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Harmful health and fitness advice has the habit of infiltrating social media landscapes, and it looks like TikTok is the newest – and potentially most dangerous – vessel for this advice to run rife.

The average TikTok user spends 52 minutes of their day on the app. That’s over 850 minutes a month, and 18,928 minutes a year. With these statistics in mind, it’s no wonder that TikTok has become the cultural phenomenon it is today – with popularity skyrocketing during the peak of widespread lockdowns, and now garnering approximately 1 billion monthly users – 60% of those belonging to Gen z. Clearly, TikTok has become an indispensable asset in the lives of many children and teens across the globe – but as parents, have you ever questioned the kind of harmful messaging this app could be sending your kids?

At the end of 2019, I opened TikTok for the first time. Periodically opening and closing the app every day, I consumed dance videos, funny skits, ‘daily vlogs’, and other light-hearted content that was inundating my feed. At first it seemed harmless, but it wasn’t until 2020, when plunged into the first of many lockdowns here in Melbourne, that I realised how much TikTok content I was subconsciously absorbing.

Face-to-face with reoccurring bouts of ‘lockdown boredom’, I was continually sucked into the TikTok quicksand of mindless scrolling. I wasn’t alone in this. For 4–15-year-olds, the average scrolling time per day is 80 minutes – a significantly longer chunk of the day than our 52 minutes. Although these statistics may seem shocking, the unlimited stream of consecutive, relatively short videos to scroll through – a 3-minute option only recently introduced – makes extended periods of scrolling much harder to consciously limit.

It’s all in the algorithm.

For a relatively new platform, TikTok has managed to generate a large cultural standing, carving out a previously unmatched space for mass influence.

The addictiveness of the app – a reason it is so popular – can be partly attributed to its cutting-edge algorithm – highly developed in its ability to shape users’ ‘For You’ pages to their unique ‘level of interest’. Indicators like finishing a video from beginning to end, user location and the types of videos users interact with, all contribute to the personalisation of user feeds. However, when the algorithm is pervasively feeding health advice, regardless of its validity, to impressionable children and teens – without their explicit consent to do so – this personalisation has the potential to turn sinister.

Health and Fitness advice is well established in the social media ecosystem. Beginning in Youtube communities, it eventually bled into Instagram feeds and now more recently,  TikTok has taken the reigns.

My growing suspicion towards TikTok didn’t begin until I decided to “get back into fitness” – like many did during lockdown – using TikTok’s search bar to source workout ideas and routines. It was then, that the content on my feed slowly began to change. All of a sudden, whenever I opened the app, I was flooded with videos about different workouts, “how to be in a calorie deficit”, and ‘what I eat in a day’ videos, often perpetuated by slim and toned creators, who often didn’t show a realistic amount of food.

 

Through looking at a couple of workout videos, I was unknowingly placing my “interest” in the health and fitness category on TikTok, which the algorithm then held onto, and adapted the content it showed me to reflect that. Eventually, the content on my TikTok feed extended beyond the workout ideas that I initially sought out, and onto advice about my diet, things I should or shouldn’t be eating or drinking, and different workouts to give me a particular desired body type. I was overwhelmed.

What’s wrong with health and fitness advice?

Although these types of videos may not strike some users as outrightly harmful, the pervasive nature of diet culture and the fitness industry when fed consistently to impressionable users, has the potential to garner harmful perceptions of body image and obsessive behaviours, far too young.

This largely stems from the widely engrained behaviour, of associating morality with different diets or lifestyles. Chocolate is seen as “bad” or “junk”, vegetables are “good” and “clean”, and going to the gym everyday will make you “better than” someone who does not.

 

By assigning so much moral value to the foods we choose to eat and exercise we choose to do, the likeliness of guilt when we don’t do these things, is much higher. This moral value is ultimately delineated from the fact that a large part of society continues to subconsciously perpetuate fatphobic narratives and maintain thinness as the gold standard for how a woman should look.

These ideals are further exacerbated on TikTok, due to the feedback economy of the platform, whereby comments and likes denote how videos are generally perceived. A recent example of this was called out by Emma Matthews (@sheismarissamatthewss on TikTok), who concluded that the many comments on TikTok “reinforce thin privilege and fatphobia”. She compared the comments of her ‘what I eat in a day video’ – where she got criticised for eating three eggs and using an “inappropriate amount of olive oil” – to the comments of ‘thin’ creators’ food videos, who were predominantly praised for what they eat – therefore demonstrating how users often idealise and favour those who fit into their preferred body type.

Therefore, if teens and tweens manage to get onto the “side” of TikTok swarmed with health and fitness advice, the persistent messaging of the “perfect” diet and lifestyle, has the potential to generate obsessive or harmful relationships with food and exercise, in an attempt to mirror what they see from their favourite creators.

Amid the more latent presentations of diet culture, although more hidden, are pro-anorexia accounts, particularly dangerous in their encouragement of starvation and extreme restriction around food. It was when one of these videos popped up on my TikTok feed, with the caption “If you ate over 1200 calories today you are fat”, that I recognised the true danger of TikTok’s personalised algorithm. I had never searched for this ‘pro-ana’ content, nor expressed any interest in videos on restrictive eating or diets. But it is accounts like these, despite efforts from TikTok to remove them from the platform, have the potential to be grouped into the health and fitness category, and find their way to the “For You Pages” of teens and tweens.

Body image isn’t a new issue.

Concerns around body image in children and adolescents are already an unfortunately common occurrence, with the Mission Australia 2020 Annual Youth Survey reflecting that 33% of participants saw body image as an area of major concern in their lives. Another survey in 2021 showed that out of 93 students, 45% showed a high level of concern for their body image. It is clear the ubiquity of body image concerns in children and adolescents – an issue that is arguably not improved by the persistent nature of TikTok’s algorithm.

Considering previous research that discovered girls ages 5-8, when simply looking at a Barbie Doll, experienced body dissatisfaction and a desire for thinness, it is important to recognise the capacity for TikTok – and social media in general – to project this bombardment of health and fitness advice onto their audience, without regard for the young and vulnerable nature of the users they are targeting.

