Tag Archives: Teen

Girls beat boys at school and lose to them at the office – here’s why

Hard work and discipline help girls outperform boys in class, but that advantage disappears in the work force. Is school the problem?

From elementary school through college, girls are more disciplinedabout their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, the journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that a shortage of competence is less likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of confidence. When it comes to work-related confidence, they found men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

As a psychologist who works with teenagers, I hear this concern often from the parents of many of my patients. They routinely remark that their sons do just enough to keep the adults off their backs, while their daughters relentlessly grind, determined to leave no room for error. The girls don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision.

We need to ask: What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?

This possibility hit me when I was caring for an eighth grader in my practice. She got terrific grades but was feeling overwhelmed by school. Her brother, a ninth grader, had similarly excellent grades, but when I asked if he worked as hard as she did, she scoffed. If she worked on an assignment for an hour and got an A, she felt “safe” only if she spent a full hour on other assignments like it. Her brother, in contrast, flew through his work. When he brought home an A, she said, he felt “like a stud.” If his grades slipped a bit, he would take his effort up just a notch. But she never felt “safe” enough to ever put in less than maximum effort.

That experience — of succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort — is a potentially crucial one. It may help our sons develop confidence, as they see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits. For them, school serves as a test track, where they build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them. Our daughters, on the other hand, may miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual elbow grease alone.

So how do we get hyper-conscientious girls (and boys, as there certainly are some with the same style) to build both confidence and competence at school?

First, parents and teachers can stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades. Gendered approaches to learning set in early, so it’s never too soon to start working against them. Recently, as I read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to my 8-year-old daughter, I stopped at a passage in which Hermione — the fictional poster child for academic fastidiousness — turned in an essay that was “two rolls of parchment more than Professor Binns asked for.” Hermione, I pointed out, doesn’t make great use of her time. She’s a capable student and could probably do just as well without working so hard. “Right,” my daughter said. “Of course she could!”

We can also encourage girls toward a different approach to school — one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they put in. Whenever one of the academically impressive and persistently anxious girls in my practice tells me about staying up until 2 in the morning studying, I see an opening. That’s the moment to push them to become tactical, to figure out how to continue learning and getting the same grades while doing a little bit less. I urge my patients — and my own teenage daughter — to begin study sessions by taking sample tests, to see how much they know before figuring out how much more they need to do to attain mastery over a concept or task. Many girls build up an incredible capacity for work, but they need these moments to discover and take pride in how much they already understand.

Teachers, too, can challenge girls’ over-the-top tendencies. When a girl with a high-A average turns in extra credit work, her instructor might ask if she is truly taken with the subject or if she is looking to store up “insurance points,” as some girls call them. If it’s the former, more power to her. If it’s the latter, the teacher might encourage the student to trust that what she knows and the work she is already doing will almost certainly deliver the grade she wants. Educators can also point out to this student that she may not need insurance; she probably has a much better grasp of the material than she gives herself credit for.

Finally, we can affirm for girls that it is normal and healthy to feel some anxiety about school. Too often, girls are anxious even about being anxious, so they turn to excessive studying for comfort. We can remind them that being a little bit nervous about schoolwork just means that they care about it, which of course they should.

Even if neither you nor your daughter cares about becoming a chief executive, you may worry that she will eventually be crushed by the weight of her own academic habits. While a degree of stress promotes growth, working at top speed in every class at all times is unhealthy and unsustainable for even the most dedicated high school students. A colleague of mine likes to remind teenagers that in classes where any score above 90 counts as an A, the difference between a 91 and a 99 is a life.

To be sure, the confidence gap is hardly the only thing keeping women out of top jobs. Women also face gender bias, sexual harassment and powerful structural barriers in the workplace. But confidence at school is one unequal advantage that we can address right now. Instead of standing by as our daughters make 50 flashcards when they were assigned 20, we can step in and ask them why. Many professional men brim with confidence because they have spent years getting to know their abilities. Women should arrive in the work world having done the same.

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Lisa Damour is a psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and the author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood” and “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.” @LDamour • Facebook

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Does the age of consent push people to have sex too soon?

Half of young women reported having a first sexual experience before they were ‘competent’. Is it the fault of the law – or is it more complicated?

Very, very few young people said they wished the first sexual encounter had been sooner.
Very, very few young people said they wished the first sexual encounter had been sooner. Photo: jacoblund/Getty Images/iStockphoto

The headline was enough to make you drop your marmalade: half of young women, and 43% of young men, said that they were not “competent” when they lost their virginity, in a survey of nearly 3,000 17- to 24-year-olds released this week. If the idea of sexual competence strikes you as inherently droll, Melissa Palmer, who conducted the study as a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, helpfully subdivided it into four areas: consent, autonomy, contraceptive use and “readiness”. The study looked only at heterosexual encounters.

Consent was measured by a three-option question about willingness: were you and your partner equally willing, were you more willing, were they more willing? This yielded the finding that nearly 20% of women felt less willing than their partner.

Autonomy depended on the circumstances of the encounter, which ranged from “I was drunk/under the influence of drugs” and “All my friends were doing it” to “It felt like a natural follow-on” and “I was in love”. Palmer notes: “Those questions basically established whether the influencer was external to the self – peer pressure or alcohol – or internal to the self, driven by your own feelings.”

Contraceptive use is straightforward, and most young people – almost 90% – had used reliable contraception.

Contraceptive use is straightforward, and most young people – almost 90% – had used reliable contraception.

The question about readiness was: “Thinking about the first time you had sex, was it about the right time, do you wish you had waited longer or do you wish you hadn’t waited so long?” Just under 40% of women, and just over a quarter of men, did not feel they’d had sex for the first time at the right time. “Very, very few wished it had been sooner,” Palmer says.

Only those respondents who answered positively in all four categories were deemed sexually competent. The report points out that there are implications beyond sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies – which have been in steady decline for the past 20 years – for young people’s wellbeing.

