Female Genital Mutilation – a cross party report states it remains an ‘ongoing national scandal’

female-genital-mutilation-1A report on female genital mutilation has been published by MPs today (3rd July), and it makes uncomfortable reading for those of us committed to the campaign to end the practice.

We have written on FGM twice before on this blog here and here and are saddened to hear that the report of the cross-party Commons home affairs committee states clearly that it continues to be an ‘ongoing national scandal’.

The committee heard from victims, health and social workers, police and lawyers. Whilst not going so far as to endorse mandatory gynaecological checks it did say that a case could be made for the adoption of the French model – regular checks for at-risk young women and children.

It is shocking that around 24,000 girls under the age of 15 are at risk of female genital mutilation in the UK. Every one of them is let down by our society if we fail to deal with this matter properly.
Keith Vaz, the Labour MP chairing the committee said:

“Successive governments, politicians, the police, health, education and social care sectors should all share responsibility for the failure in recent years to respond adequately to the growing prevalence of FGM in the UK.”

The BBC, reporting on the issue on the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, spoke to Dr Comfort Momoh, a public health specialist at St Thomas’s Hospital, in London, who said there was a “lack of training” and a “lack of awareness” around the issue among health professionals.

She said: “If our so-called professionals don’t have the knowledge, if our so-called professionals don’t know how to identify groups who might be at risk, how do we expect the community to report cases to us?”
Although the Department for Education has taken steps to draw this matter to the attention of all schools, the committee feels they can still do more and there must surely be a case for training for teachers over and above standard safeguarding procedures.

The Guardian newspaper reports today that campaigners, whilst welcoming the report, are frustrated that it has not gone further, making a failure to report FGM a crime to ensure any professionals, currently reluctant to become involved in cases of FGM, take steps to protect any girl they feel may be vulnerable. The report only recommends the criminalisation of a failure to report ‘if reporting of the practice does not increase in the next 12 months’. They have also called for more detailed guidelines for professionals and funding for grass roots action.

Clearly there is a lot of support for action, but there should surely be no further delay in implementing these changes?

 

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Dealing with exam stress – a guide for parents & teens

exam_stress-adviceThere are quite a number of websites that work to make exam time less stressful for the children and young people taking them.  BBC Radio 1 has a particularly good one. Late spring, a time of year that should be full of hope and enjoyment can become weeks of torture as school exams, GCSEs and A Levels, as well as University exams, pile on the anxiety. If your family is host to a beleaguered exam sitter, then our own Sue-Claire at Counselling for Clarity sent the following invaluable tips for them:

– Keep communicating/talking with peer group/friends/family, don’t keep all your worries inside.
– Find a creative outlet in between revision. Shake out, walk,dance, paint, write, play or listen to music
– Try not to compare yourself with others. You are unique. Remember what people like about you as a starting point for your confidence
– Group revision/online discussion/audio tapes/revision cards really do help. You are not alone

But this post is by way of offering support to the family and friends best able to help those taking exams. Over the past week we have offered exam tips on our Facebook page. Today we thought we would post a digest of those suggestions, along with some more, to see you through the weekend and beyond.

1.) For those of you who are getting embattled, try to reduce the pressure.You can do this by first reducing the pressure in yourself.  Take a moment to think about how you are coming across. Do you feel tight and focused on ‘getting the job done’ rather than thinking about how your child is responding? If you are – don’t worry!  Most of us do this naturally.

2.) To approach things differently, stop and reflect and change how you are being with yourself and with your child/ren. Soften your attitude, change your tone and then ask your child/ren – how is this going for them? How do they feel about their revision programme and would they like any help?  If so, what help would they like? This is ALL focused on them and not on how you would do it.

3.) If you are finding that your child is getting too focused, talk to them about it – distraction can be positive. Offer a trip to the cinema; encourage fresh air and exercise daily; bake a cake. There should be a pulse to working and taking time out. So – talk about coming and going. Remember striving too hard for perfection can create an over-anxious child – which in turn can work against them in the exam.

4.) Suggest to your child that after an exam, whether it has gone well or not – they don’t talk about it in detail to their peers. It can cause unnecessary worry. They should just say ‘it was OK’ and leave it at that. relax

5.) Remember, that after a period of tension we all have a period of transition when we do not really know what to do with ourselves . This is a time when people of any age are vulnerable to getting drunk and behaving in ways they would not otherwise consider appropriate. So make sure everyone has some time to unwind. A day away can be a tonic, so just do something different.

We really hope these help. It is never an easy time, but we can minimise the stress and anxiety exams impose on us. Good luck!