If looking at a Barbie doll can cause that much harm, think about what a carefully curated selection of targeted health and fitness videos can do.

How do I talk to my kids about this?

The solution to this doesn’t come with banning your kids from TikTok or confiscating their phones upon hearing this information. Our society is saturated with potentially harmful information around health and fitness, and perpetuations of a thin-ideal – but it is the way that kids perceive this information that defines the harm it can cause.

One way that you can help reinforce positive relationships with health and fitness with your children, is by modelling that positive relationship yourself. Some ways parents can do this are:

  • Engaging in healthy eating habits yourself: consistently participating in fad diets or outwardly expressing guilt for eating certain foods are behaviours children can pick up on, and implement into their own lifestyles at a later point.
  • Making meals a positive and communal experience: research has shown that a frequency in family meals can lead to inverse effects of disordered eating, and better psychological outcomes for children.
  • Teaching kids about critical thinking: by explaining how to practice critical thinking while on social media, it becomes easier for children and teens to recognise the misinformation or unhealthy content that they might be exposed to, and purposely disengage with it. Often, parents are also encouraged to watch TikTok’s with their children, and openly talk about the misrepresentation that they see.

I, like many others, have been exposed to the more sinister side of TikTok health and wellness, but through educating myself and talking to others, I have become aware enough about diet culture and health advice, that I can recognise and ignore misinformation. By navigating TikTok with intention and purpose, seeking out trusted sources and shielding myself from the guilt-shrouded influence of diet culture, I am able to be largely unaffected by the persistent messaging of TikTok’s health and fitness community – and I encourage teens and kids using TikTok to do the same.

My twin sister is my soulmate. Whilst she braved the cold and adventured our snow-covered garden, I curled up under the warmth of blankets absorbed in a good book. Being so different and yet having our lives so intimately entwined has given me a unique sense of individuality.

My twin sister, Alanna, beat me into the world by 20 minutes – 20 minutes that to my Mum, felt like 20 years. Little did we know, we had just begun our vibrant and adventurous life together as twins. Whilst other children spent time learning how to build friendships, I was born with mine.

As babies we shared everything: a small, bright bedroom decorated with exotic animals and a rocking horse, a pram, which we giggled in as we rode over bumpy ground, and a marvelous curiosity for everything we encountered.

As we began to talk and toddle around, I clumsily knocked into things whilst Alanna naturally found her feet. As we learnt to eat new foods, I was reserved, sticking to my favourite cheese sandwiches with Alanna across the table in full excitement, allowing new fruits to tingle on her tongue.

Whilst other children spent time learning how to build friendships, I was born with mine.

Slowly our small, bright bedroom became two larger and very different rooms. My walls were painted a blushing pink with butterflies flying in every direction. Across the hallway, Alanna played in a room of deep purple, surrounded by chestnut horses which galloped across the walls. Despite discovering our own quirks and curiosities, Alanna and I were joined at the hip, in love with spending time together.

Our Mum encouraged our individuality, running back and forth from my ballet classes and Alanna’s horse-riding lessons. We would venture into our own passions and after doing so, fall excitedly onto our old cream sofa to tell each other all about it. It was important to our parents that we learn to build our own identities – something which years on, has helped me to seek out my own life separate from Alanna.

When it comes to fraternal twins, it is vital that loved ones acknowledge and celebrate differences so that each person has a chance to build their own sense of self and not become attached to a joint, twin identity.

Being a fraternal twin is magic; our uniqueness is the very thing that makes us so close. Our difference in appearance is almost as stark as our difference in personality: my hair falls in soft, honey blonde curls that melt onto my shoulders; Alanna’s hair tumbles in rich, dark hues and is always cut short and neat.

Alanna and I were joined at the hip, in love with spending time together.

I was born with hazel eyes that appear green in the sunlight, Alanna with eyes as blue as the Cornish sea. Her skin is dusted with freckles – mine, a blank canvas.

Interestingly, when we visited our grandparents, they attempted to dress us in the same frolicking outfits, despite our intense differences. In school and around friends, we were often referred to as ‘the twins’ or ‘the Cranes’ which was much to our dislike, having always been treated as individuals by our parents. Spending our days, weeks, months and years together meant that naturally, we formed a likeness when it came to sense of humour, little phrases and mannerisms.

It was important to our parents that we learn to build our own identities. 

Alanna and I share the same memories, have the same friends and family and have experienced almost every rite of passage together. Being so intimately connected with someone is a unique and extraordinary experience. It is within this deeply personal relationship that I have found my own individuality, and Alanna hers.

As we entered our teenage years and began high school, our differences flourished. We remained close, sitting together at lunchtime with a shared group of close friends, but as the bell echoed throughout the campus, I headed to my favourite English class as she made her way to Biology.

It was at this time that we truly came to grasp our individual character, struggling through the uncertain years of adolescence. Body image became a prevalent point of conversation between us as we noticed our bodies changing in different ways to each other.

We had come to accept that after years of shared experiences and time together, our lives were venturing down two separate pathways.

There were many days that were dull; we felt disconnected and separate from one another, having become even more independent in our self-image and awareness. We had always sought after our own distinct identity, but we remained incredibly close. Our teenage years proved to be complex as we attempted to navigate a new kind of individuality.

At 17, after years of having our own space, we moved into a new home which meant sharing a room together for the first time since we were babies. This became a challenge – a shared space as we attempted to grow into our differences.

I began to explore the avenues of writing and thought ahead to a creative career in the world of publishing; Alanna set her gaze on nursing and midwifery.

I wanted to stay up into the late hours of the night writing and chatting whilst Alanna adored the comfort of her bed and wished to turn the lights out before midnight. More so than ever, we encountered our differences and unlike the many years of our childhood, longed for our own space.

It wasn’t until our final years of high school that we realised the value in our closeness and its ability to enhance our individuality. We had come to accept that after years of shared experiences and time together, our lives were venturing down two separate pathways. Before university began, we gathered our savings and jetted off to Europe for ten incredible weeks.

