July 07, 2021
Will the Real Role Models Please Stand Up?
By Dr Kathy Weston
I don’t know about you, but in the last couple of weeks, I have felt profound disappointment in the behaviour of adults. Adults (who should know better) have modelled ghastly disrespect for rules, highly questionable moral values, poor digital hygiene and have demonstrated behaviour that had me squirming in disgust.
By way of example, hearing adults boo another country’s team and national anthem made me clutch my head in my hands, as did witnessing two grown men crudely grapple a scientist in the street for a selfie.
Meanwhile… an antidote to the disappointment has been witnessing the brilliance of youth in action. Emma Raducanu managed her A levels and reached the final sixteen at Wimbledon, whilst skateboarder Sky Brown, will become the youngest ever British summer Olympian in Tokyo, aged 13.
Alongside these sporting triumphs, American teen, Archer (16) knew that his non-verbal sister Della, needed something to help her express herself. He realised that all available apps on the market to assist verbal communication were too pricey for most families. His response? He developed a free and accessible app and tried it out with his sister to good effect.
She might now be 33, but I also want to mention Afghan-Danish footballer, Nadia Nadim, recent winner of the French league title with her team, Paris Saint-Germain, speaker of 9 languages, trained doctor and UNESCO Champion for Women’s and Girls’ Education. After experiencing the unimaginable trauma of her father, mother and four sisters being killed by the Taliban, and fleeing her home and country as a child to seek refuge in Denmark, she is a truly inspirational figure.
These trailblazers should be celebrated around every family dinner table. Young people these days don’t have to wait to innovate, make their mark, change the world or influence others. They can carve out their own opportunities based on what makes them tick, interests them or what they feel strongly about. Let’s be clear: children can be role models to adults.
In my experience, children and young people’s energy, appetite for ‘getting ahead’, honesty and compassion for others can be truly humbling. Over the past year, they have had to take so much on the chin and have had gruelling lessons on coping with disappointment and setbacks. We need to reflect on that and move away from thinking that adults always do the teaching and children always doing the learning. Often, the opposite is true, and we need to be open enough to learn from them.
Back on the home front, we may not be living with the next Emma Raducanu, but we can be trailblazers when it comes to trying.
For example, no one in my family can play a guitar. So rather than nag the kids to take up an instrument, I have started learning the guitar using an app. Despite not having the slightest clue, and being a bit of a technophobe, after one session, I can play G and E Minor and can now tell you what a ‘fret’ is. My children looked on bemused as I continually messed up and were kind enough to nudge me to ‘keep going’.
Over the summer, hopefully we have a little more time to attune to our children’s interests too. If you spot them and nurture them, herein, you will find a spring of natural motivation.
My 11 year old is fascinated by retro rock music and habitually lists singers, bands and favourite tunes in his bedside journal. I suggested he could write a musical guide to 90s rock music for children of a similar age. “How can I write a book? I am only 11!”, he exclaimed. I explained that you don’t need to wait for a book deal these days, you can self-publish. We have started the research process together and I am helping to scaffold his thinking, encouraging him to jot down his ideas and asking him lots of questions about the main points he wants to get across. I also suggested that he write to any rock idols that are still alive. “You never know, you might get a response”, I told him. Before you knew it, he was dashing around trying to locate Axl Rose. The point is, because he already had a passion for this topic, nudging him to take his interest to the next level feels effortless.
Children can only aspire to what they know exists (so said the great Ger Graus, Director of Kidzania), so it is our job to expose them to possibility. Given the hopelessness that has characterised the last year, I think it is a good time to move little goals positively forward.
The summer provides the perfect opportunity to give our children freedom to do things that they really enjoy, and the time to try something completely new or that they couldn’t easily do at school this past year.
Children are only part of the family story. What new thing will you try this summer? My three goals are to put my hands around a pottery wheel, try a brand new cuisine from a country I know nothing about and be able to strum out a tune on the classical guitar that people actually recognise. Wish me luck!
As schools end, don’t be surprised if you uncover a few mental scars from the last year.
Families all over the country are increasingly observing emerging signs of poor mental health in children and young people. You are not alone if this rings true for you. Anecdotally, self-harm, eating disordered behaviours or thoughts, obsessive compulsive disorders and health anxiety seem to be particularly prevalent at present.
Whatever is going on in your family, try to be honest about it, actively seek support where you can, remain calm and demonstrate kindness towards yourself and the affected child. Everyone has done their best this past year in unprecedented circumstances. We continue to do so and where we struggle, remember there is always someone out there ready to help, listen and support you. It is a case of tracking them down.
In the meantime, let’s keep those heads up, remaining open to learning, true to ourselves and ready for a summer of relaxation and actioning goals. The two need not be mutually exclusive.
Are you a Tooled Up member?
We’ve put together some resources which can encourage tweens and teens to try something new over the summer. Tooled Up families should check out our new list of Summer activities for young people of all ages, across the UK. Whether your child is interested in music, dance or sport, wants a taste of university life, or a STEM experience, there is something for everyone. Be quick though. Lots of the activities are filling up and some have booking deadlines which close soon, so log in to Tooled Up and make sure that you don’t miss out. We’ve also created a list of quirky things for teens to do this summer.
It’s crucial that girls are given as many, and as varied, opportunities as boys. Both girls and boys can be held back by gender stereotypes and it is important that we think about any ways in which messages that we give our children might limit them. That’s why we’ve teamed up with gender equality experts Lifting Limits to get their top tips on challenging stereotypes.
Public Webinars (free to you) – We are running a series of webinars this autumn on developing young athletes, organising your home, bringing up tots, challenging gender stereotyping and sports nutrition. As a ‘Tooled Up School’ parent, you get free entry to all – keep your eye on your school newsletter for promotional codes and full details.
This is Dr Weston’s last Wednesday Wisdom until later in the summer. Enjoy every second of the school holidays and see you in September!