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Your Young Person’s Sexuality/Gender Identity A Parent’s Guide

Sexuality has always been a complicated and difficult subject for parents and young people to discuss. A complex combination of social norms, values, biology and traditions combine into a perfect storm of confusion and potential for conflict.

Despite this, while parents and young people may have different ideas about what is or is not morally acceptable, parents generally would want their child to feel that they can be themselves around them.

When a young person talks to their parents about an element of their sexual identity (or they learn about it from another source) it can be difficult. Parents will often want to be supportive, but may struggle to understand some of the terms or realities of what they are being told.

There is clear evidence that many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) people do not feel comfortable about being open about who they are with family members. In the 2018 National LGBT survey, 23.8% of all LGBT people were open with none of the family members they lived with. Katz-Wise et. Al (2016) found that “one-third of youth experience parental acceptance, another third experience parental rejection, and the remaining third do not disclose their sexual orientation even by their late teenage years and early twenties”.

Many teens fear the reaction of their parents if or when they disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. When recalling negative incidents, the National LGBT survey (2018) found that the most often named instigator was a parent or guardian. While the vast majority of parents want their children to be happy and safe, there is stress on both sides of this difficult conversation. This stress, if not appropriately managed can have negative consequences.

How you react will have an impact on the outcomes for your child. LGBT young people statistically have worse mental health outcomes – a report in 2014 found that “more than half of young gay people have suffered mental health issues, and 40 per cent have considered suicide” (Merrill, 2014). However, a parents support and love can help to mitigate these. Shilo & Savaya (2011) found that family support had a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBT young people.

Additionally, it is important that a young person feels able to tell you about their sexual orientation. Rothman et al. (2012) found that having disclosed one’s sexual orientation was “associated with higher levels of the health risk behaviours and conditions”. Simply put, children are likely to have better outcomes if they feel comfortable telling their parents about their sexual orientation.

How to react

So, what should parents do when their young person opens up to them that they are not heterosexual (solely attracted to the opposite gender) or cisgender (that they identify as the same gender on their birth certificate)?

Most importantly we would encourage parents to not panic.

While parents may have suspected that this was the case, a confirmation can be shocking or difficult to initially process. It is common for parents to feel negative feelings – Baiocco et al. (2014) – suggested that parents are often concerned about what other people, friends and relatives could think about their sons and daughters sexuality, the judgment of other people, maybe even about their own parental skills.

Tobkes & Davidson (2016) describe the three feelings of “loss” that a parent who has learnt of their child’s LGBT sexual orientation may feel:

    Loss of a “traditional” life

    Loss of a safe and easy life

    Loss of a child

The final of these losses is often the cause of such extreme actions as telling a child that he or she is “no longer part of the family”. While feelings of loss or sadness are understandable, the long-term impact of a severe reaction such as this are highly damaging and difficult to overcome. Potoczniak et al (2009) found that the outcomes from a negative reaction were sometimes very serious with 3% of those who “came out” becoming totally estranged from family and that disclosure in 4% of maternal relationships and 9% of paternal relationships either “totally destroyed or worsened an already bad relationship”.

Even if you are highly upset or shocked by your child’s revelation, take care that any reaction you have does not have a lasting negative impact on your relationship.

It is understandable that parents may feel loss, however it is important to remember that nothing has actually been lost. While this may have been an aspect of your child that parents were unaware of previously, they are still the same person. Even if you considered yourself to be accepting of LGBT individuals, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FFLAG), a charitable organisation dedicated to supporting LGBT individual’s families notes in their guide for parents that:

“Many parents who believe that they are totally accepting of lesbian, gay or bisexual people, and who don’t consider themselves prejudiced or judgemental are likely to find themselves, if only temporarily, knocked off balance by an announcement that they have a lesbian, gay or bisexual daughter or son”

Parents should remain mindful of the important role their support plays in their child’s self-worth and identity. Willoughby et al. (2008) notes:

“Individuals’ perceptions of themselves are, in part, based on the ways they perceive their parents to view them. Thus, insofar as individuals feel rejected by their loved ones, they may be likely to see themselves as unlovable and unworthy”

You may need some time and space to process this news. That is normal, try to work through your feelings either not in the presence of your child or in such a manner that it does not make them feel it is their “fault”. Stonewall (2018) advises parents that regardless of their own feelings about “being gay”, “you love them and want them to be happy. The fact that they are gay or lesbian doesn’t change that”.

Communication and Terms

An important aspect of responding to your child “coming out”, is to listen. It is possible that you may have preconceived ideas of what certain terms mean, but sexual orientation is an individual experience. An additional challenge for parents is that the terms used to describe sexual orientation and gender identity are constantly changing. While many parents will be familiar with “gay” or “homosexual”, the more modern concepts can seem baffling.