We combined our interests: my love of literature and history in the museums we visited, Alanna’s passion for the countryside as we strolled along the vast green of England – and of course, to both of our excitement, a colourful indulgence in new foods. We ventured across Europe’s diversity, onto the seductive streets of Paris and balmy terraces of Rome.

We had always sought after our own distinct identity, but we remained incredibly close.

Now, at different universities and studying for our wonderfully different lives, we appreciate our individuality which thanks to our parents, has been fostered from an early age. From shared rooms, prams and toys, being called ‘the twins’ and wild attempts to dress us the same, Alanna and I flourished into two unique people, framed by our experiences together.

Sydney family GP and TV Personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, discusses the challenges of parenting teenagers and offers parents advice on how to guide modern adolescents, in her latest book, The New Teen Age, co-authored with Jo Lamble.

The exhaustion that comes with raising infants and toddlers is an age-old tale – but the emotional toll so often experienced by parents of teenagers can be even more challenging, especially now with potential perils around technology.

As kids transition into the world of teenager-dom, they’re exposed to a myriad of new risks like vaping, pornography and sexting – and as parents, it can be difficult to know when and how to step in.

High-profile Sydney family GP and TV personality, Dr Ginni Mansberg, stresses the importance of facing these issues head on and without judgement in her new book, co-authored with clinical psychologist Jo Lamble, The New Teen Age: How to support today’s tweens and teens to become healthy, happy adults .

A compilation of science-backed evidence, anecdotal advice and strategical conversation starters, the book hones-in on contemporary and previously overlooked issues like porn consumption, sexting, screen time, social media and sleep; all whilst promoting a judgement-free and practical space for parents seeking guidance.

Ginni says that many parents were coming to her and Jo’s clinics, overwhelmed by the pressures associated with raising their developing children.

“There was a lot of tension, a lot of love, a lot of fear, a lot of blaming themselves in guilt and a lot of anger from the kids”, Ginni shares.

“It just seemed that quite a few things had changed since more dominant parenting books were around.”

Authors Ginni and Jo combine knowledge, not only from their own practice in raising tweens and adolescents, but their 40 years of medical and psychological experience, providing readers with an updated perspective on how to navigate that turbulent time between childhood and adulthood.

Ginni says the key motivation toward the creation of the book was the desire “to bring everyone up to speed and close the gap to bring parents and kids together.”

‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’

Like many parents of teens, Ginni understands the tumultuous experience of trying to effectively parent through puberty, and the physical and psychological shifts that come with that. She highlights that the more obvious physical changes, such as body hair and breasts, are not the most significant change these teenagers experience, rather it is the increase in hormones and subsequent changes in the brain that are the most daunting.

She reveals that as early as seven years old, children are “hitting that percentage of body fat that’s required to make sex hormones.”

Ginni also discusses the valuable role of Oxytocin, the “love hormone”, which is released primarily in response to experiences of trust, social bonding and, most obviously, love.

“Teenagers have very sensitive oxytocin receptors,” she explains. She maintains that due to this, teenagers are in fact “primed to be quite intense in their feelings. They are so devoted to each other, the friends are so intense, their first love is so intense – even if it’s a person they’ve just met on Instagram.”

In this, Ginni urges parents to acknowledge the reasons behind their teenager’s mood swings and melodramatic tendencies. Rather than consistently clashing heads, it’s important to understand that it’s in a teens nature to be a bit ‘over the top’ sometimes.

Your teens are not getting enough sleep.

Another question Ginni and Jo probe parents to think about, is the amount of sleep your teens are getting. Evidence show us that teenagers need 9 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night to function at their highest capacity. Ginni explains that because teenagers continue to go to bed later – then get up early for school – a “conga line of horror” can ensue.

Did you know how many issues can arise from lack of sleep? When teens consistently stay up late (more often than not at the clutches of a smartphone) and rack up large amounts of sleep debt, they become susceptible to “increases in anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and attempts, massive amounts of risky behaviour – whether its drugs, sex, sending a dick pic, taking a nude picture or saying something bitchy – decreased academic performance, decreased sport performance, acne and weight gain,” Ginni warns.

The New Teen Age author explains that these potential consequences, albeit scary, can be used to the advantage of parents trying to get through to their teens.

“In some ways,” she says, “the conga line of horror [from lack of sleep] is your ‘line in’ with the kids.”

If staying up late on phones is the issue, explaining the effects that lack of sleep can have, will provide them with an incentive to get more sleep themselves, without having the proverbial fight about leaving their phone downstairs.

Sexting and Porn – How Do I Bring it Up?

A newer conversation in the parenting world – and a necessary one – is how to navigate sexting and pornography consumption in teens. Sexting and sending nude photos, in particular, are a more recent development in teenage behaviour, exacerbated by the increasing reliance on social media to communicate and flirt with potential romantic partners.

“It is incredibly common,” Ginni says. “A lot of these kids aren’t seeing each other in person and especially during the pandemic, they aren’t seeing each other at all, so their way of flirting can be sending a pic, and they are biologically programmed to be into risk taking.”

In response to the influx of risqué photos and sexts being sent between teens, Ginni advises parents to reject protective instincts to ban teens from doing this or confiscate their phones, and instead lead with compassion and understanding, having conversations that say, “if you’re going to sext, at least do it in a safe way.”

Teenage porn consumption follows the same pattern. It is inevitable that your teens will either stumble across, or actively seek out, pornography – but it is the conversations that we have surrounding it that will limit its harm.

“Surveys have shown that what they are looking at is a video that usually preferences male pleasure,” Ginni explains. She maintains that they probably “don’t really understand the difference between what healthy, consensual sex is, and what they’re seeing online.”

Ginni persists that the only way to fix this, and help teenagers understand the implications of the risky behaviour they are attracted to, is “to be having these conversations with our kids.”

However, it doesn’t have to be the uncomfortable, grimace-inducing conversation that parents often imagine. Ginni provides readers with resources to help facilitate difficult conversations, one being ‘It’s Time to Talk’, which exists to encourage conversations about what constitutes healthy and safe relationships – a particularly important topic for teenagers who are forming unrealistic perceptions of relationships that are perpetuated through pornography.