 

 

 

Keeping our kids safe – the adolescent brain

Here on ‘let’s talk!’ we are committed to bringing you news and views on the challenges young people face as the move towards adulthood.

Our under 11s are taught about ‘stranger danger’, have their first lessons about sexuality and begin to take their first, independent trips to shops, school etc. Essentially however, they are still ‘ours’ and more ready to accept the boundaries we place on them as parents.

As children become teenagers these rules are there to be tested and boundaries challenged. Research suggests the changes in behaviour are not simply ‘raging hormones’ but due to profound changes in the young adult brain, and if that is the case, ensuring the safety net is there for them when temptations and peer pressure bombard them from all sides becomes ever more important. Behaviour an adult sees as irrational won’t strike a young person as such and that leads to challenges in the home, as the ‘you think you know everything’/ ‘you just don’t understand’ arguments become toxic and ultimately lead nowhere.

We have written on here before of the peer pressure of ‘neknomination’ and substance misuse, as well as the dangers of ‘sexting‘. Since then we have found out as much as we can; understanding the dangerous craze of using nitrous oxide and other so-called ‘legal highs’; the use of e-cigarettes; the dangers of on-line grooming by paedophiles. For parents these are terrifying issues to face, and to discuss with our children without the seemingly inevitable clashes.

Communication is key, and we have therapists here with expert knowledge of the best ways to ensure healthy relationships with our kids. However, there are steps you can take before mediation and therapy become necessary.

We have a booklist on localbookshops.co.uk and are seeking recommendations from readers of this blog. We have heard recently of the book ‘Brainstorm:The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, written
by Daniel Siegel. He talks about the book in the video below. It is a long piece but fascinating. He explores exciting ways ‘in which understanding how the teenage brain functions can help parents make what is in fact an incredibly positive period of growth, change, and experimentation in their children’s lives less lonely and distressing on both sides of the generational divide’.

Have you read a book that has really helped you retain a loving bond with the young adults in your family? Are you a professional with a bookshelf full of fascinating and accessible studies of teenage behaviour? Are you a teen with a book that tells you how to manage your relationships without conflict?

Do let us know by commenting here, or on our Facebook page or our twitter account, @terraceclinic.

 

 

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): It is, simply, child abuse.

Female-circumcision-006On the 14th March The Guardian reported that for the first time a doctor will stand trial in Egypt on charges of female genital mutilation (FGM).  13-year-old Sohair al-Bata’a died following an alleged operation in his clinic last year. FGM has been banned in Egypt since 2008 but may doctors still carry out the operation on a private basis, as parents see it as an acceptable ‘rite of passage’ for their daughters.

How much do you know about FGM?  The work of charities and the government is raising awareness, but it is still a practice that remains safely hidden in many local communities. Female genital mutilation  is actually  a form of child abuse which damages girls and women, both physically and mentally by using a procedure  which The World Health Organization (WHO) describes as one that involves ‘ partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons’ (WHO, 2013). Communities practising FGM cite  reasons for its use such as social acceptance, family honour, marriageability or even the mistaken belief that it makes childbirth easier.  However, even a brief reading of the research undertaken on the subject tells of the short term  risk of shock, bleeding, infections and damage to nearby organs; as well as the possibility of death. Longer term effects  include very painful sex, abscesses, complications in pregnancy and, contrary to cultural belief, a greater risk of childbirth dangerous to mother and child. Psychological damage is common; in one study 80% of women  who had undergone and FGM procedure suffered from depression or anxiety disorders.

In Britain it is a criminal offence under the Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act to ‘perform FGM or to assist a girl to perform FGM on herself’. It can incur a maximum prison term of fourteen years, but prosecution seems low in comparison to the potential numbers of girls and women involved.  Most families do not see FGM as abuse and might accuse anyone intervening of being discriminatory. We must not shirk our responsibilities towards these girls.

We support the charity NSPCC both locally in the South West and nationally, in its campaign to stop this barbaric practice. The technique is  ‘traditionally carried out by a female with no medical training, without anaesthetics or antiseptic treatments, using knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades’ (NHS Choices 2013). The girl is sometimes forcibly restrained, held down even by a parent. FGM is usually carried out on girls between infancy and age 15, but the majority of cases occur between the ages of 5 and 8 years. Can you imagine the distress that must cause? Research has identified that tens of thousands of women in Britain live with the debilitating consequences of FGM and more than 20,000 young girls may be at risk. The crime is hidden, so figures are hard to establish, but these numbers may very well be much higher.

Communities in more than 28 African countries practise FGM, along with countries in the Middle East and Asia. The NHS has found that particular cities in the UK have more incidences of FGM, including London, Cardiff, Manchester, Sheffield, Northampton, Birmingham, and Oxford. But nowhere is immune.

