Category Archives: parenthood

Baby Einstein not so smart

I wrote a post a while back on feeling guilty where I spoke about the lack of exposure my child has had to Baby Einstein and educational DVDs. A new study has posited that showing educational DVDs to children has little or no educational benefit, and may actually harm them. So I’ll scrub away that particular guilt-creator.

While I don’t show educational DVDs to my daughter, I’m not going to be one of those mothers who bans her child from television. My daughter now loves Playschool, and when the opening music comes on, she shouts “Blayscoo!” I have to say (don’t tell anyone) that I quite enjoy it too. Whereas the Wiggles make me want to eat my own leg off. And Dorothy the Dinosaur’s show is atrocious. The fairies are the worst actors I’ve ever seen. Not that my daughter cares – she shouts “Dino!” and claps. So I put up with it, just for her.

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Filed under children's television, education, motherhood, parenthood, television

School pays for bullying

I’ve written very recently on the phenomenon of people suing schools. In a decision handed down yesterday, Cox v State of New South Wales [2007] NSWSC 471, a bullied teenager from NSW has been awarded substantial damages and an income for life as a result of bullying sustained while he was at school (primary school and high school). He could not continue at school past Year 7. He still suffers from severe psychiatric problems, including depression and anxiety. The result of Mr Cox’s case is very sad.

Nevertheless, as I have discussed in my previous post on the topic, I am ambivalent about these cases. I was bullied at primary school and high school, partially because I suffered from a disability at that time. There was one particular girl who was a terrible bully, and in retrospect, I wouldn’t be surprised if she grew up to be a psychopath. Apparently I was a friendly, open child before I went to primary school, but I became very anxious and shy for many years, until my late teens. From that point of view, I feel great sympathy towards Mr Cox. It sounds like the response of the school and the Department was wholly inadequate.

But, being a cynic, I wonder how much anti-bullying policies and action by the school could have achieved. My own experience at high school was that when these issues were raised in the classroom, all the bullies earnestly said that bullying was a terrible thing, and should be dealt with harshly. Did they have any idea that they were bullies themselves? I still wonder. Really the only thing you can do is to take the bully out of the particular class. Even if teachers are vigilant, they cannot always stop bullying in a class.

Another problem with anti-bullying programs is bullies may be diagnosed as suffering from self-esteem problems. This may be so – I am no expert on the psychology of bullying – but a result of this analysis can be that a bully is rewarded with attention for his actions.

Let’s consider a case study. A teacher of my acquaintance told me of a terrible bully in his class. The teacher taught at an ethnically diverse school. This boy was racist and sexist. If he had been an adult, his conduct would have been racially and sexually abusive. The teacher understood that the boy had a difficult family background.

The teacher did his best to try to control this boy, but it was very easy for the boy to do things before the teacher arrived at class, when the teacher had his back turned and was writing on the board or when the teacher was trying to help another student. The teacher reported the boy to the principal. The boy was returned to the class with a “stress balloon”. He was supposed to blow up the balloon every time he felt “stressed”. Instead, he proceeded to disrupt the class by using the “stress balloon” to make fart noises. And he continued to bully students. The teacher could not give his full attention to teaching the class or helping other students.

What can teachers do in these circumstances? And what can the school do? Obviously, the stress balloon is a ridiculous solution. The school could try to tell the child that his conduct is inappropriate, but obviously, a child such as this will not care. The school could also try speaking to the child’s parents. But in the above circumstances, the parents had problems of their own with the boy’s behaviour, and indicated that they could not control him either.

A school can’t easily expel a student or take a student out of a class. Education is a right which we offer to all children, and it’s difficult to make a judgment as to when someone should be denied that opportunity.

However, the case study above indicates that there needs to be some kind of measures which balance the rights of the majority not to be bullied and to receive a proper education against the rights of the bully to be educated. As the situation stood, the class was short-changed because the teacher had to spend a lot of effort controlling the bully which could have been better spent on teaching, and the bully still managed to keep bullying other students. Should there be a school to which bullies are sent? If so, what if the bullies are then hardened and turned into worse bullies? What if the bullies are bullied by other bigger bullies and psychologically injured thereby? And then sue?

I can’t bear the thought of my child coming across bullies at school. It really worries me. Hopefully, I can try to provide her with the love, support and coping strategies she needs to overcome bullies. I am glad that I learned how to deal with bullying better, and how to stand up for myself.  I am also glad that my parents were loving and supportive.

Another the sad fact of life, too, is that once we emerge from school, we still come across bullies all the time. In fact, bullies and psychopaths can do quite well for themselves in the big, bad world. It has been reported in The Times that an American study found that many stockbrokers, as well as many top lawyers and CEOs, had qualities which made them “functioning psychopaths”. They did not have the same emotional engagement with life as other people. {Aside: I knew it! I knew it!}

So whether we learn how to deal with these people at school, or afterwards, it’s inevitable that we will come across them at some stage. The important thing is to ensure that intelligent and promising people are not irredeemably scarred by encounters with bullies. And to stress that it is possible to get through school and become a successful functioning adult even if you were bullied at school.

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Filed under depression, education, law, parenthood, society, tolerance, tort law

Gay cowboys cause psychological injury?

More crazy tort cases from the US… Apparently a 14 year old girl is suing the Chicago Board of Education for emotional distress suffered when her class was shown the film Brokeback Mountain. I presume the emotional distress arose because of the film’s portrayal of a closet homosexual relationship between two cowboys. She purportedly seeks damages of $500,000.