Ultimately, Dr Ginni’s philosophy doesn’t advise controlling or limiting the actions of teenagers, rather influencing their decisions and thoughts through conversation, and in doing so, creating a safe passage for communication between the parent and the child.

“They need to push boundaries and they need to make mistakes, because otherwise they are spectacularly ill-equipped to face what is coming to them,” she says.

“We, as parents, need to use a certain amount of judgement – by knowing our kids and also understanding that they’re going to have to make some mistakes – to slowly take the training wheels off the bike.”

Featuring the enlightened words of Dr Ginni Mansberg, co-author of The New Teen Age: How to support today’s tweens and teens to become healthy, happy adults, published by Murdoch Books.

 

It’s normal to experience grief when a child comes out as transgender. Here’s some ways that parents can navigate the process.

Ambiguous loss is the grief parents feel when they lose a transgender child to the process of transitioning. It’s called ‘ambiguous’ because it is not the concrete, tangible loss that follows the physical death of a child. For that reason, ambiguous loss may leave parents with feelings of unresolved grief.

Grief and loss are natural feelings when confronted with a child’s transgender identity because it shatters traditional images of gender. What it means to be a man or woman, girl or boy, informs much of our behaviour. This is especially true in family relationships, where roles are based on a set of pre-determined expectations for how we are supposed to act.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one.

How a parent responds to their child’s transgender identity is critical to whether the transitioning experience is a positive or negative one. It is essential that parents reframe the way they feel about their child’s transitioning, from regret and sadness to excitement about what the future holds.

The process of transitioning often challenges parents’ traditional gender role stereotypes

It’s essential because transgender and gender diverse people experience incredibly high rates of mental health issues. LGBTIQ+ Health Australia’s April 2021 report provides some alarming statistics. Of 14 to 25-year-olds surveyed, 48% had attempted suicide, 79% had self-harmed, 74% were diagnosed with depression and 72% with anxiety. A staggering 90% of transgender people aged 14 to 21 reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.

Given these statistics, it’s clear that for transgender children family support can be the difference between life and death. This is supported by research which shows that gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Gender-affirming behaviour by family members has a hugely positive impact on mental health.

Parents act as models to their children, based on socially and culturally constructed gender roles. Before a child is born, parents have started planning the child’s future and, usually, it’s gendered. So, having an emotional response to such a big event as a child telling their parents they’re transgender is normal. It is reasonable for parents to grieve the loss of an imagined future.

Embracing a child’s nominated gender has a hugely positive impact on their mental wellbeing

A 2020 study looked at whether parents had an emotional experience, like mourning, to their child’s transition. It was found that parents’ reactions followed the typical grief response. Not understanding what their child was going through led parents to experience feelings of denial, fear, anger, and powerlessness.

What the study revealed was that parents who best overcame their grief had a support system in place. Involvement in transgender advocacy groups reinforced the fact that, despite being transgender, their child was the same child they’ve always known. Importantly, realising their child was happy with their chosen gender had a positive impact on parental resilience when dealing with the transition process.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity … They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that.

Research shows that children who come out as transgender already have a strong sense of their identity, usually from a very early age. They know who they are because they’ve always felt like that. It is important that parents understand that children change their gender to fit their identity, their identity doesn’t change because their gender does.

A child’s identity does not change just because their gender does

While there may be things that parents had planned to do with their child that they can no longer do, they will discover many new and different ways to bond with and love their child such as joining their experimentation with new clothing, helping them choose a new name or pronouns.

It is possible to remain loving and supportive while simultaneously experiencing loss, sadness, fear and confusion. Working through these feelings takes time. Just as a child needs compassion and support to navigate the transitioning process, so do parents.

Here are some ways parents can support themselves and their transgender child:

  1. Don’t give in to fear. Fear can cause parents to push back or reject their child. This fear is underpinned by love, driven by a concern that the world is a harsh place for transgender people. Make sure the child knows they’re loved and supported.
  2. Encourage exploration. Gender exploration is a normal part of a child’s development. Give children the freedom to explore their emotions about gender before they consider a permanent change.
  3. Education is key. Get familiar with the information that is out there about gender expression. There are a lot of online resources available, such as Transcend, QLife, Rainbow Door, queerspace, and Transgender Victoria (TGV).
  4. Create a safe space. Transitioning takes a long time and can be difficult. Encourage the child to openly discuss their feelings so they feel safe and protected as they transition.
  5. Families need to transition, too. Each family member must shift their thinking and understanding. Take the time to process these thoughts and any feelings of loss.
  6. Seek help. Ensure access to a team of medical and mental health experts. Identify allies at school, so the child knows where to go for support if they are bullied or excluded.

Yes, having a trans child means questioning personal views on gender. And, yes, it usually involves a lot of – sometimes uncomfortable – discussions with friends, relatives and complete strangers about the process of transitioning and what it involves. These conversations can evoke strong feelings in others that parents should be prepared for.

While the world might not always be understanding, parents can be.

But, while the world might not always be understanding, parents can be. A child might wear different clothes and go by a different name, but they’re still the person you know and love.

An understanding parent makes a world of difference to a transgender child

It’s important to remember that a parent’s grief and loss is theirs, not their child’s. Accept these feelings for what they are: natural and normal reactions. Parents need to work with their feelings, not against them.

At the same time, parents need to support, comfort, and maintain an open dialogue with their transgender child as they work through the process together. Recognise their child’s bravery and show gratitude. Parent and child will be so much the better for it.

Lockdown sucks.

My heart goes out to anyone who is on the frontline, is struggling for work, is struggling with work and learning from home or who is separated from family. These times are challenging for everyone. I appreciate that I cannot possibly know or completely understand your personal circumstances, but I do appreciate that it can be tough. Really tough. You are being asked to do the impossible.

At my house, my husband is working long hours from home, often starting at 8am and not finishing until after 6pm. Our three children are learning from home and I’m trying to supervise, whilst doing my own work and keeping the house in some semblance of order. My younger two, who are still at primary school, obviously need the most input from me, whilst my eldest is reasonably self-sufficient but gets distracted; I have to check in a lot to make sure she’s on task and that she is remembering to take breaks from her screen. I seem to get one child started on an activity before another child finishes or has a problem with the laptop, or zoom, or spelling, or just loses focus, or is bored or hungry or just wants to see what everyone else is up to. In short, it’s not easy. We’d never ask a teacher to teach three classes at once, would we? And I know a lot of you are in a similar position.

