Thursday, 31 January 2013

Are we too indulgent with our children today?

       “You can do exactly as you want, as long as you do it with a smile.” So says Mr Smyle, the billionaire philanthropist who, in the second volume of The Runaway Children trilogy, takes the children under his wing. But will having it all bring happiness? Will material riches make the children forget what really matters? Can they morph into A list celebs and still be nice people? The Runaway Children are purely fictitious of course, as is the over-indulgent Mr Smyle. But such questions are well worth considering for real life families too... 
       When, during a recent survey, a group of young adults were asked their foremost goals in life, 81 percent put ‘getting rich’ top of the list, rating this more highly than helping others. This view seems to be reflected throughout the younger generation, especially in the developed world where materialism continues to increase despite economic pressures.
       At the same time, fewer school leavers seem content to find regular 9-5 jobs, preferring to set off on a glamorous career path in the belief that they deserve to ‘live the dream’ as portrayed so enviably by film stars, pop idols and assorted celebrities. You only have to watch the thousands of ambitious youngsters queuing to audition for talent shows such as X Factor. Even people with little or no talent are utterly convinced they have a right to be icons. 
       How did this attitude come about? Are children born this way? Well, most babies do enjoy the centre of attention, as is only natural and completely necessary; but there comes a point for every child when he or she needs to realise they’re not the Managing Director of the universe. It’s at this critical phase when parents need to appreciate that too!
       And this is the problem. Starting with the post-war Baby Boomers of the 1950s, followed by the self-regarding ‘free love, anything goes’ permissiveness of the 60s and 70s, and the ‘Must Have, Me Generation of the 90s’, then  capped by the current ‘you’re so worth it’ zeitgeist of the western world, children have been ever more indulged - prima donnas before they even hit Kindergarten. And from then on, it’s all downhill.
       They did not roll down it on their own. A toddler who gets that toy or sweet whenever they scream for it will continue to get that new iPhone, designer label, spray tan, car when they reach their teens. No, it is the parent who scurries off at a second’s notice to procure these treats for their difficult-to-please precious ones who are sowing the seeds of discontent along with a ruinous sense of entitlement.
       The fact is, according to the The Narcissism Epidemic, “Parents want to make their children happy, and children want stuff. Thus parents buy them stuff. And children are happy but only for a short period of time. Then they want even more stuff.” When ‘stuff’ can be acquired so easily, children fail to learn one of life’s most sobering lessons: Things cost. Teaching them the value of money, how to save for the things they want and how to budget for necessities is the kindest way to raise a child, equipping them for a debt-free future.
        Another problem identified by the book Generation Me is giving a child too much praise. Of course, self-esteem is important, but to laud a child’s every modest achievement as a work of genius and giving them the impression they’re better than anyone else is cruel, unnecessary and unlikely to win them friends at school or college. Just coming back to the X-Factor/Pop Idol shows again – how many talentless youngsters audition, convinced they deserve to become superstars? Tell someone they’re brilliant and they’ll believe it, leaving them wide open to ridicule later in life. The kinder, more balanced course is to commend children for genuine accomplishments, and, instead of overlooking poor behaviour or performance, help them see where they can improve. Says Generation Me, “True self-confidence comes from honing your talents and learning things, not from being told you’re great just because you exist.”
       In his book Escaping the Endless Adolescence, Dr Joseph Allen recalls holding a job interview with a young candidate who said: “I get the sense that sometimes parts of the work can be a little boring and I don’t want to be bored.” Says Dr Allen, “He didn’t seem to understand that all jobs have some boring elements. How did one make it to age twenty-three without knowing that?”
       Sadly, many youngsters leave school unprepared for any work that falls short of their overinflated view of themselves, no doubt feeling that menial tasks such as brewing beverages and running errands are beneath them.
       The problem is often the parents’ over-protectiveness, coupled with an unwillingness to blame the child for any misdemeanour or neglect. On no account is their precious darling ever to be upset, either by getting poor grades, or a speeding fine. The answer is to tackle the teacher and insist they up the marks, or pay the fine the budding Jeremy Clarkson has incurred. It’s always someone else’s fault and the youngster feels he or she can do exactly as they please without facing the consequences.
       This is something I feel particularly strongly about, having witnessed the decline into fecklessness, alcoholism and eventual death of someone dear to me.  As the youngest son of an older couple, he was over-indulged, over-protected and consistently excused from any blame for anything whatsoever. It was always someone else’s fault.
       If only his parents had heeded the advice in Positive Discipline for Teenagers: “Instead of learning that they can survive pain and disappointment, and even learn from it, such children grow up extremely self-centred, convinced that the world and their parents owe them something.”
       Had they allowed him to take responsibility for his actions, he might still be alive today. One thing’s for sure; children who work through their problems become more resistant to adversity and more confident in dealing with life in general – assets which will set them up for life.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Mordant's men of menace - Extract from The Runaway Children 1

