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Wednesday Wisdom

Summer Sensations

- Reflect -

It was certainly easier to enjoy a summer at home when it featured sporting events that made one feel inspired, invigorated and excited about all that life has to offer!

I knew nothing about women’s football when I sat down in my living room to witness England’s Lionesses in the final of the Euros. By the end of the match, my boys were running in to see what I was watching. They had never seen me so animated as a sporting spectator. I was jumping up and down, occasionally gasping in horror, holding my hands to my face, shouting at the referee and even started crying at one point. I couldn’t help but smile when Chloe Kelly ripped off her shirt and swung it around in the air victoriously. I enjoyed witnessing the team kneeling on the grass with muddy knees and dirty faces, proud and fearless in front of the world’s media. Goodnight gender stereotypes!

As soon as the match ended, I was Googling every player, following women’s grassroots football clubs on Twitter and had even purchased, The History of Women’s Football by Professor Jean Williams. Her book documents the many women (and their allies), who blazed a trail for this young team, enabling them to celebrate a victory watched by 17 million viewers. 

Upon reading Professor William’s book, I became retrospectively enraged that women’s football had been banned for over 50 years by the Football Association (FA) and surprised to learn that even now access to football for girls is not uniform across secondary schools.

Within family life, we should harness the energy and pride experienced during sporting events. Within women’s football (as in many sports), there are a substantial number of role models for our children to emulate. Let’s seek them out and talk about them.

Looking for someone who combines excellence in sport with a fabulous professional career? England’s captain, Leah Williamson, also happens to be a trainee accountant. Looking for a story of personal resilience and determination to play? There are too many stories to choose from, but I enjoyed reading about Dr Hope Powell, who couldn’t represent her school team beyond the age of 11 because of FA rules. Now, her record includes 66 caps for her country, being the youngest ever coach of England women’s national team (the first woman and non-white person to hold this position) and being the first woman to achieve the UEFA Pro Licence (the highest coaching qualification available). 

It is good to acknowledge how far we have come in terms of women’s access to sports like football, but, like in so many areas of life, there is still a way to go. News items can helpfully bring topics like gender inequality within sport to the fore. Ask your children topical questions and perhaps sow the seeds of aspiration simultaneously. 

Did you know that this year, female referees will officiate matches in the men’s World Cup, for the first time in the tournament’s history? What do you think about that? How do you think it feels to be that referee arriving onto the pitch for the first time? Have you ever felt scared to be the first to do something?

- Motivate -

Alongside this year’s spectacular summer of sport was television viewing that sat in sharp juxtaposition with the demonstrations of physical prowess, courage and determination seen on the sporting field. 17 million tuned in to the football, but nearly 3.5 million tuned in to watch the finale of a show called Love Island.

Love Island is one of a number of contemporary ‘dating’ shows beginning to pervade (arguably shape) aspects of popular culture. The premise of the show seems to be pitting ‘body perfect’ young people in competition with one another, as they pursue the prize of ‘coupling up’. At the end of the series, the public’s favourite pair are rewarded with £50k, often accompanied by numerous commercial deals. Along the way, participants take part in what can only be described as a series of sexually provocative, explicit and arguably emotionally manipulative games. Contestants’ personal resilience is tested to the max throughout; loyalties are routinely betrayed, confidence gets undermined and feelings get badly hurt. 

Yes, it’s a ‘TV’ show. Yes, they are all adults. The trouble is, shows like this routinely attract viewers below the recommended age rating of 17. What messages are these children and young people absorbing and taking away when it comes to topics like body image, relationships, intimacy, flirtation, sex or gender relations? 

I mention this particular show as several parents have been in touch over the summer worried that their children have seen clips of it on YouTube or have watched it with friends. One mum wrote about her regret for letting her tween watch it, as now her daughter wants to be on it when she is older… Now that’s the sort of aspiration that is a far cry from scoring goals for one’s country! 

Summer can certainly test parental resolve to stick to recommended age ratings, but it’s important to remember that such guidance exists for good reason. Children may struggle to process, contextualise or critically engage with mature content. They might also see things that confuse or, worse, inspire them. This is particularly problematic when viewing sexualised content. Yes, they will already have heard swear words and witnessed some of the behaviour featured in Love Island within music videos, but there are also more nuanced messages that lie within this sort of programme.

