Why I’m Terrified of my Daughter’s Adolescence

You might think that worrying about my seven year old’s future teenage years might be a bit premature but when it seems like only yesterday that she was just starting nursery, it seems only logical that it’ll only feel like another week until she’s starting secondary school and let’s face it, adolescence pretty much starts there. In fact, if she follows in my footsteps, puberty is due to hit in about three years.

Already, she’s dealing with loads of drama at school. She complains every day that many of the girls at school lie, make up stories about each other and gossip constantly. In a sense, I’m glad she’s complaining because hopefully that means she’s not taking part.

So far, being a strong willed, confident girl means she wears what she likes (I only intervene if she, for example, tries to wear a summer dress outside in winter), she plays the games she likes and she picks the TV and music she likes (again, minor and occasional intervention from parents). However, I think even the most confident girls are affected to some extent by the peer pressure and self esteem issues of the teenage years. As a side note, I’m pretty sure boys suffer with this stuff too – it’s just that they’re expected to be strong and unemotional so the suffering is done in silence.

My own adolescence ended almost a decade ago but I remember it pretty clearly. I remember being mocked for being a virgin at 15 and then mocked even more when I pointed out that sex wouldn’t even be legal at that age. I remember being complimented on my jacket by one of the popular girls, who told me that if I bought the right trousers and shoes too, I’d be allowed to hang around with them. Seriously. The film Mean Girls is truer to life than you might think.

I remember someone shoving a cigarette in my mouth when I refused to take one myself. I remember a boy threatening to sexually assault me in my sleep if I didn’t have sex with him. I remember my first boyfriend thinking it was actually acceptable to cheat on me because we’d been dating for a month and I hadn’t slept with him yet.

How on earth am I meant to help my daughter navigate this kind of stuff when she reaches this stage?

I could tell my daughter my own experiences I suppose. I could try to tell her that I went through it too and you’ve just got to stick to your own principles and not allow yourself to be pressured into anything. But the truth is, I didn’t always make the best decisions. Ok, I said no to drugs, I said no to sex until I felt happy with it. But I did sneak into a park after closing to drink vodka with a bunch of people I didn’t really know that well. And it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve started to wonder if I was more affected by peer pressure than I thought at the time.

During parties, it was seen as quite normal by the group I was in to kiss people of the same sex. There was a strong message from everyone involved that it meant nothing, it was all good fun and it meant nothing about your sexuality. We might have been the ‘alternative’ crowd but being gay was still a big deal. Not a bad thing but not something you’d want because your friends might be ok with it but pretty much nobody else would. I had gay friends who’d come out to their parents and it had been a nightmare for them. One even got kicked out of their house. I once asked my Mum how she’d feel if I were a lesbian. She said she’d absolutely fine with it, of course, but followed this by very firmly stating that I was 100% straight, no doubt about it. So when I was kissing girls at parties, it never quite occurred to me that I might be bisexual. I definitely wasn’t gay and I didn’t really know about a third option. I’d heard the term bisexual but it was so synonymous with promiscuity (still an issue today) that I didn’t identify with at all. So it turns out that I was so affected by what everyone around me was saying that I couldn’t even work out who I was!

I suppose the scary thing about all of this is that, for the first time, her safety will be her responsibility. As parents, we can talk to her about the tricky issues, we can make sure she’s educated on sex and drugs and we can set boundaries and rules. But in the end, it’ll be her choice. All I can do at that point is hope she makes the right one.

Chrome for Kids

These days, learning to use a computer is as essential as learning to read.

I know, many will consider a controversial thing to say but I really believe it. Students (of all ages) need to use computers in almost any subject and most future careers require at least some computer use.

With our daughter turning seven this year, we decided to buy her a laptop. She’s had use of a second hand iPad for a long while but we wanted her to get used to a keyboard, which she mostly avoids on the iPad. We also wanted her to to have experience of different operating systems, since at home we only use Mac.

We decided on getting a chromebook for the following reasons:

  • She’s quite familiar with the operating system since she uses it at school already.
  • They come pre-loaded with anti-virus software so you don’t need to worry about it yourself.
  • You can set up parental controls – very important if she’s going online.
  • Lightweight. We wanted something she could easily carry around for herself and could be taken out of the house.

