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Single Parents Day

Single Parents DayWe are proud to be celebrating Single Parents Day all this week from the 15th – 21st March! We’ll be sharing resources, articles, podcasts and much more on the topic across all of our social media. During the pandemic single parents have faced more obstacles than ever and have continued to show incredible feats of resilience, endurance and strength for the benefit of their children. We wanted to celebrate all the incredible work you do this week, while sharing useful resources for added support. We’re partnering with Gingerbread, One Family Ireland and One Parent Family Scotland to celebrate Single Parents Day. Check out what they’re up to during the week too!

Don’t forget that if you’re in need of additional assistance you can always call our support line – we are here for you!

Support Line: 0808 8010 722
Available Monday – Thursday 9:30 am – 3:30 pm and Friday 9:30 – 12:30 pm

We would love to hear your personal stories of #SingleParentStrength to help us celebrate Single Parents Day! If you would like to share your own story or that of an amazing single parent you know, get in touch!

Follow the #SingleParentStrength #SingleParentResilience #SingleParentsDay hashtags to see what we get up to during the week. 

Email catherine@parentingni.org to share your story

Parents Guide to Instagram

In our increasingly digital society, it can be difficult to navigate what apps & social networks are safe for your children to enjoy. Many parents find keeping up to date with the newest apps that appeal to children confusing and are not sure how to keep their child safe while they use them. Take a moment to read our Parents Guide to Instagram & learn all about the safety features available on one of the most popular apps of the moment!

What is Instagram

Instagram is a photo-sharing app that has exploded in popularity in the last few years, becoming a worldwide sensation that is used by a wide variety of age groups. Instagram is particularly popular among Teens & Tweens as it has a number of features that allow them to express themselves online in entertaining ways. You can share time-limited videos, share private messages with individuals or in groups and share images. You can also like & comment on other individuals’ photos or videos. Instagram allows you to follow your favourite celebrities & directly interact with their lives via liking and commenting on their posts. It offers real-time video and photo sharing options on ‘Instagram Stories’ with a variety of fun filters, stickers & music options that can be added before posting.

How do I set up an account?

You first have to download the app via the iOS store for apple phones or the google play store for android. You will need an email to register, then create a username and password & upload your profile photo.

What do I need to keep an eye on?

Minimum Age Range

The minimum age range for Instagram is 13 years old. Instagram requires users to enter their date of birth before signing up and bars users below this age from creating an account.

Account Privacy

You can set your child’s account to private so they have to approve anyone who would like to follow them before they can see any of their images. With this feature, they can also remove any of their followers at any time. This can stop strangers from seeing anything on their account. On your profile page, tap the top right symbol depicting three horizontal lines. On the bottom of your screen, you will now see a gear symbol that says ‘Settings’. Tap this and then tap the ‘Privacy’ option with a lock symbol to the left of it. You can now select the ‘Private account’ option by tapping the toggle bar.

Blocking an Account

You can block another user from following you, seeing your profile or any of your content by going on their profile and tapping the ‘…’ option on the top right of the screen. You can then select the ‘Block’ option. This will allow your child to remove anyone from their account with who they are having any negative interactions.

Reporting an Account

If your child is uncomfortable with the behaviour of another account, has seen something that has upset them, or noticed another user engaging in bullying behavior, they can report the account to Instagram, who will review that user’s social media use. To do this, go on their profile and select the ‘…’ symbol on the top right of the screen. You will then be able to select the ‘Report’ option.

Turn on Filters

You can turn on the ‘Hide Offensive Comments’ option which automatically filters inappropriate or harmful language on the app. Go to the Settings bar & tap ‘Privacy’ then tap ‘Comments’ and toggle on the ‘Hide Offensive comments’ option. You can also toggle on the ‘Manual Filter’ which allows your child to type in words or phrases they would prefer not to see on the app.

Time on the app

Instagram allows users to track how much time they are spending on the app, which can be useful for parents to discourage unhealthy or obsessive device usage. To check this, proceed to your profile and then to your ‘Settings’ bar. Tap ‘Your Activity’ and you will be able to see the average amount of time spent on the app that week. You can also take the opportunity to set up a ‘Daily Reminder’ here which will send a notification once your child has reached the allotted time allowed on the app each day, which can help remind your child to disengage occasionally. You can also mute notifications in the ‘Your Activity’ section, which can stop the constant notifications which can often tempt your child to pick up their phone again and again as the day goes on. Social media can be addictive for children and teens, so try and emphasise the transitory nature of online interaction. It can be useful to talk to your child about the importance and satisfaction of face-to-face communication and remind them that relationships outside of the digital sphere are what are most important.

Location Sharing

It is possible for Instagrammers to share their location each time they post an image. Make sure your child is aware of the dangers of sharing their real-time location online, and encourage them to never tag an image they post with the location on it.

Instagram Etiquette for Children

Teaching your child good digital etiquette and emphasising the potential permanency of conversations online is important. Digitally safe children are children who are not afraid to share their online experiences with their parents. Talking to your children about how to use social media tools safely in an open and honest way is the key to maintaining an open line of communication on this subject. If you are inquisitive about their social media use in a positive way, they are more likely to open up to you if they are experiencing any issues. Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and a form of self-expression for children and allow them to interact positively with other members of their peer group. When age-appropriate & managed correctly by parents with security features enabled, social media apps can be a positive experience for your children.

Some points to keep in mind:

● Remind them that it is always good to discuss difficult or potentially volatile conversations in person, rather than online.

