Monthly Archives: January 2018

A letter to my niece before she starts high school …

My gorgeous 12 yo niece Elouise starts high school next week and so this week I sat her down to give her some Aunt-to-niece advice about what i wanted her to know.

Below is what I told her.

Of course she’s used to hearing me bang on about finidng your tribe (though you can never say it enough!!). But I came up with four other points I wanted to really talk through with her … everything from how most bullying starts to playing team sport to working to be a part of her new school community.

Anyway — here’s my advice to my two nieces Elouise and Emily and to every other tween and teen who is heading to high school next week.

I’ll be thinking of you all! (Nerves are normal!!)

xxx

1. Find Your Tribe

I know, I know. I’ve been banging on about this for about a decade but frankly it feels truer now than ever.  There is not much you can control in your life when you’re a tween or a teen. But the one thing – and possibly the MOST IMPORTANT thing – which you *can* control is WHO YOU CHOOSE TO HANG AROUND.  Find your tribe.  Your tribe are those people who get you. Who share your core values. They like you for who you are and they’ve got your back. These are the friends who are loyal and kind and you feel good about yourself when you’re with them. Any fights or spats you have with them are minor and it’s only good natured teasing that occurs (any really mean teasing is unintentional and true friends will apologise). If you’re spending your time hanging out with girls (or boys)  who routinely put you down, make fun of you and humiliate you then MOONWALK OUT OF THERE, SISTER!   Most importantly true friends bring out your best.  If you don’t like who you are and how you behave when you’re with your current friends — that’s a big red flag.

Now you might have a tribe of five friends – terrific!  But all you need is one true friend whom you can trust.

Keep in mind that sometimes it takes a while to find a person from your tribe.  Sometimes you’re a bad fit for the school you’re in.  Hang in there.  Seek out friends outside of school who ‘get you’.  Bide your time. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with YOU just because you haven’t found that great friend just yet.

BONUS ADVICE:  If your goal is to be happy in high school (and that’s every student’s goal, isn’t it?)  … keep in mind that research tells us that the biggest driver of happiness is time spent IN PERSON with authentic friends (someone from your tribe!).  No amount of texting, Skype messaging or Whatsapping comes close to being in person with your favourite friend where you feel safe to vent and be your true, daggy self.  Keep that in mind throughout your life — always prioritise in person catch ups.

2. Understand The Destructive Nature Of Gossip And Work Out Who To Vent To

High schools run on gossip. Stories. Rumours. Whispers.  And according Rosalind Wiseman – author of “Queen Bees And Wannabes: Helping your daughter survive cliques, gossip, boyfriends and the new realities of girl world” girls  in upper primary school and high school see gossip as a way to bond. BUT it’s also how they wage war on each other and humiliate each other.  Nearly every teenage girl (and every woman) gossips to some degree but let’s be clear — gossip is the source of pretty much all high school drama and bullying, The more you engage in destructive gossip, the more you get involved in spreading rumours about other students, the more tumultuous your high school days will be. Information is power in high school – I get it. But it comes at a cost.  And that cost can be extraordinarily high when that gossip forms part of a full-scale bullying campaign designed to isolate and embarrass someone. Lives can be destroyed especially when rumour-spreading happens online.

Wiseman makes three things very clear in her book:

* How much you gossip (as a parent) directly influences how much your child gossips.

* The younger you give your child a mobile phone or device, the sooner she’ll be exposed to  and participate in gossip (think Skype Messenger, WhatsApp and even just text messaging)

* There is a difference between venting and gossiping  Everyone needs to vent (or debrief) when something big has happened.  True friends won’t spread your confidences as gossip (creating enormous turmoil for you).  Be careful with your words both about yourself and about others.  Wherever possible, choose kind. And share your own personal stories and secrets ONLY with those friends who have proven themselves to have your back. You can find Rosalind Wiseman’s book here: https://www.booktopia.com.au/queen-bees-and-wannabes-rosalind-wiseman/prod9780749924379.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMInPmNzf3a2AIVUgwrCh10RQ_1EAAYASAAEgKodPD_BwE

3. Join In.

This is the great secret to enjoying high school which I wish someone had told me at the time. JOIN IN. Become a part of the community. Participate. Another one of the big drivers of happiness is when we feel like we’re part of a community, when we feel KNOWN. Walking into a place and having teachers and reception staff and  the tuckshop volunteers say, “Good morning, Bec!” can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself and school. It sounds hokey but it can help you feel safe and cared about. But there’s only so much schools can do as they try to get to know all the students. So you have to step up.  Join in. Volunteer. When there’s a students versus teachers basketball match on at lunchtime – GO.  By letting the teachers get to know you,  you’ll in turn feel like you’re part of something an belong.

4. People Can Be Jerks But That’s Not Bullying

When I was in year 8, every afternoon as I walked to the bus stop a boy in my class would yell out, “See you, Rubella!”  Rubella instead of Rebecca. Get it? Hilarious (not). So would you call that bullying? Nope. That, my friends, is called HIGH SCHOOL.  David called me Rubella every day and I replied every afternoon with “Shut up, moron!” and kept walking. #goodtimes #clearlynotchoosingkindinthatmoment

For something to be bullying it has to not only be repeated more than once, there also has to be a power imbalance.  There wasn’t a power imbalance between David and me.  I wasn’t intimidated or threatened or scared of him. People in high school can be jerks. People will be mean. They’ll behave badly. Welcome to life!  This is why you want to work on your resilience and your inner grit and find ways to brush off those moments. That said, the moment you feel “ganged up on” and/or scared is when you go to an adult in your life and let them know.