It is true that there’s so much beyond your control and so much uncertainty, however, there is also a lot you can control. A very wise person (my grandma) once told me,

‘You can’t control everything all the time,

but you can always control your response.

There is your power.’

So, with that in mind, let’s look at 10 ways to love lockdown—or at least hate it less. After all, numerous mums lamented their lack of time and overall busy schedules before lockdown and I know many of them would have been delighted to press ‘pause’ on life. Now we are in a somewhat ‘paused’ state, it’s far from perfect, but there are some things we can do to make this time a positive one.

1. Schedule downtime

Plan a walk with a friend, a nap, a meditation session, a bath…whatever makes you feel better. Make an effort to prioritise it. It’s important to care for yourself as you care for your children.

2. Zoom party

Craving a catch up with the girls? We may not be able to meet in person at present, but what’s stopping you from inviting your friends to a virtual cocktail hour this Saturday night?

3. Differentiate the weekends

It can get a bit like Groundhog Day in lockdown. So, make an effort to make your weekends different. Go out as a family and do a long bush walk or bike ride. Have some fun with a family games afternoon, baking session, or even hide and seek (kick it up a notch by playing in the dark with torches). Order takeaway, dessert delivery or a box of Lego — everyone deserves to relax and have fun.

4. Get outside

I promise you’ll feel better. Fresh air is good for your mood and your soul, especially if it’s nice and sunny. Let the kids run and burn some energy. Move your body and breathe in the day. Bonus points if you can sit outside to meditate.

5. Enjoy a good book (or movie)

We all need a little escapism sometimes and whilst we can’t travel at the moment, the whole world awaits inside books. Or if you need something uplifting, consider a book more geared towards personal growth or positivity: Untamed by Glennon Doyle and Phosphorescence by Julia Baird are both great options for this.

6. Change your clothes

I don’t just mean change into clean clothes, I mean change out of your active wear, joggers or loungewear. Wear something that makes you feel great. Even choose to get dressed up for an at home date night. Or if you’re working from home, consider differentiating the day with your outfit by changing into loungewear when you’ve finished work for the day (and not before!).

7. Flexible work

Many employers understand the struggle of managing children at home and trying to work. If it’s getting too much for you, speak to your employer about adjusting your hours. Maybe you could work earlier in the day and then take a break to help with schooling before finishing later on. Or is there an option to reduce your hours temporarily? Or even take a day’s leave here and there.

8. Tag team with a partner

If you live with someone make sure you are sharing the workload. It’s easy to fall into habits and usually that means the mum doing the majority of the childcare and housework. Split it between you wherever you can.

9. Get up early 

It can be tempting to sleep in when you don’t need to rush out the door. But resist the temptation, get up and enjoy some time to yourself before you start the day. This is a time you can control. I love to meditate, journal and squeeze in a quick yoga session before my children are up, but you do what feels good to you. Maybe that’s a walk or run, or a coffee and a book.

10. Let go

Screen-time guilt and impossible schooling expectations aren’t helping you. These are unprecedented times and we need to be realistic about what’s achievable. If not, who suffers? You! And quite probably your children. Just try your best to let it go. This situation is temporary.

Overall, just try to be kind to yourself. You are being asked to do the impossible.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted.

Notice what you’re grateful for. Notice what you can control. It’s perfectly fine to be ok one day and then not the next. Just take it easy.  And remember, ‘You can’t control everything all the time, but you can always control your response. There is your power.’

Three different women from three different countries disclose the sacrifices they made in order to become a mother. 

‘Mother’ is a term used by several women to describe themselves. In fact, the Australian Bureau of Statistics report that there are six million mothers in this country alone. Many people expect women to naturally enter motherhood without being aware of the countless sacrifices that have to be made. In this article, we look at three different mothers from three different countries and see what they gave up.

1. Prathna Om from Cambodia

Age: 40 years old

Kids: One 36-month-old girl

Occupation: Manager of family business and civil servant

Prathna is a 40-year-old woman living in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. On top of being a full-time mother to a 36-month-old, she also manages her family business and is a civil servant at the Ministry of Justice.

“I gave up so much in order to become a mother. The biggest would be my peace of my mind. I was worrying about my daughter every minute of the day. I was concerned if she was falling asleep properly, if she was sick or if she lost weight.

There never seems to be enough time for anything that doesn’t involve my daughter. I never have enough sleep or time just to relax.

My self-esteem also took a hit. I prided myself in my appearance before having a child; I took regular yoga classes and had time for self-care. When I had my child, my body went through so many changes that I am still recovering from. My skin is saggy instead of smooth, and is marred with stretch marks.  It sounds selfish, but I sacrificed my beauty for my baby.

Having a child at 37-years-old was also stressful. I can’t even recall the amount of money I spent visiting doctors. As long as the doctor had a good reputation, I was willing to splurge. However, I do not consider money a sacrifice.”

2. Annabelle from Australia

Kids: 1 20-year-old and one 16-year-old

Occupation: Early childhood educator

Annabelle lives in Melbourne, and immigrated from Mauritius. She works as an early childhood educator, and is the mother of girls.

“It does feel like a sacrifice, because when my kids were little, I had lots of people to look after them. If anything, I had to think differently familywise and always think of being a role model.

Motherhood is the state of unconditional love that gives mothers the power to be strong for an innocent being. This strength tests your pain tolerance, worrying capacities, patience, resilience, and resourcefulness on an ongoing basis. But in the end, it is all worth it because of love.”

3. Thy from the United States of America

Thy currently resides in Texas, in the United States. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, she was studying to be a nail technician. Now, she currently works as a cashier at a Vietnamese restaurant. She had her daughter, Vanessa, at 34 years old.

“There seemed to be less focus on my professional career, with a shift from full-time work to part-time at a restaurant. My husband is the main provider, and only person in the family working 5 days a week. On top of working and handling a child not yet in school, it is definitely a struggle.