● Emphasise that respecting others’ privacy is as important online as it is in person. They should not share their friend’s private information or share anything sent to them with others that would violate another’s privacy. Teaching your child the value of respecting others in the digital sphere is an important life skill for children to learn.

● Encourage them to be a positive influence on social media. Remind them that digital interactions which are hurtful or mean can be just as damaging as face-to-face insults.

● Learning when is the right time to leave a conversation digitally is also a good skill to teach your child, as it is easy to type a message in the heat of the moment and then regret it!

● It is worth discussing with your teen that sending inappropriate images on Instagram is never a good idea. Images can be saved by recipients in direct message conversations and could easily be shared outside of this private conversation. A conversation with your child that underlines that anyone requesting such images does not have your teen’s best interest at heart is an essential conversation to have with your teenager.

● Encourage your young person to talk to you if they see something or read something that they are worried or scared about – open and honest communication is really important when keeping your child safe online

More information:
https://about.instagram.com/community/parents
https://www.connectsafely.org/instagram/
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-instagram
https://www.net-aware.org.uk/networks/instagram/
https://www.internetmatters.org/resources/instagram-safety-a-how-to-guide-for-parents/

Want to read more of our digital safety guides? 

Parents Guide to Snapchat 

Parents Guide to Tik Tok 

Parent’s Guide to TikTok

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a short form video sharing app, which allows users to watch and share videos created other creators on the app. TikTok has exploded in popularity from 2019 and continues to grow, particularly among younger users who are drawn in through snappy editing tools, easy-to-add chart music features & a variety of dance and lip-syncing challenges encouraged by the app.

How do I set up an account?

Download the app from your preferred app store. Agree to the terms of service when prompted. Go to ‘Me’ on the home screen. You can register with a phone number or email and will be prompted to share your age – users under 18 need a parent or guardian to approve the use of the app before continuing. If your child is aged 13 – 15, their account will automatically be set up as private. You can add other users by searching for them via the search bar or by linking your contacts, which make following your friends on this app fairly simple.

What should parents look out for?

Additional Security Features for Parents

Parents can use ‘Restricted Mode’ for added control over their childs account or turn on ‘Family Saftey Mode’ to pair with their child’s account for an added layer of security. You can enable Family Safety Mode by downloading the app & creating your own account, then access the ‘…’ option on your child’s user profile. Sync your account with their account through the QR code presented on the app.

This includes a variety of new ‘Digital Wellbeing Measures’ which include:

Screen Time Management Limits
Direct Messages: Limit who can send messages to the connected account or turn off direct messaging completely.
Restricted Mode: Restrict the appearance of content that may not be appropriate for your child.

These features are a great way for parents to keep their child safe on this app. You can enable Digital Wellbeing Measures by going on to your child’s account and selecting the ‘…’ option in the top right of the screen. Select ‘Digital Wellbeing’ and enable any of the above measures for added safety.

Contacts
You can make your child’s account private, which will limit the interactions they have with people they don’t know on this social media platform. To do so, go to the profile section and tap the ‘…’ option. Change this to ‘Private’. You could also change the settings on the section for comments, direct messages and ‘duets’ to ‘Friends’ only to further limit the potential of strangers using this platform to contact your children.

Blocking another user
If your child would like to block another user who they do not know, or is bothering them they can take the following steps. A blocked user will not be able to follow you. They also will not be able to view, like, or comment on your videos.

To block another user:

Go to Profile tab of user you want to block
Tap Settings ‘…’ icon in the top right corner
Tap Block

Moderation and abuse reporting
If your child has seen something which upsets them or they have found disturbing on this app, they can take the following steps to report it to TikTok for removal:
Report a profile: Go to the profile of the account you want to report. Next, tap the ‘…’ option in the top right corner & then tap ‘Report’.
Report a video: Open the video, Tap the Share icon (right arrow), then tap ‘Report’.
Report a comment: Tap the comment you’d like to report, then tap ‘Report’.
Report a message: Open the conversation, then tap the ‘…’ icon at the top right of the screen, then tap ‘Report’

Duets

The ‘Duet’ feature is super popular with teens on Tiktok. It allows two users to perform a virtual duet together, without being together in the same place. One user starts the duet by creating and posting a video. Their friend then taps the ‘…’ icon at the bottom right of the video and selects ‘start duet now!’ This opens a new video for the friend to duet alongside the original video.

Digital Etiquette
Teaching your child good digital etiquette and emphasising the potential permanency of conversations online is important.

Remind them that it is always good to discuss difficult or potentially volatile conversations in person, rather than online.

Emphasise that respecting others’ privacy is as important online as it is in person. They should not share their friend’s secrets or share anything sent to them with others that would violate another’s privacy. Teaching your child the value of respecting others in the digital sphere is an important life skill for children to learn.

Learning when is the right time to leave a conversation digitally is also a good skill to teach your child, as it is easy to type a message in the heat of the moment and then regret it!

Lots of children are enamored with the idea of becoming ‘TikTok famous’ as the influence of social media stars grows in certain age groups. They can quickly become very caught up in ‘likes’ and online interaction. Remind them of the value of being themselves & fostering their current talents that exist outside the virtual sphere while keeping an eye on their screen time.

Don’t be afraid to allow your child (once at an appropriate age) to explore social media. Our children are growing up to be extremely digitally savvy. They will naturally want to explore what is out there and connect with their friends on what is new and exciting. Digitally safe children are children who are not afraid to share their online experiences with their parents. Be open to learning about new technologies that they are interested in sharing with you, while consistently teaching your children to remain respectful of themselves and others online.

