Dannielle Miller

This is the last in our August series of guest blog posts by author, educator and media commentator Dannielle Miller. 

We all want our children to fully appreciate the good things in their lives and to know the importance of saying thank you. And there are now mountains of research showing that gratitude leads to everything from greater happiness to a more positive outlook, less materialism, more friends and stronger social support, more energy, a stronger immune system, and a longer life. Who wouldn’t want all of that for their children?

We know that an important part of our job as parents is to teach children from a very early age to say please and thank you. But how do we help our kids deal with the darker side of the gratitude equation: the feelings of disappointment, envy, and anger that arise when life isn’t going their way and they don’t feel that they are the lucky recipient of gifts from the universe?

What I’m about to tell you is something I’m sure you already know: the shortest route to you wanting to tear your hair out and scream is to tell an ungrateful child to feel grateful for something. It’s counterproductive to try and force kids to feel something they’re not feeling.

Children need to develop a meaningful, genuine sense of gratitude over time; we can’t impose it upon them. There is no point nagging. And though heaven knows we’ve all thought it sometimes, there is no point in dragging out the old “Think about all the children starving in other countries” line. It’s a short cut to guilt and resentment, not genuine gratitude. The last thing we want is to create robots who express gratitude without really feeling it. Once children are old enough to understand the concept of giving and thankfulness, it’s time to give them the chance to think about it and really mean it when they say thanks.

A far more effective approach is to make gratitude a daily family habit so that over time it becomes a natural part of our children’s makeup. We can model gratitude by thanking others, we can suggest fun opportunities for our children to express gratitude, and we can talk to them about the good things they have and where those things come from. Our job is not to force our kids to be grateful. It’s to be there to help them find their own way to a place of genuine thankfulness.

You probably have days when you feel angry or miserable, envious or frustrated, and less than thankful for what you’re dealing with. Kids might not have adult problems such as a mortgage or rent to pay, a hellish boss, or relationship problems, but they do also have days when it’s harder for them to feel thankful. Days when they feel sad, angry, disappointed, envious, lacking. I think it’s important not to squelch the very real emotions our children have, even the negative ones. All emotions are valid, and children need to know that it’s okay to feel them.

If we encourage children to block negative emotions out and simply replace them with rote gratitude, we are only asking for those negative emotions to fester, gain strength, and leak out in some other way. The path to genuine gratitude and happiness is through genuine emotion, so encourage your kids to feel and acknowledge all their emotions, and talk openly about your children’s emotions with them. This helps kids develop their emotional literacy, and it also opens up the possibility for them to move forward into a more positive feeling. When we work through our negative feelings, we have the opportunity to see all the things in our lives that we are grateful for.

Raising grateful children is not about minimising their negative feelings, or pretending that their disappointments don’t hurt or they aren’t facing real obstacles. It’s not about creating Stepford children who see only the good in everything and are happy 100% of the time. It’s about showing our children by our own example that we can be sad or hurt yet still be grateful for what’s good in our lives. After all, if we put off giving thanks until everything was going well and we had everything we wanted, we’d all be a giant pack of ingrates, wouldn’t we?

Life will always be a mixed bag of joy, achievement, success, and getting what we want-and sadness, loss, challenges, and failure. So what children really need to develop is not a gratitude reflex but true resilience. When we don’t get what we want, resilience allows us to see the good or the opportunity in the bad, and pick ourselves up and try again another day.

Dannielle’s books, including her guide to raising more thankful kids, Gratitude, may be purchased at her web site. During the month of August only, if you use the code SKWIRK at check out, you will receive a 25% discount off all purchases.

This is the third in our August series of guest blog posts by author, educator and media commentator Dannielle Miller. 

My first experience with dystopian fiction, with a genre of novels that explore a future that is bleak, corrupt and almost without hope, was in High School when we read Z For Zachariah. I recall finding the main character Ann introspective and indecisive; there was much contemplating on loneliness and praying (as I attended a Catholic girl’s school I wondered at times whether they had chosen this novel as yet another way of attempting to convince us that talking to God would indeed come in handy one day – particularly if we found ourselves in a post nuclear wasteland).

How different the introspective Ann seems in comparison to today’s post-apocalyptic action heroines.

Perhaps as a backlash to our seemingly insatiable thirst for paranormal romance fiction which tended to feature beautiful and often passive damsels in distress in need of a charming Vamp to save them, we are now being bombarded with kick-butt, clad in-black, hair-tied back warrior girls ready to literally fight for freedom. The Hunger Game’s Katniss, Divergent’s “Tris”, Disruption’s Maggie and The Maze Runner Trilogy’s Brenda all out-kick, out-shoot and outsmart not only the boys around them, but society itself. Bam! Girl Power!

Or is it? Writer and Feminist Emily Maguire in her thoughtful “Letter to the Girls I misjudged”, published in Sincerely, an anthology of letters derived from the Women of Letters events, laments the fact that as a young girl she associated all things traditionally girly with weakness and took great pride in being seen as “one of the blokes”; “It was the most wonderful compliment I had ever received and [it was] reinforced every single day when I heard the things people said about girls … the simple, contemptuous way that almost everybody – kids, teachers, even members of my own family – used that word, ‘girl’, as the ultimate insult.”

Clementine Ford extends on this idea it in her post “Betraying Our Girlhood”; “Taking up arms against the demonisation of girlhood isn’t about reclaiming our right to love lipstick or dresses or have the occasional conversation about Ryan Gosling’s bottom – although those things are all perfectly fine. The fierce determination to distance ourselves from anything perceptibly “girlie” only furthers the stereotype that women who like “girlie” things are stupid and one-dimensional – and indeed that girlieness itself is stupid and one-dimensional. Some girls – like me – rejected boys’ toys entirely as children, loved pink and watched movies about high-school girls falling in love, yet they still grew up to be strident feminists. We’re all different.”

