If you have been following my blog, you will have worked out by now that I like to keep myself occupied. This past year has been a positive one. In a previous post, at the end of 2017, I listed my Year in Review. I now look back over 2019, and while the list is shorter the year was just as fulfilling. The shorter list is a direct consequence of my daughter’s return to Australia and the subsequent increases in grandma time. I now have less “free” time. That free time has been filled with many pleasant hours spent building trains, telling stories and going on adventures.
The activity that has fallen off the list has been sustained writing. I have not advanced in any of the long-form writing projects I started back in 2017. They are not yet abandoned but very much on the back burner. I have found that I can put in the mental energy to write short blog posts and microfiction, but the characters from my longer stories don’t have enough time to wake up and let me know where they are up to.
So what did I do?
Continued with this blog, adding 127 posts.
And all the associated research, writing and photography that goes into those 127 posts.
I entered six writing competitions and about seven photography competitions – still not a winner but participation is the goal.
Made and sold copies of a 2020 calendar
Perfected designs for tea cosies and doorstops
Completed 16 of the 60 things on my 60 for 60 list. (better get cracking on that one but see my post on the Year of Zero for an update on that)
Had a garage sale with friends
Renewed my first aid certification
A short online course on SEO.
Participated in a rescue competition with the NSW SES
I did three photography shoots for other people, including one with studio lighting. I think I can now start asking for money for this type of work.
I didn’t cry once!
And I still have a demanding full time “real” job
And I spent plenty of time with family.
Goals for 2020
I have set out my goals for 2020 already. They concentrate on my financial future so there will not be any travelling, paid for courses or big purchases. I will get my side hustle happening! (You are all my accountability partners!)
On the non-financial goal side of things I want to learn how to meditate correctly, complete at least 25 more of the modified 60 for 60 list, and reduce my impact on the world by wasting less and reusing more. I will continue to keep fit, look after my gut bugs, write, and take photos of what’s in front of me.
The big, overarching goal is to inspire some other old chooks like me to get out and have a go!
The other day I was listening to a podcast and letting my mind wander. The podcast was Radio National’s All in the Mind and the topic up for discussion was daydreaming and dementia.
Do you daydream? I hope you do!
Daydreaming has a bad rap, but as it turns out, we should not be so hard on ourselves when we wander off. Daydreaming is a very healthy brain activity and while it may get you into trouble if you are zoned out when someone (like your boss) is trying to get your attention, the fact that you CAN daydream, especially if you are older, is an indication of a healthier brain.
“people living with frontotemporal dementia – a form of younger-onset dementia – lose the ability to daydream. ”
We let our minds wander a lot! Up to 50% of waking time. Daydreaming allows us to explore the unknown, practice conversations and confrontations, escape from reality, plan and problem solve. I know I write my best stories when I am out running! Pity I don’t remember them when I get back! 🙂
People with frontotemporal dementia lose this ability and remain rooted in the present and stimulus bound.
“They become increasingly focused on what is immediately in front of them, such as watching TV, listening to a piece of music, or eating food.”
They lose the ability to create their own internal world.
I have a particular interest in dementia and have done lots of reading on the topic and even an online course through the University of Tasmania. I am concerned about developing dementia (and arthritis!). Being an old chook (a female over 55), I am getting dangerously close to dementia being a real thing in my life. While I can’t change the genetic road map I have been given or do much about getting older, I can do my best to look after the modifiable factors that influence dementia risk.
It turns out that the sorts of things we have been told to do to maintain heart health will also look after the brain and the joints because they reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a big contributor to both these conditions. We need to ensure that we keep our blood pressure at a healthy level, stay active and keep moving, maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet which is based mainly in plants, never smoke and drink alcohol cautiously. Easy!
Just by the by, if you are interested in things to do with the brain and psychology, the All in the Mind podcast is fabulous. I must say I have a bit of girl-crush on Lynne Malcolm, the show’s presenter!
(As this is published I’ll be in an aeroplane somewhere returning home after my epic Scottish adventure)
I sat down with the intention of writing a short piece about coffee and the effect it has on our waistlines and wallets. As I started doing some research and looking at various websites on how many calories there are in various coffee beverages, how much coffee is drunk daily in Australia etc.; it got me thinking.