More information:
https://www.tiktok.com/safety?lang=en

https://newsroom.tiktok.com/en-gb/family-safety-mode-and-screentime-management-in-feed

https://www.connectsafely.org/tiktok/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-tiktok

https://whttps://www.parents.com/kids/safety/internet/digital-manners-to-teach-your-kids/

 

Parents report a significant drop in their mental and emotional wellbeing due to Covid19

Parenting NI are aware of a surge in need regarding mental health and wellbeing services for parents and their children, yet there was a conspicuous lack of necessary data to understand what is needed to better support parents in the region. Their recent focussed study aims to fill in these gaps in knowledge and learn from parents what they need most regarding this issue. The report from the charity encompasses views from 262 parents from across the region, gathered in a mix of interviews and online survey responses during a month-long investigative period. The report sheds a light on the heavy impact of covid on families in NI. A total of 88% of parents reported that the pandemic had affected their wellbeing. Parents also felt that the pandemic was taking a heavy toll on their children’s emotional health and wellbeing too, with 47% stating it has affected them ‘a lot’, and 24% suggesting it affected them ‘a little’. 

Interestingly, the report found that a number of parents did experience some positive effects from the pandemic, namely spending more time at home as a family, however most noted that this was relevant to the first lockdown and subsequent lockdowns had been much more challenging.

“The change of pace has been positive for our family. The extra time spent together has boosted all our mental and emotional well-being”

However, notably the experience of families during the pandemic has been largely negative. The interviews highlighted many of the unique challenges children faced:

Parents expressed a desire for more support around emotional health and wellbeing, both for themselves and for their children. When looking at the support available, the majority (53%) of families told us they were not aware of help or support available to them. Many parents felt support was too limited or did not exist and wanted improvements in this area:

“Easily accessible information to support groups and funding from government for these organisations to provide these information and support sessions”

There has been an increased number of issues experienced by parents in regards to mental health provision and intervention services. Some of the parents surveyed wanted there to be more help offered in this area. Numerous parents reported that they had experienced difficulties finding help for themselves and their families. Many families have been unaware that support exists, and due to this have struggled. Communication from statutory services was often experienced by parents as confusing or lacking detail, which led to a lack of awareness of the support available.

Signposting between organisations could be capitalised to fill a need here to better support families. 

Charlene Brooks, Parenting NI CEO warns that support for children and parents need to be made available now “A proactive approach is needed – Parents are struggling with the weight of the challenges that this pandemic has imposed upon them and their families, and they need help now.  There needs to be clear and widespread communication about the support and services that are available with services being adequately resourced to meet demands”.

Read the full report here: 

Read now

Family Finances

2020 has been a year like no other. Almost no family across the world has been unaffected, either directly or indirectly by the unprecedented challenges posed by a global pandemic, multiple lockdowns, and ongoing restrictions. One area that many families have found themselves in particular difficulties is finances. For many families, being on furlough or being without work unexpectedly has created a real strain on their finances. This is compounded by the holiday season, and a general desire to make what will inevitably be an unusual and in some ways distressing Christmas ‘more special’ by buying more gifts. This article will look at ways to explain the realities of finances to children, without scaring them or causing undue distress.

Just as there is no ‘easy’ way to have financial problems, there is no easy way to explain them to children. Parents will often try to ‘shelter’ their children and decide to hide money problems from them. This is understandable, as the child cannot do anything about the situation, and parents will want to spare them the worry. However, this secrecy may cause issues for the family down the line and some experts suggest parents should talk more openly about their family’s money situation. While it is important not to scare or worry children, keeping them in the dark might lead to further stress or strain down the line. Just like adults, children can make better decisions if they have a better understanding of the situation.

For younger children, parents should remember that you are not ‘depriving’ your child by setting limits and living within your means. While the newest toys and designer clothing seems very important, they are much less important than healthy food, heat or electricity in your home. Explaining to your child that they cannot have a new toy now – but to wait until a holiday or birthday is a good way to teach them to delay gratification. This will make each new gift more special and help to emphasise the value of the item.

For slightly older children, parents should empathise and relate to their child’s situation. Tell them that there are things you would like to have but cannot afford right now. Do not say this in a way that the child may blame themselves (for example saying ‘if I didn’t have to buy you a new bicycle, I’d…’). Instead, you can both set goals to save for and celebrate together when you meet them. Setting limits and rules and sticking to them for money is a good way to encourage good financial behaviour going forward.

If children understand that money is not limitless, their expectations will be more in line with what is realistic, particularly for your family. This can naturally be more difficult under certain circumstances, for example at Christmas. A child might not understand why their family can or cannot afford a particular toy, they might struggle to comprehend why some children get more toys or gifts than others. Exactly how your family deals with this issue is up to you as a parent as often traditions are unique to each family. However, you might want to explain that every families situation is different and use it as an opportunity to discuss the importance of spending time together and how fortunate you are that you are able to do that.  As children grow up it is much more likely that it will be the trip to the park for a jump in muddy puddles or the rolling down the hill in the snow rather than how many presents they got that they remember.

Even if you are not facing difficulties, children are remarkably preceptive and will soon understand signs of wealth or poverty. They may ask, for example why they (or their classmates) get free school meals. They may wonder why some children’s clothes or school supplies are not as good as others. While primary school may be a little early to have a conversation about post-industrial capitalism, it is a good idea to speak about some of the realities that your child will encounter. Even if you are not trying to explain your own circumstances, taking the chance to talk about money, budgeting, poverty and unfairness is an excellent way to foster empathy. This way, you can encourage your child to not flaunt any expensive gifts, and to not tease those less fortunate than themselves. Instead, they can be taught the value of sharing and importance of non-financial things.