The Bechdel test was first introduced by Alison Bechdel’s in a comic strip titled “The Rule.” It is a guide that can be applied to works of fiction such as films and books to assess gender bias. It asks whether at least two women talk to each other about anything other than a man. This new era of female protagonists would pass this with flying (suitably dark and masculine) colours as they are rightly too busy in survival mode to gossip about boys. But it struck me that it would be also a speedy test to administer in many cases as these females tend to only really befriend boys and rarely confide in the few other female characters that appear. Apart from having males as their love interests, these girls also only have males as their “besties”; Katniss has Peeta, Tris has Will, Maggie has Gus, Brenda has Jorge. In perhaps the ultimate rejection of their gender, the female action figures seem to also only be able to relate to the fellers.

So despite the fact that I have devoured all of the books above as they are fabulously addictive reads, it is this seeming rejection of the feminine and of females that has begun to trouble me. I am troubled too that the power the future female fighters we’re presented with possess is very much a traditional male version of power. It’s all kick-boxing, weapons, sensible black pants, and fearlessness. Not that there’s anything wrong with this when one is in survival mode– but nor is there anything necessarily wrong with power that presents itself in other more traditional feminine ways – such as through the capacity to form social connections and form and nurture alliances.

There are many ways to be not only to be a girl, but to be a powerful person. Fiction that depicts this would indeed be truly futuristic and visionary.

Tris and Molly in Divergent.

Tris and Molly in Divergent.

Dannielle’s books may be purchased at her web site. During the month of August only, if you use the code SKWIRK at check out, you will receive a 25% discount off all purchases.

This is the second in our August series of guest blog posts by author, educator and media commentator Dannielle Miller. 


What is the one thing teen boys say they wish adults better understood about their lives?

Forget raging hormones, academic angst and peer pressure. When my team and I run our personal development workshops with young men the thing they tell us they feel is the cause of most inter-generational misunderstanding is their passion for computer games.

“I wish my parents knew that just because I like gaming doesn’t mean I am a loner or that I’m going to become a serial killer.” “I wish the adults that mock me for the games I play would at least learn a bit more about them, and how skilled I am at playing them, first.”

The very fact that we tend to only ever target in on young men when fretting about gaming highlights how misinformed we tend to be. The reality is that almost half of those who play are female, and approximately a third are aged over 35 years old (yes, it seems that we have already had a generation of young game-loving people emerge as adults, and yes most are happy, well adjusted and productive members of society).

The reality too is that gaming is actually highly social; players work together to solve problems, share tips and tricks, compete with one another. My biggest complaint when my son plays?

There’s too much noise as he’s animatedly chatting via Skype to the mates he’s teaming up with online.

And make no mistake. Gaming does develop valuable skills. It is a fluid intelligence mega-booster, encouraging participants to seek novelty, challenge themselves, think creatively, do things the hard way and network.

There are many surprising socio-emotional benefits associated with gaming as well. It has been shown to be helpful in alleviating depression (it is believed games distract people from negative thought patterns), in developing intrinsic motivation (gamers learn to overcome one obstacle after another), and in developing the type of 21st century skills that employers require (not only the familiarity with computer operating systems, but the ability to work and collaborate virtually).

As for the notion that games are violent, whilst it is true that some of the most popular games like Minecraft are not, many do have violent elements. While this doesn’t thrill me, it also doesn’t surprise me. Children’s games have long explored such impulses; be it through playing with toy weapons or soldiers, or through role-plays such as Cowboys and Indians.

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The real question is whether playing these types of games leads to more violent behaviour, and on that point the findings are mixed with most studies concluding that whilst for a person predisposed towards violence this might be triggering, for well-adjusted individuals it is not. In fact, some young men I talk to say that when they are feeling angry, playing a game that is aggressive can be a helpful way of channeling that rage safely.

All this is not to say we should white-wash the very real issues that need addressing in gaming such as the sexist and abusive way in which some female players and game developers are treated (something my son thinks is shocking) and debates around ratings. Games like the Grand Theft Auto series, which tend to attract the type of media interest that may have contributed to the current culture of fear and misunderstanding, are rated R (18+). They will, of course, like all forbidden fruit, appeal to younger kids as well and just like when they wish to view films that are not suitable for them, it is then that parental boundaries need to be established.

Leena van Deventer, a game narrative lecturer at RMIT and Swinburne Universities, argues parents have actually never been in a better position to engage with the games their children play, and setting boundaries is aided not only be the games rating classification system, but by better parental restrictions that can be set on game devices. “We don’t have to play every game before our kids get it, these days either”, she says. “We can jump on YouTube and watch a complete play-through of the game and decide whether it’s the sort of game we want our child to play.”

It is true that like anything a young person becomes passionate about, gaming can become addictive. However, It seems odd to me though that whilst we wouldn’t dream of shaming a young person who was obsessed with locking themselves off into their room to read books, it tends to be open season on the gamer.

The way to connect with our children about anything is to open ourselves to their interests, instead of reflexively dismissing the things they love as harmful or trivial. Rather than policing and patronising, we need to empathise with, and understand the world of, young people. Only then can we positively engage with them and effectively support them.

We need to be prepared to get in the game.

 

Dannielle’s books may be purchased at her web site. During the month of August only, if you use the code SKWIRK at check out, you will receive a 25% discount off all purchases.