Where does this coffee come from? How much do we as a nation, spend? What about worldwide? Are there long term health benefits or does it cause health issues? Is it sustainable? All those disposable coffee cups have got to end up somewhere. Can all those corner cafes be supported? Where would you go to meet friends/on a first date if you don’t want to drink coffee and it wasn’t beer o’clock yet? What about tea? Would we solve all/any the issues if we switched to drinking only tea? Is coffee even worth drinking? Now come on, be honest, do you even LIKE the taste of coffee?
My swirling mind became caught in a spiral of ideas worse than being trapped in a Pinterest Vortex! I decided it was way bigger than one post could handle and it needed to be a series of blog posts. This post serves as an introduction and sets the scene. I will follow it up with another 5 posts over the next few months. (It might even grow from that number!)
Part 1 will be about the Waistline Effect: here I will explore the pharmacological, health and dietary effects of caffeine.
Part 2 looks at the economic effects of coffee on a micro (your household budget) and macro (the global economy) scale.
Part 3 investigates the environmental impact: are we burying our cities under a mountain of disposable cups. Are Keep Cups going to save the day? Are we causing rural poverty in those countries that supply our daily fix?
Part 4: What are the cultural differences in coffee drinking. Is Australian the only place you can buy a decent skim cap? I need your help here. Have you ever been able to buy a decent coffee in another country?
Part 5: Tea v Coffee. Does it make a difference? Plus anything else I haven’t been able to fit into the other posts.
I feel like a bit of a coffee expert, not because I drink lots, but because way back in the day when I was completing my undergraduate degree in Food Technology, I wrote my Honours Thesis on “Caffeine and its Derivatives in Australian Foods and Beverages”.
With nothing more than my trusty portable typewriter and correction tape, I banged out one hundred and thirty pages of meta-analysis and lab results about methylxanthines, the chemical group which includes caffeine and other similar compounds. While some of it is outdated, it remains a good starting point.
On a personal note, I’m a tea drinker. I limit the amount of coffee I buy from a cafe to around 1 – 2 cups a week if that. This decision is based on three factors.
Kilojoule intake. I drink skim milk cappucinos. That’s around 120 kcal or nearly 500 kJ which is approximately 8% of my target daily intake.
Lactose intake – I think I must be a little lactose intolerant because milk-based coffee drinks make my belly grumble unpredictably with embarrassing consequences!
I am stingy. $4 a cup every day that’s nearly $1500 a year!
I hope you’ll enjoy these posts and let me know your favourite cafe in the comments below!
If you listen to the health chatter on the TV news, in magazines and on the internet you will have heard about the importance of gut bacteria to health. Gut bacteria seem to be responsible for everything from gastrointestinal health to mental health to reducing high blood pressure. Modern “western” diets which are typically low in fibre and high in processed foods are being linked to the rise of obesity and Type 2 diabetes because of the deleterious effect they have on gut bacteria.
I have been researching and thinking about the microbes in my gut for over a year. I started to read the research, then switched to a mostly plant based diet, deliberately increased the amounts of probiotic and prebiotic foods that I am eating and generally trying to be nice to my gut bugs.
This time, I have put my body (and dignity) forward in the interests of science and bought a uBiome Test kit to check out what is actually living in my gut. It took 3 weeks to get the package from the US and then another 6 weeks to get the results.
The results are very comprehensive and frankly a bit of science-jargon-babble. I am a scientist and I found the data a bit overwhelming and not easy to interpret. I think they could provide a bit more help in unraveling the numbers.
I have become a bit obsessed with the amazing microbiome that is present in our gut. The billions of microorganisms that live inside us and have the potential to do so much good if we look after them.
Gut Microbes and Health.
More and more research shows that this microbiome is essential to our physical and mental health and many of the health problems facing those in industrialized economies could be solved by paying closer attention to what bugs are in your gut.
When your bug population get out of balance (dysbiosis) your whole body is in trouble.