Does this mean the age of consent is too low? By definition it must be arbitrary, for as long as human beings are different, and mature at different rates, there can be no objective standard for sexual readiness. Self-evidently, though, an age of consent that would result in a pregnancy that would be physically harmful to the mother must be prioritising something other than the woman’s wellbeing. For that reason, I would put 14 as too young, although that’s the age of consent (at least for heterosexuals) in many countries, from Germany and Macedonia to Madagascar and Malawi. Eighteen seems pretty stringent, though, and is far more common in Africa than in Europe. In South Korea, the age of consent is 20. In the US, sexual consent laws vary from state to state, tending to put consent at 16 (though sometimes 17 or 18). Many states also have “Romeo and Juliet” laws, which reduce or eliminate penalties when parties are close in age.

Suffice to say, there is no direct correlation between what we would think of as the liberalism of a country and its age of consent, nor between the age of consent and the prevalence of sexual violence and/or gender discord, except at the extreme ends. Countries where the age of consent is “at marriage” tend to have extremely high levels of violence against women and girls, although in the Republic of Congo, the so-called rape capital of the world, the age of consent is 18. “The age of consent is a legal issue, which is something that we can’t talk about as public health researchers,” Palmer says. “The countries that have close-in-age type laws, so they don’t focus on the age of young people but the age difference between partners, seem to take a more nuanced approach.”

Historically, the age of consent in Britain was 10 or 12 until the end of the 19th century, but the concept of consent was so different – women having no sexual agency, marriage being taken as a blanket consent – that it’s not comparable. The drive in the 1880s towards an age of consent of 16 was politically underpinned by the child labour elements of the factories acts of the previous two decades, which did more of the heavy lifting in terms of differentiating between adults and children than any moral, sexual crusade. And 16 is where the age of consent has stood since, only examined in recent memory as an equality issue when the age of gay consent was brought down from 18 to 16, in 2001.

So do these laws make any difference to the lived, regular experience of sex, or is their main use for the purpose of criminalising the exploitation of children? Palmer refers to some evidence – not from her own study – that having 16 as a legal age of consent “can provide a useful safety net, in that people can say, ‘It’s not legal’, as a way of resisting pressure to have sex.” But it doesn’t always work that way. Paula Hall is a sex therapist, and clinical director of the Laurel Centre. She says: “I’ve heard a lot of young people say, ‘Rather than the age of consent, 16 is the deadline.’”

In tandem with that pressure is the availability of porn. “That becomes the easier option,” Hall says. “You can have sexual experience without risk.” But there are things you could never learn from pornography. “They don’t have minor mishaps in porn. You rarely even see anyone put a condom on, and never the fiddly bit. Certainly in porn you do not see a guy losing his erection putting a condom on – it’s all so seamless.”

Faced with these professional standards, some people are deferring actual sex for longer. “A lot of the guys that I’ve worked with who use porn compulsively are still virgins at 23, 24, 28,” Hall says. “The longer they’ve gone without a real-time partner, they start making out they’ve got more experience than they have, and they become absolutely terrified of it. They develop porn-induced erectile dysfunction. They worry about living up to the standards they see in pornography; they worry about losing their erection.”

The idea of people having sex when they are not autonomous, or not ready, suggests immediately the world of victims and culprits, but that’s not what people describe. “They’re not necessarily a victim of someone else, but a victim of failure, a victim of their own insufficiency.”

Porn also interrupts the development of emotional readiness, if only because it never mentions it. “There’s a biological readiness, knowing your body is ready,” says Hall. “But there’s the psychological and the emotional bit as well. It has the potential to be the most wonderful, most amazing, most intimate encounter in the world. But it also has the potential to be really quite soul-destroying. It can make you feel fantastic or it can make you feel like shit, and are you ready to deal with either outcome?”

There’s an answer that sounds a bit glib, which is: are you ever ready to have a sexual encounter with someone who doesn’t care as much as you do? Is there any age at which that would be OK? And there’s a very 21st-century answer, which is: don’t let anyone do anything until they have hit full resilience, which is probably at about 35. Hall thinks the age of consent is a red herring. “If we lowered the age of consent to 14 or upped it to 18 or 20, it wouldn’t make the difference we think it would make. What matters is how we talk about sex to young people, and to each other.”

We are still teaching reading the wrong way – why?

Teacher preparation programs continue to ignore the sound science behind how people become readers.

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Our children aren’t being taught to read in ways that line up with what scientists have discovered about how people actually learn.

It’s a problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than six in 10 fourth graders aren’t proficient readers. It has been this way since testing began. A third of kids can’t read at a basic level.

How do we know that a big part of the problem is how children are being taught? Because reading researchers have done studies in classrooms and clinics, and they’ve shown over and over that virtually all kids can learn to read — if they’re taught with approaches that use what scientists have discovered about how the brain does the work of reading. But many teachers don’t know this science.

What have scientists figured out? First of all, while learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need to learn how the words they know how to say connect to print on the page. They need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. There are hundreds of studies that back this up.

But talk to teachers and many will tell you they learned something different about how children learn to read in their teacher preparation programs. Jennifer Rigney-Carroll, who completed a master’s degree in special education in 2016, told me she was taught that children “read naturally if they have access to books.” Jessica Root, an intervention specialist in Ohio, said she learned “you want to get” children “excited about what they’re reading, find books that they’re interested in, and just read, read, read.” Kathy Bast, an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania, learned the same thing. “It was just: Put literature in front of the kids, teach the story, and the children will learn how to read through exposure,” she said.

These ideas are rooted in beliefs about reading that were once commonly called “whole language” and that gained a lot of traction in the 1980s. Whole-language proponents dismissed the need for phonics. Reading is “the most natural activity in the world,” Frank Smith, one of the intellectual leaders of the whole-language movement, wrote. It “is only through reading that children learn to read. Trying to teach children to read by teaching them the sounds of letters is literally a meaningless activity.”

These ideas had been debunked by the early 2000s. It may seem as if kids are learning to read when they’re exposed to books, and some kids do pick up sound-letter correspondences quickly and easily. But the science shows clearly that to become a good reader, you must learn to decode words. Many whole-language proponents added some phonics to their approach and rebranded it “balanced literacy.”

But they did not give up their core belief that learning to read is a natural process that occurs when parents and teachers expose children to good books. So, while you’re likely to find some phonics lessons in a balanced-literacy classroom, you’re also likely to find a lot of other practices rooted in the idea that children learn to read by reading rather than by direct instruction in the relationship between sounds and letters. For example, teachers will give young children books that contain words with letter patterns the children haven’t yet been taught. You’ll see alphabetical “word walls” that rest on the idea that learning to read is a visual memory process rather than a process of understanding how letters represent sounds. You’ll hear teachers telling kids to guess at words they don’t know based on context and pictures rather than systematically teaching children how to decode.