Teaching your child the value of money early can be useful as well. Many parents will shy away from sharing particular details that a child may innocently ask – how much dad makes a month, how much does mummy have in the saving account, or if granny is ‘rich’. These simple questions might be rude if an adult asked – but a child has no concept of the societal aspect of wealth. They do not know why someone might not want to discuss their salary. Parents should share as much as they think is appropriate, but also explain why someone might want to keep those things private.

Teaching children simple monetary concepts at appropriate ages can help them to understand value later in life. As early as 5 or 6, children begin to start to understand simple things like identifying different coins and counting change. This presents an excellent opportunity to talk to them about the value of money and to teach them that it does not grow on trees (or appear like magic from an ATM).

Giving them a small amount of money, particularly tied to suitable chores can help them to understand the relationship between work and money. Many parents will be tempted to force children to save their money. However, it is also important to recognise that if they never spend even a little of ‘their’ money they will not necessarily understand the true value of it. Having a savings account when they turn 18 is good, but if they have no concept of costs it may not last as long as you would hope. On the other hand, once a child has experienced how quickly shopping can drain an account they might ration or save for more valuable purchases.

One very important thing that you can do as a parent is not get caught up in ‘competition’ with other families. No one benefits from parents putting immense pressure on themselves to buy all of the newest, most expensive items (aside from the manufacturers). It can be difficult to ignore it when your child’s friend has something that your child wants, but you cannot afford. Just remember that you do not know the reality of their family’s situation. Comparing yourself and stressing over not being ‘good enough’ because you cannot afford a toy or trip does no one any good. Focus on meeting the basic needs of your children, and teaching them to be financially literate. They may complain about not getting what they want, but you are setting them up for success in the future.

If you are struggling with talking to your child about finances or money issues, you can always get parenting support on the Parenting NI Supportline on 0808 8010 722.

Parents Guide to Snapchat

Children are increasingly digitally agile. This can pose difficulties for parents who are not as technically literate as their kids. We have put together a guide to Snapchat to help you navigate the app.

Keeping on top of the latest trends in social media is a great tool in your kit to keep your children safe and online and make sure they are using apps that are suitable for their age group. Talking to your children about how to use social media tools safely in an open and honest way is the key to maintaining an open line of communication on this subject. If you are inquisitive about their social media use in a positive way, they are more likely to open up to you if they are experiencing any issues. 

What is Snapchat?

Snapchat has a variety of features that make it irresistible to teenagers. It is currently one of the most popular apps in the world! The app allows for instant photo sharing between friends. Sent images disappear after a pre-chosen time period when sent which is a particular draw for this app. This feature allows users to send photos to others that won’t stick around forever, allowing for a more spontaneous exchange than other popular chat apps such as Facebook Messenger or Whatsapp. Snapchat has numerous fun filters that superimpose a variety of cute additions to your image before you send it. These include rainbows, crowns, cat ears, glasses, and much more! There are games which you can play with your friends and the ‘Discover’ feature allows you to catch up on the latest news and follow your favourite celebrities’ day-to-day lives in real-time. The filters feature is one of the main reasons behind the popularity of this app in the teenage age group. Snapchat has a ‘Story’ feature that allows you to add a 24-hour long image or string of images that all of your friends can view at any time, without actively beginning a conversation with you. Many people use the ‘Story’ feature to show off what they have been doing during the day – whether this is attending a cool party, playing with their pet at home, or heading to the park. 

How do I set up an account? 

You first have to download the app via the iOS store for apple phones or the google play store for android. You will need an email to register, then create a password. Your phone will be linked up to the app via your phone number and this will be verified to check you aren’t a bot.

What do I need to keep an eye on? 

Minimum Age Range

The minimum age range for Snapchat is 13 years old. Snapchat requires users to enter their date of birth before signing up and bars users below this age from creating an account. 

Settings 

You can change your privacy settings in the app by logging on and clicking the emoji in the top left corner of the screen, then selecting the gear image on the top right corner of the screen. Scroll down the settings options to the ‘Who Can…’ options. Next to the ‘Contact Me’ section change ‘Everyone’ to ‘My Friends’. Next to the ‘View My Story’ section change the default option to ‘Friends Only’ This ensures that only your child’s personal contacts are able to send images and messages. Snapchat requires you to scan a code in person, have a number saved in your mobile, or directly type in a username to ‘add’ someone as a friend and begin contacting them, which makes it more difficult for your children to be contacted by strangers on this app. 

Snapmaps

Snapmaps is a feature on Snapchat that is most likely to cause concern for parents. This feature allows the app to track where your account is and will show an emoji version of the account on a realtime map. Your child’s contacts will be able to pull up the map by swiping downwards on their screen while the app is open and track where they are and when they were last ‘seen’ by the app. You can combat this by returning to Settings and next to the ‘See My Location’ tab, change the option to ‘Ghost Mode’. This will stop location sharing on this app.

Saved Snaps

Although Snapchat has an automatic disappearing feature on images sent between users, images can be screenshotted before they are removed from the app so caution should be advised on what is sent. 

Time on the app

Social media by nature can be addictive and can then become a huge drain on your child’s time and attention. Emphasise the importance of face to face communication and the satisfaction that social relationships outside of the digital sphere hold for your child. If your child seems over-reliant on this form of communication, take time to discuss their worries and deal with the situation in a calm, caring manner. 