The person best placed to tell you what this disclosure means for your child, is your child. However, it may also be helpful to familiarise yourself with very common terms. The acronym most commonly used is LGBTQIA+. These terms as defined by the Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Resource Center of Michigan State University are:

Lesbian – Term used to describe women who are exclusively or primarily attracted to other women in a romantic, erotic, and/or emotional sense. Not all women who engage in “homosexual behaviour” identify as lesbians, and as such this label should be used with caution

Gay – Used in some cultural settings to represent men who are exclusively or primarily attracted to other men in a romantic, erotic and/or emotional sense. Not all men who engage in “homosexual behaviour” identify as gay, and as such this label should be used with caution. Also a general term for gay men and lesbians.

Bisexual – A person who experiences sexual, romantic, physical, and/or spiritual attraction to people of their own gender as well as other genders, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree

Transgender – A person who identifies with a gender other than that the gender they were assigned at birth. Sexual orientation varies and is not dependent on gender identity.

Queer/Questioning – An umbrella term which includes lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, trans* people, intersex persons, radical sex communities, and many other sexually transgressive communities. This term is sometimes used as a sexual orientation label or gender identity label used to denote a non-heterosexual or cisgender identity without having to define specifics. A reclaimed word that was formerly used solely as a slur but that has been reclaimed by some folks in the LGBTQ community. Nevertheless, a sizable percentage of people to whom this term might apply still hold “queer‟ to be a hateful insult, and its use by heterosexual people is often considered offensive.

Intersex – Individual(s) born with the condition of having physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads, or chromosomes) that are neither clearly male nor female. Intersex people are sometimes defined as having “ambiguous” genitalia.

Asexual – Person who does not experience sexual attraction. They may or may not experience emotional, physical, and/or romantic attraction. Asexuality differs from celibacy in that it is a sexual orientation, not a choice

The “+” symbol is an acknowledgement that these terms do not necessarily cover the entire spectrum of human sexuality. It simply leaves the process open to further development.

Stonewall (2018), a UK-based LGBT rights charity suggests that when a young person “comes out” to a parent they should allow the child to say their piece before asking questions. This can show them that you are a safe and understanding person to talk to about their sexuality or gender identity. This is important because just like if they were heterosexual, if your child feels unsafe talking to you about sexuality or gender identity it can lead to serious omissions. They may take more risks, or fail to alert you if they are harassed or sexually assaulted.

What about if you suspect that your child or young person is LGBT, but they have not yet spoken to you? Relate (2018) notes that it is not helpful to pressure them to “come out” before they are ready. Instead, you should take steps to ensure that your home is a supportive place for them if they are LGBT. For example, making positive comments about LGBT individuals and refusing to tolerate homophobic or transphobic language. Your child will tell you when they are ready, and you should be there for them when it is time.

Transgender children

For children or young people who are transgender, there are some important differences. First of all, it is important to understand that very young children (for example, under 5s) often show interest in toys or clothes that are not usually associated with their gender (NHS, 2018). Therefore, as with LGB children, parents should not try to second guess if they suspect their child may be transgender.

As with LGB children, parents should start by listening. Your child may choose to explore medical options as part of their identity. However, they may not. They may choose to “present” as one gender all of the time, or it may depend on the day. Action for Children (2018) notes that Adults should make every effort to address the child in the way they have requested. Your child’s gender identity can be confusing for them and for their parents, but a negative or hostile reaction is unlikely to have any positive outcomes.

Depending on your child’s age and desires, the next steps vary. Mermaids UK (2018), a support organisation for transgender people notes that medical transition in young people usually consists of taking hormone blockers after the initial stages of puberty which are completely reversible and simply pause puberty. While it is important to communicate with your child regarding what happens next, the focus should be on your initial reaction. Your child should know that you still love them unconditionally, and that you will support them.

Conclusion

There is no “right” way to deal with the fact that your child may be LGBT. Every family, and every individual is different and has different support requirements. If you suspect that your child may be LGBT, but they have not yet confided in you, seek out information to prepare yourself. If your child has recently informed you, remain calm and reassure them that you love them regardless of circumstances.

There are a number of excellent recourses locally to support LGBT young people and their parents. Parenting NI’s helpline (0808 8010 722) can provide advice and support for anyone in a parenting role. Additionally, groups like Cara-friend, SAIL and The Rainbow Project can offer specialist LGBT support.

Call the Helpline at 0808 8010 722

Getting Enough Sleep: The Importance of Bedtime

Bedtimes

Getting children to go to bed on time can be a constant issue for parents. Debate and argument over when to turn the lights out is one of the few nearly universal struggles for parents. The fact that there are many different and often conflictual news stories, anecdotes and myths about what is the “right” time for a parent to insist a child  sleeps only adds to confusion and concern. This article will look at what the research says about how much sleep is needed, and will provide a few tips and strategies for parents to help ease the process of getting children to go to bed.