Many teachers learn these approaches in their teacher preparation programs. Publishers perpetuate these ideas, and school districts buy in. But colleges of education — which should be at the forefront of pushing the best research — have largely ignored the scientific evidence on reading.

The National Council on Teacher Quality reviewed the syllabuses of teacher preparation programs nationwide and found that fewer than four in 10 taught the components of effective reading instruction identified by research. A study of early-literacy instruction in teacher preparation programs across the University of North Carolina system found that instructional strategies based on research were mentioned “in a cursory way, if at all, on most syllabuses.” (Some instructors required students to write their “personal philosophies” about how to teach reading.) Kelly Butler of the Barksdale Reading Institute in Mississippi interviewed more than 100 deans and faculty members of schools of education as part of a study of teacher preparation programs in the state and found that most of them could not explain basic scientific principles about how children learn to read.

It’s not just ignorance. There’s active resistance to the science, too. I interviewed a professor of literacy in Mississippi who told me she was “philosophically opposed” to phonics instruction. One of her colleagues told me she didn’t agree with the findings of reading scientists because “it’s their science.”

There is no excuse for this. Colleges of education have to start requiring that their faculties teach the science of reading. Children’s futures depend on it.


SOURCE: This article originally apeared on The New York Times. Emily Hanford (@ehanford) is a senior education correspondent for APM Reports and the producer of the audio documentary “Hard Words: Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read?” This article is based on her reporting for that project.

How to talk to kids about porn (before the pornographers do)

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A free programme helps parents tackle the ‘public health crisis of the digital age’ without appearing judgmental or moralistic.

‘Large groups of young children are just a click or two away from free hardcore porn.’ Photo: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images/Blend Images

Want to talk to your eight-year-old child about pornography and have no idea how to start? Worried that your 10-year-old might be sexting? Concerned that the only sex education your 12-year-old has access to consists of images of sexual degradation?

Freely accessible porn is driving sexually aggressive behaviour against women and girls. Nearly 90% of the most-watched porn scenes contain violence against women, according to a widely cited study. This is why parents need to talk to their kids about porn, before the pornographers do. But how? A new and unique programme aimed at parents of tweens (between the ages of eight and 12) who want to have the “porn conversation” may help.

The programme, run by a new US-based NGO called Culture Reframed, founded by the academic and anti-porn activist Gail Dines, is the first to approach this complex issue from a feminist perspective. It aims to teach parents how to have conversations with their children, and was created by experts in public health, adolescent psychology, sexual health education, neuroscience and technology.

Free to parents, it claims to tackle what Dines calls the “public health crisis of the digital age”. She backs up her claims with hard facts and figures. For a start, a third of all young people under the age of 12 have seen pornography; about 20% of sexts are photos of girls under the age of 15; and 35% of all internet downloads are porn. Also, children have access to a mobile phone at earlier ages than they did five years ago. Today, an estimated 25% of six-year-olds in the UK use a mobile phone, and the average age in the US is 10. This means that large groups of young children are just a click or two away from free hardcore porn.

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‘Today, there is no such thing as “soft” porn … it has become brutal and misogynistic.’ Photo: Martyn Vickery/Alamy

There is plenty in the programme for parents who wish to learn how to have compassionate talks with their child, and to help them to understand healthy sexuality. They will be offered guidance to help their children analyse and understand the implications of sexist and degrading media images. Such conversations with young people are needed more than ever. Research shows that the earlier a boy accesses porn, the more likely he is to be sexually aggressive towards girls and women, to bully girls into sexting naked images, to develop erectile dysfunction and to struggle with depression and anxiety.

In the early 1980s, anti-porn feminists, myself included, would travel the country with the “porn slideshow”, which consisted of images going from “soft” porn to “hardcore”. We were keen for other women to learn the truth about porn: that it is misogynistic propaganda, which can and does incite horrendous sexual violence towards women. But today there is no such thing as “soft” porn, unless you count music videos on MTV. Porn has become increasingly brutal and misogynistic.

Other available educational courses, according to Dines, are based either on religious moralism, or the notion that there is “good porn” and “bad porn”, such as programmes run by the pornographer Erika Lust. This approach, says Dines, lacks any feminist or critical analysis of porn, and fails to explore the social, emotional and cognitive impact of porn on children. “Lust describes herself as an ‘ethical pornographer’”, says Dines. “But there can be no ethical way to sell women’s bodies.”

Dines, who travels the world at the invitation of governments, child support agencies and feminist groups to share her extensive knowledge of the pornography industry, tells me that the parents she meets during her work are “in a state of panic” and don’t know how to broach the subject without appearing judgmental and moralistic.

“Digital safety” classes, which are available for children in schools in the UK and a number of states in the US, either ignore porn altogether or hardly mention it, leaving kids to try to deal with porn culture on their own .

NSPCC and Middlesex University research from 2016 on the effects of porn on children in the UK found that over three-quarters of the children surveyed felt pornography failed to help them understand sexual consent. More than half of the boys and more than a third of girls saw porn as a realistic depiction of sex. In an age where porn is becoming a substitute for sex education, it is high time a decent alternative was on offer.


  • Julie Bindel is a freelance journalist and political activist, and a founder of Justice for Women

Cover photo: ‘Large groups of young children are just a click or two away from free hardcore porn.’ Photograph: Donald Iain Smith/Getty Images/Blend Images

In Rwandan school, boys are being turned into feminists

In a village outside Rwanda’s capital Kigali, a group of boys are spending a rainy afternoon learning how to stop gender-based violence and the power imbalances in the #MeToo era.

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While girls learn about investment to achieve financial independence and reproductive health to control the size of their families in later years, the boys are taught how to report abuse and how to respect the girls and women in their lives in a classroom next door.

These sessions take place after official academic classes are finished for the pupils at the Safe School for Girls, which is co-educational. Each weekday afternoon the boys and girls split up to learn different ways to improve the lives of women across Rwanda.

For the boys, it’s a space where they are told that it is up to men to end violence. It’s up to boys and men to report assaults and harassment.

“If we happen to see such violence, we report them and make sure the people who have [committed the violence] are judged,” Rini Mutijima, an 18-year-old at the school, tells the BBC.