Snapchat Etiquette for Parents

Teaching your child good digital etiquette and emphasising the potential permanency of conversations online is important. 

  • Remind them that it is always good to discuss difficult or potentially volatile conversations in person, rather than online. 
  • Emphasise that respecting others’ privacy is as important online as it is in person. They should not share their friend’s secrets or share anything sent to them with others that would violate another’s privacy. Teaching your child the value of respecting others in the digital sphere is an important life skill for children to learn. 
  • Learning when is the right time to leave a conversation digitally is also a good skill to teach your child, as it is easy to type a message in the heat of the moment and then regret it! 
  • It is worth discussing with your teen that sending inappropriate images on Snapchat is never a good idea. Images can be saved all too easily in this app. A conversation with your child that underlines that anyone requesting such images does not have your teen’s best interest at heart is an essential conversation to have with your teenager. 

Do not be afraid to allow your child (once at an appropriate age) to explore social media. Our children are growing up to be extremely digitally savvy. They will naturally want to explore what is out there and connect digitally with their friends on new and exciting apps. Digitally safe children are children who are not afraid to share their online experiences with their parents. Be open to learning about new technologies that they are interested in sharing with you, while consistently teaching your children to remain respectful of themselves and others online. 

More information on this topic: 

Net Aware: https://www.net-aware.org.uk/networks/snapchat/

Parents Ultimate Guide to Snapchat: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/parents-ultimate-guide-to-snapchat

Things to teach your kids about Digital Etiquette: https://www.verywellfamily.com/things-to-teach-your-kids-about-digital-etiquette-460548

Snapchat Privacy Settings: https://support.snapchat.com/en-US/a/privacy-settings2

BBC Northern Ireland launch Christmas Appeal – Staying Connected – Overcoming Loneliness Together

Loneliness is something that many people will have experienced at some point in their lives. It can be difficult to talk about – and sometimes hard to overcome.

The Appeal aims to raise awareness of the effects of loneliness and provide information, support and advice on how everybody can do something – big or small – to help someone in need.

In a Christmas like no other in recent memory, BBC Northern Ireland is encouraging everyone to find different ways of saying hello and staying in touch with neighbours, friends or their wider family circle.

And whilst Covid-19 restrictions mean that we have to keep our distance, it remains more important than ever to stay connected – whether by phone, email, letter, social media or the BBC itself!

The appeal, which will run from Monday 7 December – Friday 11 December, is a joint initiative with a group of local charities including: Volunteer Now, Age NI, Parenting NI, Marie Curie, Barnardo’s NI, British Red Cross, Campaign To End Loneliness, Carers NI, Mencap NI and the Royal College of General Practitioners NI.

Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive of Parenting NI comments, “Parenting NI are delighted to be working in partnership with BBC Northern Ireland and the other charities on the Christmas Appeal ‘Staying Connected at Christmas – overcoming loneliness, together’.  This year, more than ever before, parents and grandparents have been telling us their experiences of loneliness. We know that this can have a negative impact not only on their own well being but also on their children and other family members. It is therefore more important than ever to encourage anyone struggling to reach out – to friends, family members, faith groups or organisations such as Parenting NI. We are all here to help and no one should ever have to feel alone.”

Fronting the campaign this year is BBC News NI’s Tara Mills. She says: “I think this year has brought loneliness and isolation into very sharp focus. The good thing is that many of us have got to know our neighbours better, but it has also shown that loneliness affects people of all ages.

“In our programmes I talk to people every day who are helping their family and friends, their neighbours and colleagues. We can provide company on the radio in particular, but as a community we have to do more and keep up the new social contacts we all built in the lockdown. Is there anyone you could call or write a letter to? Sometimes the simplest things have the greatest impact.

“One of the most touching stories I heard was a young woman who befriended her 94-year-old neighbour during lockdown. They’ve now become great friends and have both gained enormously from the new relationship.”

Mark Adair, Head of Corporate and Community Affairs, BBC NI says: “Loneliness is an important issue and it’s something that many people have struggled with in this most difficult of years. Our Appeal is a joint initiative with local charities that have been doing innovative work in this area and we hope that it will facilitate a big conversation about loneliness and how it can be overcome. There are no easy solutions, but help is available and all of us can do something to stay connected with neighbours, friends, family.

“Just finding time to say ‘Hello’ could make a huge difference this Christmas. And whilst Covid-19 may require us to keep our distance, it doesn’t mean that we can’t reach out to others in a ‘virtual embrace’.”

There’ll be stories, features and reports about loneliness across the BBC’s airwaves.

Now, more than ever, it is important for all of us to stay connected this Christmas.

For more information about the Appeal’s charity partners and how to get involved visit: bbc.co.uk/niappeals.

Get involved with #stayingconnected

Raising Boys

Much of the advice and support provided by Parenting NI regarding parenting and childrearing is universal. Both boys and girls benefit from things like clear communication, routine and secure attachment. It is important to recognise that every child is unique. This uniqueness is often the reason why a particular tactic or activity does or does not work with a particular child, rather than it be about their gender. Nonetheless, there are differences in the way in which boys and girls may need support from their parents and as the month of November includes international Men’s day (Thursday the 19th of November), this article will look at some advice specifically for parents and carers raising boys.

When thinking about parenting boys, there are two equally important aspects to consider. One is physical and developmental differences that come from biology. The other is more to do with the idea of what a boy or man ‘should be’ or might face growing up in Northern Ireland. Every society is different, and what is considered normal, appropriate or good behaviour for a boy will in part be a reflection of this. Additionally, every family is different, and so every parent will have their own morals and values for their children. As a result, some of the advice we give might not be relevant to your son or family.