(Source: pixabay.com)

The Science of Sleep

Everyone needs sleep. That much is established and uncontroversial. But, did you know that scientists aren’t sure why we need to sleep? A BBC article (Ghosh, 2015) which asks why we need to sleep notes that: “Scientists simply don't know for sure. In broad terms researchers believe it is to enable our bodies and especially our brains to recover.” The actual mechanics of sleep work roughly like this: Humans are diurnal, which means that we are awake during the day, and sleep at night. This is as opposed to nocturnal, like bats. Our natural inclination is to sleep during hours of darkness, and to be active during daylight. As any parent who has attempted to put a young child to bed during a long summer evening will be very aware.

Our sleep-wake patterns, called “Circadian rhythms” are regulated by light and darkness (National Sleep Foundation, 2018). This is why, for example, you can struggle to fall asleep if there is a lot of light in your room despite being tired.

While sleeping, people move between two states – Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM).

These stages are broken down into further categories – NREM sleep has three (N1, N2 and N3) and REM sleep has just one. Very broadly speaking, REM allows people to process and store information from the day before and is important for memory. NREM is important for feeling relaxed and refreshed after sleeping. Both are vital, and the amount of time that you spend in both NREM and REM change as you grow up. For example, Adults spend about 20-25% of their sleep in REM, whereas a new-born spends around 80% of its sleep in REM (Nierenberg, 2017).

How much sleep do children and young people actually need?

The NHS (2018) gives the following times, which are based on the Millpond Children's Sleep Clinic’s recommendations:

4 week old: Daytime 6-7 hours and night-time 8-9 hours

1 year old: Daytime 1 hr 30 minutes and night-time 11 hrs 30 minutes

5 year old: Night-time 11 Hours

10 year old: Night-time 9 hrs 45 minutes

14-16 year olds: Night-time 9 hours More figures are available here.

Obviously, these are general figures and will not apply to all children as everyone is individual and develops differently. However, it is important that parents consider how bedtime might change according to their child’s age. For example, a 10-year old child, who has to waken up at 7.00 am and be at school for 9.00 am. In order to be at school for 9.00 am, a 10 year old child ideally should be asleep by 9.45pm. For some parents, this may seem too late, and others very early. As with all advice on issues relating to parenting, it is best to consider this in the context of your own child or young person’s needs. What these numbers do show however, is that children and young people have different requirements for sleep as they grow up. Although what complicates this, is that often simply “getting enough sleep” is not a matter of going to bed and waking up at particular times every day. As previously mentioned, outside and inside light can disrupt sleepiness. So can caffeine, screen time and other variables.

Melatonin, an important sleep hormone is essential in causing tiredness and entering restful sleep. However, teenagers face a hormonal challenge – adult bodies begin to produce melatonin around 10.00pm or 11.00pm. Teenagers on the other hand, often do not start to produce it until around 01.00am (Alaska Sleep Clinic, 2013). This means that simply attempting to force a teenager to go to bed earlier may not yield good sleep. Instead of trying to force a teenager to go to bed, a better alternative would be to try sleep promoting techniques. Things like putting away screens, not drinking caffeine after 2pm or even trying meditation (Cline, 2009) can help teenagers get to sleep when they might otherwise struggle.

(Source: John-Mark Smith)

It is also important for parents to understand this biological process which is going on in their teenager’s body. It may explain why their teen has the energy to stay awake very late playing video games or watching TV, but struggles to wake up in the morning! In 2012, a Telegraph article found that two thirds of children were not getting enough sleep in the UK. It suggested that the average 6 year old did not go to bed until 9.30. Even more worryingly, around a quarter of children said they struggled to concentrate in school and even fell asleep in class. Aside from the obvious concern regarding missing classes and learning, lack of sleep is associated with poorer memory (Harrison & Horne, 2000). This means that lack of sufficient sleep can have a negative impact on children’s educational attainment.

Parents need sleep too.

The importance of sleep is central to everyone’s overall wellbeing. Lack of sleep is a major issue, not only for children but for adults as well. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA declared insufficient sleep a public health problem. The NHS (2018) in the UK notes that 1 in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, with stress, computers and taking work home often blamed. The impact of lack of sufficient sleep in children is more than just sluggishness and bad mood. The NHS (2018) warns that consistent nights of poor sleep can fog our decision making, cause us to be depressed and run an increased risk of physical injury. Lichtenstein (2015) notes that lack of sleep increases our risks of gastrointestinal diseases, like stomach ulcers and reflux.

What to do about sleep:

Still, even if parents have a strong understanding of why their child or teenager struggles to get enough sleep, there are often circumstances that are beyond the parents control. School or work start times can constrain even the most concerned parents. There are however a number of key steps that can help with setting bedtimes. The first is to start as soon as is practicable. It is much easier to introduce a bedtime with a toddler than to attempt to impose one on a teenager. Getting your child used to going to bed at a particular time when they are young reduces the stress later in life. This can be a real challenge – around 20-30% of children experience sleep problems in their first three years of life (Teng et al. 2012). There are a number of techniques however than can assist with helping get a small child to accept bed times. For example, Parents Magazine (2018) gives the following steps:

  *  Set a specific time – and stick to it
  *  Give a warning
  *  Offer a (light) snack
  *  Give your child a warm bath
  *  Get dressed for bed
  *  Read a story with your child
  *  Play soft music while you read
  *  Provide a cuddly toy for the child to sleep with
  *  Limit or get rid of bottles
  *  Keep your last “good night” brief

The first point is arguably the most important. In line with the Authoritative Parenting Style (Explained here), consistency is a vital aspect in easing the difficulty associated with bed time.