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The school wants to ensure all students understand the issues facing girls and women in Rwanda. Photo: CARE

“For the girls who have this done to them, we make sure to support them, give them counselling and help them get back into society,” he says.

This is happening as Western countries continue to grapple with the realities of sexual assault and harassment towards women in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

The Christian Action Research and Education (Care) charity, which runs the Rwandan school in partnership with local non-profit organisations, believes the Rwandan school could provide some of the answers in how to tackle domestic abuse and power imbalances between the sexes.

Rape and genocide

Rwanda faces a brutal legacy of violence against women.

During the 1994 genocide, up to 500,000 women were raped during the 100-day period of bloodshed in which Hutu extremists killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

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Genocide survivors have spoken about sexual abuse they suffered, including Marthe Mukandutiye (C) who was raped as her baby screamed nearby. pHOTO: BBC/Getty Images

The tiny East African country has nonetheless defied expectations in recent years to become a paradigm for African feminism.

It boasts the greatest share of women in national government in the world with more than 60% of representatives in Rwanda’s parliament being women.

The country prides itself on its commitment to women’s representation at a national level, yet the reality of gender advancement is different among grassroots populations.

Approximately 27% of women in the UK and 25% of women in the US experience intimate partner violence in their lifetimes, while the United Nations estimates that figure to be as high as 34% in Rwanda.

Still, the popularity of the programmes at the Safe School for Girls, carried out at 174 schools across the country, signifies an openness to rectify the gap between women’s representation and the daily lived experiences of Rwandese women.

‘I can now protect my sister’

At the school in Ruhango district in Rwanda’s Southern province, a different topic is tackled each day at the afternoon club.

One day the boys may learn about menstruation and the next how to prevent the financial abuse of women.

Then once a week the boys take part in a roundtable discussion on how they can end gender-based violence.

These schools across Rwanda have engaged with more than 47,000 adolescent girls and more than 19,000 boys since 2015.

For the boys, the course is a re-education that stands in opposition to cultural norms. Educators don’t shy away from Rwanda’s history, while focusing on current challenges girls and women face.

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Girls at the school learn about birth control and how how to be financially independent. Photo: CARE

“We learn history,” says Patience Manzi, a 16-year-old boy. “We learn these things to know the past, and it helps us to prevent others from beating their wives.”

Shoffy Manishimure, another 16-year-old at the school, added: “The best thing I have learned to do is protect my sister.

“It’s my responsibility as a boy to protect my sister.”

Other programmes involving men have already proven successful in reducing violence against women in Rwanda.

A programme run by The Global Fatherhood Campaign and MenCare provided counselling and education for couples.

Among its participants, there was a 44% reduction in violence committed by men against their partners.

The Safe School for Girls aims to stop violence before it starts by teaching young boys that girls deserve to lead lives that include education and freedom from violence.

They are taught to see the full scope of the issue, reiterating that violence takes on many forms, including emotional abuse, financial abuse and harassment, in addition to physical assault.

One way the programme finds footing is to leverage their power as young men to influence parents in a way young women rarely can – turning boys from bystanders into champions of women’s rights.

“There are girls that are prevented from coming to school,” says 17-year-old Robert Rwibutso.

“And it’s my responsibility to advise the parents that their daughter has equal rights to her brother.

“If her brother is studying, she has to study as well.”

Why you should stop shouting at your kids

It doesn’t make you look authoritative. It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak.

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The use of spanking to discipline children has been in decline for 50 years. But yelling? Almost everybody still yells at their kids sometimes, even the parents who know it doesn’t work. Yelling may be the most widespread parental stupidity around today.

Households with regular shouting incidents tend to have children with lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression. A 2014 study in The Journal of Child Development demonstrated that yelling produces results similar to physical punishment in children: increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with an increase in behavioral problems.

How many times in your parenting life have you thought to yourself, after yelling at your kids, “Well, that was a good decision…”?

It doesn’t make you look authoritative. It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak. And you’re yelling, let’s be honest, because you are weak. Yelling, even more than spanking, is the response of a person who doesn’t know what else to do.

But most parents — myself included — find it hard to imagine how to get through the day without yelling. The new research on yelling presents parents with twin problems: What do I do instead? And how do I stop?

Yelling to stop your kids from running into traffic is not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about yelling as a form of correction. Yelling for correction is ineffective as a tool and merely imprints the habit of yelling onto the children. We yell at our kids over the same stuff every day, and we yell at them some more because the original yelling doesn’t work. Put your clothes away. Come down for dinner. Don’t ride the dog. Stop hitting your brother.

The mere knowledge that yelling is bad, in itself, won’t help, said Alan Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale. Yelling is not a strategy, it’s a release.

“If the goal of the parent is catharsis, I want to get this out of my system and show you how mad I am, well, yelling is probably perfect,” Dr. Kazdin said. “If the goal here is to change something in the child or develop a positive habit in the child, yelling is not the way to do that.” There are other strategies, and they don’t involve screaming like a maniac.

Many think of positivity as a form of laziness, as if parents who are positive aren’t disciplining their children. But not yelling requires advance planning and discipline for the parents, which yelling doesn’t.

Dr. Kazdin promotes a program called the ABCs, which stands for antecedents, behaviors and consequences. The antecedent is the setup, telling a child, specifically, what you want them to do before you want them to do it. Behaviors are where the behavior is defined and shaped, modeled by the parent. And the consequence involves an expression of approval when that behavior is performed, an over-the top Broadway-style belt-it-to-the-back-row expression of praise with an accompanying physical gesture of approval.

So instead of yelling at your kid every night for the shoes strewn across the floor, ask him in the morning if he can put his shoes away when he comes home. Make sure when you come home that you put your own shoes away. And if your child puts his shoes away, or even puts them closer to where they’re supposed to be, tell him that he did a great job and then hug him.

The ABC method of praise is a highly specific technique. You have to be effusive, so you actually have to put a big dumb smile on your face and even wave your hands in the air. Next thing is you have to say, in a very high, cheerful voice, exactly what you’re praising. And then the third part is you have to touch the child and give him some kind of nonverbal praise. The silliness is a feature, not a bug. It makes the kid notice the praise that accompanies correct behavior. And that’s the point.