The first question that any parent of a boy looking for advice or guidance on how to raise him may be asked is: ‘what kind of man do you want your son to be?’ Society has a range of expectations for men (and indeed women). It is therefore important for parents to know what particular characteristics they wish to encourage in their sons, as they grow into men. This means looking at behaviours and attitudes that you wish to build in your son that are not generic to all children. An example might be:

“I want my son to have a healthy respect for women, and to understand issues relating to consent”

Or

“I want my son to know that he does not have to be violent or aggressive in order to ‘prove’ his manliness”

Of course, most parents will want to ensure all of their children are respectful of others and not violent. However, there are aspects of these behaviours that are often specific to men. Boys will gain their understanding of what is required to “be a man” from a number of sources, but their parents and in particular fathers can have a major role to play. They can counteract any negative stereotypes or influences from society at large.

Scientists have found differences between male and female gender children present from the moment of birth. From as early as three months, male infants on average lag behind females on a range of developmental issues such as language and sensory development. Most of these gaps are closed by age three, but the existence of these differences (and the importance of the first three years of child development) show the value of being aware of gender-related differences in parenting. The distinctions in the way you raise your son will take different forms as they develop. Starting early down the path to a compassionate, respectful man will make the transition easier, but it is never too late.

Differences naturally have an impact on how a child develops. For example, boys tend to outperform girls in spatial awareness in early childhood. This may lead him towards activities that require good spatial skills like ball sports or climbing, and away from social or verbal games like participating in role-play. This might be typical, but as a parent, you are the one who can decide when or if your son is exposed to particular activities or encouraged to indulge his particular interests in them. A ‘nature and nurture’ approach is thus required to understand male versus female development, and account for problems that arise. It is a good idea to introduce your children to a very wide range of activities when they are young and encourage them to see the value in varied play. By not labelling activities as “for boys” or “for girls”, you can promote positive attitudes and grow their own sense of creativity. On the other hand, preventing them from taking part in something they express an interest in because it is not masculine may cause strife or confusion in the household. Additionally, consider what behaviours these attitudes will create as they grow and engage with other children. Your son might mock or refuse to play with another child who he sees as playing the “wrong” sort of game. Once these attitudes have been developed, they will be harder to change or refine later.

One common issue is male children partaking in overly aggressive play. On average, boys are more physically aggressive than girls in play. Normally children will disincentivise overly aggressive play by refusing to engage with a child who is ‘too rough’, and as a result that child will reduce their aggressiveness in order to reengage. Research has suggested that parents, and fathers in particular, can help boys learn to self-regulate by engaging in rough and tumble play in childhood. However, it is important that the parent sets the limits – stopping if they get too rough or start to try to cause real harm. By teaching your son to play within acceptable limits, you can help him to be less violent later. This in turn helps him to learn to solve problems without violence.

Keep in mind that some parents will find it harder to tell if ‘rough play’ is actually fighting. One study found that while boys could tell the difference between a video of rough play and a real fight 85% of the time, fathers or mothers who grew up with brothers about 70%, but women who grew up without brothers identified all videos as actual fighting . As such, keep your own experiences and internal biases in mind when talking about what you see as overly aggressive play.

If your son seems to be too violent in their play, this also presents a chance to talk to him and introduce empathy. While it can be frustrating or concerning – particularly if your son has hurt another child – remember to see this as a learning opportunity. In addition to whatever discipline you feel is right, take the time to speak to him about his actions and why they were wrong. For example:

“How do you think you made [the other child] feel?”

“Do you think everyone was having fun, while you were playing like that?”

“I know you were just playing, but remember that other people have feelings too, and your behaviour can hurt them even if you don’t mean to”

By stimulating this sort of conversation, you encourage your son to think about the wellbeing of others. It also makes it clear that talking about emotions is good, and this may help to prevent issues later in life where a man may feel uncomfortable talking about serious emotional distress. It helps him to see talking and communication are the way to resolving issues, rather than fighting.

Naturally, it is important to talk to your son about women and girls. This should be done in an age-appropriate way, including language they are likely to understand. As modern attitudes shift regarding the relationship between women and men, think about how you want your son to see women in society. You might presume that they will know by default to treat them with respect – not to catcall on the street, harass or otherwise intimidate. For many boys, this will come naturally. However, there is no harm is explicitly stating that such behaviours are not acceptable.

This sort of conversation can happen early in your son’s life. Advice for young boys who are teasing their sisters or female friends (particularly for being girls) can be to follow the “SEE” acronym:

– Stop: Respond in a calm manner. Tell him that personal insults are not acceptable;

– Empathy: Like with rough play, encourage your son to see the issue through the eyes of the victim;

– Educate: Help him to express his frustration or other feelings in a better way. Teach him to use words to describe his problems, but not to insult or harass.

Naturally, children will fight and this will often include insults or taunts that we as adults would deem unacceptable. Remember that your son may not realise that making fun of someone for their gender, or putting them down for being a ‘girl’ is wrong. As his parent, it is your role to teach him. If you see poor behaviour being displayed by others, point this out and talk about why it is inappropriate.

As your son grows the issue of respecting women as autonomous people may present itself. Teenage boys are under immense pressure to ‘show off’ and impress friends. This sometimes results in overly aggressive or inappropriate behaviour with women. Equally, there is a pervasive but incorrect attitude some young men have that a woman needs to be ‘argued down’ and that ‘no’ does not necessarily mean ‘stop’. In addition to being socially unacceptable behaviours, these attitudes can lead to serious consequences if not addressed. As a parent, you can and should talk to your son about what it means to get consent, and there is plenty of advice contained in our previous article “Talking to Young People About Consent”.

