Parenting NI and Bank of Ireland UK have their Eye on the Ball for Working Parents

Left to right: Gail Toal, Bank of Ireland UK, Charlene Brooks, Parenting NI and Simon Fitzpatrick, Irish Football Association. Parenting NI partner with Bank of Ireland UK to host a special event at the National Stadium focusing on workplace support for parents.

It’s often said that being a parent is the most important job you will ever have; but for many parents it’s not their only job, and the challenge of trying to find a balance between work and family life can be difficult.

A breakfast networking seminar will take place in the Danny Blanchflower Room at the National Stadium on Monday 22nd October which will explore how businesses can support staff with work life balance and engage them on issues relating to gender equality and diversity.

Award winning ex-CNN journalist and author of ground breaking book All In, Josh Levs will be keynote speaker at the event. When Levs was denied fair parental leave by his employer after his child was born, he fought back and won. In the process he became a leading advocate for modern families, now working with corporations and organisations to build policies that support men as equal caregivers, a crucial step towards ensuring equal career opportunities to women.

Parenting NI CEO, Charlene Brooks, said with all the pressures on modern families it’s time for a change of perceptions and workplace culture.

“We believe it’s important for workplaces to move with the times when it comes to family friendly policies. Employers who support and respond to the needs of working parents are helping to shape a workplace for an evolving workforce.

“We are encouraged at the number of employers Parenting NI are working with in Northern Ireland who help provide support to their parent employees. The rewards for businesses who do so include a more productive, engaged, motivated workforce, reduced absenteeism and employers are more likely to be successful at recruiting and retaining staff.”

Charlene Brooks explained that Parenting NI hopes the event will open up more conversation in businesses about how they can help ease work life balance stresses for families in Northern Ireland.

“We are particularly excited to be hosting this event with Josh Levs and our partners Bank of Ireland and Citi. Parenting NI hope that the event will help start a wider conversation within more organisations about offering more support and flexibility for their parent employees, not only to benefit children and families but also to the benefit of their own businesses.”

Ian Sheppard, Managing Director Northern Ireland at Bank of Ireland UK, said: “Bank of Ireland UK are delighted to be supporting our partners, Parenting NI, with this exciting ‘Make Parenting Work’ networking seminar. As an organisation, our purpose is to enable our customers, colleagues and communities to thrive. At the heart of this purpose is our commitment to Inclusion & Diversity and to foster an inclusive working environment where all colleagues are enabled to reach their full potential. Collaborating with Parenting NI, a leading organisation for supporting parents since 1979, has given us the tools to support our parent employees through a range of needs-led sessions.”

Help for Parents at their Fingertips as New App is Launched

Parenting charity, Parenting NI, have launched a brand new app which will give parents immediate access to parenting support.

Thanks to support from the Building Change Trust and Techies in Residence, Parenting NI have collaborated with Derry~Londonderry based firm, Kippie, to create an app which will offer tips and support to parents.

The innovative Parent Support App is free for parents to download and offers a range of tips on topics such as emotions, behaviour, digital parenting and friendships. It has links to information such as what parent support programmes are available and a direct link to the charity’s freephone helpline.

Charlene Brooks, Chief Executive at Parenting NI said,

“We are excited to be able to launch the first stage of our Parent Support App this week. We recognize that it can be difficult for parents to reach out for help, and we are therefore delighted to have created, with our partners Kippie, an engaging piece of technology which makes it easy for parents to access support.

Parenting NI are looking forward to seeing the future development of the app, including the introduction of interactive quizzes and games for parents to explore topics such as mental health with their children. We believe there is huge potential with this platform to further expand the support currently on offer and hope that it will go some way to helping reduce the stigma associated with parents seeking support.”

Speaking on the app launch and the Techies in Residence Programme, Paul Braithwaite, Programme Leader at Building Change Trust said,

“This app from Parenting NI exemplifies what the Techies in Residence programme is for – helping charities and social enterprises to harness digital technology for the benefit of their service users. As a parent myself I know that having such practical information and support literally at your fingertips will be invaluable. We’re also delighted to be able to announce that the Techies in Residence programme will be continuing for a fourth year in 2019 with funding from Comic Relief and support from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland – we’ll be opening for applications very soon.”

The Parenting NI Parent Support App is now available to download for free on Android and will be available on App Store later in the year.

Video Games and Your Child or Young Person: A Parent’s Guide

Last year, Parenting NI wrote an article on video games and your children, which is available here. In that article, we spoke about the impacts of video games on children. We also spoke the positive and negative effects games might have on your child or young person, and went thorough where you might get more information.