“We want to build habits,” Dr. Kazdin said. “The practice actually changes the brain, and in the process of that, the behaviors that you want to get rid of, having all kinds of temper tantrums and all the fights, all that just disappears.” Furthermore, he noted, “as a side effect, when you do these things, the parents’ depression and stress in fact go down and family relations pick up.”

If our kids behave better, then we won’t feel like yelling. And if we don’t yell, our kids will behave better.

The beauty of having a system is that instead of reacting after your kids do something bad, instead of waiting for them to mess up and then getting angry, you have a conscious plan. But planning requires discipline on the part of the parent, and it’s tough. “We know that humans have what’s called a negativity bias,” Dr. Kazdin says. “The technical term for that in psychology is ‘normal.’ This is something in the brain, in which through evolution we are very much sensitive to negative things in the environment.”

We are hard-wired to yell. It’s an evolutionary survival instinct that has turned on those it was meant to protect. It’s hard to abandon yelling, because it gives us the impression that we’re parenting.

In the 1960s, 94 percent of parents used physical punishment. A poll in 2010 found the number had declined to 22 percent. There are probably many reasons, including the influence of a number of childhood development educators. But surely one reason has to be that the reason to spank your kids evaporates if there’s a more effective way to change their behavior that doesn’t involve violence. Why spank if it doesn’t work? The same applies to yelling: Why are you yelling? It isn’t for the kids’ sake.

Ultimately, techniques of discipline have to be about effectiveness, about getting through the day while trying to get your kids to do what you want and not do what you don’t want. Praise works. Punishment doesn’t.


Stephen Marche is a novelist and the host of a parenting podcast available on Audible.

Cover photo: You Jung Byun by The New York Times

How to take care of yourself as a student

One of the many challenges students face is the hardship that comes with facing school pressures and the tough time trying to meet with up with other things you want to be at a long run, the challenges on focusing on other goals.

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It’s not easy, managing your time and maintaining routines, but there are ways you can beat all these challenges;

  1.   Find time for yourself

College is hectic. There will be days, even weeks, when you feel like you haven’t got 3 seconds to just breathe. Between classes, homework, clubs, sports, and jobs, there’s not a whole lot of time for relaxing. However, it’s extremely important to find or make time to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.

2.Take time in short bursts
Much like high-intensity interval style training, where you go all out for a short amount of time, then take a break, sometimes self-care has to come in short intervals between the workloads. Sometimes, those moments of relaxation might even be part of the crazy day-to-day activities.

3. Embrace your routines.

Whether you have a specific order of doing things to get ready in the morning or when you’re getting ready for bed, let that be a few minutes of your day where you recognize that you’re doing everything that you’re currently doing for you. Take a few minutes to enjoy your morning coffee or your walk to class, or take a few minutes to read a chapter or two of a good book before bed. That mindfulness surrounding your regular routine can help you feel calmer as you get ready to take on the day or take a snooze.

4. If you can, make time to exercise, even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes per day. That may not seem like much, but getting your heart rate up will help you get a burst of energy to perk you up, and will help to keep you healthy. And hey, no reason to feel guilty about that kind of self-care, after all, it’s exercise!

Guidelines on how to make technology work for your family

No one cares more about your child’s well-being and success than you do. In today’s digitally-fueled times, that means guiding him or her not just in the real world but in the always-on virtual one as well.

Teach your children to use technology in a healthy way and pick up the skills and habits that will make them successful digital citizens. From 2-year-olds who seem to understand the iPad better than you to teenagers who need some (but not too much) freedom, we’ll walk you through how to make technology work for your family at each stage of the journey.

Top 3 Tips to Remember

A few basic parenting guidelines will help you establish ground rules and maintain tech harmony at home.

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1. AIM FOR BALANCE

It’s clear that technology is here to stay and the world is becoming only more digitally driven. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Technology can be empowering for kids of all ages, with tools that help children learn in fun and engaging ways, express their creativity and stay connected to others. Children who are tech-savvy will also be better prepared for a workforce that will be predominantly digital.

At the same time, parents naturally worry about their kids accessing inappropriate content online, the impact of too much screen time on healthy development and their children becoming tethered to technology.

As with most situations, a balanced approach to these new challenges works best. “The most important step is to establish a balanced or sustainable relationship with tech,” says the social psychologist Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” You can liken it to aiming for a healthy diet, Dr. Alter explains: “Older kids understand the concept of balance intuitively — they know that it’s important to eat healthy foods alongside candy and dessert, and the same is true of the ’empty calories’ that come from spending too much time passively gazing at screens. There’s a time for screens, but not at the expense of time for physical activity and connecting with real people in real time.”

Some things to keep in mind as you try to strike this delicate balance:

There’s no single recipe for success, but you’ll know it when you see it. Balance for your family will look different than it will for your neighbor because every family is unique and parenting styles and values vary. In general, though, if your family can reap the benefits of technology without feeling many of the harmful effects and you feel confident in how your children are using technology, you’ve likely found balance.

Watch for the warning signs of unhealthy tech usage. The psychologist Jon Lasser, who co-wrote “Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World,” says parents should note when:

  • Kids complain that they’re bored or unhappy when they don’t have access to technology
  • Tantrums or harsh resistance occur when you set screen time limits
  • Screen time interferes with sleep, school and face-to-face communication

Be prepared to revisit this topic again and again. As your children grow, so will their involvement with technology. Also, it’s difficult to predict what the digital world will look like even just a few years from now. Your definition of healthy and unhealthy tech usage will need regular updates. Fun times ahead!

Some tips to evaluate the quality of your children’s digital interactions (which you should do regularly):

  • Are they accessing age-appropriate content?
  • Are the apps they use interactive and thought-provoking rather than passive? Not all screen time is equal. Going back to the food analogy, 100 calories from a doughnut is not the same as 100 calories from a salad; an hour watching YouTube videos isn’t the same as an hour spent in a digital art program.
  • Are the privacy settings for older children’s social media and other online accounts set to restrict what strangers can see and who can contact your children?

Still set screen time limits to balance online and offline activities. Although quality is most important, you’ll probably still want to set some screen time limits for your family to preserve time for activities beyond screens and tech. While the debate on exactly how many hours kids can spend on their screens before it becomes unhealthy rages on, you can draw firm lines for tech-free times, such as during dinner, in the car, or on school nights.

