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.

Book Review: ‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt

“This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time …”

‘In Passing’ by Tobie Hewitt is a thought-provoking story that explores questions we often have about life, death, and how we find those soul mates  we know we’re meant to be with. The characters are just gorgeous, and the struggles they face are ones that the reader can easily identify with.
This delightful book opens with one of the best opening lines I’ve read in a long time : “The air shimmered with a knowing beyond doubt.”
That line really made me stop and think, and visualise scenes where this could have been the case. From that moment, I was fully engaged with the story and completely hooked by Tobie Hewitt’s writing.
Five stars, Tobie. Beautifully done.
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Raising Her Right.

Today I received the most beautiful photos…

Today I received the most beautiful photos from a friend whose young niece was reading my book to her.
Adorable – AND smart! She knows good poetry when she sees it!

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That’s raising her right. A+ parenting!

 

You bet!

Am I tired of seeing ads for betting on sporting events every time I turn the TV on to watch the tennis, football, or any other kind of sporting event?  You bet.
Does it make me angry? You bet.

It’s not just that I am completely, totally, and irrevocably uninterested in gambling. Frankly, I fear for a society that cannot enjoy sporting competitions without feeling the need to place a bet on the outcome.
I fear for a society which is so willing to both promote and engage in an activity which brings so much grief to so many of its people.

I’m angry at the way in which gambling is promoted when people are losing homes, families, jobs, and relationships because of their gambling addictions.
Sure, it’s not compulsory. Nobody makes them gamble. But they do, and it causes incredible pain and destruction in their lives.
The ads on TV that offer help for gambling addicts are vastly outnumbered by the ads for gambling opportunities.

I’m angry at the way gambling is normalised in the minds of our children and young people.  I can’t watch a game of football or tennis, or any prime time TV show, without seeing ads for online betting, mobile phone apps for betting, or some kind of lottery. This presents a very clear and dangerous message to our youth: gambling is fun, gambling is fine, and it will solve all your money problems.  Obviously, that isn’t true, but it’s hard to demonstrate that to a 13 year old.

I’m angry at the greed of the companies that promote gambling, and are more than happy to take money from those who can’t afford it to further line their already luxuriously-lined pockets.
And I’m angry at the government for allowing this to happen, simply because they make good revenue on the taxes and fees that are paid.

So, no. I won’t be putting a bet on my favourite player or team. I won’t be playing the pokies when I go to a pub or club for dinner. And I will explain the dangers of gambling, and the lies of the advertising that promotes it, to my 13 year old and my students in the hope of keeping them from getting sucked into the vortex of the gambling world.

You can bet on that.

 

 

Exhibiting the Courage to Care

Today I was privileged to accompany 45 students on a visit to the Courage to Care exhibition in Portland.

We heard the personal story of a man named Harry, a Holocaust survivor from Poland. Harry’s story was incredibly powerful. So were the tears he shed while telling it. You couldn’t help but be moved by this first-hand account of the terrible things that were done during World War II. 

Courage to Care exists because they are passionate about telling many, many stories just like Harry’s. Given that we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, they know that it won’t be long before there are no survivors left to tell their stories to the generations that follow them. 

  

The message is not just about the Holocaust. It’s a message against any form of prejudice, hatred, intolerance or bullying. Differences between people are only ever superficial; underneath our skin, we’re all the same. 

Everyone who visits the exhibition is encouraged to be “Upstanders, not Bystanders”. It’s hard to leave without experiencing the conviction that you will never accept or condone discrimination again.

I cried as Harry told his story, not just for Harry but for every family who lived through the same thing. I cried for parents who lost children, children who lost parents, and siblings who lost each other.  

I cried again when I read the stories of two families in Rotterdam who worked with the Dutch Resistance and help save Jewish people from the Nazis. They almost certainly knew my grandfather, who worked for the Dutch Reaistance throughout the war, and was personally hunted by the Nazis as a result. 

   

My Opa told me stories about his experiences during the war when I was a young girl reading books like ‘The Hiding Place’ and The Diary of Anne Frank’. They were always very serious and quite emotional conversations. It was very important to him that I understood how important it is to oppose evil and to stand against hatred.

He told me more of his story when I was a little older and studying history. I guess he thought I could handle more of the horrible truth then. It certainly made my studies more personally relevant.