The gut biome has been linked to
Synthesis of vitamins and amino acids in the gut
Digestion of “non-digestible” carbohydrates which therefore affects the amount of energy that is released from some foods
Protection from “bad” bacteria
Irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Eczema and asthma
Most studies of overweight and obese people show a dysbiosis characterised by a lower diversity.
Translation: Obese people have an imbalance of microorganisms with not enough variety present
It’s much better to have a good variety of microorganisms in your gut because:
The association between reduced diversity and disease indicates that a species-rich gut ecosystem is more robust against environmental influences, as functionally related microbes in an intact ecosystem can compensate for the function of other missing species. Consequently, diversity seems to be a generally good indicator of a “healthy gut.”
Translation: Having lots of different species of bacteria makes your body better able to withstand challenges because what one bug can’t do another type can. They can cover all bases by working together.
Fibre is the answer!
So how do you get a good mix of bugs in your gut? The key is consuming a goodly amount of dietary fibre and reducing the amounts of highly processed foods that we eat.
The idea is that we need to feed our gut bugs. Highly processed foods are easily digested and absorbed and don’t make it to the large intestine where most of the bug action is happening. By eating foods high in undigestable fibre, we give the bugs a meal as well.
How much is enough? Australia’s CSIRO recommend between 25 – 35 g per day. Having said that; too much fibre can reduce the diversity of your microbiome and if you suddenly change from a low fibre diet to a high fibre diet you can suffer from abdominal discomfort and flatulence. You should spread fibre consumption throughout the day and drink plenty of water to keep it moving through your intestines.
Types of fibre
There are different types of fibre which have different properties. The main types are insoluble, soluble and resistant starch.
Insoluble fibre found in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds provides bulk and can help control blood sugar levels.
Soluble fibre found in legumes, veggies and fruits give the bugs something to eat so they stay happy
Resistant starch, which is found in cooked, cooled and reheated rice, potato and pasta, as well has whole grains, legumes and under ripe bananas. Resistant starch increases the amounts of butyrate in the gut. Butyrate, a byproduct of microbial metabolism, is important in keeping the gut walls healthy as well as keeping bad bacteria at bay.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain living organisms such as yogurt and other fermented foods. Prebiotics on the other hand are foods that help the microorganisms in your body thrive.
A good analogy is that if you think of your gut as a garden, the probiotics are the seeds and the prebiotics the fertiliser.
Some chemicals and medications will damage your gut bugs.
Antibiotics kill bacteria. That’s their job, so they kill the bacteria in your gut too. You may need to take some extra special care of your gut bugs after antibiotics. There is some evidence that the appendix acts a reservoir for the microbiome and in time will help repopulate the gut with good bugs.
Emulsifiers are added to food to make oily and watery components stay mixed together. If you mix oil and vinegar together, they will after time, separate into layers unless you add an emulsifier. Some artificial emulsifiers have been linked to damaging the gut microbiome because they lead to a thinning of the mucous layer in the gut which in turn leads to leaky gut syndrome. This causes inflammation in many areas of the body. The answer? Prepare your own food from scratch as often as possible and avoid things your grandparents would not have considered as food. Be wary of foods with lots of numbers in the ingredient list and not many recognisable as food.
Omnivore vs vegan?
There does not seem to be much evidence that a well balanced omnivorous diet is any better or worse than a vegan diet. (see The BMJ article referred to below) Michael Mosley and others wholeheartedly recommend a “Mediterranean diet“. This type of diet is mostly plant based but does include meat, eggs, some dairy, healthy oils and nuts.
Further reading on gut microbes and health.
This post is only a very short summary of the growing volume of information available. Here are just a few of the articles you could read to if you want to know more.
A few weeks ago (60 for 60) I posted a list of activities that I intended on completing between now and my 60th birthday in May 2021. It was free ranging list and included little things like making a souffle right up to travelling to Scotland or Iceland.
I have been transferring the items to index cards which I intend to move from the to do to the done pile as they get done. I also thought it might be a good idea to work out a rough schedule of when I would do the activity so I could make efficient use of time and money. For instance, I want to see an active volcano and go to Iceland. It would be sensible to see a volcano in Iceland.