There are loads of options available. We picked the Lenovo N22-20 Chromebook. It’s very lightweight and even has a handle – very convenient for a seven year old to carry it around with limited risk of it being dropped. It’s got a decent battery life – up to 14 hours according to the Lenovo website and I will say that we’ve found it doesn’t need to be charged very often, though I haven’t actually timed it. It’s also has a rotating camera on it, which is a nice feature and great fun for kids.

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Sadly, I do have a rather large complaint to make of the Chrome OS. The parental controls are rubbish. I know that sounds blunt and harsh and usually I’m the kind of blogger to try and play up the positives of products but seriously, it’s rubbish.

In order to set up parental controls, you need to set up an account as the parent and then a ‘Supervised Account’ for the child. This is already a bit annoying. But nothing compared to the fact that you can’t access apps from the supervised account. Seriously. My daughter can’t access applications from her own user account on her own laptop.

Also, the internet parental controls are seriously lacking. I’ve gone through the tutorials, I’ve checked advice from Google and various people on online forums but essentially what I’ve got is a situation where she can look at whatever the hell she wants and all I can do is check up on it later. What on earth is the point of that?! Please Google, sort this out. ASAP.

However, she does love it. Luckily there are plenty of websites with great content and stuff for her, like the CBBC and CBeebies websites. Plus, she can access Google Docs, since that’s website based, so she can practice her typing. This week, during half term, we’re going to look at Scratch, the website based application for teaching children to code.

So my overall impression is that Chromebooks are useful, lightweight and simple machines for people who just want to use the internet, email and the odd application. As something for a child as their own computer, it’s a bit disappointing but, might still be the best reasonably priced option available.

Going healthy for a very good cause

I have started dieting again. Yes, I’ve done this over and over again and it I always lose a bit then give up.

This time, I have a better reason. It’s not about fitting into a little dress or getting to a certain weight. It’s about my daughter.

Just over a week ago, my daughter offered me a piece of chocolate and I refused (I had already decided to lose some weight). I explained that I was trying to be healthier because I weighed too much. She looked outraged and insisted that I looked ‘perfect’. At first I thought she was just being sweet but as we spoke more, it became clear that she believed it. She really thought that I’m what a healthy adult looks like. I realised that I have been setting her a terrible example. I make sure she eats plenty of fruit and veggies and refuse too many unhealthy snacks. I’ve taught her about what foods are healthy and unhealthy. But then I sit there munching through crisps, chocolate, pizza, sugary drinks and endless amounts of other crap with very little good in between. I’ve basically sent her the message that she needs to be healthy now but as soon as she’s an adult, being like me is normal and fine. I’m not going to shy away from this – I felt awful.

So, that was the kick up the backside that I’ve needed for a while now. I bought some bathroom scales and weighed myself. That was something of a shock, let me tell you. I knew I was overweight but I didn’t realise how far I’d let myself go. I was obese. I weighed just about 14st and at 5ft 7, that is not good. That gave me my second wake up call. I was going to lead myself into all kinds of health problems if I didn’t change now.

For the last week and a bit, I’ve been much healthier. I’m not on a crazy diet, I’m just making healthy choices. I’ve lost half a stone so far. That’s a lot for one week but I know that’s just because it’s the first week – it’s bound to slow down. I’m aiming for 2lb per week, the healthy amount to lose according to health professionals. More than just shedding weight, I’m already feeling a bit stronger and more energetic. I’m doing a mixture of brisk walking, jogging and pilates.

I’m also joining in with Pip’s tennis lessons on Saturdays and I hope that’s something we can carry on together. She loves running too so I think we might try having a run in the park together. We’ve also been trying out new healthy recipes and snacks. I really want to show her what being healthy as an adult looks like.

I have no aspirations of being skinny or super toned, I just want to be within the healthy weight range and reasonably fit. Rather than my usual rush to get there as soon as possible, I’m taking it a bit slower and giving myself a full year to get there.

I’m really hoping I can maintain it this time around. With the motivation of knowing I’m doing this for my little girl as well as myself, I’m feeling positive.

Wish me luck!

