Tag Archives: Childline

Remembering the Brown Envelope

Ah, yes. It’s a day for the cold sweats and the palpitations, the clenched jaws and the tight smiles and the ‘yep, I’m fine no honestly I’m all right will you ever just leave me alone I’m really grand, I swear’ sort of conversations. It’s a day for stepping carefully.

It’s Leaving Certificate results day.

I'm fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book...  Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

I’m fairly sure this image is actually taken from my Leaving Certificate maths answer book…
Photo Credit: dullhunk via Compfight cc

Every country has its school leaving examinations, of course. There are HSCs, GSCEs, SATs, and all manner of acronyms. In Ireland, it’s the LC (though nobody really calls it that), those weeks each May and June when the national news shows daily images from deathly silent examination halls and conducts interviews with clench-jawed students whose too-bright eyes betray their nerves. Mid-August brings results day – schools open early, piles of innocuous-looking brown envelopes sit in alphabetical order in boxes, and the principal is on hand with words of comfort and advice. Some kind teachers (who aren’t still sunning themselves in foreign climes) flit about offering aphorisms and tea and soft, fragrant hugs or claps on the back. Mums and dads crowd outside, chewing their fingernails to the quick (that’s if their children allow them to be anywhere near the school, of course), and for some reason it always seems to be a sunny day. Sometimes, this can feel like a taunt.

The day I got my Leaving Certificate results is a long, long time ago now, but I’ll never forget it. The walk from the front gate of my school to the Reception desk, where those brown envelopes were sitting, felt like ten miles of broken glass. My principal had a rictus grin on his face. Some of the school secretaries were frantically sorting results into alphabetical order while others were equally frantically looking for results as students began to queue up. The banter was loud and jovial, and there were hugs, and there were narrowed eyes as old rivals fought to get their results simultaneously, and then – once the envelope was received, and the principal’s hand was shaken – quiet settled over proceedings as corners were found. Gentle ripping noises filled the air as the envelopes bit the dust, followed by feverish calculation as the points were added up. (In Ireland, each result carries a particular ‘points’ value – an A1 on a Higher Level paper carries 100 points, and so on down the scale to a Pass grade on an Ordinary Level paper, and college courses demand certain total ‘points’ scores for admission). Then, like a bubble popping, it was all over.

I remember a friend of mine, who has since become a very successful accountant, added up my points for me because I was incapable of doing it. (This will show you why I did an Ordinary Level mathematics exam, instead of a Higher Level one, for my Leaving Certificate). I remember her face brightening as the total became clear, but somehow it still felt like I hadn’t done ‘enough’, whatever that nebulous concept is. People all around were stunned at their results, either because they’d actually managed to get the points to do the course that their parents had always wanted them to do (no word on whether it was what they wanted or not), or because they’d missed out, sometimes by as few as ten or fifteen or twenty points, on what they saw as their ‘dream’ and their only means of escape. Tears often flowed. People swore to stay in touch, and others arranged then and there to share flats in Dublin or Limerick or Cork or Galway when they went to college, and some just put their results back in their shredded envelope and left without a word. In many cases, it was the last time people would see one another for the rest of their lives. We’d been at school together for years on end, sharing classrooms and corridors and changing rooms and ‘recreation areas’ (never ‘playgrounds’), and this day marked not only the results of our exams, but in some cases the end of the tenuous connections which had bound us as one. I still wonder, at times, what happened to some of the kids I studied with; that boy in the corner of my Irish class, the one with the shock of blue-black hair – what was in his envelope, that sunny day? And the small girl with the gentle grin who shared her paintbrushes with me one day in Art; what was her name?

On my Leaving Certificate results day, I got the points I needed for my general Arts degree. In fact, I got way more than I needed. I still ended up taking an extra year at home, doing a practical course in office management, before I left for Dublin. My close friends all went on to college without me, but they were the sort of friends one can’t lose, as such; we all stayed together emotionally, and we’re all still friends now. Life has taken a zig-zag path since, and I’m not sure whether things would be exactly the same for me if I had managed to get fifty or one hundred fewer points that day, or fifty or one hundred more. But even if things hadn’t gone to ‘plan’ (insofar as my seventeen-year-old self had one), I’m sure that my mid-thirties self would be just fine.

