Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Why I banned my daughter from Facebook and gave her a pen and paper

A study by psychologist Professor Paul Kirschner at an American University*, has revealed that students who log on to Facebook while studying get worse results than those who don’t. This comes as no surprise to me. For the past year, my husband and I have been waging a daily battle with our daughter Lillie over this very subject.

With GCSEs on the horizon, we felt the time had come for her to get down to some studying well away from the distractions of Facebook. We have a house full of books, what more could she need?

What more indeed? It transpired that her school had thoughtfully provided a number of online study aids that, by definition, required the use of a computer. The question ‘how do those children get on who haven’t got a computer at home?’ was met with a scornful sigh.

I realise that we are living in a world dominated by the Internet and schools are duty bound to keep up with technology but expecting a class of hormonally challenged, socially hungry youngsters to concentrate on their homework when they could be catching up with who is ‘poking’ who at the touch of a button, is like asking a bee to ignore a pot of honey.

The Internet is a massive resource and schools ignore it at their peril, but there are limits. Earlier this year, when Lillie began working towards exams, I was dismayed by how many hours she was spending ‘revising’ in front of the computer.

“Surely you must have some written notes?” I asked, remembering the volumes of hand written pages from my own student years.

“It’s all here mum!” she said. Sure enough there on screen was everything you needed to know to achieve an A* in GCSE history but was all this information being absorbed? I had good reason to doubt it. Every time I left the room, a quick click on the mouse replaced Hitler’s image with that of one of Lillie’s Facebook friends. When I finally managed to drag her away from the screen to test her, the horrible truth was revealed. Lillie, who is generally not short of things to say, was unable to fashion any kind of intelligent answer to the questions I asked her. The time had come to intervene.

I bought the course books, gave her a pen and paper and told her to start writing, explaining that the act of writing things down helps to fix them in your brain. Lillie quickly produced a set of workable notes from which to revise and was surprised at how much of she could remember afterwards.

Of course, the Internet does have its place in education. It can be a valuable research tool and online learning has given thousands who might not otherwise have had the opportunity, a way to learn new skills. However, when it comes to exams and revising I believe there is still no substitute for a notebook and pen – and the absence of external distractions.

Now hold on, while I just update my status …!

*Full findings of the 2010 published in Computers in Human Behaviour.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Me time, what ‘me’ time?

“The trouble with women today,” said my doctor, looking at me pointedly over the top of her glasses, “is that they think they can do everything.” 

I looked away guiltily.

“But something has to go and it is always the time they should be spending looking after themselves. At your time of life…”

There it was again, that little phrase, five little words that mean ‘now you are past your best’. I had been hearing it a lot lately, but getting back to what doc was saying...

“I could prescribe something to help you to cope but…”

Yes, I know, I have read all the self help manuals; I know that I should give up wine, eat less cake and exercise more ….

“I think what you really need is a little ‘me’ time.”

It was as easy as that then. Just an hour to myself occasionally and my stress levels would return to normal or at least to ‘manageable’, rather than being permanently pitched at ‘screaming harpie’ level.

So that was why, when faced with an unaccustomed ‘free’ morning, I closed the door on the mess in the living room, ignored the huge pile of ironing and ran myself a hot bubble bath.

No sooner had I sunk into the scented depths with book, mug of tea and chocolate cake at the ready (yes, I KNOW, I should eat less cake!), when the phone rang.

Ignore it, I thought. If it’s urgent they’ll call back. Then my mobile started.  Leave it, I told myself, but that nagging voice in head had started up. What if was an emergency; if one of the kids was in trouble or my mum had fallen again? I couldn’t relax until I knew that everyone was OK.

I dripped into the bedroom to retrieve my phone. I had two messages by then, both from Lillie. The first read ‘No money left - any chance you could pick me up?’ The second, presumably because I hadn’t responded quickly enough to the first, just said ‘???’.

I text her back saying I was busy but would come later. I got back in the bath and picked up my book. I had barely read two sentences when I received another text. This time I was ready, having brought my mobile into the bathroom. It was from Beth: ‘Forgotten my goggles, could you bring them?’ ‘In the bath’, I replied.

I took a couple of sips of tepid tea. There was a knock at the front door. Ignore it! This is your time, I reminded myself. Someone shouted through the letterbox: “Can you let me in,” hubbie’s voice, “I’ve forgotten my key, “Oh, and could you run a bath for Josh, footie finished early.”

What was I to do? The bath water was cold by now anyway. At least I still had the cake to look forward to. 

I threw on a towelling robe, opened the door for father and son and ran another bath for Josh.

Having dispatched hubbie to drop off goggles and pick up Lillie (Bless him, he does have his uses), I went to retrieve my cake only to discover Josh wolfing down the last few crumbs.

“That was great mum, thanks,” he said.

I shouldn’t eat it anyway, I thought. Now what should I tackle first, the tidying or that ironing?

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The 'C' Word

I was looking forward to half term. A week of not having to get up quite so early to make several packed lunches prior to the early morning scramble for school bags, PE kit and homework. As Josh was playing football, I arranged a shopping trip with the girls.

My mother asked if she could come along. This was sure to slow things down as she is not very mobile these days but I knew that she would enjoy spending time with the girls, so I agreed. Then my sister decided to join us. It has to be said that my sister is the worst person to go shopping with and has been known to reduce grown men (her husband for one) to tears. Not content with comparing prices in every shop to bag the best bargain, she will inevitably return to the store where she first saw an item to buy it - several gruelling hours later (love ya sis!).

So there we were in town, ready to stock up on essentials like gloves and scarves, ready for the return to school and onset of winter. My family had other ideas.

“Oh good,” said my sister joyfully, “We can start Christmas shopping.” There it was; the ‘C’ word. The one I knew was coming ever since mince pies arrived in the shops in September, the one I have been trying to avoid.  

“It’s not even November yet,” I pointed out.

“It will be here before you know it, best get ahead while we can,” came the reply. I know that sensible people shop early for Christmas; some even buy their gifts for following year in the January sales. I am not one of those people.

I subscribe to the belief that Christmas shopping should start in December, with the opening of Advent calendars, building to a climax around the Saturday before the big day.

There are several reasons for this:

If you let the Genie out of the bag to early you spend a good three months worrying about something which lasts for two days.

Children, particularly teenagers change their minds, and if you respond to their first desires you run the risk of them not getting that ‘really important, must-have at all costs’ something that will make their Christmas complete.

Lastly, I have more pressing things to worry about right now to think so far(!) into the future.

I was determined not to be sucked in.

Whilst I tried valiantly to stop my mum from ‘discreetly’ trying to buy me a truly awful jumper, my sister produced the longest list I have ever seen containing the names of no less than 25 people, none of whom were related.

“You’re surely not going to buy presents for that lot,” I exclaimed in horror.

“Just a little something,” she replied. ‘Just a little something’ necessitated investigating every ‘three for two’ and ‘buy one get one free’ deal on offer in every store in the High Street.

Meanwhile, both Lillie and Beth had escaped and were happily filling up their baskets in Primarnie (our family word for Primark).

“How much?” I gasped, catching up with them at the till. “How can anyone manage to spend that much in Primark?”  I sent Lillie to buy a new coat, not an entire company!

We rejoined my big sis in M&S just in time for me to catch my mum stuffing the aforementioned horrid jumper into her bag with a satisfied expression on her face. Oh well, at least I’ll have something to look forward to after Christmas – a long wait in the refund queue!

Is it too early to say ‘Bah, Humbug’?