Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Empower our children - don't label them

This is going to be a controversial one I know, so strap yourselves in. But I feel the need to speak out against the mental health labels we are placing on children.

I believe in the majority of cases, we are blurring the lines between the perfectly normal transformative emotions and anxieties that teenagers go through and clinical mental health problems.

Not a week goes by without a headline declaring soaring mental health issues in children and this week is no exception. Today we are confronted with the news that a quarter of girls under 14 are depressed. Nine per cent of boys in the same age group were also found to have depression.

These figures come from the results of a 13 question government-funded survey. Questions included, in the last fortnight did you feel miserable and sad, did you cry a lot, and did you feel you could never be as good as other children?

Without doubt there is phenomenal pressure on children, especially as they reach their teenage years over body image, exam pressure, bullying and fitting in with their peers. Social media now plays a huge part in exacerbating the problem. There is no let up for children. They can't shut the door on their school day. Messages are being churned out from their phones around the clock.

And that's why I think labelling these children, parcelling them up and dealing with them clinically, is extremely unhelpful. Children need to know there is nothing wrong or abnormal, medically or otherwise, with what they are going through - that most children feel the same way, even that girl – or boy – you know that one, who appears to be ultra confident and happy, the one you all want to be.

They need to know that they will look back and realise that that was a tough time but they got through it, that they can be exactly who they are meant to be, not what other people expect them to be. That school exams are not the be all and end all and there is a whole bright, exciting future out there for them beyond the school gates. That they don't have to be the one fitting in. It is far cooler to be the one on the fringes setting new trends.

Empower these children with this knowledge, instead of bringing them down with medical labels, and their screens can churn out all the negative messages they like. It won't matter a jot.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

I'm driving, Theresa declares

It appears Tory infighting over the thorny issue of Brexit has been reduced to driving analogies.

Prime Minister May has finally commented about that article Boris Johnson wrote to the Daily Telegraph over the weekend (see yesterday's blog 'Bring me my bus, bellows Boris' for more) and let's say her comments would have had more impact if she was teenage Boris' mother arguing with him over who was going to drive them up to Waitrose. Rather than who was going to steer the country towards a successful parting of the ways with Europe.

Amber Rudd started it by damning Boris as a 'back seat driver' and it looks like May has decided to run with this but in her usual watered down, not wanting to cause offence, kind of way.

She told journalists the government was driven from the front and they were all heading in the same direction.

The trouble is, by making this ambiguous comment she is still not confirming she is the one in charge of the Brexit car or what direction it is going. Backwards up a one way street I would hazard.

And there's no point even commenting on the fact she has given Boris absolutely no reprimand for his behaviour. The furthest she would go was to say 'Boris is Boris', which suggests we should excuse absolutely anything Boris does. Just like Hitler was Hitler and Trump is Trump.

So there we have it, May – for arguments sake – is driving a despondent teenage Boris up to Waitrose for the weekly shop, Vince Cable occasionally pokes his head up from somewhere at the back declaring if only May would step out of the car he would be able to drive it and Corbyn is by the road side just biding his time, waiting for the inevitable crash so he can hijack the car himself.

Have a good journey and don't forget the croissants.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Bring me my bus, bellows Boris

In a secret lock-up somewhere off the M25, a double decker bus has been left to fester. Grime coats its once proud red coat, the tires have slowly sighed out their air, a banner slowly peels, like an over-cooked noodle, ground-wards, the letters NHS clinging on by remnants of glue.

The doors of the lock-up suddenly swing open and a thatch of springy blonde hair thrusts through.
“That's the one,” the thatch declares with the thrust of a podgy finger. “I want that one, back on the road by noon.”

A wiry foreman scratches his balding head. “It can't be done,” he replies falteringly. “It's not road-worthy. It failed its last MOT.”

As the discordant pair watch, the letters NHS give up the ghost and the bus' banner falls to the earth. Boris prods the pile of mildewed paper with the point of his shiny loafer. “Make it one o'clock”, he concedes.

Because that's right, Boris Johnson is back, and so is his bus - or at least the promise emblazoned on it - £350 million to the NHS each week if Britain leaves the EU.