2. BE A ROLE MODEL

Technology’s irresistible pull draws in parents as much as it does kids. We check our phones every hour, log late hours working or surfing the internet on our laptops, binge watch our favorite shows, and even engage in dangerous “distracted walking.” Children are likely to not only copy our behavior, but they also feel like they have to compete with devices for our attention. Nearly half of parents in one study reported technology interfering with interactions with their child three or more times on a typical day.

Google and Apple are starting to address this growing concern about tech taking over our lives by adding new phone features such as time limits for specific apps (for Android) andstatistics on time spent on devices (for iOS). While digital tools can help us curb excessive gadget usage, practicing and demonstrating mindful use of technology ourselves will be the best way to teach children the critical skill of unplugging.

Set boundaries for work time and family time. A few key times to stay unpluggedinclude:

  • when picking up or dropping children at school, as this is a transitional time for them
  • After coming home from work, as that’s time to reconnect with your family
  • during meals, including when dining out
  • during outings like trips to the park or zoo, or vacations when the focus is on family time

Know when you’re really busy and need to be plugged in and when you don’t. Often, it feels like there’s a work or social emergency and you have to take that call, respond to a message, or check your email — but when you really think about it, it could wait until after you’ve finished that movie or game with your child.

Use media the way you want your children to.  Follow common sense rules around tech like never texting while driving and avoiding oversharing on social media.

By practicing what you preach instead of the hypocritical “do as I say not what I do” approach, you emulate the habits you want your children to pick up and show them that there are times for using technology and times when we should be present in the real world.

3. MAKE TECH A FAMILY AFFAIR

Your family likely discusses important decisions that affect the group day-to-day, such as who’s responsible for doing the dishes and where you should go for your next vacation. Technology use should take the same type of planning, so everyone’s on board with the same expectations.

Set rules as a family. When you set limits with children, Dr. Lasser says, kids can start learning how to self-regulate and know when screen time is interfering too much with the rest of their lives. As a bonus, he adds: “Kids are also less likely to balk at limits if they have a role in creating and establishing them.” You can create a  family media use plan at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website.

  • Be involved with your child’s tech experiences. Playing or watching alongside with your children offers several benefits. You’ll be able to vet the content they are accessing, the child will learn more from the activity through your interaction, and you’ll bond through the shared experience. If your children seem to be light years ahead in tech acumen compared with you, let them teach you — it’s a confidence-booster for them and important for you to keep up with the new experiences they’re having. This might mean sitting through dizzying Minecraft builds, Fortnite games or learning teenspeak, but at least you’ll experience the virtual world together.
  • Tailor your approach to each child. As with other areas of parenting, what works for one child won’t necessarily work for another, depending on their ages, personalities, and needs. Your 10-year-old might be more careful about not playing inappropriate games or keeping your computer free of viruses than your 12-year-old. Your 12-year-old might not want a phone even though her friends all have one.
  • Age ranges aren’t hard guidelines (including the ones in this guide). Instead, consider them a general roadmap for mentoring your children from an introduction to technology to making their own decisions about how to use it wisely.

Babies Under 2

They’re surprisingly adept at tapping and swiping, but keep the phone and tablet away as much as possible (chats with Grandma are O.K.).

One second you’re holding your cooing, happy baby and the next she’s bawling in the restaurant. Hand over a smartphone, though, and all is well again. It’s no wonder parents often resort to electronicn devices to distract. With their endless array of dazzling apps and cartoons on YouTube, gadgets grab babies’ attention.

The problem is, a child’s brain grows fastest in the first three years of life, which makes this period the most critical one for lingual, emotional, social and motor skills development. Being able to experience the real world with all of her senses and through live interaction with others will be far more beneficial to a baby than interacting with a screen. A picture of a ball, even if it bounces and makes a sound on the screen, isn’t as rich an experience as playing with an actual ball.

It’s O.K. to introduce your children to technology, but it should be a tiny percentage of their time at this age and ideally be shared with you since babies are social learners. The majority of their awake time should be spent doing what babies do best: Absorbing everything around them and developing their big brains.

FOR ANY SCREEN TIME, FOCUS ON QUALITY

The jury’s still out on the long-standing debate of “How much screen time is too much?” In 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised its previous recommendationof no screen time for children under 2. The new guidelines were broadened a bit, with recommendations for only video chatting for children under 18 months, co-watching high-quality programs, such as the classic Sesame Street or Wonder Pets! for children ages 18 to 24 months, one hour a day of screen time for children ages 2 to 5 years, and “consistent limits” on screen time for children ages 6 and above.

While these recommendations are looser than the group’s 2010 ones, they might still be too restrictive for many families—and possibly unnecessary. A study from Oxford University published in December 2017 found no consistent correlation between parents who followed the A.A.P. screen time guidelines and young children’s well being. That study’s lead author, Dr. Andrew Pryzbylski, said in a statement, “If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.”

Here are some tips for finding the right balance for your baby:

  • Limit tech usage to the bare minimum. The A.A.P. recommends limiting tech use to video chatting — for example with a traveling parent or relatives who are far away. The one-to-one conversations, even on screen, can help babies as they develop critical language skills.
  • Skip the “educational” videos. Products like Baby Einstein DVDs and other videos marketed as helping babies’ brains grow have been linked to developmental issues, sleep problems and delays in learning essential skills like vocabulary.
  • Co-view and co-play. Parents are busier than ever, with work, meals to make, household chores, and taking care of other family members. Still, instead of using technology as an electronic pacifier or babysitter, if you’re unable to tend to the baby for a moment, give the baby toys or books that will help her use all her senses. When using a tablet or phone with your baby, talk, read, sing or play with them to nourish their brain development. Interactive books can be engaging, as can musical apps or ones that teach children to recognize letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. (Best Kids Apps offers a curated list.)

PROTECT YOUR DEVICES

While too much technology exposure can be dangerous for your baby, your baby can also be hazardous for your technology. The best protection is prevention: Lock down your devices so kids can’t accidentally make in-app purchases or destroy your devices.

