Sunday, 29 October 2017

I'm A Liddle Enraged...

Every morning, almost as soon as my alarm goes off, I find myself browsing social media, as a way of joining the ranks of the already-awake.  There's something about scrolling through posts about anything from someone's breakfast to their hectic school run each morning, that forces me to shake off sleep and wrench myself from beneath the duvet, in order to be a part of the world, again.

Some mornings, I stumble upon a funny article, or a really witty tweet that ensures that my day starts with a laugh.  And then, other mornings, I'll find myself reading something that raises my blood pressure and means that, once I get up, I'm stomping about like a bear with a sore everything.

Today was one of those days.

Now, there are people in this world whose sole existence is to court controversy, because they have no other discernible talent.  Katie Hopkins, for example.  And whilst I don't ascribe to the "don't feed the trolls" mentality that others have regarding these people (because I believe we should call out things that are wrong or harmful), I also don't like to give them too much of the attention they crave.  So, I'm kind of annoyed with myself for the fact that I'm sitting here, writing a blog in response to an article that was blatantly written with the intention of whipping up a frenzy of "liberal leftie" anger.  But then again, the article is full of genuinely problematic material that has the potential to do more harm than good, so...

This is the article I stumbled upon as I browsed Twitter, this morning.  Written by Boris Johnson's uglier brother from another mother, Rodd Liddle, the piece begins by bemoaning the fact that Scotland has outlawed smacking children.  Liddle refers to smacking kids as "one of life's harmless little pleasures."  And again, I'm really mad with myself for letting that despicable line enrage me as much as it did, seeing as I'm sensible enough to know Liddle wrote it purely to have that effect, but here's the thing: I work with children.  I'm trained in safeguarding and behaviour management.  So, not only do I know how to discipline a child without ever resorting to hitting, I also know what the effects of frequent physical punishment on a child can be.  I know personally, having been raised in an era where smacking was still relatively commonplace, that it doesn't bloody work.  It doesn't build respect, it instills fear.  It instills shame, when you're trying to cover up a mark the next day in your PE lesson.  Maybe a smack stops a child from doing the thing you're punishing them for, but they don't really learn why they shouldn't do whatever it is they did wrong, which makes it pointless.

In the 17 years I've worked in childcare, I've dealt with cases of bruising from "physical discipline" in the home - although thankfully, not for many years.  I've heard firsthand accounts that would make your hair stand on end.  I've counselled teenagers who have been smacked all their lives, for the most minor misdemeanours, and have not only lost respect for their parents as a result, but have never been talked to about right and wrong, so end up confused and scared.  And for that reason, hearing someone describe smacking a child as "one of life's harmless little pleasures" makes me feel physically sick.  

The point of disciplining a child is not to gain some kind of sick enjoyment from "hearing them howl in pain," as the article claims.  It's to teach them to grow into decent adults.  You don't do that by giving them "a nasty pinch to the upper arm."  All that does is make them associate whatever they're being punished for with pain.  Sure, that might stop them doing it again, but as I said earlier, it won't teach them why.  And that why?  Is important.  That's what makes a child stop and think about their actions, in future.  It's what encourages a child to consider others and make decisions that ultimately make them better people.  Because they understand why they shouldn't steal someone else's toy, or bully a kid in the playground.  At each stage of life, a child is learning the right and wrong ways to behave.  It's the jobs of parents, care-givers, teachers etc to reaffirm the right way and explain what's wrong with the alternative.  Can that be done purely by giving them a slap every time they make the wrong choice?

And it's not as if we live in an age where smacking is the only choice a parent or care-giver has.  Ground the kid.  Stop them going to the park after school.  Take their iPad or mobile phone away from them for 24 hours.  Discipline should exist and it's important (believe me, I've seen the consequences of not disciplining a child at all), but it doesn't have to be solely physical for it to work.