 It also explained why he would leave the room or turn the TV off whenever there was a scene where German soldiers marched or where Hitler addressed the crowd. I don’t know why I hadn’t made that connection before, but after that, I could not watch those scenes without thinking about how powerfully real and haunting it still was for him and, doubtless, everyone else who had survived it. I was very privileged today to meet Harry, to shake his hand and talk with him. I told him about my grandfather and the connection with the stories displayed in the exhibition, and cried again. He hugged me and we shed tears together.

Honestly, I’ve never been such a sook in public. The whole experience was very moving, and not just because it made me think about my grandfather. 

I saw the students responding in a similarly emotional way. They spoke up about bullying, booing at footballers, and the way different ethnic groups in Australia are perceived and treated. One of my students, a young man who generally seems to have not a care in the world, had tears in his eyes, just like I did. 

I saw the light in the eyes of the Courage to Care members as they were inspired by the responses of the young people in front of them. The conversations were serious and sombre. 

Every student took a wristband and put it on immediately, proud to be an Upstander. 

There is hope yet for our nation and our world. Young or old, we can make a stand against hatred and vilification.

All that is needed is the courage to care and to stand up for what is right.

  

Outrageous outrage.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision in recognition of gay marriage, I’ve noticed a few interesting things.

The flood of rainbow coloured profile pictures on Facebook and other social media and the parallel flood of statements in support of marriage equality for all suggest at first that there is stronger social support for marriage equality than the Australian government seems to believe.  I wonder how many of the people I know splashing rainbows around this weekend have written to any Australian politicians voicing their support.

All those rainbows have also prompted a wave of people bemoaning the loss of their “Christian” right to object or to openly state that they do not support gay marriage.
What nonsense.
Nobody is being asked to live against their morals. Nobody is having their personal ethics persecuted or the security of their family endangered.

In fact, if gay people are allowed to get married, I’m pretty sure that the only personal lives affected will be their own.  For heterosexual couples, kids at school, and Rover the family dog, absolutely nothing will change. They can still go on doing what they’ve always done. So can your church, mosque or local football club.

In terms of the Australian constitution, nothing will change. The Marriage Act would change, but that isn’t going to annul or change anyone else’s marriage. And please, don’t start bleating about “undermining the sanctity of marriage”.  A 50% divorce rate in Australia, the chronic problem of domestic violence, and a popular culture full of dysfunctional families and parents, usually fathers, made out to look like idiots by smart-arsed kids has done more to undermine the sanctity of marriage than legalising gay marriage ever will.   If heterosexuals want to be precious about their marriages, it’s about time more of them started treating their marriages as precious.

I fully understand that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is immoral.  No argument there.
However, what most of the predominantly Christian outrage against gay marriage conveniently overlooks is that the Bible teaches that there are many practices and lifestyles that are immoral: anyone who is dishonest, greedy, prejudiced, cruel, selfish, rude, atheist, or sexually active outside of marriage is just as guilty in terms of what the Bible teaches.  Let’s not even start on different religions. And judging other people? Oops. There are plenty of people in our world who are guilty of that.
All of these things are called immoral in the Bible. Yet all of these other people are fully entitled, as consenting adults, to marry the person they love. That is, of course, as long as it’s a heterosexual marriage.  Anything else would be… well… sinful.  And we can’t have that, can we?

The Bible wastes no words in condemning those who oppress the poor, the vulnerable, the widow or the hungry. The Old Testament is very direct in that regard. Ironically, though, we don’t hear people raging against the relationships or marriages of the Australian politicians who are actively involved in locking up asylum seekers in small neighbouring third-world nations, do we?  No,  because that would be stupid. So would opposing the marriage of Joe Schmoe and Mary Bloggs down the road because they don’t believe in God at all, or they worship the fairies at the bottom of their garden. In fact, I do believe it’s been a very long time since anyone living in Australia was publicly stoned to death for “living in sin”, but that’s immoral too.

My point is that it seems that marriage is an option for everyone except gays and lesbians, even though everyone is flawed or immoral in one way or another.

Nobody is suggesting that churches or individual pastors or priests who hold convictions and teachings against gay marriage should be forced to perform the ceremonies. Nobody is suggesting that because something becomes legalised, everyone has to do it.  Smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol are both quite legal, yet many people choose to do neither. It’s quite legal to be a nudist if someone wants to be, but most people don’t practise that lifestyle, either.

It’s high time that we all just got over ourselves and treated one another with respect and kindness.  If someone wants to marry, let them.  If they don’t want to marry, don’t make them. And for heaven’s sake, stop pretending that someone else’s marriage or relationship has anything at all to do with yours.