  • Kid-proof your phone and tablet with protective cases that have thick padding, are easy to clean, and are easy for small hands to hold. Amazon offers a case for its Fire tablet, while there are numerous options for iPad owners.
  • Set up parental controls on your devices. For Android, use the Family Link app to manage apps and set screen time limits. For iOS, go to Settings > General > Restrictions to limit apps and features.
  • Once your child is old enough to understand basic instructions, start teaching how to take care of these devices, with rules like: “Don’t eat or drink around the computer,” “Don’t leave the iPad on the floor, “ “Your phone is not a coaster.”  And when they are older, consider when it’s appropriate to ask them to help pay for any damage that results when they disregard your warnings.

Toddlers and Preschoolers (2-5 Years)

Play, watch and browse together — while carving out more tech-free time.

Once your child is running about and eager to learn all the things, it’ll be hard to keep electronic devices away. A survey by Erikson Institute found that an overwhelming 85 percent of parents allow their children under age 6 to use technology at home and 86 percent of parents surveyed said they found benefits for their young children’s tech usages, including literacy, school readiness and school success.  While there are more apps and gadgets than ever before explicitly designed for toddlers, you’ll still want to make tech a small slice of their larger learning and activities pie.

MAKE TECH TIME BONDING TIME

At this age, children are learning prosocial behavior: sharing, helping, donating and benefiting other people. It’s the age when kids learn to give and take. Technology can help with this developmental stage when you co-play with them, taking turns and exploring a game or digital book or video together. Now (and, honestly, at every other age), children want your undivided attention — even when their focus seems to be mostly directed at a screen.

CHOOSING GAMES AND APPS

 You’ll want to do this for your kids in any age group, but as soon as possible, get into the habit of checking age ratings for digital content. Stephen Balkam, the founder and C.E.O. of the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit that represents members such as Amazon and Verizon with the aim of making the online world safer for children and families, recommends checking the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) ratings versus app store ratings. Google, Microsoft, Nintendo and many other major tech companies use IARC ratings when producing user content, and these ratings are linked to national age rating systems.

Some toddler-friendly apps include Kiddle, Google’s visual search engine for kids, and Kidoz, a curated collection of children’s apps and content. CommonSenseMedia.org offers reviews of apps and games sorted by age group. It’s important to keep in mind that age recommendations in app stores and sites like YouTube haven’t always been accurate, though (some providers go out of their way to infiltrate the listings with disturbing content masquerading as child-friendly) so the best recourse is to vet the content your kids are exposed to yourself.

SET TECH-FREE TIMES AND SPACES

Establish rules for when the family should not be on their devices, such as two hours before bedtime and during meal times. Similarly, set up screen-free zones in your home. For example, mobile devices, computers and TVs are not allowed in the dining room or bedrooms. Firm rules like these — that everyone in the family follows — make sure everyone gets tech breaks and family time.

Young Children (6-12 Years)

Now’s the time to set up and reinforce healthy tech habits.

Children at the grade school age level will likely be using technology on a daily basis. As they still look to you for guidance, this is a pivotal time to establish and reinforce the appropriate use of technology and the benefits your family can gain from it.

SET UP CHILD ACCOUNTS

Kids in this age range may need to use a computer for homework. The built-in parental controls in Windows (called Microsoft Family) and macOS (called Parental Controls in system preferences) can help you set time limits and also limit apps and web usage.

As much as you might try to train them, there will be accidents: a laptop dropped on the floor, milk spilled on the keyboard, screens broken from mysterious “I didn’t do that!” causes. The best protection is to designate certain devices specifically for children to use (maybe your old ones); if you have a mission-critical computer or tablet that you use for work, keep your kids off it.

Chromebooks are inexpensive laptops, so those might be a good choice for young children. And if you keep devices in a central location, such as a family room, you’ll be better able to monitor your kids’ tech usage and be more engaged with them when they go online.

ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY

Technology has a lot to offer children, but the apps you choose to expose your kids to make a difference. If your child is a tinkerer and likes to build things, you could try:

  • Osmo, which merges real-world objects with digital ones on the iPad for a more tactile learning experience.
  • Scratch, developed by M.I.T., teaches children logical thinking through creating stories, animations and games.
  • Toontastic will boost creativity for your future movie maker or writer.
  • Try family-friendly active video games for the Wii, Playstation, or Xbox, such asWipeout: Create & Crash.

PRIVACY AND SECURITY BEST PRACTICES

Start the safety conversation early and speak about it often. Remind kids that what goes online stays online and that they should never share personally identifiable or sensitive information. “It may not be realistic for parents to become experts on every new app that becomes popular,” Mr. Balkam says, “but by establishing an open conversation with their child from the start, they can help them stay safe. Children who are used to talking about what they do online are more likely to tell someone if they are worried or upset by something that happens in their digital life.”

WATCH OUT FOR CYBERBULLYING

Bullying — both online and offline — becomes a potential issue for children once they’re in grade school. “The research on this topic generally shows that kids’ online lives mirror their offline lives,” says Lisa Damour, author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.” Her general guidance for parents to give their kids:

  • Do not be a passive bystander if you witness bullying, online or in real life.
  • Alert an adult.
  • Stand up to the bully on behalf of the victim.
  • Go out of your way to support the victim, such as including the person in your activities or checking in to see they’re O.K.

THEIR OWN PHONE?

At this age, your kids might be clamoring for a phone of their own, since it’s likely some of their friends have them. According to Nielsen research, the most predominant age when kids get a phone with a service plan is 10, followed by  8, and then 9 and 11 (tied for third). Most parents give their children phones so they can easily get in touch or to track kids’ location for safety reasons.

But just because all the other kids have a phone doesn’t mean your child is ready for one. Things you’ll want to consider before buying them phones:

  • Are they responsible with their belongings?
  • Will they follow your rules around phone use?
  • Can they be trusted to use text, photos and video responsibly?

You’ll need to check your child’s maturity level here and consider your family’s values. For example, if a phone is needed for safety reasons, a “dumb phone” (remember those?) or burner phone might be a solution. There’s no magic age number, but most experts recommend waiting as long as possible to delay kids’ exposure to online bullies, child predators, sexting and the distractions of social media.

Teens (13 -18 Years)

Children at this age want more freedom and privacy, but you still need to make sure they’re safe. Stay connected while maintaining that trust.

Teens will want more independence, and that includes using their devices without you prying into their social lives. You might move from strict monitoring to mentoring your teen to use tech responsibly.

SET RULES

You should set rules on phone and device usage (if you haven’t already).