I definitely gave up time in order to adequately provide for and nurture my daughter. I had to consistently make time for all her needs, such as time for breastfeeding and preparing her for bed.

My body definitely took a hit. I went from a size S to a size M after giving birth. Before having a child, I only weighed 45kg but that figure jumped to 52kg. There’s just no time to apply makeup and dress up nice. I can dress up my daughter in gorgeous clothes, but when it comes to me, comfort is key.

Despite the sacrifices I had to make, motherhood is still the most satisfying experiences I’ve been blessed with. It doesn’t matter that I had to focus less on my job or work harder than I ever had, being mother is incredibly gratifying.”

The adoption process is not easy, but for some parents adoption it is their last chance at a family.

After 10 years of In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) treatments, plus two and a half years of waiting in the adoption program, hairdresser Pina and her husband John were finally able to have that chance.

The Melbourne couple, are one of the lucky sets of parents who were able to adopt a baby boy 20 years ago. Both had wanted children since their mid to late-twenties and after exhausting all their options to have their own biological child, they turned to adoption.

The 10 years of IVF treatments had taken their toll on Pina physically and mentally, seeing her future continuously taken away from her, made her feel like the adoption process would be just another form of torture and in some respects it was.

Still, she felt she had nothing to lose and if IVF had taught her anything, it was that she was willing to risk it. Thankfully, luck was on her side and after 13 years of waiting, Pina and John welcomed a baby boy into their family.

Pina explains how the IVF treatments hurt her. “We kept making beautiful embryos, through IVF,” Pina shares.

“For whatever reason, they never stuck to me. However, I think there is a reason in life, why things happen – I was meant to have Damien.”

IVF is an intrusive procedure that has a success rate per fresh embryo transfer of 38.8% for live birth and 44.9% for clinical pregnancy (ages 18-34) and 32.2% (live birth), 41.7% (clinical pregnancy) for ages 35-38, ages greater than 38 it drops even further.

“They kept saying to me that there is absolutely nothing wrong, my husband had the low sperm count that’s the reason we went on it. As the woman, I had to go through a lot,” Pina recalls.

I was at the point where I thought, I’m not meant to have kids and that’s it, end of story.” It was then, Pina’s husband, John mentioned adoption.

Although adoption seems like a great back-up plan for a family, in reality, it’s a very complex system with the average wait time being between five and seven, if one passes the qualifying stages. Between 2018-2019 there was a total of 310 adoptions Australia wide, 82% were Australian born children and 67% of the 310 adoptions were from their foster parents.

With the increase in women’s rights and family planning and the resulting drop of children in the adoption system, means there are more parents waiting to adopt than there are children needing to be adopted.

Australia’s adoption policies differ depending on the States. In Victoria there are three kinds of adoption systems: local adoption, inter-country adoption and permanent care.

There are also only 13 partner countries with Australia for adopting children, each having independent rules and regulations which can restrict options. Factors such as being married, single, male or female, in a de-facto relationship, one’s age, gender orientation and sexuality can all affect one’s chances of adoption.

The local adoption requirements are less strict, for example a persons’ orientation or relationship status does not matter but there is a demanding application process which examines a person’s life in minute detail.

The biological parents learn everything about the adopting parents as well has gaining many rights, one of which is the right to visitation.

Even though we would be adopting their children, they still get to see them,” Pina says.

Pina didn’t have a problem with this requirement because she believes it’s important for a child, any person for that matter, to know their heritage to better understand oneself.

To be qualified and placed in the adoption program would take two years for Pina and John. As Pina says, “They wanted to get to know us better than we knew ourselves.”

Answering endless questions fuelled a gruelling and extensive qualification process. It was also yet another period of trying not to get their hopes up in fear of disappointment.

The final step, after 2.5 years of the application process, was an intimidating interview with a panel of lawyers, doctors, psychologists and Department of Human Services (DHS) staff.

Pina says she thought they were successful because of her view of it not mattering to her who or where the child was from, to her a child was a child and if she could supply the home then she would gladly do it.

Two months later, they got the call that they were to be the parents of a 4.5-month-old baby boy, whom they named Damien.

The first time I lay eyes on him, I just thought he was the most beautiful little baby ever,” Pina recalls.

However, their adoption story did not end there, it has always been in the background through Damien’s childhood, adolescence and even into adulthood.

Damien has known he was adopted from an early age. Pina took the approach to start filling him in as soon as he could understand.

Pina strongly wanted Damien never to question where he belonged, she made sure he knew he was a part of this family and nothing could change it.

I told him little bits and pieces and as he got older,” Pina says.

“He knows that he has biological siblings, and yes that was a bit hard, I did not know how he would take it. I suppose growing up he knew nothing other than us; we are his parents- this is his family. He never really questioned it and had no interest in meeting her (his biological mother) or his siblings.”

Although Damien never questioned who he was and where he belonged it was still difficult to understand why his biological mother gave him up, especially when she had children already.

Even though Damien’s biological mother hardly used the visitation rights, as she wanted a clean break, she has been in contact with Damien over the past 20 years.

In some ways it was more detrimental than good for Damien. Each time would raise his expectations, to have some sort of relationship and understanding, only to be rejected all over again.

Damien does not know who his biological father is, although he knows it is where he gets his aboriginal heritage. While having no information on the biological father has been challenging in having real access to the Australian Indigenous community for Damien, both Pina and John made sure he was in touch with his cultural heritage.

“Adoption is a gamble. Any child is a gamble. Whether you adopt or whether you have one biologically. They can grow up to be the best, they can grow up to be the worst they can grow up to be anything,” Pina explains.

It has nothing to do with whether you gave birth or not. In the end it’s all the same.”

Adoption and its process are not for the feint hearted but if fate is on side it’s the best chance at having a family.

Choices in Names change, shifting in and out of fashion and some stay constant.

There is a new movement for gender neutral names as parents see the benefits of naming their child without the gender attached.

Only 6% of names are gender neutral and according to names.org, who put the parameters to what makes a name gender neutral, when they dip below 95% of the social bureau’s data/statistics then it becomes gender neutral.