The NSPCC has established a free 24-hour FGM helpline on 0800 028 3550 or its email at  fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk should you or someone you know be concerned that a child be at risk of FGM. After seven months the helpline had already received more than 150 calls.

forwardIf you would like to know more about FGM, go to the World Health Organisation website for full details,  or take a look at the wonderful Forward ( Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development) site. It makes horrifying reading. It is too late for Sohair al-Bata’a, but not for the thousands of girls at risk in this country. Whether we are parents or not we owe it to them to ensure this abuse is ended.

‘Sexting’ – how we must make sure young people know how to ‘Zipit’…

7841-Sexting234x346Here at The Terrace we are keen to promote charities that work to support children and protect those that are vulnerable, or who find themselves in situations that could leave them open to abuse and exploitation. We support the NSPCC as our chosen charity and run regular events to raise money for them, maintaining close links with the representative of the charity in the South West.

But it seems that we, as a society can never do enough. Those who want to abuse or place young people in the way of danger seem to find new ways to avoid detection and social media offers endless opportunities to put pressure on those with access to the internet to behave in ways that are harmful.

In the coming weeks we will be highlighting areas of concern that have been mentioned in the press, or which are part of good safeguarding practice. If you are a parent, a professional working with young people, or a young person we hope these posts will make you think and offer ways of identifying possible abuse. They will also offer you ways to address the issue.

Today we focus on ‘sexting’ – which generally refers to the sending and receiving of texts including pictures of young people naked, in their underwear or in sexual positions. It also includes text messages or videos of a sexual nature. They might be sent from a friend, boyfriend, girlfriend or a stranger met online. Often it starts as an innocent conversation, but can rapidly go further than one party intended it to.

The charity Childline receives many calls from young people in deep distress  – images of them may have ‘gone viral’ at school or in their community, causing deep embarrassment at least, and at worst a wish to run away or even to commit suicide. Matters are now particularly acute, as a Childline survey showed that 6 out of 10 children own a smartphone, offering instant access to such pictures and messages.

Childline gives the example of one  17-year-old boy who told them sexting was “pretty normal” among his friends.

“My friends and I talk very openly about our experiences within our relationships, and the sort of things we’ve sent each other. It seems like everyone’s doing it…Someone saw a video message I had sent to a previous girlfriend, took a screen shot and posted it online. They called me a pervert and lots of people I knew saw it….I was completely devastated and, to be honest, almost suicidal.”

Isn’t it shocking that we allow such a thing to become a ‘normal’ experience for our children, many of whom are not yet teenagers?

Our nominated charity, the NSPCC, commissioned a report which was published as long ago as May 2012. Findings showed:

  • the primary technology-related threat comes from peers, not ‘stranger danger’
  • sexting is often coercive
  • girls are the most adversely affected
  • technology amplifies the problem by facilitating the objectification of girls
  • sexting reveals wider sexual pressures
  • ever younger children are affected
  • sexting practices are culturally specific

This indicates that where many parents protect their children effectively from ‘stranger danger’, they do not take sufficient account of peer pressure.

Zipit_bannerChildline has developed a phone app called ‘Zipit’ which offers the opportunity for a young person to send an appropriate response to any ‘sexting‘ they receive – a witty ‘killer comeback’ that gives them control. Essentially though, we need to ensure that schools take responsibility for education children and young people about the dangers of sending sexy images or messages using their phone. We also need to encourage them to check out the Childline website which has a terrific section on how to deal with a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable. It is all about defusing the pressure that they feel coming at them from their peers.

So we must all make ourselves aware of the issue and recognise that we as adults are not always innocent in this area. Celebrities have been caught out tweeting images of themselves in compromising positions and something that we feel comfortable sending as a flirty message may feel very different when it is read at the other end of the ‘line’.

So take a look at all the great information on the websites of children’s charities. Awareness of these issues is a great start.

 

Teenage Depression – a blog for the Blurt Foundation

blurtThis post was originally published on the website of the wonderful Blurt Foundation last week. Jane was pleased to be asked to contribute to their blog, which offers people experiencing depression and anxiety the opportunity to tell their story and share experiences. The whole website offers factsheets and support in a friendly and accessible way. Do take a look. If you have anything to share Blurt would like to hear from you!

Have we learnt nothing?  In one way lots has changed since I was a teenager 40 years ago, but I am disheartened that really, despite lots more research and information, we are re-creating the same old, same old – pressurising teenagers to be ‘who we want them to be’, with a constant stream of examinations – where they have to perform on a yearly basis, within narrow and repetitive fields.  The proportion of young people aged 15-16 being diagnosed with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999 – these figures are depressing.