It is impractical for parents to try to supervise everything teenagers do online,” Dr. Damour says, “but it is possible to use periodic monitoring to get a sense of how well a young person is handling the freedom of having access to digital technology. From there, parents can decide how quickly they can expand their tween/teen’s freedoms.” A phone contract can help establish the guidelines your teen should have in mind when he or she is  online. Some non-debatable rules might include:

  • Never texting while driving
  • Never sharing inappropriate photos or videos
  • Always texting you when arriving at or leaving from a friend’s house

BEST PRACTICES

Teach social media and critical thinking best practices. Once teens have a phone, they’ll be using it primarily as a social tool, so reinforce the positive aspects of that while warning them of the dangers (e.g., something online can follow you through life). And affirm whenever possible that your teen’s self-worth shouldn’t be tied to likes or shares.

This is also the time to discuss how marketing messages can be used to manipulate people and to encourage your teen to fact-check rumors and be skeptical of anything they come across online.

Friend or follow your kids on social media, so you can see what they’re up to periodically. Make this a non-negotiable rule — even if your kids balk at it. “Staying involved and not overreacting to every post tends to be a more subtle form of supervision that teens may tolerate even as they get older and want more privacy,” Mr.Balkam advises.

ESTABLISH TRUST

Spying vs. monitoring. At this delicate stage, you’ll need to balance respect for your kids’ need for privacy while also ensuring they’re safe. Some ideas for ground rules: You won’t listen in on phone conversations or check their emails unless you suspect something is wrong. In return, they will hand over their phone or online account login any time you want to review their activity. This lets teens know that you reserve the right to look out for them, without destroying trust if you were to monitor them without letting them know you were doing that.

The technology and social media researcher danah boyd offers a smart strategy for establishing trust with your children while having access to their online accounts as needed: “Parents ask children to put passwords into a piggy bank that must be broken for the paper with the password to be retrieved. Such parents often explain that they don’t want to access their teens’ accounts, but they want to have the ability to do so ‘in case of emergency.’ A piggy bank allows a social contract to take a physical form.”

STEER THEM INTO PRODUCTIVTY

Channel teens’ tech interests into productive purposes. Digital literacy is a skill increasingly in demand and technology can offer incredible creative and academic opportunities. If your child is interested, see if there are classes on programming, digital design, animation or other tech-related subjects to help him or her benefit from technology and prepare them for the future. CodoDojo offers free programming classes around the world, and Microsoft and Apple provide fun computer-based workshops in their stores, typically in the summer.

AVOIDING TECH ADDICTION

There are two major early warning signs you should look out for to check if your child has an unhealthy relationship with technology, Dr. Alter says. One is behavioral and the other emotional.

“On the behavioral front, it’s important to recognize when screens are taking up so much time that there’s no time left for playing offline, doing physical exercise, and spending time face-to-face with other people.

On the emotional front, it’s important to recognize when kids experience negative emotions after screen time because they’re feeling bullied, ostracized, or more generally unhappy as a result of their online interactions. That may happen after they spend time on social networks, communicating by text, or when they play multiplayer role-playing games with a social element.”

Be on the lookout if your child replaces offline activities he used to enjoy with more screen time, if sleep begins to suffer due to late night tech usage, and if in-person interactions (like having family dinners) get usurped by devices.

As with most parenting topics, constant, open communication is key to helping your family reap the benefits of technology without experiencing too many of the negative effects.

Melanie Pinola has been writing about technology and lifestyle topics for the last decade. She lives in New York City with her digitally astute tween daughter.

Twitter: @melaniepinola

Thousands of children in prison across Africa need justice

Young people are all but invisible in the justice system, facing ill treatment at the hands of those who should be protecting them.

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Children wait at a naval base in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, after being rescued off the coast of Garabulli. Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images


The legendary editor of the Guardian newspaper CP Scott famously declared in 1921 that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. Unfortunately, when it comes to hard evidence on how many children are locked up in prisons, detention centres, migrant and refugee camps, rehabilitation units or other institutions across the world, the facts are more scarce than sacred.

There is no single source of accurate data for these figures and estimates vary widely between 15,000 and 28,000 in Africa alone, but common sense dictates that the numbers are likely to be worse than even the highest approximations.

The UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty – due to be presented to the general assembly this September – aims to address this data gap.

Whatever the numbers, no child should be kept in prison. Detention should only ever be used as a last resort, and then only for the shortest possible time.

A lack of statistics makes it hard to identify any country or region in the continent as being worse than another. The recent conference onAccess to Justice for Children in Africa, convened by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) and its partners in Addis Ababa, made it clear that young people are poorly served by the justice systems meant to protect them. Despite some progress in recent years, the conference heard how groups such as children with disabilities, victims of trafficking, sexual abuse and violence, orphans, refugees and migrants are routinely discriminated against: they are denied access to justice, to adequate legal representation and to fair trial.

ACPF held the gathering to call on governments and international agencies, research institutions and experts as well as the media to highlight the injustices children are facing in judicial systems. Participants, numbering more than 200, committed themselves to giving a face and a voice to these children, and making access to justice a reality for all young people on the continent.

Their call to action pulls no punches, noting that children remain predominantly invisible in the justice systems in Africa, that traditional, customary or religious justice remains largely unregulated and renders children particularly vulnerable; and that African laws need to be brought into line with international standards and principles such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

The call to action makes it clear it is our collective responsibility to ensure progress – governments, the African Union, UN agencies, civil society and non-governmental organisations, academics – no one can shirk their responsibility.

But calling for action is one thing, getting it is another. African countries must make greater strides towards improved access to justice for children. This will be marked by, among other things, law and policy reform that recognise the rights of children in the justice system, as well as growth in services that support these laws. Many African countries now have laws and standards to protect children in the justice system, some have child courts and dedicated police units, but true progress requires their systematic implementation.

Some countries such as Uganda report a significant drop in the number of children being detained. Elsewhere, trials of new technology such as “virtual courts” lessen the stress of children having to appear in person. But progress is painfully slow, and all the while another generation of children faces discrimination and ill-treatment at the hands of the systems intended to protect them.

As the call to action concludes: “There is an imperative on all of us to act now, as the future of our continent depends on ensuring justice for our children today.”


  • Graça Machel is board chair of the African Child Policy Forum

SOURCE: The Bloomgist/The Guardian/Anadolu