I have a feeling kids these days are just as scared as we were by the thought of looming examination results. Modern Leaving Certificate students have the option of checking their exam results from home, on the internet, but I hope the majority of them still go to their school and have the results physically handed over by a teacher. I hope they still gather in clumps, adding up one another’s points, hugging and crying and laughing and commiserating together, giving one another advice, swearing to stay in touch – though, of course, swapping Skype IDs or Instagram screen names or Twitter handles instead of postal addresses – and sharing this day with one another. It only happens once; you only get to do it with one group of similarly terrified and excited people. It’s a bonding experience.

But – and this is important – it’s not the end of the world, or of your life, or the death of your dreams, if you don’t get what you wanted or needed to go to college. It’s not worth crying over. It’s not something which should cause pain, or stress, or fear, or desperation. You have the option of resitting exams, but it doesn’t even have to come to that; there are ways around everything. If you want something badly enough in life, you’ll get it, no matter what that envelope contains or what your points total is. Getting points to go to college is one way to achieve a dream, sure. But coming up with your own way, working hard to get there, and making plans of your own? That’s what being an adult is about. The Leaving Certificate is something we all have to do, in this country – a rite of passage, a milestone in our school career. But it’s not the most important thing you’ll do. You’re just beginning.

If you’re under stress due to your results, or you’re worried, please do contact ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101 from within Ireland. Consider contacting your school, too, who will have guidance counsellors on hand. They’ll have heard it all before, and they’ll be full of ideas and suggestions to help. And talk to older people who’ve been there before you. We all remember the stress today can cause, but life goes on. In fact, life gets great from here on out. Don’t let one small slip of paper ruin your bright, fantastic and excitingly unknowable future. As scary as our memories of results day are, I don’t think there are many adults who wouldn’t swap with you right now for a second chance at that wide-open, endless, limitless potential – so make the most of it.

And whatever your results were, congratulations – your life is going to be amazing.

Helplines:

ChildLine – 1800 666 666 or text ‘Talk’ to 50101, or click the link to talk instantly

Samaritans

Leaving Certificate/Irish Independent Helpline

Or talk to any trusted adult, including your teachers/principal or older relatives, if you’re under pressure. Don’t keep it to yourself.

ISPCC Shield Campaign – Standing Up to Bullying

If you’ve been following me on Twitter over the past few weeks, doubtless you’ll have seen me making mention of the #ISPCCShield hashtag from time to time. In case you’ve been wondering what on earth that means, then wonder no more. Today is the ISPCC’s (the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s) National Day of Action against bullying, and the Shield is the logo they’ve chosen to symbolise their commitment to eradicating the scourge of bullying, once and for all.

The ISPCC is a charity I hold very dear. They work tirelessly – and without any significant government funding – for the betterment of the lives of all children, no matter where they live or who they are or how much money their parents have. They run Childline (available on the phone at 1800 66 66 66, via text message (within Ireland) by texting ‘Talk’ to 50101, or on webchat via their website), 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and all staffed mainly by volunteers. They were recently involved in setting up Ireland’s Missing Children’s Helpline, designed to give help and support to parents when their child goes missing, and also to reach out to the missing child him/herself, giving them a non-judgmental way to contact home if they need to. The Helpline is also designed to help children considering running away, helping them find better options to deal with their problems.

Pretty amazing, I hope you’ll agree.

Almighty BOD (Brian O'Driscoll) thinks so, too. Image: businessandleadership.com

Almighty BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) thinks so, too.
Image: businessandleadership.com

In March 2012, the ISPCC launched the Shield Campaign for the first time. The Shield logo itself is simple: a person wears a Shield pin (available in selected retailers across Ireland, or from an army of volunteer sellers who’ll be braving the weather tomorrow all over the country) in order to display their commitment to eradicating bullying wherever they see it. The Shield shows that its wearer will act as a shield between a child and a bully, and that any child being bullied can turn to a Shield-wearer for help and support. Children and adults alike can wear it to show that they will not be a bystander, and they will not allow anyone to be bullied in their presence without standing up and saying something.