Or perhaps he never really went away, despite Theresa May appointing him Foreign Secretary, which appeared to simultaneously allow her to keep her beady eye on him, whilst sending him off for weeks to far flung places.

However, all this time it seems Boris - a staunch leave campaigner lest we should forget - has been beavering away planning his next leadership challenge, with a hard Brexit at its heart.

Theresa May must have been none too pleased to see Boris' article in the Daily Telegraph over the weekend, which talked of the need to sever all ties from the European Union once March 2019 rolls around. This flies in the face of her plans for a 'status quo' Brexit, which will essentially see Britain unchanged for several years after 2019 as it continues to pay into the EU and enjoy perks such as the single market.

And what is extraordinary, even for Boris, is his gall in bringing back the claim the NHS will benefit so radically once Brexit is over – a fact which has proved to be financially flawed. Britain, it has been calculated, does not even pay as much as £350 million into the EU each week.

Besides, gone are the days when Boris was the blundering clown we all hated to love. When we would open our newspapers and allow ourselves a small guilty smile at photographs of him on a zip wire with a safety harness riding uncomfortably up into his nethers.

That ship has sailed Boris and so has your bus. Or rather, it has been towed to the knackers yard, along with your empty promises.

Friday, 15 September 2017

We have a problem with...Jacob Rees-Mogg

The Tory backbencher for North East Somerset has stirred up the pot with a series of contentious views this week, on all things from abortion and same-sex marriage to food banks and the morning-after pill.

Mr Rees-Mogg, a father of six, is on record as being anti-abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, and anti-gay marriage. In his eyes, the fact he is a Catholic justifies these views.
He similarly has described the move to make the morning-after pill more easily available to women as 'a great sadness'.

But what we all need to remember before we too quickly dismiss Mr Rees-Mogg's views as utter twaddle in 2017 Britain, is this man is one of the favourites to replace Theresa May as Prime Minister. In fact he is absolute favourite amongst Tory grass roots members.

And if there is any doubt over what kind of Prime Minister this man would be - there are his comments on food banks. Talking to LBC Radio he said he found the increased use of food banks 'uplifting'. He said it revealed the charitable support people were prepared to voluntarily give to their fellow citizens.

When confronted with figures that showed last year food banks had been used by more people than ever before, he said that was because the Conservatives had made people aware that food banks existed, unlike the previous Labour government.

Nothing to do with the number of public sector jobs being slashed and more and more families living in poverty then.

There was a time when we used to laugh at Toad of Toad Hall, lager swigging, Nigel Farage. Look where that got us – Brexit.
We chortled over perma-tanned reality television star Donald Trump and his little hands. Then he was elected leader of the most powerful country in the world.

There is a pattern emerging here.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Just let him wear the dress

Of course I am referring to the story of parents Nigel and Sally Rowe who this week announced they had not only pulled their six-year-old out of the school that allowed another boy to attend wearing a dress, but were now intending to take the school to court.

The couple, who claim to be Christians, say the Church of England primary is failing to respect the rights of their son to be raised in line with biblical values.

Perhaps most worrying of all, if Mr and Mrs Rowe win their case, it would mean transgender pupils at all schools suffering.

Talking to the press this week, the couple, who live on the Isle of Wight, say their religious beliefs state boys are boys and girls are girls. They think the issue of 'gender dis-morphia' must be addressed compassionately but not at school.

It is ironic Mr and Mrs Rowe use the word compassion. Their whole stance lacks just that – not only to the six-year-old who has taken the bold step to wear the dress to school but to their own son.

Mr Rowe says his little boy came home confused because a pupil in his class would sometimes come to school dressed as a boy and sometimes as a girl.

This would be the perfect opportunity to sit down and help their son understand that not all children simply fall into one of two categories – boy or girl – but of course, the Rowes refuse to accept that is the case themselves.

They have instead withdrawn their child from the school to be home-schooled and as a result that child will be closeted away from any alternative views to his parents.

It is this kind of behaviour which goes some way to explain why we live in a world where the voices of the likes of Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg are allowed to prosper.