However, due to consistent calls on the topic to the Regional Parent’s Helpline, we realised that it would be useful if we gave parents an overview of the games their children are playing.

Photo by Jessica Lewis

So, do you know your Battle Royales from your MOBAs? Do you know how much 100 “Vbucks” cost? Is your child or young person in a “clan” online? If you don’t know what any of this means – don’t worry! This article will go through three of the most popular games as of August 2018, and explain a few mechanics that are common in many games that parents should be aware of.

Roblox – PEGI rating “7”

If you have quite young children (particularly if they are still in primary school) you may have heard of Roblox. Launched in 2006, Robolox is what is called a “Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game” or MMORPG for short.

So what makes Roblox different, and what makes it particularly popular with younger children? Well, firstly, like all three games on this list Roblox is “free to play”. That means that in order to download and play the game, no money is required. This makes it accessible for children. Secondly, the unique element of Roblox is that is functions somewhat like an online version of LEGO. Players can develop their own games, which are hosted in a social media style list.

In fact, it is easier to understand Roblox not as a single, large game, but as a collection of many hundreds of smaller mini-games. You keep the same “character” in each of these games, and players can pay real money to customise their character. There are a wide range of “games” to play on Roblox. Unlike a typical game the quality, length and style of these games is varied. Many are copies of more popular games.

The appeal, particularly to younger children is the opportunity to play a sort of off-brand version of games that they may otherwise be unable to afford or that their parents are unwilling to purchase. For example, one of the most popular games is “Mining Simulator” based on Minecraft.

Gameplay – or what exactly players do in game – can vary widely. In one game, they may be building collaboratively, or attempting to work together to escape a maze. They may be pretending to be the manager of a company, or they may be fighting one another. Because of the simplistic and child-like graphics of Roblox, even potentially violent imagery is unlikely to be considered very offensive according to video games rating organisations.

Parents should be aware that while most games are harmless and the variety means that children have an opportunity to play many different types of games, there are issues with quality control. There have been incidents of inappropriate or obscene content and games. While Roblox attempts to keep this to a minimum, the volume of games (there are thousands of game types) makes this difficult. Not all games are free – some require a user to pay a fee (usually small) to access the game. However, because these games are user-created there are no specific rules about what must or must not be paid for.

Photo by Soumil Kumar

If you have a child or young person who plays Roblox, then you have most likely been asked to purchase “ROBUX” before. As previously mentioned, Roblox is free to play the basic game. However, the game earns money by selling in-game items for your in-game character. These are often user-generated and have an enormous variety. These items are bought using in game money called “Robux”. There are a number of ways in which a player might earn ROBUX, but the primary method is purchasing for real money.

Keeping in mind that there are more than 6000 items) it is easy to see how Roblox can become an expensive hobby quickly, despite being “free to play”. In addition, the items for sale may or may not be suitable for younger children. Because of the exclusivity of the paid for items, there is prestige associated with having them in game. This contributes to the appeal for players, particularly young players who have limited access to the money to buy the items themselves.

A strong component of Roblox popularity is the social aspects of the game. While most online games will have some form of interactivity, the “massively multiplayer” aspect of Roblox is one of the primary draws for players. Each game type will have multiple separate games playing called “servers”. Servers are listed and players can join if they are open and have spare slots.

A player will not necessarily know the other players on their server. Each server (and game type) will be different, and as such may have different rules and regulations. Some basic rules apply over all servers, which Roblox have collected in their community guidelines. These are fairly extensive and ban things like swearing, sexualisation and bullying. It is important for parents to keep in mind that much of this moderation requires the behaviours being reported, and therefore can be inconsistent or slow.

Players can add others to a “friends list”, if they both have a Roblox account. While this is helpful for children or young people who wish to play together, there is no requirement that that they know each other in real life. Parenting NI would recommend parents get to know who is on their child’s “friend list”.

Fortnite – PEGI rating “12”

If you have heard of any of the games on this list, you have probably heard of Fortnite. Fortnite is a shooter game, played in either first person (looking “though” the eyes of the player) or third-person (looking over the shoulder of the player) perspective.  Fortnite was first released in 2017, reaching 125 million players by June of 2018.

While there are two main game “styles”, by far the more popular is “Battle Royale”. This mode pits up to 100 individual players into a last-man standing battle. Players can play alone (called Solos) or in squads of twos (Duos) or fours (Quads). Players start in a “battle bus”, a literal bus pictured above which flies over the playing field. Players jump (or “drop”) at a chosen point. Upon landing, they scavenge for items such as guns and armour and seek to be the last person (or team) alive. At this point, the game is over and a winner is announced. They can also build structures or defences in the game in real time.