What exactly is so distressing about the revelation that cowboys may have a covert homosexual relationship? I can understand that girl’s guardians may have wished to have had a say in whether she watched the film. Further, they may not have wished her to learn about homosexuality from a film. But I can’t see how this gives her an entitlement to half a million bucks.

I was trying to think of a topic about which I would feel outraged if a school teacher exposed my child to it without my consent. I think if a school showed a film with graphic violence to my teenage daughter, for example, I would want a say in it. But I don’t think suing the school would be the answer. I would raise my concerns with the school, and say that I thought it was inappropriate. I would also counsel my daughter and encourage her to talk about anything she found disturbing or worrying. Surely that’s all that a guardian or parent needs to do? Suing for half a million is really over the top.

Update

Someone has pointed out that Brokeback Mountain shouldn’t be shown in schools because it is rated R. This is a very good point. So the teacher certainly should not have been showing the film to students under the age of 18. But still…$500,000 for emotional distress?

I wonder if you could sue the school for breaching the film classification recommendations – sounds to me like that’s a more productive way to go to prevent this sort of thing in the future.

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Filed under crazy stuff, education, law, parenthood, sex education, sexuality, tort law

Family friendly? – the Coalition’s rhetoric-reality gap

Recently, John Howard said that a “stay-at-home” Mum provided the best start for a child. All I can say is: there is a massive disconnection between the rhetoric and the reality of the “family friendly” policies of the Coalition government. His government’s policies do not make it very much easier.

How does Mr Howard think that a family can survive on one income for an extended period of time? I can tell him that it is pretty difficult. We spent all our savings during the eight months I took off after having my daughter. We had been planning to use that money for a house deposit.

I now work part-time to cover the bills, and over the last year, we’ve managed to crawl back into the black. We are really lucky to have the support of my parents and my parents-in-law, who take it in turns, looking after our daughter while I am at work. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done. My present salary wouldn’t begin to cover childcare costs.

My husband has done a postgraduate degree, so he spent a substantial number of years at university (including undergraduate and postgraduate). We’re still paying off the HECs gradually. Despite all that expertise and knowledge, my husband’s wage is not “much” compared to, say, a lawyer or a doctor at a comparable level. Science just isn’t valued.

Of course, I did a dual degree (Arts/Law) and that took a while to complete too. Part of the price I paid for gaining a varied and enriching workplace experience was that I also only earned just above the average wage for most of my career. Ironically, I got my first big pay rise when I was four months pregnant. I know everyone thinks lawyers are “rich”, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes I think I’d have been better off being a plumber. No 5+ years at university not earning any money, no HECs debt, more flexibility and control over your own work.

It’s all very well for Mr Howard to say that a stay-at-home mother is better. But the reality is that most women I know can’t afford to stay at home for too long. Most women have little choice. The same applies for fathers who wish to stay at home (of whom I know a few).

There’s a couple of different reasons why parents go back to some sort of work after having children:

  • They need the money.
  • They don’t want to spend too long out of the workforce in case they can’t get back in again.
  • They crave adult companionship.
  • They enjoy their job.

Let’s address each point in turn. I would say that first point is all-important. A once-off payment of $4000 is not a replacement for $40,000 per annum (an average salary). And these days, prices are predicated on having two wages.

The second point is also important. Take too long out of the workforce and according to employers, you’re cactus, baby. A “has-been”. No use to anyone. (Why workplaces think this I don’t know).

I would say that one of the pleasures of working again has been getting a little time to myself, two afternoons a week. Okay, I’m working the whole time, but it is nice to be able to have a cuppa after my class in peace. A little break also means that my daughter and I can’t wait to see each other. She stands at the top of the stairs shouting “Mummy, mummy!” and I run up to her. (I’ve never had to go a whole day without her yet. I’m not looking forward to that.)

I do actually enjoy my job too. As Goldilocks said about Little Bear’s porridge, it’s just right. Not too much time in the workplace: I’d start resenting it for keeping me away from my baby. But enough time for me to get enthusiastic about it and enjoy the mental stimulation.

I love my baby so much. I don’t want to suggest that I regret having her. She is the centre of my life.

But I do feel like the system punishes educated professional people who want to have a family. First, you spend all that time at university when you could be earning. And then, as soon as you do start earning, you have to pay tax on all that time you spent at university. The more study you do, the bigger the bill is – the more you are punished for learning. Unfortunately, just because you are qualified and learned doesn’t mean that your salary will reflect your qualifications. And it takes a while to work up to a decent salary – by which time the biological clock is ticking if you are female…

The head of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has recently said that women are punished for having children, and that compulsory paid maternity leave should be introduced. But is paid maternity leave the answer? I think it’s important to offer a choice. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Anne Manne tells of a Finnish innovation where parents are offered a choice between a government-funded childcare place or three years leave with a guaranteed job and an allowance of equal value to the childcare place. Manne notes that over three-quarters of Finnish women chose the leave option. Personally, I’d also choose the leave option. I would use the money to pay a home carer if and when I needed one. However, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone who chose the childcare option, or who chose not to have children at all. As outlined in another previous post, I would not get on my moral high horse on this issue.

Obviously Mr Howard has never had to live on one averageish income, with small children to boot. I’d like to see how he fared. And then I’d be interested to see what new policies he came up with.

Update

Have a look at this post on the cost of motherhood at Larvatus Prodeo.

Update 2

Also read this post from a new addition to my blogroll, the delightful RG.

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Filed under childcare, feminism, motherhood, parenthood, society