Importantly, the price of the Shield pin – €2 – goes directly to the ISPCC to help them fund their vital work. The charity sector in Ireland has taken a battering recently due to scandals at senior management in a small handful of charitable organisations, but it’s important to remember that not all charities should be judged the same way. Charities still need help and support, and the ISPCC is one I particularly love. It’s suffering due to lack of funds, and if it suffers then thousands of children will suffer, too.

Because of that, I’m volunteering to sell Shields today, and I’m writing this post to let anyone who happens to stumble across it know that the ISPCC can accept donations through their website (if you’re not living in Ireland, or you won’t be able to get out and about to buy a Shield); more importantly, I want to say that I’m a proud Shield-wearer, and that I fully support any effort to stamp out bullying, in all its forms.

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

Bullying isn’t just picking on a smaller child and using your fists to hurt them. It’s calling names, or spreading rumours, or attacking another person’s reputation, or making threats. It’s making insulting comments on Twitter and linking it to your victim’s @account. A scandal involving this very thing happened – among adults – as recently as this week, and among adults who are intelligent and talented and who should have known better, at that. It’s writing hurtful things on their Facebook wall. It’s sending them text messages designed to hurt or frighten them. It’s saying things like ‘if you don’t agree with me, then I’m going to hurt you’ – I am dumbfounded by how often I see things like this on Twitter, or Tumblr, or in social media in general. If you wouldn’t say something to a person’s face, why would you say it on a social media account?

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

Bullying is ganging up on someone and pulling them to shreds. It’s laughing at someone because you think they’re weak, or different, or weird. It’s setting yourself up as the arbiter of justice, and deciding that other people – for sometimes nonsensical reasons – don’t measure up to your standards. It’s not thinking about your actions. It’s using words carelessly, words like ‘loser’ or ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’ or worse; words which make someone else afraid.

It’s not something that people ‘just have to go through.’ It’s not something kids need to experience ‘in order to toughen them up.’ It’s not ‘just for the laugh.’ It’s not acceptable, from anyone or in any situation. It’s not acceptable from adults, or from children; in workplaces or in playgrounds; in real life or on the internet. The Shield Campaign is designed to draw attention to bullying and to bring it out into the light, where it can be dealt with properly.

If you’re a bully, the urge to hurt others can come from a deep place of pain within you. The ISPCC’s Shield Campaign is designed to help bullies, too – because, sometimes, bullies need more help than their victims do. It can come from a sense of disenfranchisement or powerlessness or because of a history of abuse that you’ve suffered in silence – or for a whole galaxy of reasons. One thing is definitely true: taking it out on another person may give you momentary relief, but it won’t solve your own problems. Worse than that, it might end up really hurting someone else.

Image: ispcc.ie

Image: ispcc.ie

If you happen to have €2 burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re looking for a good way to spend it, you could do worse than buying an ISPCC Shield today. If you feel like donating a small amount in order to help in a more long-term way, that would be wonderful too – or, if you’re not Irish, and your own country has a similar organisation to the ISPCC which you’d prefer to support, that would be awesome. But – most importantly – try always to stand up to bullying, no matter where you find it, and remember to treat every other person with the same respect you would show to someone you love.

And, finally, try to show good example to any young people in your life, and show them the way to treat others through your own actions.

Here endeth the lesson.

(Incidentally, in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, writing-wise, lately, well… I’ll have more to say about than on Monday. Stay tuned!)

Image: wodumedia.org

Image: wodumedia.org

The Difficult Things

**Content warning: This blog post touches on material which some may find offensive or upsetting, and carries a link to a newspaper article about online pornography and its effect on young people. It may not be suitable for younger readers.** 

I recently read an article somewhere which asked the question: ‘Why are books for young people full of stories about the Difficult Things in life, such as abuse and bullying and death and loss and pain? Why can’t we just write stories about nice things, so that young people can read them and be inspired to be nice?‘ (Or, words to that effect. I may be paraphrasing, here.)

Then, at the weekend, I read a newspaper feature which took as its subject the ubiquity of pornography and how easy it is for young people to access it, whether it be on their computers or on their smartphones or at school, among their friends. Leaving aside my own feelings about pornography – because it’s unimportant to what I’m trying to say here – I found the article to be terrifying. I wasn’t unaware of the phenomenon, because I try to follow the trends of teenage life in order to inform my work, but I was still appalled by some of what I read.