Photo by Jamie McInall

Like Roblox, Fortnite is free to play the base game. Those seeking “skins” (costumes for player characters), “emotes” (animations such as dances) or other cosmetic items must purchase these with in-game money called “Vbucks”. VBucks range in price – because Fortnite can be played on the Xbox, a computer, on a phone or other platforms. They can be spent in-game on a rotating selection of items.

There are a number of subtle marketing tactics that are in play with in-game purchases as opposed to using real money. Firstly, any given item is only available to purchase in a random rotation. When a player sees a costume they want, there is an urgency to buy right away – or else they may have to wait an undetermined period of time for another chance.

Secondly, the fact that Vbucks are bought in blocks of hundreds, players usually have left over in-game currency. This creates a feeling that unused currency is “money wasted” and encourages further purchases of Vbucks to “make use” of the remainder.

In this way, the game makes buying items quickly and repeatedly very appealing to a player. It also helps to explain why a child may be insistent on day that a parent provide money, and seem relatively disinterested the next. Those who do not (or cannot afford to) buy items are sometimes mocked as “no-skins” or “nobodies”.

The popularity of Fortnite is intrinsically linked to “streaming”, this is the practice of sharing video in real-time of your game play with others. The two most popular websites for streaming are Youtube and Twitch. As of writing, there are more than 121,000 people watching Fortnite on switch and the most popular “streamers” are casting to an audience in excess of 29,000 viewers. The appeal of watching their favourite “streamers” is similar to watching a professional sport match. Those watching a stream can communicate with each other and with the person casting via a “chat” system. A sub-culture often sprouts up around a particular streamer. This can include in-jokes, common slang terms and other elements that are easily identifiable to those in the know, and unintelligible to those without.

Popular streamers are able to earn significant sums of money from donations, brand deals and advertising. The prospect of making money playing video games, along with having loyal fans explains why many children have begun to see “streamer” or “youtuber” as an exciting potential career. If a group of children or young people at school all follow the same streamer, it can become an important part of their social life. However, it is very important for parents to understand that while the video game is providing the background and content for the stream, the stream itself is not regulated in the same manner.

League of Legends – PEGI rating “12”

League of Legends, or LoL is a free to play Multiplayer Online Battle Arena or MOBA game. In this game, and others like it (Defence of the Ancients 2, Smite and Heroes of the Storm for example) two teams of 3-5 each players choose “champion” characters and battle for control of a map. League of Legends is arguably the most popular MOBA – with around 100 million active players per month. Like Fortnite or Roblox, League of Legends is free to play, and makes money by selling in-game items and characters.

Photo by Hitesh Choudhar

There are around 140 different “champions” in League of Legends. Each has a slightly different play style –for example, one may be effective at long range or may be able to heal friends of damage. League of legends is an older game, first released in 2009. Its game play is also arguably more complex and challenging than Roblox’s most popular modes and Fortnite’s battle royale. As a result of both of these factors, the player base for League of Legends tends to be a little older. In all likelihood, if your child or young person is playing league of legends or another MOBA they will be in their mid to later teens. If they are playing League of Legends or other MOBA games, and are younger, parents should be particularly cautious.

Not every champion is available to play at all times. Each week, a different selection of champions will be available to play for free. If a player wishes to play as a champion who is not in the current rotation, they have to purchase them.  In League of Legends, there are two types of currency, a standard and premium. These are:

“Riot Points” – this is the premium currency. These must be bought and can be used to purchase cosmetic items and champions.

“Blue Essence” – This is the standard currency, and is earned via playing the game.

By having some items available to purchase with points rather than only for real money, the developers can argue that they are not as exploitative as normal free to play games. One of the issues with this is that the quality and range of items available for purchase with premium currency is much more than with standard.

One of the major concerns that parents may have about League of Legends and other MOBA games is the toxicity of the community that their child is playing with. While all online games will have a level of unpleasant behaviour, League of Legends is renowned for having a particular problem with this. While the developers of the game have made consistent efforts to address this, the gameplay loop of league of legends is uniquely susceptible to problem behaviour.

If your child or young person is having strong reactions to their performance in video games, the best step a parent can take is to talk to them. Parents may justifiably feel that their child or young person is overreacting to a loss in a game, but should take the time to consider why they may be acting in this way. It is possible that they are simply upset about the game, but equally it may be a sign of more general frustration in life.