In many ways, raising a boy into a man is about forward planning. Parents cannot possibly anticipate every event or influence on their son, and he must take some responsibility as he grows for the kind of man he will be. However, if you have an idea of the types of values you want to instil in him and are watchful for signs of poor behaviour raising a “good man” is perfectly achievable for parents. There are many more issues than can be explored in one short article but keeping open communication and strong standards of behaviour can address many of them.

If you want more help or are worried about the behaviours or attitudes of your son (or any of your children) you can access support on the Parenting NI Supportline on 0808 8010 722.

Families Together Project in Antrim and Strabane draws to a close after five highly successful years in local schools.

The Families Together Project is a 5-year transformative project deployed in schools within Antrim and Strabane. The project was headed by Parenting NI in partnership with Action Mental Health New Life and with financial support from the National Lottery Community Fund. The project was initially deployed in six schools within Antrim and Strabane which included Sion Mills Primary School, Ballycraigy Primary School, Six Mile Integrated Primary School, Parkhall Primary School, St Catherine’s Primary School & St Mary’s Primary School. The project was able to provide support for an additional 4 schools across the two areas however unfortunately ends this November after five incredible years working within local schools.

A principal remarks on the project;

“It’s hard to imagine the school without them – they’re part of the school now and an important part of our annual pastoral action plan.”

Parenting NI has been providing parenting services across Northern Ireland since 1979 in the belief that effective parenting is the cornerstone of strong families, and that parents should be supported to enable them to provide children with a positive upbringing. Parents are a primary influence on their children and that influence can either be negative or positive depending on the quality of the parenting (Campbell, 1995). The Families Together project was designed around these principles in order to holistically strengthen these relationships. Strabane and Antrim were selected as the two areas for the project because of the high level of disadvantage. Primary schools within the most disadvantaged parts of Strabane and Antrim were invited to become partner schools with Parenting NI to form the Families Together Project.

Once a year, the Families Together Project would host a Family Fun Day in Antrim and Strabane with a variety of local agencies joining in to provide fun activities for families as well as information on local support services. The project hosted a large number of activities, parenting classes, parent & child workshops and counselling sessions for parents and their children within each school. These included the ‘Time for Parents’ Support and Counselling service and ‘Time for Me’ informal listening and signposting sessions and Time Together for the parents and their children. Families Together ran a variety of free parenting workshops for participating schools. These topics ranged from subjects such as Relaxation, Handling Children’s Behaviours and Healthy Choices. The programme ran numerous child workshops, a Parenting Café for parents to informally meet one another and a highly successful Walking Group.

One of the school principals remarks on the programme;

“I am struck by the diversity of needs and parents being engaged – not just those who are always targeted because of high needs, but also fathers and people of different social backgrounds. This is de-stigmatising.”

Over the 5-year duration of the project, the engagement of the schools and families involved in the programme has grown significantly. This has been particularly noticeable with families who lacked confidence in their parenting ability and self-esteem. Parenting NI and the Families Together Project are delighted to celebrate all the great work and engagement the parents, families, children and the teachers in each school have brought to the project over the past five years.

One parent remarked on the programme:

“It’s like a wee lifeline. A good experience – brilliant and highly recommended. I’m definitely more confident as a parent and I have a better support system.”

Homework – What is it good for?

Homework presents an unusual challenge for parents. It has been a fixture in education since the earliest days of standardised teaching. It has been around for a very long time – the British Museum has an example of a 2000 year old homework book. Like many things that have been around for a long time, it is possible that parents, children and teachers take it for granted that it is still important or necessary.

Homework is not uncontroversial, however:

  • A Stanford study found that 56% of students considered homework to be a “primary source of stress”. They said it led to sleep deprivation problems and left less time for socialising or extracurricular activities;
  • More than a third of parents don’t think homework in primary school is helpful, and 72% think prep work at school would be a better alternative;
  • A study of teachers found that they were split – some viewed homework as essential while others felt there were better ways for children to learn.

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of homework for families. It will examine the current NI guidelines on homework, and compare these to countries that are seen as having good education systems. We hope that this will encourage parents, schools and policy makers to consider if alternatives or changes may be warranted.

The Situation in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, there is no specific law regarding homework policy in school. Instead, each school is allowed to set its own homework policy. This policy, once it has been sufficiently developed is to be shared with parents. Homework policies should include things like:

  • How long a pupil is expected to spend on homework per night;
  • What is supposed to happen if children are getting too much;
  • What the school will do if children do not meet the required standard of homework.

A summary of the homework policy of every school is required to be included in their prospectus by the Education (School Information and Prospectuses) Regulations (NI) 2003. This means that prospective students and their parents should have a good general understanding of what will be expected of them with regards to homework at school.