It was here at this point, that I saw the flaws in my list. I knew the list was ambitious. I knew it would be expensive. As I tried to fit things loosely into a calendar, I simply ran out of time. Let’s not even talk about how much I would have to spend! Of course, if I do end up winning the lottery (see this post) it will be fine! I can quit the day job and concentrate on the list full time. Unfortunately, though, I do have to work full time to pay for my fun.
I need to regig, remix and reassess the list. I need more small items that I can do without having to go anywhere or spend a lot on while still giving me a sense of accomplishment. I could replace all the travel with writing, but that takes time too. I want to succeed. I don’t want to set myself up for failure before I start by having unrealistic expectations and at the same time I don’t want to make it too easy either.
So here is the new list. The changes are subtle but they will make a difference.
Pay off extra on my current mortgage.
Sell some of my writing
Make a profit through Old Chook Enterprises
Sell some of my photos
Hit at least 1000 followers on WordPress (help me out here guys!!)
Hit at least 500 followers on Instagram (help needed here too!!) @robynlang3
Go to the UK, more specifically, Scotland
Go on a another cruise (6 – 10 days)
Make a 15-minute documentary that gets some success (define success!)
Finish the Buttons story (a sci-fi themed novella I am writing. Four out of 9 chapters done)
Write a screenplay
Finish the Anca story (another short story/novel idea.)
Finish the family history story about Sarah Anne Usher
Publish a blog post every week
Not to drink alone.
Do a woodworking course
Spend the weekend in Melbourne for my birthday again (I went in 2013)
Use frequent flyer points to pay for an entire international flight.
Photograph the Milky Way
Will do the southernmost extremity of the Australian mainland when I do a Melbourne road trip for my birthday
Paint the interior of my home
Get new carpet/floor covering
Re-read and do the steps in the Side Hustle Book.
Enter works into a photography exhibition – the Scarborough Art Show (October 2019)
Go six months without added sugar – I’ve started this one!
Road trip to Broken Hill, NSW
Fly in a hot air balloon in Australia
Write up the interview I did with Tracey and Sue about the Bibbulmun Track
Visit at least 15 more lighthouses in Australia. (I like lighthouses and want to see as many Australian ones as I can – there are more than 2000 so it might be a stretch to see them all!) There are 15 close to home (within 300 km) that I haven’t seen yet so this should be do-able.
“Day in the life” photography series for at least 4 people – follow 4 people in different occupations and photograph their day
Do an “extraordinary man” photographic series. An environmental portrait project.
Make a soufflé
Donate blood for the first time
Do a big >2500 piece jigsaw puzzle
Sell most my 2019 calendars (help me out here too!!)
Publish a 2020 calendar
Do another year of no new things in 2020.
Stop dying my hair and embrace the grey!
Finish a short course in food photography – Daylesford Victoria
Publish a cookbook of family favourites with my own photography
Do a short online graphics design course
Do some more light painting
Do an interview on radio/TV about something to do with Old Chook Enterprises
Modify the design and remake the running belt you made. A lycra belt to wear while running that holds my phone/keys and tissues etc. I have already made one but it needs some modifications.
Enter at least 10 writing competitions
Enter at least 10 photography competitions
Go on a writing retreat in 2019 (perhaps as a cruise?)
Do another cheese making course
Design some fabric to make some cushions for my home and to sell at markets
Have a 60th birthday celebration
Cut my time for 10km run to less than 56 minutes
Learn how to use eyeliner properly
Hold a market stall at least twice
Learn how to swim properly by getting swimming lessons.
Read at least 4 novels a year form the list of “good books”
Maintain weight at less than 60kg.
Learn how to do boxing style rope jumping and sustain for at least 5 minutes.
Buy a dymo labeller
Set up a saving fund for my grandson
Set up a worm farm
Pitch an article to a real magazine/publication (see point 49)
Create a passwords spreadsheet
Get a new phone
Make a will
Learn enough Italian to have a short conversation
Enter some photos in the Royal Easter Show (a big fair in Sydney, Australia)
Try being an AirBnB host
Write a children’s picture book
See an active volcano (I could do this in Iceland)
Go to Broome, Western Australia.