For instance, the name Leslie in 2016 dropped to 94.6% for the females it was given t and was thus consider gender neutral because it was below 95%.

2021 Gender-neutral baby names:

  1. Indigo
  2. Ash
  3. Darcy
    • Irish Origin, meaning dark
  4. Avalon
    • Celtic origin, meaning island of apples
  5. Echo
    • Greek origin, meaning reverberating sound
  • Billie
    • English origin, meaning resolute protection
  • Zephyr
  • Quinn
    • Celtic origin, meaning chief leader/intelligence
  • Kai
    • Welsh/German origin, meaning of the sea/keeper of the keys
  • Blake
    • English origin, meaning dark and attractive

Over the past 100 years the boy’s name, ‘James’ was given to over 4.5 million boys, whilst the girl’s name ‘Mary’ has been given to almost 3.5 million girls. Although they are staples in our supply for names their popularity has changed over the years.

Names from television and popular culture impact parents’ choices. Khaleesi or Arya were very popular names form the tremendously successful TV series Game of Thrones; 241 baby girls were named Khaleesi in 2012-2013 (when the series was at its peak) but is now ranked number 733 in the US.

2021 popular girl names:

  1. Charlotte
  2. Amelia
    • Latin origin, meaning work
  3. Olivia
  4. Isla
    • Scottish origin, meaning island
  5. Mia
    • Scandinavian origin, meaning beloved
  6. Ava
    • Hebrew origin, meanings life/serpent/bird
  7. Grace
    • Latin origin, meaning grace of God/charm
  8. Chloe
    • Greek origin, meaning young green shoot
  9. Willow
  10. Matilda
    • German origin, meaning battle mighty

Things to remember when choosing:

There will most likely be push back if parents float the name around family and friends. But this generally changes after the baby comes along with its new wonderful name.

Most name associations fade. If you love the name stick with it, don’t let who you know or pop-culture changing its connotations be bothersome.

2021 popular boy names:

  1. Oliver
  2. Noah
    • Hebrew origin, meaning rest, comfort and repose
  3. William
  4. Jack
    • English origin, meaning God is gracious (can be considered gender neutral)
  5. Leo
  6. Henry
    • German origin, meaning ruler of the home
  7. Charlie
    • German origin, meaning free man
  8. Thomas
    • Hebrew origin, meaning twin (biblical connections)
  9. Lucas
    • Latin origin, meaning bringer of light
  10. Elijah

 

Helpful hints of choosing a baby name:

Avoid passing trends; consider whether the future child could be teased for their name, and if the name will still sound great in ten years time.

Look into the family tree for inspiration.

There’s something special about a name in the family being used as if it respects and holds significance for the family.

Look up meanings: does this name inspire and not mean something that could be taken in the wrong way?

 

 

How to heal and prevent nappy rash in new-borns.

While common, the red and sore skin condition known as nappy rash can cause discomfort and distress for children under two.

If your child wears nappies, chances are they’ll develop nappy rash at some stage, so it’s critical you know how to deal with it.

How can it be caused?

Nappy rash can be caused by many things, but it mainly develops as a result of wearing a wet or dirty nappy for too long. When urine or faeces come in contact with a baby’s skin it causes a build-up of moisture which, along with friction and long wear, can cause irritation to the skin.

Wearing plastic pants or underwear can also cause and worsen nappy rash as it stops air from circulating around the skin.

Nappy rash can also occur consequently from a child having another skin condition such as eczema.

Sleeping baby.

Tips for treating nappy rash

The underlying, good thing about nappy rash is it generally goes away within a few days, provided you do some of the following.

Give your baby nappy-free time.

Airing your child’s bottom every day is a great way to avoid nappy rash because it helps the skin to dry out and heal.

You could try leaving a dry nappy or towel under your child for a couple of hours or even fasten the nappy looser to allow air to flow.

Change nappies frequently.

Check your baby’s nappy every hour or so, where possible, to ensure they’re not sitting in a mess and change it straight away if they are. Frequently changing their nappy means the area will stay dry and will start healing.

Mother playing with baby.

Keeping their skin clean.

After every nappy change, use lukewarm water and a delicate cloth to gently clean your baby’s skin.

Where possible, avoid using disposable wipes which can irritate children’s’ skin, especially if the preservatives are causing an allergic reaction.

Using a soap-free baby wash that’s gentle on the skin when bathing your baby is also beneficial.

Baby in bath.

Cloth nappies.

Reusable cloth nappies are problematic when it comes to nappy rash because they’re less absorbent than disposable ones. Plus if remains of soap or detergents are left on them it can cause the nappy rash to worsen.

However, if you prefer the cloth nappy, you can avoid these issues by thoroughly cleaning the nappy after every use and rinsing them in freshwater after they’ve been washed to remove any leftover residue.

Tip from a mother of four: If you want to use a cloth nappy but the moisture is an issue, try placing a woman’s pad inside the nappy for extra absorption.

Cloth nappies.

Creams and treatments.

Applying a gentle barrier cream such as Sudo, after every nappy change can be beneficial in eliminating the rash as they stop moisture from hitting it.

You can either purchase these at your local supermarket or drugstore without a prescription or contact your baby’s GP for a recommendation.

Avoid using talcum powder. It’s important not to put powders on your baby’s skin during this time as it can actually trap the moisture inside, preventing the rash from healing plus, it can be a breathing hazard for children.

A home remedy from a mother of four: “I used cornflour after a cream. Cornflour helps absorb moisture and stays on the surface, so lightly sprinkling some over your baby’s skin can help reduce the rash.”

However, if the rash continues after a few days, talk to your GP to find the right course of action.

Father changing new-borns nappy.

 

Children who have an engaged father are 43% more likely to earn A’s in school and 33% less likely to repeat a grade.

In a series of studies in the 1980s on the effects of paternal involvement on child development, researchers discovered that children with highly involved fathers expressed increased cognitive competence, more internal locus of control, increased empathy and fewer sex-stereotyped beliefs.