Research suggests that instituting a consistent nightly bedtime routine is beneficial in improving multiple aspects of infant and toddler sleep, especially wakefulness after sleep onset and sleep continuity. It also improves maternal mood. (Mindell, 2009). Parents who are still struggling with bedtimes can also avail for support from Parenting NI’s helpline (0808 8010 722).

Another issue faced by parents is that as their child gets older, it becomes increasingly difficult to impose bedtimes. “But my friends get to stay up and watch …” or “I have to go to sleep way earlier than everyone else!” are familiar refrains. As shown previously, the levels of sleep needed change as a child matures. Therefore, parents shouldn’t be afraid to be flexible within reasonable limits as their children grow up. Additionally, every child is different, and parents will have a good how much sleep their child needs. The later-life impacts of setting bed times can be dramatic. One study found that adolescents with later (after 12 midnight) or no parent-set bedtimes were 24% more likely to suffer from depression and were 20% more likely to have reported suicidal ideation in the past year than adolescents with parent-set bedtimes before 10 pm (Short et al. 2011). Therefore, while it can be difficult to introduce and stick to a bedtime, the improvements are often dramatic.

Another aspect of sleep time that applies to children and adults is screen time. A study found that on average, children with three technology items in their bedroom received 45 fewer minutes of sleep than did children without these items in their bedroom (Calamaro et al. 2012). Additionally, the blue-light emitted by screens can cause our brains to misinterpret light and dark cycles and make sleep more difficult. Thus, parents can improve the likelihood of sleeping by removing tablets, phones or other screens around half an hour before bed. In the end, what works for one family with regards to getting to sleep might not work for another. Parents are encouraged to try these strategies, or seek help to find what works for them and their children.

Contact Parenting NI

Give us a call on 0808 8010 722

Parenting NI launches “Dad’s Project” to support fathers

Parenting NI has launched a new project, aimed at supporting fathers. Generously funded by the Big Lottery, the “Dad’s Project” will support dads living throughout Northern Ireland who are separating, separated and/or currently involved within the courts service.

The project which will be partly based in Derry~Londonderry will work with dads across Northern Ireland. Alongside providing support services for fathers, it is also hoped that the Dads Project will promote children’s rights to have access to both parents and the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with their dads.

Charlene Brooks, CEO of Parenting NI said:

“The relationship between children and their fathers is so, important. While there are some occasions where contact is not possible, in general the research is clear. Children do better if they have contact with their father.

“They do better in school, have better physical and mental health and have better social skills. Having a father who is active and engaged in his children’s life is hugely important for positive outcomes.

Separation is the single most common cause for calls to the Parenting Regional Helpline. 35% of dads contacting the helpline contact us about separation. As a result of the amount of men contacting Parenting NI about separation the organisation recognised the need for specific support for separated dads.

“Sadly, there are occasions where a relationship breakdown has created a gulf between dads and their children.

“The Dads Project will support separated dads by promoting their engagement and involvement in the lives of their children, families and community. The project will aim to develop their confidence in their parenting ability and to build positive social connections and relationships with other dads in their community.

“The Dad’s project will be led by dads via a Dads Steering Group and it has guidance being offered from statutory and voluntary organisations via a Dads Advisory Committee. This will ensure that the project is helping dads with the problems they face, and is both proactive in developing services and reactive to their concerns.”

The project was formally launched this morning at Parenting NI Head Office in Belfast.

Long-Term High Conflict Separations Harming Parents and Children

Parenting NI has found that more than 80% of parents dealing with long-running, high-conflict separations describe themselves as worried, stressed and anxious. Similarly negative impacts have been found with children, including behavioural and physical issues.

Charlene Brooks, CEO of Parenting NI said:
“It is increasingly common for parents to call our helpline in a situation where they are still in conflict with their ex-partner a year after separation.

“The damage that parental conflict on this scale has on children can be significant and can have serious negative implications. Parenting NI realises and understands that every family is different, and that most parents do not allow conflict to linger in this way.

“However, around 10-12% of parents unfortunately get stuck in intractable conflicts. There are lots of reasons why parents might fall into this situation and they may not realise how much of an impact the arguments have on their children.

“Research shows that the stress that is associated with parental conflict has a more harmful impact on children than the separation itself. Children whose parents remain in unresolved conflict are less likely to do well at school, have poorer interpersonal skills, lower overall wellbeing and less positive relationships with their parents.