Get my first paid article published. I had this twice.
Tidy my garage -hmmm not really a life goal.
Get a new job – to get everything done I think I need stability in my day job!
Go on a really long walk like the Bibbulmun Track in Western Australia
Meet someone very famous.
Wish me luck! I will publish updates at 6 monthly intervals. I’d love to hear what you would have in your list. Please add your ideas in the comments below.
I took up running seriously a little over a year ago. I have written a bit about this in a few posts (here and here). I run to get some higher intensity exercise, and because once it’s over I feel like a bad-assed grandma! DAMN! I think to myself, I just ran a LONGGGGGG way! And I’m old! (ish!)
I am not super fit and I am a long way off breaking world records. The only person I am keen on competing against is my past-self. My present-self sometimes needs a kick in that bad-ass to get it moving! My goal is to do 10km in 55 minutes. It’s not unrealistic. I can do 5km in 27 minutes so I should be able to do 10 in 55.
I try and train 6 days a week. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday are running days. Five km on Monday with sprints or hill runs; 7 – 8 km on Wednesday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are gym days for crossfit or cardio boxing, Fridays are yoga and Sunday is a rest day. I sometimes switch the rest day depending on my schedule and other commitments.
As I haul myself out of bed at 5:30 AM, I grumble that I should cut myself some slack, but I repeat to myself JFDI!!! (Just f@#$ do it!!) A great mantra! The self satisfaction I feel when I do get up and exercise lasts me all day. When I am travelling or it’s school holidays I am not nearly as disciplined.
My standard Saturday run is 10km. My best time so far is 56:05.
I run on a nicely made bike path that hugs the coast. I can see and hear the ocean. I join the early morning bike riders, walkers and runners who share the path. Running gives me plenty of time to think. I can live in my own head and burble out a stream of consciousness. Typically, my run sounds like this.
0 – 1 km
OMG I can’t breath! I am so unfit! Why did I even think this was a good idea. Come on lungs get it together!
1- 2 km
Oh there you go! My memory brings backs the good old days in the biochem lectures were I learnt about the anaerobic energy system. That’s right….it takes a little while to kick in.
2 – 4 km
I’m hit a steady rhythm; my breathing is not laboured. I should probably go a bit faster. The beat of the music is urging me along. I match my stride to the music. I start to get onto the flow…. I could do this forever! …. Marathon? Yeah, no worries! Easy!
4 – 5 km
When is that bloody running app going to tell me I’m half way so I can turn around. These shoes need replacing! Are they actually any good? I wonder about whether I’m hot or cold… I wonder about whether or not I’m breathing properly… my hip starts to give me a bit of a twinge. Great, I’ll be needing a hip replacement next!
Veronica (the voice on my GPS) tells me my current speed and distance every kilometre. But 5 km is the turning point – literally. If I am under 30 minutes I know I have a good chance of reaching that elusive 55 minutes goal. If not, I may as well take it slowly.
6 – 7 km
My gait has settled back into a good rhythm. Kenny Loggins’ Footloose is almost perfect for my stride (I know I know….) and I pound my feet against the pavement with satisfying synchronised beats. I drift back into the flow and come up with all sorts of good ideas for stories.
7 – 8 km
Veronica breaks into my train of thought unexpectedly…and sends me into a flurry of calculation…can I do it? Should I sprint to the end? No wait… I can’t sprint 3 km!
8 – 9 km
Push it just a little bit harder, old chook. No pain, no gain! Oh no… here’s that little hill that’s always so welcome on the way out but not now that it’s facing up.
9 – 10 km
I can see the car parked off in the distance! Come on! Come on! You can do it!
YOU DID IT!!!
I DID IT!
Darn: 57 minutes and 48 seconds. I begin the self-justification… don’t forget you stopped to do your shoelace up twice, you slowed down to blow your nose at least three times…that should take; what; at least 30 seconds off the time…it’s really 57:18
I feel elated as I stretch on the grass. Not bad for an Old Chook!