The outcome of this system is that schools have different homework policies and expectations. For example, here are the time and content expectations for two primary schools based in Northern Ireland:

Primary School Example 1 –

P1 – 10 / 15 minutes

Guided Reading, Reinforcement of words taught in school Oral development of initial sounds leading to practise letter formations in Term 2. Phonic activities Activity homework e.g. oral / practical activities

P7 – 45/55 minutes

Independent Reading / Factual Reading, Mental Maths, linguistic phonics / Table facts / vocabulary, Written and learning homework (Mon – Thurs), Occasional homework based on other curricular area

 

 

Primary School Example 2

P1 – 15/20 minutes

Daily: Home Learning Activities, Phonics (from start of October), Reading, Maths facts

1 written Literacy or Numeracy homework from Term 2

 

P7 – 1 hour

Daily: Spelling, Maths Facts, Reading

3 written Literacy or Numeracy homework per week

 

 

Equally, the stated purpose of homework at school can vary. However, there tends to be a few generally agreed elements. Most schools include in the “aims” of their homework policies a desire to:

  • Keep parents informed of what students are learning at school;
  • Provide opportunities to reinforce and practice what students learn at school;
  • Encourage independent study among students.

These broadly represent the mainstream viewpoint on homework within Northern Ireland’s educational system. Building a partnership between the teachers/school, the student, and their parents is a key element of many homework policies. This is to be welcomed, but as we have established already, for some parents homework is a source of stress rather than the foundation of a partnership. Meetings between parents and teachers are supposed to explore ways in which parents can best support their child with homework.

The Department of Education runs a campaign called “Give your Child a Helping Hand” which focuses on the important role parents and carers play in improving educational outcomes for children. This is not exclusively aimed at homework but does include a series of tips and strategies for parents to support their child with any work they are required to do at home.

The average amount of homework per day across the UK is 2.5 hours a week, however the NI average around a fifth spending 4 or more hours a week on homework. NI students are also given some of the largest amounts of homework – around 25% are given 4 or more offline pieces of homework a day. A survey in 2018 found that the average time spent by NI children doing homework was 6.3 hours a week, the highest in the UK.

Supporters of homework might point out that the average GCSE and AS/A-Level results in Northern Ireland are the best in the UK. This is the result of a series of educational policies, choices and circumstances however and while homework policies might have an influence, it would be difficult to determine exactly how much.

Alternative Systems

While homework remains a central element of Northern Ireland’s education system, this is not the case in other countries. A notable example is Finland, widely regarded as having the one of the world’s best education systems. While some articles suggest that Finnish children have no homework, this is not exactly the case. Instead, Finnish students have significantly less homework than their American, British or Irish peers. Additionally, they spend less time overall per day in school, and have longer summer holidays. Many experts put the success of the Finish system down to the quality of teaching, and the esteem with which teaching is viewed as a career. Therefore, while less homework is one aspect of the Finnish system, it is not the central component nor the crucial element to explain its success. However, opponents of homework have pointed to the Finnish model as proof that homework is not necessarily required to achieve good educational results.

Some researchers and experts disagree with the idea that homework is not necessary. Prof Susan Hallam from the Institute of Education argues that homework has a strong influence on the success of children in the British educational system. She noted that students who did two to three hours of homework per night were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than those who did no homework.

One country that has both a successful educational system and has very high levels of homework is Singapore. The country is often rated either top or near top globally for educational outcomes in reading, mathematics and science. The Singaporean system is rigorous – examination and testing is considered a major element and Singaporean students can expect to take several streaming exams to place them into particular types of school starting from the end of primary school.

While school days and academic years are fairly similar to the UK, homework is a much larger element in the system. Singaporean children spend up to 9.4 hours a week on homework by age 15 – compared to the world average of just 5 hours. The system in Singapore produces excellent results, but is also often criticised for putting too much stress on students. An OECD study found that 78% of Singaporean students were afraid of the impact of academic failure on their lives – compared to an average of 54%. In addition, Singapore’s focus on more traditional routine style learning (including lots of homework) has raised questions about the efficacy of the whole system and critics argue that students become very good at taking exams, but not necessarily being creative independent thinkers.

Primary v Secondary

One very important distinction that should be made about homework is between primary and secondary school children. As previously mentioned, there is some evidence that homework being set and done in secondary schools has a positive impact on GCSE results. Research has also found that for older children homework was linked to better test scores and outcomes. Additionally in the NI system, both GCSE and AS/A-Level work often requires independent work at home. Homework can also be seen as useful revision exercises for students who are taking significant examinations.

What about primary level? This is more contested, with some educators arguing that primary school homework does not improve academic outcomes and causes stress to both children and their parents1. In fact, one American research analysis found that for children aged under 11, there was no link between homework and improved academic achievement.

While some schools and parents have argued this should mean no homework ought to be set for primary school children, the issue is more complex. If we consider again the objectives of homework laid out in the homework policies of primary schools, it is clear that at least in Northern Ireland the “point” of homework is not only better test scores. It is meant to engage parents with their child’s learning and provide students an opportunity to develop useful independent study skills. The solution found by many schools and districts that have “done away” with formal set homework is to instead ask that parents and students do other relevant activities at primary level. This might mean reading or other tasks that are related to the work the child is doing in school. Research has found that it is the quality of the task, rather than the quantity that is important for homework.

Conclusion

In the end, there is no easy answer with regards to homework. This is because it cannot be properly removed from the wider educational system and examined without context. While a child in Singapore might benefit a lot from 9 hours of homework, a student in the Finnish system might do worse. When looking at changing and improving educational outcomes and personal development via homework, parents, schools and policy makers should take a careful approach.

Still, there is a strong argument that the current system could be improved. NI students, particularly those in Primary school are being given more homework than their peers in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. We know that this can cause stress, and that outcomes are not necessarily improved by giving them large volumes of work. While it is understandable and reasonable that every school sets its own homework policy, it might be worthwhile for a full review of the current system to take place. That way, parents will know what to expect, and schools will be provided with a yardstick to measure their own homework policies and have access to best practice.