Asking your young person why they feel so emotionally invested and get so upset is an opportunity to talk about feelings and how to deal with emotions. Simply shutting them down and telling them to “get over it” may inadvertently cause more stress.

Payment and Parental Controls

You may have read stories in the media about parents who have gotten stung with large, unexpected bills because of their child’s in-game purchases. The main manner by which this happens is parents accidentally letting the game “save” their credit card details. In the same way that Tesco, Amazon or any number of online businesses can save details to make payment easier, so to can video games.

From there, it is relatively easy for children or young people to make further purchases. They may do this intentionally, but it is equally likely that they will click assuming that it will not work. The best way to combat this is to ensure that you do not tick “save my payment details” when making a purchase. Alternatively, many games allow you to make physical purchases of vouchers that can be redeemed online. If you use this method, no payment details are ever processed by the game.

Photo by George Becker

Another important aspect of video gaming, particularly for younger children are parental controls. Some games have specific parental controls built in, but the easiest way to implement them is via the platform that your child or young person uses to play the game. In the case of the three games that are listed here, the “platform” is a PC, Xbox or PlayStation. Each has its own method of implementing parental controls. For a PC, this is a little more complicated, as parents will often need to install third-party programmes to monitor and restrict access to individual websites, games or programmes. Rather than suggesting a particular company, Parenting NI would advise parents to ask someone in their life who is comfortable with computers to help, or to ask for help from an expert.

For PlayStation and Xbox, setting up parental controls involves going into the settings on the consoles. On the Xbox, head to “Settings > Account > Family” and choose your child or young person’s username. From there, you will be presented with a number of options to restrict games based on age rating. On a PlayStation, go to “Settings > Parental controls/Family Management > Parental Controls”. Again, you will be presented with a number of individual options to restrict games and features.

Conclusion

Video games are a fast evolving medium. By the time that you are reading this article, it is entirely possible that all of the above games will have waned in popularity. Equally, there are thousands of games available, and your child or young person may be playing any of them.

It is important to try to know the names of the games that your child is playing. Games are regulated by the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system, and are rated. Parents can go on to the PEGI website here, and can search for any game. This will give an overview of the content of the game, and help parents to determine if the game is suitable for their child. This system works like movie ratings, and Parenting NI would strongly encourage parents to check the ratings of every game that they know their child is playing.

The most effective step that a parent can take is communicating with their young person. While taking an active interest in the games your child or young person plays may be challenging, having a general understanding of what they play and what is involved will help allay fears and catch problems. It is unreasonable to expect a parent to have an in-depth understanding of every video game that their child may play. However, rather than seeing them as mystifying sources of concern, parents should see their children’s interest in gaming as an opportunity.

Instead of saying “this is a waste of your time” or “go outside and play”, which may lead to an argument, ask “what do you like about that game?”. Children will appreciate the chance to talk about their interests, and parents may learn more about what their child enjoys.

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The Big Parenting Survey 2018!


Since 1979, Parenting NI has been supporting parents across Northern Ireland. We have helped thousands of parents, grandparents, kinship carers and others in parenting roles with issues ranging from bedtimes to anti-social behaviour.

Over the past 39 years, we have become the trusted voice of parents in Northern Ireland. In part because of our experience in helping parents when they most need it, Parenting NI has been able to stand up for them. We have helped to promote the importance and centrality of parents in policy relating to children, and we have worked hard to ensure that their voices were heard at the most crucial points over the last four decades.

An important aspect of advocating for parents is ensuring that we are listening to what they want and need. We have always been guided by parents, and acted for parents in our activities. We are always seeking new ways enhance our understanding of parent’s needs and concerns, and this year we are launching our largest ever parent’s survey, The Big Parenting Survey 2018!

The online survey will run from the 3rd of September until the 3rd of October 2018. In it, we are calling upon as many individuals in parenting roles living in Northern Ireland to give us their thoughts and views about being a parent in Northern Ireland today.

  • It doesn’t matter if you are a new parent, or if your children are grown.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are a kinship carer or a grandparent.
  • It doesn’t matter if you live in Belfast or Fermanagh.
  • It doesn’t matter if you have never accessed Parenting NI’s services.

Please help us to better understand the real experiences and issues faced by parents by completing the online survey here. We’d also really appreciate it if you could share the link as widely as possible to help us get as many responses as possible and so it is reflective of the experiences of all parents throughout Northern Ireland. You can share the link (https://www.questionpro.com/t/ALEXYZcgi9) on social media using the hashtag #BigParentingSurvey. 

We’d like to thank you all for your help and support in advance. 

 

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.