I might have 2 minutes to cut off my time. I might need to increase my speed by a full kilometre per hour to average 11kph not 10.
Atkins – only Generation X’ers and before will remember this one!
There are so many variations on how to eat healthily! The array of information available these days is overwhelming. Even with my background in food science I find it hard to keep up.
Food as more than fuel
In my late teens and in my early 20’s, I was anorexic and for a short time bulimic. I ate very little. I weighed about 47 kg and got annoyed if I went over 50kg. My BMI was less than 17. (A Healthy BMI is between 19 an 24) I exercised hard and stayed very fit but perhaps not healthy. I used to replay the words from the Ford Pills Diet ad over and over in my head. It was on TV when I was only 7 but it obviously had left its mark!
Before intermittent fasting was a “thing”, I used to fast all day Saturday, with the idea I could eat what I liked on Sunday. I remember waking up in the middle of the night, dizzy and light headed. I had frequent hypoglycaemic events not because I was diabetic but because I didn’t eat often enough. I was an absolute pain in the neck when it came to eating out!
I did a Food Technology degree at University and on reflection, this was no doubt my way of becoming a “food expert” and validating what I was doing. After Uni, I went on to work in the food manufacturing industry for a few years before moving into laboratory equipment sales. It is not uncommon for people with eating disorders to work with food in one form or another. Apart from my day job I had a side hustle – being a fitness instructor. More reasons to exercise and stay thin.
Once I was married, I would cook hugely elaborate meals. My husband also enjoyed cooking and we would often spend almost the entire weekend planning, shopping, preparing and cooking fabulous menus which I didn’t eat much of. Food was always on the agenda as a hobby, and as a fuel.
I am pleased to say that as I have gotten older I have become more sensible with my diet although it is still a balancing act of energy in vs energy out.
I still enjoy cooking and now that I am cooking only for myself (and I’m past the wine and wedges phase) I make it an intentional act to cook a decent meal a few times a week. There are always leftovers, so I have enough for those nights when I have less time. I plan my weekly meals (let’s say that again: I aim to plan my weekly meals because sometimes I don’t!!) – mainly because it means I don’t waste so much food or have to face the decision of what to cook each night.
I remain interested in nutrition and have considered returning to study in this field. When I was doing my first degree, issues like antioxidants and gut bacteria weren’t even on the horizon. Coconut oil was a BAD thing!
Nowadays, I also look out for foods that will have a protective factor against the diseases of older age. There is some talk (but little evidence) that turmeric will reduce the inflammation that contributes to arthritis and dementia. I am now taking turmeric tablets. It can’t hurt, and it might help. In a previous post I spoke about good mood food, food that feeds your gut bacteria and is thought to contribute to positive physical and mental health.
Finding the right food balance.
In the end I think we all know that no fad diet will work. There is no magic bullet. If you want to lose weight you need to use more energy than you consume. If you want to be healthy you need variety. You need to be flexible and not place any unnecessary restrictions on what you can and can’t eat. Get your advice from reputable sources that don’t have a vested interest and are not trying to sell you something. I have not fact checked any of the websites I have linked to in the above list – so do your own research. I think you need to be careful if someone is making money out of selling you a fad diet.
The best dietary advice I have heard recently is summed up in seven words from Michael Pollan:
The little imaginary fellow on my other shoulder keeps telling me how bourgeois this line of reasoning is. A great many people on our Earth will find this concern about he best way to eat to stay healthy ridiculous because they have NO food.. We should be grateful we have the food in the first place and do our best not to waste it and distribute it more equitably – but that’s a whole other topic for a different blog post!
Growing up in the 60s, I would describe my childhood as free range. By this I mean that while I was well cared for, I did not have much close supervision. This was not unusual for the times. Provided we told our parents where we were going and what we were doing they just let us go and do it. We would stay outside all day, in all seasons. In wet weather, we would play inside and dress up our dolls and build whole new worlds. We played under the house building mud pies in the dirt with little regard for the spiders that hung from the joists above our heads. We were happy and active.
I don’t remember our parents organising any of our activities. We worked it out for ourselves, although we had to ask for permission to watch TV or when we wanted a sleepover.
