Tag Archives: ISPCC

Wednesday Writing – ‘The Darkness, Waiting’

Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ecstaticist via Compfight cc

The Darkness, Waiting

It was the feeling of his breath on my cheek that woke me.

‘Sarah!’ came the whisper. Tiny. Terrified. ‘Sarah!

‘Ger? What…’

‘It’s Da! He’s home.’

I blinked. There was a blindfold on my brain. ‘But it’s the middle of the night,’ I murmured, sleepily. ‘What’s going on? Where’s Mam?’

‘In the kitchen, I think,’ he said. Terror hung around every word like mist. A sudden burst of raucous laughter from downstairs made him jump like he’d been struck, and his head snapped towards my bedroom door as if he was expecting a monster to walk through it. Great. Da’s brought Jimmy home. Ger’s skinny arms wrapped around his body, and I could hear the hissing of his hurried breathing.

‘Shush,’ I said, wriggling over in the bed. ‘Come on.’ I felt a graveyard draught down my neck as I struggled into the cold sheets, and did my best not to grimace. Only for you, little brother, I thought, as he scurried into the warm hollow I’d left behind.

‘Will they argue?’ he whispered once he was settled. I tucked the covers around him and wrapped his icy feet up in mine. I drew him close, trying not to feel how thin he was, and how threadbare his pyjamas had become. Until last year, I’d owned them. One of our cousins had known them new.

‘I don’t know, little man. Maybe. D’you think Da had drink on him?’

‘Why else would he be coming home this late?’

‘Yeah,’ I sighed. ‘You’re right.’

‘It’s going to start again, isn’t it,’ he said, his voice trembling.

‘Now, now. Don’t go borrowing worry,’ I said, imitating our mother’s voice. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear the tiny huff of breath as he nodded and smiled.

‘Yes, Ma,’ he teased.

A sudden thump from downstairs made us both jump. I could feel Ger trembling beside me, and I stroked his dark hair.

‘That was the sitting room door,’ he said. ‘Hitting the wall.’

‘All right! All right, missus!’ came a voice, bellowing up the stairs. Jimmy. We could hear Ma too, telling him to get out of her house and back to his own wife and family.

‘Now! Now!’ Da. ‘There’s no need to be going anywhere!’ His voice was loud and full of that particular laughter he only got after ten or twelve hours’ drinking. There were some muffled thumps, and then a huge, heavy body slammed against the banisters, shaking the whole house.

‘Right! I’m gone!’ called Jimmy, as if he’d paid a casual visit. ‘Good luck!’

‘Get out!’ That was Ma. The front door slammed. Then, the terrible silence began. Me and Ger, and the darkness in my room, all held our breaths. We knew what came next. The waiting was almost the worst part.

Just as I’d begun to wonder if it was going to start at all, the first slap sounded.

**

This is a story I’ve had for a long time, and I’ve often dithered over whether to make it public here. For some reason, it means a lot to me and it pulls at my heart like nothing else I’ve written. Clearly, something in it touches a memory, or a deep fear, or maybe even a nightmare I first had as a child. Whatever it is, for me this story is like a wound.

But I was lucky, as a child. My parents had their disagreements, like all parents do, but I was raised with so much love that it has shaped my whole life. I was never afraid, or beaten, or hurt; I always knew I had a home, and parents who loved me.

Some children don’t.

The ISPCC, which (in Ireland) runs the national, currently 24/7 Childline service, is at risk of having to close their night-time listening services to children due to a lack of funding. Night-time is the time when children need Childline the most. Night-time is the time when children can feel terrified not only of the dark, but of what’s in it, waiting. Childline is not a service just for ‘disadvantaged’ children, or ‘underprivileged’ ones – it is for all children. Some parents think their children will never need to contact a service like Childline, but I believe you simply never know what’s going on in your child’s life, and what they may need help with, and what they feel they can’t bring to their parents, no matter how much they love them. I don’t want to turn this story into a plea for help for a charity in a country that many of you don’t even live in, but I will say this:

Check out this website for some insight into what Childline does, and why it’s trying to raise money. If you feel able, there are links here to allow you to donate.

And if there’s a similar service in your own country, please try to donate to it, if you can. Even the smallest bit could make a huge difference.

We need to invest in our children. Leaving them alone when they need us most is a thought I can’t bear. Thanks for reading.

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.