“As difficult as it may be, we would encourage parents to think about how they manage conflict. Try not to criticize your ex-partner in front of your children and reassure them that the separation is not their fault. It is also important to remember that in most cases, it is in the best interest of the child to have a close, stable and ongoing relationship with both parents wherever possible.

“We are contacted daily by parents on both sides of the conflict, worried about not only the impact on their children but on their own mental health and wellbeing. Parenting NI is hoping to highlight the need to support parents to effectively manage separation in order to reduce the impact of lingering, high-conflict separations on children.”

Parenting NI has released a report, based on case studies and academic research outlining what dangers come from long term, active parental conflict.

Separation is the single most common cause for calls to the Parenting Regional Helpline. 35% of dads contacting the helpline contact us about separation. As a result of the amount of men contacting Parenting NI about separation the organisation recognised the need for specific support for separated dads. In the week of Men’s Health Week and Father’s Day (11th – 17th June), Parenting NI will launch the new Dads Project funded by Big Lottery Fund NI.

The Dads Project will promote dads being engaged and involved in their children's lives. The project will help dads to develop more confidence in their parenting ability and to build positive connections with other dads in a similar position in their community.

Contact Parenting NI

Give us a call on 0808 8010 722

Download the Full Report

Read more information here

“Is this okay?” – Talking to children & young people about consent

Talking about consent can be tough!

Talking about relationships with your child or young person is one of the more challenging aspects of parenting. Not only can it be embarrassing or sensitive, but there are often disagreements around morals, ideas and views about what is okay and when. Consent, and what it means is often a difficult issue to address.

Nonetheless, recent high-profile events have highlighted the importance for young people of having a good understanding of consent. While they will get some education at school regarding relationships and sex, it is the responsibility of parents to explain much of the tricky social and moral issues.

But, how do you talk to your child or young person about this important but complex issue?

Here are some ideas of how you can talk to your child or young person about consent:

- Talk to young children – make sure they understand that they have to get consent to hug or kiss friends or family. Don’t make them hug or kiss if they don’t want to.

- Tell young children about boundaries – that it is not okay for people to see or touch them in private areas. Nor is it okay for them to see or touch someone else there.

- Talk about the law with older children – tell them what the age of consent is (16) and that there are real consequences for activity below this age.

- Talk to your teen -  Ask their opinions on consent. You might want to use a high-profile event as a starting point. You might ask “Did you hear about that in the news? What do you think about that?” By starting the discussion by asking their views, you avoid them feeling like this is a lecture.

- Talk about what is and is not consent - Make sure that they understand how important verbal, consistent and repeated consent is. Make sure both boys and girls know that flirting, clothing and “not being told no” do not necessarily mean consent is given.

- Encourage your children to make sure others are okay too – talk to them about what they might do if one of their friends seemed to be in an uncomfortable situation. Ask them what they might do if their friend was the one acting irresponsibly.

- Eliminate self-blame - Tell them that they always have a right to be respected, and that consent needs to be sought and given by both parties.

- Make sure they understand how to say no - and how to recognise when someone else might be saying no.

- Get rid of notions about gatekeepers and initiators. Make sure your teen knows that it is normal for both boys and girls to want to have sex, but that is also okay if they don’t want to.

- Ask for support! There are plenty of organisations that can help you.

Contact Parenting NI

You can give us a call on 0808 8010 722

Download the Full Report

Read more information here

Mental Health Awareness Week: Workplace Stress

30% of working parents feel burnout regularly

This Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on Stress. Managing stress levels and promoting wellbeing in the workplace is considered crucial to maintaining a productive workforce. Yet stress is still a big problem for many. 

Stress can be caused by many things but for working parents a major source of stress can be the ongoing struggle to balance the demands of work and home life. In addition to the ongoing need to arrange and pay for childcare, find workable arrangements during the school holidays, and sort out the daily school run and scheduling of after-school activities, many parents feel a sense of guilt that they are not able to give their work or their home life as much time and energy as they would like.

When you’re feeling stressed at work here are some tips you can try to help reduce stress levels:

Ask for help
Everyone needs help from time to time. Have a chat with your manager about your workload and how they can help you solve any problems you are having.

Striking a balance
Balancing your time can be a real challenge as a working parent. Occasionally you may need to work longer hours to get something done, but try to claim this time back later if you can.

Be realistic
Remember, you can’t be ‘perfect’ all the time. Set boundaries to ensure you’re not taking on too much and be realistic with the targets and goals you set.

Get into a habit
Do something at the end of each working day, such as tidying your desk or making a list of what needs to be done the next day. This can help you to switch off from work.

Develop relationships
Connecting with your colleagues can help to build up a network of support and make work more enjoyable.

Take short breaks
Try to take short breaks throughout your day, as well as time away from your desk at lunchtime. Why not try going for a short walk outside

Parenting NI are delighted to be working with businesses and organisations throughout Northern Ireland in supporting their parent employees. To find out more about what we offer click here.