We’d play on the street with all the neighbourhood kids. Someone would yell out “CAR” and we’d scamper aside and let the traffic pass and then continue with the game of cricket or soccer. Once again, I don’t remember any parents around to tell us to be careful or to watch out. There was a mix of ages from Will and Micky who were the oldest right down to pipsqueaks like me who were five years younger.
I obviously survived, although I did have a few near misses. Once when my brother and I were playing at the beach and I got caught in a rip. Some fellow scooped me out of the surf and took me back to my mother who was sleeping on the sand. In her defence, we weren’t supposed to be swimming!
I remember slicing my foot from toe to heel on a rusty water tank we were using as a slippery dip. The most vivid part of this memory being the bloody little foot prints I left on the road as I limped home.
In kindergarten, I was walking home from school on a rainy day splashing in puddles when I got stuck in a big open drain with the water rising around me. And the nearest miss, when I was at my best friend’s cousins’ place swimming in their pool and one of the older kids bombed me. I had to be dragged to the surface after someone realised I hadn’t come up yet.
Modern parents are more involved but at what price?
More recently, parents and carers are more involved in directing the activities of their children. Dance lessons, after school tutoring, training for sports, pre-organised play dates. All structured time. I guess this is mostly because many parents and particularly, mums, work away of home and scheduling is necessary. You can no longer pop next door and know that someone will be home.
Is adolescent anxiety on the rise?
If you ask me if anxiety and depression and other mental illnesses have increased in the 26 years years I have been teaching I would give an emphatic YES. Is my perception backed by evidence? I notice it more and more but is that because as a school leader, I am more involved in that aspect of schooling? Today alone I spoke to three families about their anxious and school-refusing children. The quick research I did in preparation for this post, indicates my perception can not be supported evidence.
Some articles say there has been no increase in the prevalence of anxiety disorders, while others refer to an “epidemic” and crisis of mental health issues. The problem is that data collection relating to childhood anxiety has only started in the last 10 – 15 years. We don’t have a clear picture on the anxiety levels of past generations because it wasn’t measured or reported so we cannot accurately compare. We simply don’t know. We have no good base line data. Anxiety levels might be higher or they could even be lower.
While my hunch is not supported by hard evidence, I have first hand observational data – even if the sample size is very small – that some kids, especially girls around 14 – 16 can not be separated from their phones. I have had girls crying and begging to be suspended from school rather than hand in their phone after using it inappropriately in class time. Their fear of losing that point of contact is palpable. They quiver and become faint.
Is there a link between the use of smart phones and the apparent increase in anxiety?
Has the shift in care practices made a difference to childhood happiness and health?
The practices of 50 years ago may be seen as neglectful these days. At school we often discuss helicopter parents – those who hover constantly over their children and the more notorious lawn mower parents who sweep ahead and mow down any obstacles in their children’s path. Of course, all parents want their children to be safe and not be hurt, teased or bullied but has the pendulum swung too far? Are today’s parents stopping their children learning valuable lessons and denying them opportunities to be resilient and self reliant? Are they creating anxious kids by accident?
I think so.
The Australian Government report into childhood anxiety does state the following:
It might be tempting to blame increased screen time [for anxiety] and access to information via the internet that didn’t exist in previous generations….
The presence of screens is not necessarily something that’s going to create anxiety. Social media, unfortunately, is a huge factor. Particularly in primary school.‘
Further, parents of anxious children can exacerbate the issue by protecting their children too much. When I am dealing with anxious kids I usually find an anxious parent not too far behind.
If a child is worried about going on a school camp, for example, it can be tempting for parents to accommodate their wishes….[and let them stay at home]
‘What keeps anxiety going is avoidance,’ … ‘If you stay away from situations you’re nervous about, the child will never learn that she can handle it, and that actually camp can be fun.
Once again it would seem like the middle ground is the place to be. We have to keep children safe, but not so safe they are scared to stretch their wings.
More information on childhood anxiety
There are some good articles available on the topic if you’d care to read more.
This one about teens and social media from Harvard is an easy and informative read.