Liddle immediately goes on to prove himself full of manure, when he suggests that nowadays, we're "expected to smile indulgently" at "unruly brats" in restaurants, explaining that they're probably only "screaming their little lungs out" because they "shouldn't be there in the first place."

I was taken to restaurants from a young age.  I was also raised in a family that recognised the importance of eating together.  There weren't multiple meals cooked, because I kicked off and refused to eat my greens (actually, it was mushrooms I refused to touch and I still do, but that's besides the point).  Mum made one meal and we all ate it.  Together.  My parents modelled the right way to hold a knife and fork and my sister and I learned to copy.  We'd sit around the table and talk as we ate - we still do.  There is absolutely no reason why kids can't be taken to restaurants and to suggest as much is stupid.  Sure, I've been to restaurants where parents are letting their kids run between tables, screaming their heads off and in those circumstances, yes I've bitten my lip.  But I've had many more meals out where children are sitting at the table perfectly nicely, talking to their families, or colouring in books to entertain themselves before their dinner arrives.  When we start saying things like "kids shouldn't be in restaurants," we may as well revert back to "children should be seen and not heard," which is just utterly backwards.  Kids need a variety of experiences in order to learn how to behave in different situations and why should they miss out on a dinner at a restaurant, just because some middle-class twonk who enjoys hitting children says so?!

But, perhaps shockingly, it wasn't just the "smacking kids brings me such joy" stuff that solely caused my ire, in this particular pile of garbage.  Because Liddle goes on to talk about mental health issues in a way that made that funny vein in my head start throbbing...

Liddle describes a rise in mental illnesses amongst children and young people as evidence that "we're not bringing our children up terribly well."  But I would almost go as far as to argue the opposite.  Hear me out...

Back in the "glory days" of acceptable racism, the British stiff-upper lip and disregard for public safety, nobody talked about their feelings.  Parents with a teenager who expressed hormonal angst would almost certainly have told them to "man up," or simply said "we don't talk about things like that."  It wasn't that mental illnesses didn't exist back then - possibly in similar numbers to these days - it was that we didn't speak about it.  We repressed it.  We forced those suffering to shut up about it, because it wasn't the "done thing" to discuss depression, back then.

Thankfully, we don't live in a world like that, anymore.  Dinosaurs like Liddle might pine for those times, but mercifully, they are gone.  Teenagers today are far more aware of social issues.  They can be more open about their sexuality and they are arguably more politically aware.  Most importantly, these days, if a child or young person expresses anxiety or depression, we don't try to sweep it under the carpet.  We let them talk.  We encourage them to work through their emotions.  It's medically proven that bottling things up can cause all manner of physical and mental problems, so why are certain people like Liddle so desperately keen on forcing our young people back into silence?!

Indeed, Liddle refers to "safe-spaces" and the "terror of encountering an opinion which differs from their own" as evidence of a "profound derangement."  Yet, most of the teenagers I know thrive in debates.  They enjoy thrashing out their views with someone who holds the opposite opinion.  Why?  Because young people these days are given the freedom to express themselves and they have far more on hand to help them form their opinions than my generation or any generation before have had.  The internet, social media, societal awareness growing constantly... All of those things help people of all generations - but perhaps the young in particular - to form their views and to read up on those who oppose them.  And as for "safe spaces," if you're someone who genuinely scoffs at the idea of places where a person can speak freely, without judgement, then you must be lucky enough to have never needed one.  Those of us who have encountered abuse, sexual harassment or anything else that means we might want to be somewhere we know will be free from trolls mocking our experiences, know how vital safe spaces can be.  It was a particular Twitter page that advertised itself as a "safe space for abuse survivors" that was the first place I was able to truly talk about what happened to me, without fear of reprisal.  That was a vital step towards putting my life back together and if someone wants to mock safe spaces, I can only say that that person must have no idea how important safe spaces have the potential to be, for those who really need them.  I won't listen to people insult the idea of a safe space without standing up for them, in return.  Too often, critics believe a "safe space" refers to wrapping someone in cotton wool, protecting them from differing opinions and treating them as though everything they say must be right.  That's not my experience at all and I don't like seeing safe spaces reduced to that overly simplistic and unhelpful stereotype.