How can we expect to grow our young into rounded and creative human beings when we are constantly squeezing them into our system?  My own experience was as a teenager in the 70’s and the more pressure applied to me created a corresponding amount of anxiety, followed by me suppressing these anxious feelings  – numbing out and feeling depressed.  I was – mostly – a good natured young adult wishing to do my best.  That ‘doing my best’ however created a miserable inner life for me, where I felt very deadened and detached – and of course angry about that!

During the last decade I have been interested  by the culture of ‘como drinking’ realising that drinking may be this generations way of responding to the pressure we are putting them under.   The cycle of our pressurising performing culture creating a default psychology of their need to let go – literally through alcohol by becoming paralytic.   We create the pressure and this is the letting off of their steam – cause and effect – simple really…

Back in the 70’s I found a gem in meditation – I was lucky.   I, seemingly out of nowhere, asked for a 16th birthday present of a course in meditation.  I suffered the teasing from family and friends and sticking to my wish I completed the course, which helped me manage my anxiety and gave me some freedom in my life.   I did no longer need to measure everything in order to manage my level of anxiety.

More importantly, and very exciting it was, I learnt there was something inside me.  I was amazed to find I had an inner experience of myself, and in connecting to myself I felt softer and reassured that I did exist – literally I was a person too!

Was this an experience I could talk about – not really.  However I had had a taste of what it was to be able to have an experience where I listened to myself, and that I existed and mattered.  That was to be repeated when I went into counselling in my early 30’s and I thought bingo, I know this feeling and I like it.   I was listened to in a way that supported me and the counsellor heard, and acknowledged, my experience and my feelings.  This seems very simple and it’s what we need to be doing for our young people.

This brings me back to today – how are we creating this for our young people – supporting them to be themselves, to listen to their passion and be acknowledged and responded to.

Do we stop and think “Maybe it’s not them” – maybe it’s us creating an anxious environment for our young people.  We may be creating a world that is ‘progressive’ but until we learn to be more people centred and respond on a human level to each person, and young person , as an individual we are not using the information we have to provide our young with the best possible start.

Let’s start listening and acknowledging our young people and allow them to express themselves as unique individuals, say who they are, and allow and listen to their feelings.  That would be a good start to reducing anxiety and depression, and taking responsibility that we are part of the problem.

Jane is the founder of The Terrace which is Taunton’s leading therapy centre. If you’d like more information about their work, please visit their website here –> http://www.theterrace.co.uk

Is the pressure getting to our teenagers?

drinkingAs many as one in thirteen adolescents experience symptoms of depression and anxiety at some time. The condition can be deceptively difficult for parents to recognize however, and not only because teens often adhere to a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy when it comes to expressing their emotions.

We have learnt a lot about anxiety and depression during the last few decades but in many ways nothing has changed since I was a teenager 40 years ago – disheartened really that we are re-creating the same old, same old – pressurising teenagers to be ‘who we want them to be’, with a constant stream of examinations – where they have to perform on a yearly basis, within narrow and repetitive fields. Add to this an underlying attitude that teenagers are going to be ‘trouble’ and difficult, rather than us reaching into our skill box and learning new and creative ways to be with them.

During the last decade I have been interested by the culture of ‘comatose drinking’ realising that drinking may be this generations way of responding to the pressure we are putting them under. The cycle of our pressurising performing culture creating a default psychology of their need to let go – literally through alcohol by becoming paralytic. We create the pressure and this is the letting off of their steam – cause and effect – simple really…

Do we stop and think “Maybe it’s not them” – maybe it’s us creating an anxious environment. We may be creating a world that is ‘progressive’ but until we learn to be more people centred and respond on a human level to each person, and young person, as an individual we are not using the information we have to provide our young with the best possible start.

Let’s start listening and acknowledging our young people and allow them to express themselves as unique individuals, say who they are, and allow and listen to their feelings. That would be a good start to reducing anxiety and depression, and taking responsibility that we are part of the problem.

This post isn’t meant as a plug for a book  but if you have a teenager in your home I have found  ‘Changing Bodies Changing Lives’  by Ruth Bell very interesting – it discusses everything that affects teenagers in an open and inclusive manner and supports parents too.

Jane Gotto, UKCP Registered Psychotherapist, works in Taunton with individuals, couples and families, supervises professional counsellors and psychotherapists and co-leads Post Graduate groups at Spectrum Therapy in London. Jane founded The Terrace, Humanistic Psychotherapy and Complementary Health Centre, Staplegrove Road, Taunton in 1994. 01823 338968, http://www.the-terrace.co.uk http://www.janegotto.co.uk