Having conversations about Mental Health in the Workplace

Aside from the theme of Stress, Mental Health Awareness Week aims to highlight the importance of Mental Health and reduce the stigma around talking about it. This week over 300 radio stations joined to broadcast the same message about mental health. They are calling on the law to be changed and make it a legal requirement to have trained mental health first aiders in every workplace or college.

It can be difficult to approach having a conversation with a colleague about mental health, but we all have mental health just like physical health. If we noticed a colleague had the cold or was in pain we would ask them how they were doing and show support. However, it can be more difficult to notice and also very difficult to ask about how someone is doing mentally. 

There is no perfect way to start a conversation about someone’s wellbeing, but just being there to listen in an empathetic and non-judgemental way can help. Below are some tips on how you might approach a colleague, someone you work with or manage, if you’re worried about them.

  • Choose a place you can chat privately – maybe suggest going for a walk or grabbing a coffee
  • Choose an appropriate time, like a break time or lunch
  • Show that you are actively listening by giving them eye contact and physical and verbal nods.
  • Ask open questions – “How are you today” – sometimes making it about the present can prevent the ubiquitous “I’m fine” response
  • Reassure the person that it is okay to talk
  • Let them know that you are there to listen to them and help if they need you to 
  • If mental health is being discussed in the news why not use this as an opportunity to bring it up in the office and get conversation going?

Time to Change have great resources which can be downloaded from their website on having conversations about mental health. 

Connected Children: How Young is “Too Young” for a Smartphone?

Smartphones are the unavoidable icon of modern life...


The pace with which smartphones have become established is remarkable, they are now as integrated into modern culture as cars or computers. Today around 30% of Children aged 9 own a smart phone, rising to more than 90% by the age of 16 (Mascheroni & Ólafsson, 2015). In the UK, 1 in 8 children have a mobile by the age of 8 (Aviva, 2017). 

While there are a range of benefits to children using technology, there are also a number of undeniable risks. “What age should I give my child a phone?” is a common question we hear from parents. It can be difficult to strike the balance between keeping children safe and socially isolating them.

This Parent's Guide article will examine the statistics and weigh up the pros and cons for parents and children.

Impact of Smartphones on...

Young Children

There is no strict rule as to when children are “ready” for smart phones. Research has noted children of less than 30 months old cannot learn from videos in the same way as real-life. Therefore, one of the most significant positive factors of using technology does not apply to them. 

What age do the benefits (or negatives) of technology begin to impact on children?

It is difficult to be clear about the possible benefits and opportunities of internet usage for young children. Some research will suggest that owning a mobile device will increase readiness for schools. Educational apps and games can help with development of skills that might otherwise be difficult for parents.

On the other hand, there are many reports suggest "too much tech" from a young age negatively impacts on children.  This year, The Guardian reported that children were struggling to hold pencils properly because they had been playing with phones or tablets. In addition, a  University of Toronto report found that “infants with more handheld screen time have an increased risk of an expressive speech delay” (Birken, 2017). They found that every 30 minute increase in the daily use of handheld screens in very young children translated into a 49% increased risk of speech delay.

Another risk related concern is very young people being able to connect with a wide range of individuals. Use of communication apps can leave them vulnerable to grooming. Less obvious, are potential dangers from interactions which are secondary to the purpose of the app. This was seen in 2017 when YouTube reporting function on children's videos had not been working properly.

It is difficult to argue that young children benefit greatly from ownership of a smartphone. While there are certainly some advantages to making judicious usage of educational apps, excessive or unrestricted access is highly detrimental.

However, that's not to say you can't occasionally let your young children watch a YouTube video or Skype with relatives!

Primary Age Children

Around 68% of parents think children should be at least 9 before they get their first phone, and around a third suggesting 12 as a minimum age. Equally, most parents will feel that it is appropriate for teenagers to have access. 

Research tells us that 11 is when most children get their first phone. However, sites which children may want to access on their phone, such as Instagram and Snapchat, require you to be at least 13. Children younger than this could be exposed to content they are not ready for.

Another risk associated with primary aged children having a smartphone, is the the chance of them experiencing cyber-bullying. Research says that younger children would be more likely to report being the victim of physical bullying. Whereas, older pupils would be more likely to report experiencing more types of cyber-bullying. Not having a phone is by no means a guarantee of protection from online-bullying, but the link is significant.

What are the benefits?

Safety is a benefit parents will often think of when it comes to their child owning a phone. It is good to be able to contact your child as they start independent activities, like after school clubs or going out with friends. Access to the internet and services like Google Maps could assist if the child is lost, or unsure of where to ask for help.

Skills children develop by using technology, including smart phones, is increasingly important in later life. A report for the Department of Education in England noted that building digital skills were “an essential contemporary skill set”. Depriving a child of this may also inadvertently disadvantage them.

Additionally, there is the social aspect to having a phone. All parents are familiar with the cry that “everyone else in class has one”. However, statistics suggest that children may not be exaggerating in this regard. The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Australia released a report in 2017  stating that “Young children owning smartphones is the new normal”. Numbers for the UK broadly align with this. In effect, when deciding when a child should first receive a phone a parent is making a difficult choice that affects not just their safety or education development, but also their social status.