Liddle goes on to suggest that "mental illness and gender stuff" aren't stigmatised the way they once were (as though that's a bad thing) and instead insists that they now have a "very potent cachet."  He describes young people as "revelling in their victimhood" and it's at this point in the article that I want to reach through the screen and smack Rodd Liddle, so that he howls in pain.

When I was a teenager, I was horrifically bullied, because I wasn't as pretty as the other girls in my class.  I tried to hang myself with my school tie when I was twelve, maybe thirteen years old.  This was something you just didn't talk about, so I kept it largely to myself.  I didn't talk about how depressed I had become, because I was embarrassed and ashamed.  Instead, I would take the badges off the backpack I wore and run the pins along my arms, creating ugly, raised, red lines.  If I couldn't let the pain out by talking openly, I had to let it out some other way.

I don't say any of that in order to revel in my victimhood.  I say it because I know I'm not alone.  And I know how vital it is to realise that others are either going through the same thing, or even better, that they went through it and came out the other side.  Because when I was a teenager, it didn't feel as though there even was another side.

I was far from alone.  When I finally did open up about my experiences, I was stunned to discover how many people had gone through similar things.  These days, we know how common depression, stress and anxiety are in teenagers.  Their bodies are going through physical changes, they have hormones raging through their veins and they're trying to work out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.  It's an enormously stressful time and it's not in the least bit surprising to me that now that we're more open about mental health, more and more young people are talking openly about their experiences.

Liddle - frankly disgustingly -  describes mental illnesses as "the new, exciting activities of our young people," which is dismissive and ignorant.  Anyone who has ever dealt with depression on any level will tell you how un-exciting it is.  There's no glory in it and anyone who does "revel" in depression is almost certainly not actually suffering from it.  The fact is, when you're depressed, rather than "revel" in your "exciting new activity," you would do almost anything to stop feeling as hopeless as you do.  I know that even now, at the ripe old age of 35, I often feel as though my entire teens were robbed by depression.  I should have been out having fun and making stupid mistakes.  But I spent much more of that time inside, hating myself and feeling embarrassed for not being a "proper" teenager.

The fact that mental illness is so openly discussed now and that there is much more acceptance of it is not a damning indictment of our terrible, modern world.  It's an endorsement of our ability to learn to drop our stigmatised, negative attitudes.  Rodd Liddle's reduction of mental illness to some kind of badge of honour, worn by attention-seeking teens, is the kind of harmful bullsh!t that too often stops young people from speaking out.  And not speaking out and getting help can lead to suicide.  So, in my view, it's highly important that young people continue to talk openly about mental health.  It's Rodd Liddle - and those who harbour similarly damaging views - who need to shut up.

Call me a liberal leftie.  Tell me I'm too PC.  I genuinely don't care.  But when I see someone firstly gleefully claiming to take great pleasure from causing physical pain to a child, I'm going to call that person out as, frankly, abusive.  And when that same person then reduces mental illness to some kind of weak, attention-seeking and seems to want to hark back to a problematic age when mental health was stigmatised and swept under the carpet, I will also call that person out as a clueless, potentially harmful idiot.

If you're feeling depressed, stressed or anxious, please talk to someone.  Please be open about your mental health and if you need a safe space, free from idiots like Rodd Liddle who choose to mock you and make accusations that cause you to feel unable to speak out, this blog can be one, if you need it to be.

And Rodd?  I hope your daughter continues to grow up in a world where she can talk openly about emotional wellbeing and mental health if she ever needs to.   And as for your enjoyment of causing her physical pain, I'm going to end this with a quote from my Dad:

"I'd say if someone is actually getting pleasure out of hitting their child, then they must be sick in the head."

I'm inclined to agree.

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