New figures show UK children unhappiest due to bullying

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I always felt as though my rants about the education system and our culture in this country were misguided or even unfounded. So hearing the results of this study today, I feel vindicated and able to say with confidence that we need to do something about the state of our children’s mental health, and to address the arguably wider issue of the causes behind such a low self-esteem and wellbeing.

Only South Korea came below the UK for unhappiness at school, with Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Israel’s children having better experiences at school. Perhaps most upsettingly for me, girls in this country are crippled by insecurity over their looks – coming bottom of the table for ‘satisfaction with their looks’ and ‘body confidence’.
This is something I talk about a lot – the fact that as a ‘first world country’ we are actually anything but rich, other than financially of course. We pity the children that play in the dirt outside crumbling houses, yet we fail to see that our own are in emotional turmoil, dealing with events which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. 

Bullying shaped me beyond belief for many – who can’t comprehend that this was ‘the only thing’ behind the severely poor mental health which plagued me for years, and the residual effects I deal with now. I had a safe, happy childhood, with no other outside influences which would have caused me to feel I wasn’t good enough. But how can you underestimate the effects of being told (and shown, almost like proof) that you are inadequate and ugly all day, every day, for a significant number of years – all at that crucial stage in life where you are just discovering who you want to be? The bullying I suffered turned me into a very young person with a very real hatred of myself – a person who continually tried to self-destruct even after I left secondary school. In fact, had I have died at any point as a result of Anorexia or depression, it would have been directly caused by the bullying I endured. Further research has shown that bullying at school is the cause or catalyst for a myriad of mental health problems, which stay with the person in question for life.

I am immensely worried following the publication of these figures. I would have liked to have been proved wrong. So the question now I suppose is: how can we stop this from happening? What can we do to save our children from cripplingly poor low self-esteem at best, and a life-threatening mental illness at worse?
Since we can’t string bullies up (or even discipline them properly) like the good old days, it has to start with us, and with schools. We need to be able to offer children who are suffering a different perspective – to empower them to live their lives without the damaging influence of others being so dominating. We also need to set s better example for young people outside of school. As adults, we need to stop bullying each other – sending the message that it’s okay to do so – whether that’s people we know, or pointing the finger at celebrities or people in the public eye.

As women especially, it is our responsibility to try to put our own body issues aside for the sake of our young and to campaign for the abolition of this stereotypical ‘ideal’ which makes so many of us unhappy – not to mention influencing young girls to have the same hang ups we do.

These aren’t the only solutions of course, but they are a place to start. If not, I worry we may find our already pushed mental health services will be inundated in years to come with the thousands young people we didn’t bother to look out for now.

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UK children unhappiest due to bullying…

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Are Disney Princesses REALLY bad Role Models?

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I’ve seen a lot in the press recently about Disney Princesses and how they misrepresent women for the younger generation. They do this, according to these articles, in a number of ways. Firstly by being ‘skinny’ in size (yet we let children play with Barbies and expose them to overly thin celebrities), secondly for being ‘too beautiful’ (irrelevant; naturally most people in the public eye are ‘good looking’) and thirdly for their over-dependence and emphasis on relationships with men (these films are often based on fairy-tales set in older times when this was the norm).

What these people disregard is all the good messages that come from Disney – the morals and ethics that run throughout the story-lines of these classic films. I grew up with Disney films, and I absolutely loved the Princess ones (as did most of my friends) – Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. I can certainly say with absolute conviction that it was not these movies that warped my idea of beauty and gave me a complex about my body image. That came later and was instigated by human beings, not cartoons! From these films, I gained imagination, a reinforced measure of what is right and wrong and above all, enjoyment.

I’d encourage those who feel the Princesses are bad role models to look at themselves, along with other factors in today’s society such as celebrity culture, a loss of respect for individuals in an overly critical society and social media for the real cause of body image issues in young girls.

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Jo Swinson – ‘Don’t Tell Your Children They’re Beautiful’

I came across this article on the Telegraph website today, and I thought I should share it with you guys.

The first thing to say about this is that I always find women with no children feel that they are best placed to give advice on how to raise them, despite having no personal experience themselves.

Childless Jo Swinson is our Women’s Minister here in the UK. Wading in to the Self-Esteem and Body Confidence argument whole-heartedly, she says that we should not tell our children that they are beautiful, nor talk of beauty around them, to stop the emphasis in society on appearance.