Teenagers and Young Adults

Most teenagers will have a smartphone. They are also extremely avid consumers of online content via their phones. Over a third of young people claiming to be online more than 6 hours a day on weekends and almost a quarter spending this amount of time on week days. UK usage in both cases is above the OECD average, meaning that parents in the UK face a greater challenge than parents of the rest of the world. 

However, the benefits of phone usage can increase with age. Particularly as a young person becomes increasingly independent. With likely access to their own money,  particularly for over 16's, there are less levels of potential parental control. 

Despite the benefits, which the guide has explored, there are concerns around teens phone use too... 

41% of parents said that they find it difficult to control their child’s screen time. 

A report looking at over a thousand teens in Australia found that poor-quality sleep associated with late-night texting or calling was linked to a decline in mental health. The reasons given for such use, particularly late at night, were a “fear of missing out” on content. The reasons for this vary for boys and girls. Many girls noted major US-based social media influencers whose content they consume, means the time differences account for the "need" to be awake and active online at night. On the other hand, boys note that major video game content creators are based in East Asia, again complicating sleep.  Poor sleep, coupled with potential cyber-bullying can have negative effects on teenagers. When they are put into stressful or difficult circumstances without the defence of being well-rested, it is easy to see how it can impact physical and mental health.

Gaming and Sexting

Gaming on phones is something all children can take part in, but it is particularly popular with teenagers. Around 70% of teens play video games, and 84% of teenage boys do. As explored in a previous blog, online gaming comes with its own pros and cons.  It is important to consider gaming when it comes to teenagers smartphone usage. The most popular phone games can have millions of users worldwide, and some argue that they are highly addictive. Regulations are also more lax than more traditional gaming consoles or PCs.

There is also the concern of young people both creating and viewing sexualised content. A JAMA Paediatrics report found that almost 1 in 5 young people had either sent or received sexual content of themselves. As many as 12% admitted to forwarding such an image without the consent of the individual. This suggests not only that sending of this content is common, but there may be negative social pressures on teenagers to engage in it. 

There are serious issues regarding this. Not least moral and ethical, there is also a real danger of legality if the content is of an underage individual. While conversations regarding this content are extremely difficult for parents – but it is equally vital.

Many of the concerns regarding younger children do not necessarily disappear at teenage years, and it can be argued that the concerns of when to expose children to smart phones becomes increasingly complicated.

In Conclusion...

It is undeniable that smartphones are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. You know your child best, and therefore will be in the best position to decide what they access and when. Technology and children's usage of it is a concern for many parents, but it's important to remember that you are not alone in struggling with this subject. Parenting NI is here, for a listening ear and support with not only this but any parenting related issue.  

Contact Parenting NI

You can give us a call on 0808 8010 722

Read the Full Report

Click to download and read the full report.

Parenting NI Celebrates Working Mums at Maryville


Leading local parenting organisation, Parenting NI, is hosting a bespoke network event today, Thursday 8th March to celebrate working mums on International Women’s Day.

The ‘Maryville Mum’s Network Event’ held exclusively for working mums aims to bring together over 40 professional working mums to share a special afternoon tea experience whilst engaging and networking with peers. Special guests include Dr Lisa Neligan, Private GP,Kingsbridge Medical, part of the 3FiveTwo Group, alongside Lisa McLaughlin Director of Global Law Firm Herbert Smith Freehills.

On what is the globally recognised ‘International Women’s Day’ over 40 local businesswoman (including SME owners, lawyers, Business Development Managers and Financiers) are all coming together with one special bond – they are all balancing their busy careers with being a mum.

After hearing some excellent advice and best practice from Guest Speakers Lisa Neligan, GP (Kingsbridge Medical) and Lisa McLaughlin, Overseas Director (Herbert Smith Freehills), Parenting Education Consultant Lauren Spiers will deliver information and advice including top tips on understanding children’s social and emotional behaviour, promoting self-esteem and tactics to achieve the balance between being a working mum whilst still succeeding in the workplace.

Event Organiser, Lucy McCusker said, ‘I am delighted that we have so many working mums attending Maryville House today – coming together on International Women’s Day makes this event so much more poignant. Parenting NI is committed to offering support to all working mum’s across NI and we are excited at the amount of employers who now recognise the importance of supporting working parents.’

With the ever increasing demands of both work life and family life often coming head-to head some working mums can find it difficult to take some time out themselves, this is why today is so important.’

The ‘Maryville Mum’s’ network event is a unique event organised exclusively by Parenting NI – a similar event for working dads was organised at Ulster Rugby in October and was also very successful.a

Parenting NI offer a range of tailor made employee wellbeing workshops and seminars to help employers support their parent employees. Keep an eye on our website for information on future events and for more about our employee wellbeing work click here.