After their parents are arrested, Miles and Alice flee across the playing field nearby. But the menacing men in black are on the children's trail........
            "Which way did they go?" the men were yelling. "Spread out," one of them said, and Miles and Alice could only freeze at the sound of shrubs being kicked and of twigs being broken underfoot. At one point, a man came within yards of their hiding place, and was just about to find them when one of his colleagues called out, "There's a ditch to your left. Look down there!"
With the man out of earshot, Miles and Alice began crawling on their elbows, commando-style, through the prickly bushes to get deeper into the wood. Before long, they came upon a fallen hollow tree trunk which had just enough room for the two of them to curl up inside. Miles pulled a branch up behind them so as to conceal the entrance, and from their hiding place, the children squashed together, hardly able to move.
Just in time: a split second later an enormous pair of feet could be heard approaching the old tree trunk. "Stay here, Skinner." was the command. "I'll station myself at the north end of the wood, Brown will guard the west side and the others can flush them out."
"Okay, Griswold," said his companion. Once his superior was out of sight, Skinner sat down on the trunk. He was easily the biggest of the men with an unbelievably wide bottom, and as soon as he made contact with the fallen tree, it creaked ominously. All Miles and Alice could do was pray their hiding place would hold up under the strain. Moments later and to their great relief, they heard another shout.
"Oi! Skinner! Get off your fat behind and start searching! The boss ain't moving 'til we get those brats!"
Skinner leapt up, but in doing so, the weight of his bottom dislodged the tree which jolted into motion and began to roll downhill - slowly at first, then gathering speed, flattening everything in its path as the hill dropped perilously towards the river that gushed through the gully below. Miles and Alice held their breaths, unable to scream, helpless and stiff with terror. Being so tightly packed into the trunk helped brace their bodies against much of the impact, but it was still the most terrifying white-knuckle ride theyd ever experienced! (USA)

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Meet Gordon - the Flying Scotsman

       When you're used to living in trees, and wrestling giant crocodiles, swinging from chandeliers is an absolute doddle! Another extract from The Runaway Children. Just mind your head!
"Well, well!" exclaimed Prism "Just look what's crawled in from the sewers! Get him, Sisters!"
Before he could say 'tam-o-shanter', Gordon was surrounded by women snarling at him and crouching menacingly. "Would you like to know what a Scotsman wears under his kilt?" he asked.
"Well, stick around - you're about to find out!"
Whirling the rope above his head, he flung it upwards and caught its hook on a chandelier. He then used the rope to swing, higher and higher and faster and faster, until he was whizzing round the walls at twice the speed of sound. Yippee! Its the Flying Scotsman!
The nunjas tried in vain to keep track of him, swivelling their heads until they turned cross-eyed, while Gordon, by now hugely enjoying himself, had built up such a spin he almost hummed.  
"Have you seen enough yet?"  Gordon laughed before swirling down upon Prism and her sisters where they stood in a huddle, dizzy and confused. Whether from Gordon's gravity defying aerobics or the fluorescent-orange cycling shorts he sported beneath his homemade kilt, they certainly felt queasy. "Och, I always have this effect on people" he cried "trouble is, I'm just no good in polite company. I'm always putting my foot in it!" And, as if to prove the point, he swung, feet first into the huddle and knocked all the Nunjas over like tenpins. "Strike!"  crowed Gordon. 

Stand by for action! The Tree People at war

Fernilee, High Peak on which Fernlee Forest is based. Photo by Ashley Davies
  As you may have twigged already, the Tree People are a fierce lot when roused, espciall.y when defending their precious forest.  But some adversaries are easier to combat than others:

 Tree People versus Special Agents 
"The bailiffs!" cried Gordon. "They're chopping down our trees!"
"Fight! Fight!" yelled Beech, flushed with aggression. It was at least twelve hours since he'd seen any action, and he was always ready for more.
From out of the trees came twenty burly men, all dressed identically in black, all armed and dangerous. The leader carried a huge electric saw as effortlessly as he would a feather duster and he stood menacingly by a tree, chortling with a mean expression on his face.
"So you want to play with the big boys, do ya!"" he goaded. "Hah! I'm going to cut you down to size!" and he positioned the blade against the tree-trunk.
Whoosh! Without warning, his feet were swept from under him and he found himself dangling ten feet in the air with a noose around his ankle. Another cheer came from the treetops, and this time it was accompanied by a torrent of green slime. Barrel-loads of compost, generously laced with sewage, came teeming down upon the shoulders of the agents.
"Free rank - FIRE!" commanded Larch and from every tree balls of flour wrapped in cling-film were catapulted everywhere. Each ball also contained a hefty heap of pepper so, as they burst on impact, the unfortunately targets would set to sneezing violently, eyes watering and unable to see. In this state, the enemy staggered round in circles and whenever they bumped into someone else, instinct took over and they'd lash out with their fists. As a result, within ten minutes, most of them lay unconscious, having been bashed up by each other. The rest of the agents kept ranging around until they were pitched into the trench, or stepped into a noose and hauled skywards by their feet.

Tree People versus Nunjas
It took some nerve to watch the nunjas advance towards them, faces contorted with menace. So confident were Prism's troops, every now and then they'd break off running to display their agility with spectacular gymnastic feats. Back flips, front flips, rolls, cartwheels and impossibly high somersaults were all accompanied by aggressive shouts and impressive Kung Fu posturing.
Facing them, the raggle-taggle tree people stood shoulder to shoulder, and if anyone's stomach was churning, it certainly didn't show. Instead, when the enemy drew within spitting distance, the first rank, who were all male, stepped forward bravely and the battle commenced. It would be nice to report that the nunjas got the worst of it, but years of discipline, professional training and total ruthlessness will always have the edge over well-meaning amateurs. Before long, despite their valiant efforts most of the tree people were lying flat on their backs, either winded by a single blow to the solar plexus or maimed by a devastating kick to the knee.
"Now!" howled Beech to the second rank as he nursed his bruised patella. The remaining tree people looked at each other. "Did he say 'Now' or 'Ow'? they wondered.
"Attack! Attack!" cried Beech and this time there was no mistaking the command. In a split second, Laurel and the rest of her rank who'd been crouching, flung a series of large fishing nets into the air. These passed swiftly over the heads of their fallen fellows, and landed on the Nunjas. Immediately, Beech and anyone else with the energy, dived on top of the women who were struggling desperately to free themselves, while other tree people grabbed the edges of the nets and held them firmly to prevent escapes.
Not all the nunjas had been trapped, however. At least a dozen of them leapt clear and continued chasing the children, brandishing their staffs. It didn't take them long to narrow the gap, much to Alice's dismay.
"They're coming!" she screamed. "We'll never get away!"

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The scariest programme for kids

       As responsible parents, we’re alert to the dangers of TV and the internet, while most of us do our utmost to shield children from violent and sexually explicit material.
       But what about the news? Night after night, horrific scenes are channelled into our homes, usually around tea-time when the whole family is likely to be around. Some may feel it’s pointless to protect youngsters from such scenes – and may even believe it’s good for them to see life as it actually is.
       On the other hand, a recent survey showed 40% of parents interviewed admitted their children had been disturbed by fearful images, such as wars, natural disasters and acts of terrorism. The shocking events of 9/11, for example, the dreadful massacres in Syria and other trouble spots or the mass  shootings at Sandy Hook School are reported over and over again, often accompanied by graphic images of injured people and shocking, heartrending witness accounts.
       Adults understand that what we see played out on our screens has already happened and is a one-off event. Small children, however, have no concept of the 'action replay'. They think every time a scary scene appears on a TV or computer it’s actually happening – again and again and again! Such repeated exposure causing children to develop paralysing fears.
       According to the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Children who watch a lot of TV news tend to overestimate the prevalence of crime and may perceive the world to be a more dangerous place than it actually is.” The Foundation also observe that children aged 3-7 are more afraid of news relating to natural disasters and accidents, while children between 8-12 years are more worried by crime and violence.
       One 11-year old was so disturbed by hearing after hearing of someone who decapitated a relative, she often has nightmares about the same thing happening to her.  A 6-year old was terrified by reports of tornadoes, constantly imagining a tornado was on its way and that she would die. And, afraid of being kidnapped, a boy who’d lost his way in Utah hid from rescue parties for four days, almost starving to death in the mountains as a result!
      If your child is affected by the news, here are a few ways you can help:
       Limit the amount of news they watch, taking their age, emotions and sensitivity into account.
       Watch the new with them so you can discuss any problems, highlighting positive aspects such as heroic rescue attempts and voluntary aid for victims.
       Reassure them that tragedies are unlikely to happen; pointing out all the precautions you’ve taken, such as installing smoke alarms or security systems.
       Discuss the likelihood of such events occurring and aim to help your child to get things in perspective.