What makes a children’s book ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

Today’s blog post has been inspired by my university studies. I’m studying children’s literature and at the moment focusing on what people consider to be good or bad books for children.

For my own child, I often pick or suggest to her books that I read and enjoyed when I was young, such as the works of Roald Dahl. I’d like to introduce her to Enid Blyton next and I’ll probably recommend Jacqueline Wilson as she gets a bit older. As she gets into her teenage years, I’ll encourage her to read some classics, like Austen, Bronte and some more modern works like Orwell but I wonder how much she’ll ignore me and read contemporary books instead. How much should this really bother me?

One thing that’s really surprised me in my studies is discovering that Dahl and Blyton, the very books I’d consider to be very good books to suggest to my own child, were seen as having low literary and moral standards pre-1960. Debates from the time about whether these books might be bad influences on our children remind me a great deal of the debates over the influence of violence in films and video games that have been going on for the past couple of decades (and show no signs of ending).

On first thinking about it, I couldn’t really think of a book that I would disapprove of. But now I’ve realised that’s not quite true at all. I often steer her towards books that might provide her with more of a challenge, not wanting her to get something too simple. I might tell her and myself that it’s because I think she’ll get bored of something too simple but is it really because I’m drawn to the idea that every reading experience she has should be an improving one? I have once or twice surreptitiously gotten rid of books that I’ve found to have grammar or spelling mistakes, while despairing of whichever publishing company let these through the editing process.

Am I worrying too much about what my child reads? Or is this exactly what, as a parent, I should be doing? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she’s getting the best experiences possible? I find it difficult at the best of times to find a balance between guiding her in the right direction (or at least what I perceive as the right direction) and letting her be independent. She’s a very strong-willed person and I’m happy with that, especially as it took me years of purposefully forcing myself to be more assertive to be even slightly sure of the choices I make. But I know that being strong-willed might lead to a tendency of not listening to other opinions, of being blinkered to your own view of the world which you are convinced is the correct one. I definitely don’t want this for my daughter. Again, it seems to be a matter of balance.

I’m very interested to get opinions from other parents (and indeed anyone who chooses books for children in any capacity) on this. Do you choose books for your children or just let them pick whatever they like? Do you attempt to steer them in certain directions regarding what they read? Are there any books (aimed at children) that you would not let your children read or at least would strongly disapprove of?

Ten Goals for 2016

I’ve been thinking about things I’d like to achieve this year. About halfway through 2016, my degree will be complete. I’ll have no more studying to get on with. I want to make sure my extra time isn’t wasted. So here are my goals for the next year:

  1. Going fossil hunting. I thought it would be nice to pick just one thing from last year to do again this year. It’s a great day out and it would be nice for Pip to have another go now that she’s had a little practice. She hugely enjoyed it but didn’t find much herself last time so it would be nice to see her makes some of her own discoveries!
  2. Visit at least 10 new places. I’ve got a really long list of places I’d like to visit and I want to at least tick ten off the list this year. We’re not planning a holiday for this year so I’d like to make sure we still have plenty of adventures.
  3. Try out 5 new activities. I was a ridiculously shy and cautious child and now that I’m an adult (still feels weird to say that), I’d like to make up for lots of opportunities I turned down. I can’t ride a bike, for example, and I’d really like to learn to.
  4. Try out 12 new recipes. It’s far too easy to get stuck in a routine with cooking. We probably have about ten different meals I serve up over and over again. I want to be a little more adventurous and offer my family more variety food-wise. One new recipe a month should be easy to stick to.
  5. Fill my photo album. I filled a 200 slot album last year. This year, I popped on Amazon to get another for this year and bought a rather pretty one without realising it holds 300 photos. So I’ve accidentally just given myself an even bigger challenge than last year.
  6. Graduate. Yes, the final year of university is finally here. It feels like I’ve been studying forever and while I’m really excited to be finished, I’m also a little daunted by the prospect of the gaping hole it’s going to leave in my life. But anyway, hurrah for graduation!
  7. Read 12 books. This should be helped along by studying as I’ve got quite a few set books to get through on my current course. Once university is done with, I’ll be able to actually pick out some books for myself, something I haven’t really done in about six years!
  8. Produce a piece of art. Husband suggested this one and I’m glad he did. I’m not very artistically talented but I do enjoy drawing and painting so I’m looking forward to spending some time on this.
  9. Complete a computer game. I love gaming, mostly RPGs. Dragon Age: Origins was probably my favourite ever. But so often I start them and never finish, due to other things distracting me. This year I really want to start and finish a good computer game (suggestions are welcome!).
  10. Teach Pip 5 new skills. As a parent, I see this as a really important goal. These aren’t going to be academic things, since we do those anyway. They’re going to be practical skills. Things that might help her to be a happy, well-rounded person when she leaves home someday. It should be lots of fun too – she loves learning new things and it’ll all be enjoyable stuff, nothing too arduous or boring.