:“I know as an aunt, you fall into the trap of turning to your niece and saying, ‘you look beautiful’ — because of course all children do look beautiful — but if the message they get is that is what’s important and that is what gets praise, then that’s not necessarily the most positive message you want them to hear.” Instead, Ms Swinson suggests that children should be praised only on educational achievements, such as completing a jigsaw or learning to ride a bike.

She also mentions that talking about our own bodies in front of children can be harmful. Her comments come ahead of a long-anticipated dossier by the government on how we can combat self-confidence issues in young people, which for me is way overdue.

Although her comments are probably well-meant, I feel they really are somewhat misguided.

I find that although our parents have the greatest influence in our lives, as we are growing up and become older outside influences (such as television, magazines and peer pressure) become more powerful. My Mum loved make-up and has always been a glamourous lady; she would put plaits in my hair and let me wear lip gloss to go to a party. Frustratingly I was a bit of a tomboy back then, more interested in climbing trees and riding my bike. But does this mean that my Mum is responsible for my Eating Disorder and various appearance-related issues later in life? Of course not.

Personally I feel it is futile to refrain from mentioning beauty around children. If we hold back, what’s to stop Granny, Aunty, or Emma from school, or Hannah’s Mum from complimenting your child? Are we supposed to ban certain words around our children, treating them with the same caution and vehemence as swear words?

For me my peers and school mates were the cause of my downfall. I think it’s likely to be the biggest influence for many young girls and boys – after all, everyone wants to be liked. Everyone wants to fit in. Historically children have always laid store by appearance – which is why the ginger kid, the fat kid and the one with glasses copped for it every time.

This, coupled with society’s fixation on perfection in all areas including how we look, which is supported by images of how we ‘should look’ accompanied by articles on ‘how to look that way’.

It’s only natural that a younger, more vulnerable mind will look at these altogether and, as I did, use every single piece of ‘advice’ I can find and study every perfect image in a desperate effort to be beautiful and therefore to be liked. With Role Models such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Kim Kardashian, (Not to mention dolls like Barbie) who are maintained by copious amounts of surgery, hair dye and make-up, there really is little evidence to suggest that what a parent says will make a difference. After all, aren’t we hell-bent as children on ignoring the requests of our parents?

It is this association between beauty and self-worth, plus acceptance by our peers, which I believe is really toxic here. And that’s going to take a lot more than neglecting to compliment our daughter’s hair or our son’s new t-shirt.

To my mind, the obsession on looks is only going to end when the media ceases to bombard us with fad diets, celebrity bodies and over-photoshopped models, and the goverment stops releasing statistics on ‘harmful’ foods and obesity.

Perhaps the Minister ought to concentrate on regulating the media and campaigning for better self-esteem in women and young girls, provision for those with EDs and mental health issues on the NHS, and a clamp down on ‘nutrition’ experts flooding the press with dubious ‘research’.

Do you agree with me? Or is the Women’s Minister right in asking parents to avoid the subject of beauty with their children?

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‘Don’t tell your children they’re beautiful’

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Children and Calories

Following on from one of my first posts about adults adversely affecting the mental health and self-esteem of their children, I wanted to see if anyone else had experienced anything similar at their local gym.

I was in the changing rooms last week, and there were several children in there after their swimming class. A couple were eating cereal bars as they waited for their mum. I couldn’t help overhearing however when the little girl (who was about 6 or 7 years old) sidled up to her mum and said ‘How many calories does this have? Is it 100?’ The little boy joined in, firing random numbers and playing a ‘guess the calorie’ game. And for him it was a game; he was a little younger and didn’t have a full understanding of a calorie. But I could see for the little girl that the calorie content of that cereal bar was very important to her.

This got me thinking – where the hell did someone so young learn about calories? In addition to adopting a negative body image to the point of needing to count them? This really upset me. I was concerned about the unimaginable harm this would be doing psychologically, and at the same time wondering how this had happened.

When I was a child, I had no idea about calories and diets. I only became aware of such things in my third year of secondary school, which was when I developed an Eating Disorder. Before leaving Primary School, I had never been aware of my body image. I was a child; I was more concerned with what I was doing, where I was going, who I was playing with. The fact that I was so severely affected by society’s crippling aesthetic pressure when I was double this little girl’s age makes me worry about her future. Increasingly, girls and boys of younger ages are developing Eating Disorders.

For me, children and calories are not a good mix. Where do we think this is coming from? Have you heard your children talking about calories? Have they learnt this from school? Or do you make a conscious effort to make them aware of nutritional content in food? Please share your thoughts.

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