These studies found that having two highly involved parents increases cognitive competence due to their interaction with different behavioural styles. Paternal involvement allows both parents to pursue rewarding and fulfilling personal interests and have a close relationship with their children, thus creating a family context in which both parents are satisfied.

Also, parents who adopt fewer sex-stereotyped roles result in their children having fewer sex-stereotyped attitudes – as they do not place an expectation on each gender.

Traditionally, the father has been regarded as the breadwinner and secondary parent within the family. Today, the role of the father in the upbringing of their children is more recognised and appreciated. Fathers play a significantly different role to mothers, as they offer new techniques and values, providing a male perspective and contributing to childhood experiences.

What is An Engaged Father?

An engaged and involved father is present in his child’s life, demonstrated through meaningful interction and spending quality time together, such as attending sports events or helping out with homework. This engagement has also been found to improve the psychological wellbeing of fathers, through a sense of generativity

Involvement can be measured by:

  1. Time spent with the child
  2. Warmth
  3. Monitoring and control (rules about activities, food, homework)
  4. Responsibility (tasks including changing nappies, buying clothes, disciplining children, playing)

A secure, supportive and sensitive relationship between an engaged parent and their child has benefits for all members of the family.

The Direct and Indirect Effect of the Father

Direct

Fathers have a direct effect on their children through the behaviour, attitudes and messages that they exhibit.

Fathers tend to spend less time with their children (due to work commitments, etc.) and are not as familiar with the language competencies of their children. Therefore, they are more likely to challenge their child’s pragmatic and linguistic abilities, by using more complex forms of speech. 

Indirect 

Fathers also have an indirect effect on their children in the following ways:

  • Financial support – Financial contributions to the family have been found to improve the psychological well-being of fathers, including improved self-esteem and self-efficacy with increase financial contributions. 
  • Emotional support – Providing support to the mother, who is also involved in the care of the children, can improve the quality of the relationship between mother and child.
  • Marital conflict – An unsupportive parental relationship can be damaging for children exposed to physical or emotional conflict.
  • Housework – Participating in housework eases the mother’s workload and demonstrates behaviour that can be emulated by children.

Dads and daughters

Daughters will model their future relationships based upon their dad’s character and their relationship with him. 

The father-daughter relationship will influence the expectations she places on men – the daughter will seek the same qualities from a man as her father exhibited.

Absent fathers have a negative impact on their daughters, affecting her ability to trust, appreciate and relate to men.

Daughters from father-absent homes are also prone to being either reluctant or sexually aggressive towards men due to their inability to form a meaningful relationship with their father.

Further, a lack of security and attention from the father negatively influences the daughter’s future sexual activity in the following ways, as she will:

  • Take more sexual risks
  • Participate in unrestricted sexual behaviour
  • Be four times more likely to fall pregnant as a teen
  • Partake in casual unprotected sex
  • Have riskier casual flings

There is some evidence on the effect of paternal nurturance on the daughter’s intellectual growth. It appears that strictness and emotional distance between father and daughter stimulates intellectual functioning. Moreover, it is proven that daughters raised by fathers who are challenging and have abrasive interaction are more independent and intrinsically motivated. These characteristics arise from fathers who are firm and demand mature behaviour yet reward independence and achievement.

A 1997 study found that daughters from father-absent homes either under- or over-achieved at college. The tendency to attain a high level of education was part of an effort to receive acceptance from their fathers, whereas the difficulties faced by underachievers were intensified by seperation anxiety, denial, feelings of loss and perceived vulnerability issues.

Dads and sons

The bond between father and son tends to be stronger than that with daughters because sons identify with and model their behaviour based on their father.

Contact between father and son stimulates intellectual development and cognitive growth in children.

A Journal of Genetic Psychology study on the impact of fathers on the social competence of their 5-month-old son found that they were:

  • Friendlier to strangers
  • Vocalised more
  • Show a greater readiness to be picked up
  • Enjoyed play more

Another study from the Journal of Social Issues on the effect of a high degree of paternal involvement on boys found that they:

  • Display fewer behavioural problems
  • Are better socially adjusted
  • Have stronger peer relationships
  • Have a higher degree of self-esteem
  • Are more mature and independent
But why is this the case?

The preference for a son exists before birth, with 3-4 times as many men preferring sons to daughters. This preference is evident in the early years – fathers more frequently communicate with and respond to their son’s vocalisations, play with their newborn sons for longer than their daughters, and are more willing to persist with overcoming challenging behaviour in sons than with daughters.

The reason for this could be that fathers see themselves in their sons and identify with them – viewing their achievements and failures as their own.

So how can I be a good dad?

From conception, fathers need to be making healthy decisions. The negative health outcomes of babies are often blamed on the mother. But the environmental exposure of the father also needs to be considered.

Habits such as binge drinking, poor dietary choices and stress can all have adverse effects on a baby’s health.

Throughout pregnancy, being a supportive and coaching partner helps to develop a bond at an early stage. Although infants may never remember interaction at such an early age, playtime with the child will strengthen that bond.

The difference between mothers and fathers

The difference in parenting style between mothers and fathers is evident in the different interaction style between parent and child.

Fathers are more physical in their interactions with children, as they tend to play rougher and engage in more exciting activities. Conversely, mothers are more verbal in their interactions and have a slow-paced parenting style. The approach from each parent complements and contrasts the other, meaning the child benefits from the diversity.

Other ways in which mothers and fathers differ include:

  • Fathers emphasise conceptual communication, which assists children in expanding their vocabulary and intellectual capacities.
  • Mothers express more sympathy and compassion towards their children, providing constant care to deal with their children’s needs.
  • Fathers tend to encourage risk-taking from their children and provide a broader range of experiences, whereas mothers have a higher focus on their child’s safety and wellbeing.
  • The strength, size and aggressive presence of fathers enable them to protect their children from negative influences and peers. This confrontational quality leads fathers to enforce discipline and encourage positive behaviour.

Warmth, nurturance and closeness are associated with positive outcomes in child development. The behaviour patterns acquired in childhood are caused by observing patterns demonstrated in parents and adopting similar behaviour. Fathers are crucial to the positive growth and development of children, and we should welcome the input and contribution that fathers make.