My Canadian brother from another mother.

I have a friend that I love a lot. We live thousands of kilometres apart, but we spend part of every day talking with each other. It’s a beautiful friendship that has grown out of a chance meeting, a random response to a random tweet.

When I visited Canada last year, I spent some time at Sean’s house.
I remember we were both nervous about finally meeting each other after talking online for so long, but that first hug was just incredible. The next few days were proof that our friendship was real. Even our partners commented on how it seemed like Sean and I had known each other forever.

On the morning that we left, the mood was sombre. Goodbyes were tearful. As I was about to go, he said, “Please don’t leave.”

My response was immediate and honest. “I’ll never completely be gone. You’re my brother now. I’ll be back.”

When I do go back in September this year, Sean and I are going to have our own little adoption ceremony. What we have is a friendship more valuable than we ever realised it would be when we started joking with one another on Twitter way back when.

Today, when I signed into the instant messenger that we both use, I found these words from him.

You Just Rock Jun 19 2015 ©2015 WordyNerdBird

He may have known how timely his words were, but I don’t think he realises just how healing and restoring it was to read these words after a tough week in which I had confronted some tough challenges, both professionally and personally.

It’s so incredibly good to know you have someone who has your back, no matter what critics and problems life might throw at you. Sean is by no means the only one of my friends who does that, but I wouldn’t want to be without him. He has his own very special place in my heart, and nobody could replace him.

Thank you, Sean, from the bottom of my heart, for your words and for being an amazing friend and brother.

Acc-cen-tu-ate the positive, e-lim-in-ate the negative…

I was reading a newsletter in my school staff email this morning when one paragraph really caught my attention.

“Can you remove yourself from people who are negative or holding you back?
The quality of our lives will depend on the quality of people with whom we surround ourselves… It is a sign of our maturity to identify any negative effects of others and then have the courage to remove ourselves from that influence.” (Vital Staff, 2015, 14)

This is a truth that many people don’t realise.

I’m not just talking about people who don’t like your haircut or the way you dress. I’m not even talking about people who don’t share your views on politics or religion. I’m talking about those people who bitch, backstab, undermine, conspire and manipulate so that people they perceive as “powerful” will see and treat others in a negative and often quite destructive way.

I know the effects certain negative people have had on my life in the past, both personally and professionally. I’ve seen friendships and relationships eroded gradually until they no longer exist. I’ve seen different people nearly bring down a church, a school, a family. It’s ugly. It’s an incredibly awful thing to experience.

I’ve also experienced the benefits of removing those people from my life. It hasn’t been easy, nor has it been painless, but it has been totally worth it.

Negativity is a cancer that attacks and weakens from within. We often can’t detect it working away under the surface, threatening to overtake and kill the very thing it’s feeding on.

When we do realise it’s there, the best way to treat it is to cut it out and leave it behind. We can’t afford to allow it to continue to grow, because it will gradually choke the joy, and then the life, out of us.

I can hear some of you thinking, “But wait. You’re a Christian. Aren’t you supposed to love and forgive and all that?”

Sure. Love and forgiveness are at the top of the list of ways in which we’re meant to treat other people.

However, that doesn’t mean we have to allow people to continue behaving in ways that are hateful and harmful to themselves and others. How is it showing love to someone if others just let them destroy every relationship they have? How is it forgiving or restoring them if there’s no stand against the behaviours that will eventually destroy both them and other people?

So, when it comes to my friendships, relationships, and interactions with other people, I will continue to choose to surround myself with the positive and constructive, and excise the negative. I can, and will, continue to remove the negative people from my life.

There’s no compulsion for you to follow suit. There’s no obligation for you to keep me in your friends list if you think I have a negative effect on you.

I know not everyone will like me. I realise that even the people who like me don’t like everything I do or say. It would be naive of me to think otherwise.
You know what? I’m entirely okay with that. I don’t need to be liked by everyone. I don’t need a fan club. And I am more than happy to accept that there are some who will be much happier without me. That’s life.

I do not desire to be everything to everyone. At some point earlier in my life I did, but I have long stopped trying to achieve that, because I found out the hard way that it simply isn’t possible. That’s a sure-fire recipe for heartbreak.

What I do desire is for the people close to me to continue to be positive and constructive in my life.

I relish the freedom to choose who and what will speak into my life and influence my thoughts and actions, and the freedom to be who I am without always looking over my shoulder, afraid of the judgement and negativity of others.