5. Play A Team Sport

Exercise is great but that’s not why I want my nieces to continue playing team sports. Research shows that playing a team sport builds your self-esteem, your confidence, helps with goal setting and teaches you about team work. When homework and assignments and study is all too much — there’s something about MOVIN

#DoItForDolly

I remember 14. My life was about watching Young Talent Time, trying to learn the lyrics to the Bangles’ Manic Monday, perming my hair, writing fan letters to Michael J Fox and hanging out with my tribe – my two best friends, Lyn and Robin. That was 1986. It’s easy to look back at that time through rose coloured glasses. But girls are girls and I can certainly recall it wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops. Year 9 is not for the feint hearted. But I was lucky that home was a haven and a respite if I’d had a bad day. At home I had peace. The internet was yet to come to Chapel Hill, Brisbane.

In 2018, thousands of Australian kids cannot find that elusive peace and we all know why. All those shiny devices and social media platforms we’ve rushed to hand over to our kids – kids who have yet to build up their empathy muscle or understand the consequence of their behaviour – mean that bullying is now a round-the-clock occupation for some angry and hurting teens. They are waging online bullying campaigns for little reason other than they think a fellow student is too up herself or lame or a loser or doesn’t wear the right clothes or listen to the right music. Or for no other reason than their target has a self-confidence they find baffling and enviable.

Our kids have no respite because we have taken it from them by allowing our kids all hours access to their devices with no monitoring of what they are doing or saying online.

Dolly Everett was just shy of her 15th birthday when she decided the online bullying she was enduring was too much to handle any longer. Last week she ended her life.

And Dolly is not alone. The suicide rate for 15-24 year olds – according to mental health organisation Orygen – is the HIGHEST it has been in a decade.

9bee6855c838912d4f0c2f19e799cd36I feel gutted for Dolly’s beautiful family – how do you make sense of such a needless loss? Amy Jane “Dolly” Everett should be here.

And I feel heartbroken for every child who today is dreading the thought of going back to school later this month because school is a living hell, a place where they feel tormented and alone.

So where to from here?

I don’t have the answers. What I do know is that our children are watching us and so often they are modelling their behaviour on ours. And I just see so much anger and rage EVERYWHERE.

I see anger on our roads with drivers becoming apoplectic because why? Someone made a mistake? Cut them off by accident? Or was driving too slow in the wrong lane?

I hear about it at the school gate. Story after story told to me about GROWN WOMEN embarking on full-scale bullying campaigns against other mothers. It’s like something out of Big Little Lies.

I see it at social sport. I LOVE playing social netball but the bad behaviour, the UNSPORTING behaviour is at times mind-blowing to me. Sneaky, underhanded tactics. Swearing at opponents and umpires. General on-court agro as though we’re playing for sheep stations.

And we wonder why teenagers behave badly? What example are we setting them?

We all make mistakes. We all behave badly at times. I know I have – I’m not Mother Teresa either. But all this anger and bitterness is just making things worse. How about this:

1. Let’s cut each other a little more slack and realise that most “injustices” done to us aren’t personal and don’t require a big stick response. Take a breath before you race to admonish someone whether that’s in traffic, on court or at the school P&C.

2. Let’s communicate better. Think about the tone of your emails or text messages. If you have an issue with someone speak to them in person or pick up the phone. Emails and texts messages are easy to mis-mood — you are leaving it up to the recipient to decide on your tone and most of us choose the worst case scenario!

3. Never underestimate the power of a sincere apology.

4. As parents it is our job to teach our kids to be empathetic. Ask yourself what kind of behaviour you’re modelling to them. Are you mocking other people in front of your kids? Are you inclusive often inviting new people to join your group? Do you show concern for the feelings of others?

5. Can we stop smugly saying “We’re no longer hiring?” when it comes to meeting new people? Some of the greatest friendships in my life are with women I’ve met out of the blue in recent years. Make room for newcomers!!

6. Pay attention to what your child is doing online. Random spot checks on their social media is a good idea — sit with them and take a look together to see what types of conversations they’re engaging in.

7. If you’re spreading gossip – breaking confidences – at work or school — you are part of the problem.

8. I learnt a great tip from Jono Nicholas from ReachOut last year. He told me that sometimes it’s really hard for kids to articulate their feelings. So instead of asking, “Are you okay? How was school? How are you feeling?” – ask them to rate their day out of 10. And rather than ask them the moment they get home — it’s often later at night when they’re willing and ready to open up.

9. Can we all try and get a bit more sleep? Sleep deprivation unravels you.

Let’s try harder to walk into 2018 looking through a more empathetic lens.

Final thought: A friend once said to me, “When the shit hits the fan and you have to choose between conspiracy or f*ck up – it’s usually f*ck up.” In other words, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt that we WEREN’T deliberately excluded or cut off or whatever. So often it’s not personal and we need to be aware of the ‘story’ we create in our heads about a negative event.

You want to stop kids being bullied? It starts with US. You and me.

Do it for Dolly. #stopbullyingnow

*** If you are being bullied or your child is being bullied — speak up. You have a right to feel safe in your school or workplace. If you are struggling and feel alone, please call one of the following numbers …

Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467