Iamge: joobworld.com

Image: joobworld.com

The article outlined the sort of thing that young people – both girls and boys – are looking at on a daily basis, and it outlined the kind of behaviour they display after a diet of such material. One parent described how her son went into a fit of shrieking and shaking, followed by deep, visceral and destructive anger when she tried to remove his access to his computer; he was acting ‘like an addict’, as she described it. Another contributor described how her friend’s nine-year-old came home from school and told his mother that he and his friends had been talking about ‘boy things’ that day at lunchtime. When pressed, the child revealed they’d been discussing rape. When asked to define his understanding of the word, the little boy said that it meant ‘forcing a girl to do sex and then killing her.’

This child was nine, just in case you missed it.

The landscape that children and teenagers are growing up in is a vastly different one, in some ways, from the landscape in which people of my generation found their way into adulthood. We had pornography, sure. We had dangers, and we had concerns about our bodies, and we had bullying, and we had curiosity about adulthood and sexuality – the same as young people do nowadays. What we didn’t have was immediate and free access to the most depraved and violent material the internet can offer in order to feed this desire to learn about what it meant to be grown up; we didn’t have that, and I am thankful for it.

The ways in which modern pornography teaches young people to think about themselves and other people borders on the sociopathic, in my view. I am not an expert, of course, but it seems clear to me that young people are digesting image after image and movie after movie encouraging them to think of other people as objects, existing merely to provide them – the viewer – with a service. The idea of consent is non-existent; the idea of mutual enjoyment, let alone love, is non-existent. Women are brutalised and discarded, men are creatures of appetite and exist merely to destroy, and both are depicted as being impossibly ‘perfect’ in terms of their bodily appearance – in itself, a dreadful thing to be allowed take root in teenagers’ psyches.

Image: thedailyedge.com

Image: thedailyedge.com

I don’t know what the answer to this is. As I see it, not enough adults and parents are even aware of – or, wish to face up to – the fact that this is a real problem. Kids looking at pornography is not new; ‘we all did it when we were their age’ is the common reply when you try to sound a warning. That is true – but the type of material young people are watching is very different to the sort of thing that was around when their parents were growing up. Whatever the relative harmlessness of the pornography available in their parents’ generation, the type of thing young people are encountering today is less about sex than it is about violence, and less about titillation than it is about destruction and inflicting pain. It is new, and thrilling, and absorbing; ‘everyone’ is watching it, and so a child who is uninitiated may be pressured to watch, or forced to. It is very difficult to avoid something if the majority of your peers are doing it, and this has always been true. Kids egg each other on to watch ever more and more brutal material; smartphones and tablets with super-fast WiFi connections get passed around at lunchtime behind the bike-shed. It’s a long way from a copy of ‘Playboy’ magazine stolen from your older brother.

Children are watching things they do not understand, and for which they are not ready. Children are watching things that are warping their expectations of sex and relationships, and which are forming their opinions of themselves and one another. Boys are watching women being degraded and tormented, and trying to square that with their lived experience of having female teachers, female friends, sisters, mothers and grandmothers. Girls are watching men dominate and brutalise women, and are struggling to figure out how their brothers, fathers, and friends fit into that model of manhood. Both boys and girls are learning that other people do not matter – it is all about your appetite, your needs, and whatever the other person wants or does not want is immaterial. Is that the sort of world we want to give to the next generation? What sort of world will they create?

Books for children and young people should not be afraid to tackle important and painful subjects. There should be no beating around the bush. Children are living in a world which is as frightening as it is wonderful, and as full of inexplicable things as it is happiness and laughter. A child may have nowhere else to turn but books to try to make sense of his or her world; the life they are living may bear no resemblance to stories about missing puppies or stolen rainbows. Children are living in a strange new world and they deserve literature which is equal to it. They need a place to deal with what they’re seeing, and they need to know they’re not alone if they’re struggling to cope. Adults need to realise and be sensitive to what young people are going through, and they definitely need to stop belittling the lived experience of young people. Writing stories worthy of their young readers is one way to help with that.

Facing up to what they’re going through is another.

 

 

 

 

One of the newspaper articles I read which inspired this blog post is here; adults looking for advice on how to help their children can check out http://www.ispcc.ie, and young people looking for help with any aspect of growing up can check out http://www.childline.ie.