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

Looking back at the beginning of 2015, I was unemployed but positive for the future. I found a job this year. It’s not a job I’ll want to keep forever but it’s good for now. It’s providing a little extra income and some extra experience for my CV.

We didn’t have any holidays in 2015 but we did have a few trips to interesting places.

We went Fossil Hunting at Penarth beach (something I’d love to do again this year).

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fossils & stones collage

We went to Castell Coch, a beautiful fairytale castle.

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We went to Bristol Zoo, to visit the baby Gorilla Pip has adopted.

We went to Roath Park and the conservatory there.

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This year I decided to start keeping tropical fish. The fish attempt did not go well. The fish sadly all passed away due to white spot (a common fish illness). The retailer I bought them from took responsibility and replaced them. The second attempt, so far, seems to be going well. I’m being extremely vigilant for any signs of illness or stress though. Fingers crossed they’ll still be here when 2017 begins!

Pip started her second year of school. She settled in brilliantly and is doing really well. I was so proud on hearing a glowing report from her teacher on parents’ evening and even more so when I saw her performance in the nativity play.

2016 should be one to remember. All being well, I’ll complete my degree this year. This feels like a really huge achievement for me – someone who dropped out of sixth form ten years ago. I’m hoping it can lead me on to better things.

Everyone makes New Years resolutions about losing weight. I do it every year. I normally succeed for a month or so then fall back into my bad habits. This year I feel a little differently about it. I don’t just feel a bit down about my appearance, looking distinctly chubbier than I once did. I feel unhealthy. I feel a little worried that those bad habits are going to actually start to have an impact on my future. I’m not just chubby, I’m properly overweight. If I want to live a long, healthy life, I need to change. I fear becoming a parent that can’t run around the park with my child. I’m hoping these worries and fears can finally motivate me to make a proper change to my lifestyle. This isn’t a resolution exactly. Those just don’t work for me. It’s more of a realisation.

I’m hoping we can take some trips to new places this year. I’ve already got some ideas but I’ll keep them under my hat for now!

2015 has been pretty good. Let’s see if 2016 can be even better!

 

 

 

First Day

Friday was Pips first day at school. As she was starting a little later than she normally would be, we had a slow and relaxed morning having breakfast and getting ready. When I went in to wake her up, I told that it was time to get ready for school and a massive grin spread across her face. She actually leapt out of bed!

I made her lunch while she had breakfast. In her lunchbox, she had a peanut butter and banana bagel, cut into quarters for easy eating, a box of raisins and some carrot & cucumber sticks.

Husband took a day off so that we could all go together. The walk to school takes about 25 minutes. Its not as short as our walk to nursery used to be, at just 10 minutes, but it does give us a bit of exercise and a wam up for the rest of the day.

There were mixed emotions when it was time to say goodbye at the classroom door. We had big hugs and kisses, before she ran off to play with another little girl. I was really pleased to see her so eager and excited.

At pick up time, parents swarmed around the gates to greet their children. I only just managed to squeeze through to collect Pip. She was all smiles and clearly had a really good day. We had to get back out of the crowd before we could really talk to her about it. She had played shops, run around outside (which was evident from her rather muddy shoes!) and seen a naughty teddy bear – it turned out the teacher had cleverly used a teddy bear puppet to show them what behaviour was acceptable and unacceptable. There was also a parrot puppet that was being used to teach numbers. All in all, it sounded like she had a really fun day and had settled in well. Her lunch box was empty too, which I think is a good sign! 

She spent most of the following weekend asking when she could go back!