to build rather than tear down.
I pray for America, and I pray for the world that still looks to her for military and international leadership. I pray for Australia, because we’re guilty of all the same things.

Today, I choose love. I choose encouragement. I choose peace. I choose friendship. I choose positive over negative. I choose proactive over passive.

Will you join me? Will you work to make a difference, too?

An Armchair Spectator’s Perspective.

I love watching the Olympics on TV. The achievements of the competitors are amazing, and I can only imagine what it must feel like to be part of the atmosphere there with the cheering, whistling, and excitement of each event.

I am getting increasingly frustrated with the TV and radio commentators, though. I don’t know what it’s like in other nations, but the Australian media seem to be frequently making remarks about our competitors not winning medals when they were “expected to”, with the implication that they’re letting us down somehow.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.
Whose expectations and assumptions are we working on?
Most certainly, not mine.

I don’t think the competitors have those expectations, either. I have no doubt they have hopes and aspirations as they pursue their dreams of victory and success. They put everything into it that they can. Nobody goes in half-arsed and decides while competing that it doesn’t matter so much.

It’s important to remember that every single one of them is a champion for just getting there. They’ve beaten a bunch of other competitors who wanted to be there too. They’ve achieved personal bests and performed feats that are pretty much impossible for most of us ordinary folk.

Our commentators aren’t doing anyone any favours by adding more pressure with the weight of comments that imply that someone was expected to win, and didn’t. Going into the Olympics, there were reports of Australia hoping for a certain number of medals, particularly in certain events. It wasn’t the athletes or swimmers who expressed those goals, it was the media. And how the people “back home” interpret the results is strongly influenced by the ways in which the events and results are reported on and discussed in the media.

It’s easy to want to win everything. It’s easy to consider our own nation a “favourite” among others. We need to keep an open mind, though, and remember that everyone in other countries has the same hopes as we do for our competitors. Just because someone holds a world record doesn’t give them any entitlement to win that event again.  As Australian swimmer Bronte Barratt said on Thursday before the Women’s 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay, “As we’ve proven many times before, if you’ve got a lane, you’ve got a chance, so we’ve got a great chance.”  She’s absolutely right. Everyone has an equal chance once they make the final.

As for the competitors, they want to do their best. Of course they’d love to win, and they’ll be disappointed when they don’t. But to be there is a victory in itself, and we shouldn’t let any commentator diminish that. And when the race is over, we should be praising and encouraging, not criticising.

 

Cardinal Knowledge. 

I’ve been following the Royal Commission into Child Abuse’s questioning of the now-Cardinal George Pell, and his responses, with interest. 

Every day – no, in fact, every time he opens his mouth to speak, my heart sinks a little deeper and my anger grows a little more. 

I’m glad they are asking tough questions. I am glad he is feeling uncomfortable. I hope he feels ashamed, but I doubt he does. I doubt that anyone is surprised that he didnt want to come back to Australia to testify, or to testify at all. 

Straight up, I will say that I am not a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, nor by anyone else. Having seen how that has affected others and impacted them and their family, I am continually thankful for that. 

I am interested in this Royal
Commission because I care about other people and because I have a strong sense of justice. 

Abuse or exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful and privileged angers me beyond words.
As a teacher, as an aunt, as a part-time “other mother”… let’s face it, as a decent human being, I cannot comprehend how someone could knowingly and willingly betray the trust of a child.

I struggle to find decent words to describe how I feel about anyone who enables any priest to keep on abusing children by moving them from one parish to another instead of confronting and calling out their evil predation for what it is. That not the sort of thing that should ever be covered up or overlooked.  

As far as I can see, George Pell is either lying or he was the most ignorant, uninformed, forgetful and self-focused guy going round.
Either way, by his own repeated admission, he has to have been absolutely rubbish at his job.

I do not believe anything he says. I’d be very surprised if anyone did.

I do not understamd how the Pope (or any other God-fearing priest, for that matter) could give Pell his support given his testimony this week. 

If these men are serious about being Christ’s representatives on earth, I could make some constructive suggestions as to where they might start.