“That’s not true!” – Parents Guide to Fake News

What is Fake News?

"Fake News" is not a term many of us would have been using 18 months ago. Despite the term's recent popularity, the idea of fake news is not a new one.  Governments and powerful individuals have spread information via mass communication in order to boost support for many years. However, in today's world it's increasingly difficult to tell what is real and what isn't.

It is especially hard for children who have not yet developed critical thinking skills which help them to separate truth from fiction. It is important for parents to talk to children and young people about real and fake news content. Having conversations about fake news is one of the ways parents can help combat the impact of these stories.

How Big is Our Fake News Problem?

The complex nature of what constitutes "fake news" and what is stories or ideas we don't agree with makes it almost impossible to quantify how much "fake" news children and young people see.

We do know that it is serious enough to be an issue. For example, 6.6 million people saw a video posted about the Grenfell Tower disaster, which incorrectly claimed that 42 people had died in one room (BBC, 2017). Using social media increases young people's likelihood of being exposed to fake news in one way or another.

Types of Fake News

Parody or joke sites

You could argue these are the least harmful of "Fake News" sites. Most of these sites make it pretty obvious that they are not real stories. The purpose of these stories could be to amuse people or they could annoy or "troll" a certain section of society.

While adults could identify these stories are satire, children and young people may struggle.

News Imposter Sites

These “fake news” stories make up the bulk of the fake news on the internet. These articles usually have intriguing titles to encourage you to click on them, which generates money for ads.

This type of fake news will be very familiar to you if you read real news on the internet often. Below the main story, and regularly camouflaged as real “related stories” are a list of seemingly alarming news stories.

An adult thinking critically would realise that this source was untrustworthy. However, a child or young person could easily be tricked. In addition, the most common place to see these aside from as ads are as shared stories on social media.

Fake Stories on Real Sources

This third and final type of fake news is perhaps the most insidious of all. These stories are fake but usually contain a grain of truth in order to trick otherwise reliable news websites to carry them. The purpose of these stories varies – sometimes it is a prank, others seek to influence the debate around an issue but they undermine the trust in all news sources.

These sorts of stories are the most difficult for parents to safeguard children and young people against, as one of the most reliable ways to dismantle fake news is by checking reliable news sources.

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has a handy 8-step process which is quick, easy to understand and available to help distinguish fake from real news.

1. Consider the source – is it usually reliable and have you ever heard of them before?
2. Read Beyond – read the whole story, not just the headline
3. Check the author – are they a real person?
4. Look for supporting sources – fake news is less likely to have multiple verifying sources
5. Check the date – maybe it wasn’t fake news when it was posted but is it now?
6. Is it a joke? – teach children about how some of these articles are meant to be funny, and why people make jokes like this.
7. Check your own biases.
8. Ask the Experts – a teacher, a fact-checking website or tell children to ask you as a parent!

How to Talk to Children & Young People about "Fake News"

1. Ask your children about what they have heard to find out about what they already know.

2. You might want to consider where your young person gets their news from. If they are reading it on social media tell them not to rely on it too heavily for news.

3. Try and explain things in a simple and age appropriate way as possible. Explain that sometimes people may lie and why they might do that.

4. Listen and acknowledge – children often feel misrepresented or unhappy with the news they read. It is important to listen to what they are feeling, and respond.

5. Parents can also improve children’s media literacy during everyday activities. For example, if your child or young person watches a lot of Youtube videos, ask them what they know about who created them, and why. This is a simple and easy way to build up to a conversation about “fake” content.

If you are concerned about the impact "Fake News" has on your child ask for help!
Contact Parenting NI

You can give us a call on 0808 8010 722.

Media Literacy

Ask other parents how they talk to their children about it.

Speak to Teachers

Ask teachers about how they teach critical thinking skills in school.

Look Online

Look for reliable sources like the BBC, OFCOM and others.

Read the Report

Click here to download and read the full report.

Safer Internet Day: A Better Internet Starts With You

Safer Internet Day aims to not only create a safer internet but also a better internet, where everyone is empowered to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively.

Safer Internet Day aims to reach out to children and young people, parents and carers, teachers, educators and social workers, as well as industry, decision makers and politicians, to encourage everyone to play their part in creating a better internet.

By celebrating the positive power of the internet, the 2018 Safer Internet Day theme of “Create, Connect and Share Respect: a better internet starts with you” encourages everyone to join the global movement, to participate, to make the most of the internet’s potential to bring people together.

Digital Parenting - Safer Internet Day 2018 film for parents and carers from UK Safer Internet Centre on Vimeo.

Parents and carers play a crucial role in empowering and supporting children to use technology responsibly, respectfully, critically and creatively, whether it is by ensuring an open dialogue with their children, educating them to use technology safely and positively, or by acting as digital role models.

The UK Safer Internet Centre have created some fantastic resources we wanted to share with you that are worth discussing with your young people. 

For more information you can visit the UK Safer Internet Website for lots of free resources.