In Love Island, contestants are artificially lumped together, encouraged to sleep in the same bed, and ultimately compete for a love match. As couples emerge, we get into the nitty gritty of how they interact physically and emotionally. Sadly, there were many worrying aspects in this year’s interactions, as highlighted by charities such as Refuge and Women’s Aid. Viewers witnessed young men questioning partners’ memory of events in ways that sounded aggressive and controlling, young women’s thoughts and feelings were trivialised, ‘gas lighting’ was prevalent, as well as general features of emotional abuse.

- Support -

It was sad to hear that the wonderful actress, Olivia Newton-John (AKA Sandy from Grease), passed away this summer. The ‘Summer Lovin’ between high school teens celebrated in that iconic film reminds us that this is the season nostalgically associated with adolescent experimentation, rebellion, risk-taking and young love.

My own teens have dipped their toes in the dating pool this summer. It has been interesting to say the least! Soon after meeting one lovely young girl on holiday, my youngest was asked to “rate” her looks out of ten (by the girl herself). He was confused, asked me what that meant and felt unsure how to respond. We discussed the whole poisonous concept of ‘rating’, and why it is never ok to rate or critique anyone’s body. We also chatted about the fact that certain social media apps, games and television programmes may have influenced the whole concept.  

Being the parent of an older teen who has started dating (I am now a member of this club) requires some psychological adjustment, resilience and quick thinking. First of all, one has to come to terms with such maturation. Can this really be happening? To the boy who would, until recently, roll his eyes in horror at the very thought of having a girlfriend?

Feelings of rejection can surface when you witness their delight in their girl or boyfriend’s company, on a day when they have been super moody at home. You may no longer be their ‘go to’ person for comfort or support, and you can end up feeling uncomfortably shut out. After all, contemporary flirting tends to take place online and out of sight. 

Time eases the initial shock that your little baby is all grown up and you might start to feel pleased, chuffed even, that another person thinks that your offspring is attractive and fun. Soon, you might find yourself telling your teen that you’re happy for them and that falling in love is one of the most beautiful of human experiences. 

Retaining closeness between parent and teen may require a little labour at this point, but it will be worth it. Dating is a new experience for them, and, as such, they need us to set gentle expectations about relationship values and behaviours in particular. Remember, where there are knowledge or value gaps, social, digital media and toxic role models may fill the vacuum. In a world where young people are encouraged to ‘rate’, ‘like’, ‘dislike’, reject or accept one another based on appearance, the antidote lies in parents emphasising and modelling the importance of connection, authenticity and appreciation for qualities unrelated to looks.

I would suggest we strive to raise Lions and Lionesses rather than ‘Love Islanders’. What should the aim be? To raise children who know their own worth, reject body perfectionism, actively avoid toxic role models or pernicious influences online and who are unashamedly aspirational. We want our children to be excited to discover their physical and intellectual potential and able to be proud of what they achieve in life and in love. We aren’t just raising children after all; we’re also nurturing the next generation of partners and parents. 

If by reading this newsletter, you have started to reminisce about your own early teen relationships and experiences, someone is waiting to hear from you. Dr Lucy Foulkes, a psychologist at UCL, is currently writing a book on adolescence and is inviting people to tell their stories. Please click here to learn more. 

- Is Your School Tooled Up? -

Parents in Tooled Up schools can find athletic inspiration in our sport and activity resources. Do you have a budding young sports person on your hands? Perhaps your child trains multiple times a week or your teen is even considering seeking a sports scholarship? If so, make sure that you watch our webinar with champion hockey star and founder of Aspire, Holly Cram. Short on time? Just read the accompanying notes. We’ve also chatted with performance nutritionist, Dan Richardson, about how to ensure sporty teens are well fuelled. Check out his list of 10 top sports nutrition myths or watch our webinar to make sure you are armed with the facts.  

If you are feeling inspired, why not have a go at a new activity in these final weeks of summer? Check out our list of 100 sports for the whole family to try, which is complete with details of where to find further information.

We know that teenage girls, in particular, are less likely to achieve recommended levels of daily physical activity. To learn more about encouraging them, watch our brief video clip, or listen to our podcast with physical health and child activity researcher, Dr Michaela James. As you might have seen in recent news articles, the menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on girls’ participation and performance in sport. We recently spoke to Dr Natalie Brown about the importance of menstrual cycle education (for both girls and boys) and have put together a list of tracking apps and period products that can help girls to feel more confident about managing their cycle and staying active.

 

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Have a great week.