On the Importance of Female Friendships

I really think us mothers need a no-bullshit friendship manifesto. That way, we can go into new friendships knowing we’re in agreement on a few critical factors, thereby avoiding the awkward moments when you realize one person is way more into the drama than you are. I stopped being into the drama. I’m old now. Or tired. As if we don’t have enough to deal with.

I recently watched a TED Talk  with  role model and icon Jane Fonda. During her talk she described her close friendship with Lily Tomlin and the importance of her female friends; “I don’t know what I would do without my women friends,” she said. “They make me stronger, smarter, braver.”

Having relationships with people of the opposite sex is awesome and some of my favourite people in the world are guys. However, personally, I don’t think there is anything better than two females having an awesome relationship.

Several studies seem to corroborate this. One landmark study by Laura Klein and Shelley Taylor on the relationship between friendships and stress discovered that women react to stress differently than men (nothing new here, true). This difference is mostly due to the different proportions of hormones that are released into the bloodstream. So when men and women are stressed, the hormones cortisol and epinephrine are released together, which raise a person’s blood pressure and blood sugar level. Enter oxytocin; its main purpose is to counter the production of cortisol and epinephrine and produces a feeling of calm, reduces fear and counters some of the negative effects of stress. In this whole scenario, men release much smaller amounts of oxytocin than women, leaving them to feel more acutely the effects of the flight-or-fight response. Men tend to respond to stress by escaping from the situation, fighting back or bottling up their emotions.

So why is this important? In their study, Taylor argues that women, on the contrary, are genetically hard-wired for friendship in large part due to the oxytocin released into their bloodstream, combined of course, with the female reproductive hormones. So when life becomes challenging, women seek out friendships with other women as a means of regulating stress levels. An example of a common female stress response is to “tend and befriend”. That is, when women become stressed, their inclination is to nurture those around them and reach out to others.

Another study from Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a satisfied life. The study also showed that not having friends or confidants is as harmful to your health as smoking cigarettes or being overweight.

As Roxane Gay so eloquently puts it, the time has come to “abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses- pretty, but designed to SLOW women down”.

Here are four important tips that I learned from Roxanne’s great manifesto that will help you rethink your female friendship:

1. Chill out with the criticism

Think twice before tearing other women down, because even though they aren’t your friends, they are women and this is also important. I’ve also been there. I’ve applied shocking cruelty to other women in the past- mostly in my younger years, but still. It’s not an excuse. Everyone has their own struggles they’re dealing with. Remember that no one’s perfect and everyone gets caught up in emotions from time to time. But it doesn’t mean they’re the enemy. She is not the enemy.

It’s time to face the music. Women already have to put up with enough name calling, professional harassment, slut shaming, victim blaming bullshit, etc. Stop falling for it!

2. Declared allegiance: Stick to each other

I’ve heard this one plenty of times. I remember myself saying it quite often way back when. “I’m mostly friends with guys”. I remember taking a great deal of pride in the fact that most of my friends were guys. And, for a while, it did make sense. I thought women were annoying, bitchy, competitive and mostly toxic. Guys were just simpler. Nowadays, my female friends outnumber the guys about 5 to 1. And this is a rough estimate. I love being friends with women. I love how hilarious some of them are. Women are BOSS. If you’re not friends with women as a rule, just try out and see how you feel.

3. Co-operation

If you happen to be in the same field as some of your friends you can collaborate or help each other. Remember, your friends are awesome. Also remember that it was men who invented nepotism and practically live but it. So it’s definitely ok for women to do it too. I usually have a policy of only suggesting women for jobs that involve writing, teaching, or appearing on TV or radio. Why apologize for this- the last people who need help getting media attention are white men, and I’m assuming my guys friends understand this.

I guess the silver lining for patriarchy is that these women will always be paid less for their contributions so…ehm. Tis’ an imperfect situation. But the point is still, to help other women out. Even if you don’t know them very well. Even if you’re not exactly sure whether you actually like them. Help. Other. Women.

4. On Flirting

What I am about to write is of extreme importance. Do not, flirt, have sex, or engage in emotional affairs’ with your friends’ significant others. This shouldn’t need to be said, but it NEEDS to be said. That significant other is an asshole, and you do definitely do not want to be involved with an asshole who happens to be used goods. IF you do want to be with an asshole, get a new, fresh asshole of your very own. They are walking the earth in abundance.

It can be easy to forget that friendships are also relationships and that they require just as much effort. We’ve all been in a situation when you’re trying to make something work with someone. But because you’re the only one making the effort, it feels like the relationship is free fallin’. Goes without saying that we’re all busy and can never dedicate all our time to our friends but a quick call or a text can be incredibly important for keeping things alive.

Last observations…

Try to move toward having a number of “best friends” as well as friends who are more peripheral but who still count. Remember that each friend contributes something unique in the way of wisdom, support and fun times. When we depend on one person to meet all of our needs, that person can’t help but disappoint us.

It is important to acknowledge that friendship will, at times, evoke feelings of anger, envy, competition, and the entire range of emotions that make us human. For example, if you’re not in touch with the fact that your friend is suddenly getting lots of money and recognition for her work, you risk acting out by ignoring devaluing her work. (disclaimer: it doesn’t mean you can’t keep your feelings to yourself, when appropriate).

Some women have acquired the notion that their worth not only comes from the positive sexual evaluation of others but that it comes at the expense of other women. Don’t be that woman. Don’t be the woman who flirts with her friend’s boyfriend because it makes you feel good to think that, if you really wanted it, you could have him or her. You are being an enemy to other women. See points 2 and 4 above.

I can’t help but wonder that what may feel like a challenge to our friendships in the moment- working versus non-working, kids versus no kids, patiently listening vs speaking up- is almost always temporary. If we stick to each other’s side through it all, eventually the challenges fall away. Let’s all strive to be better friends and make more of an effort with one another. To really foster the important relationships and friendships in our lives. Because let’s face it, friendships really do make life a whole lot sweeter 🙂

On Brag-Proofing Our Children

Building confidence or her ego? This question has been echoing in my head for the past few weeks. My daughter’s dad and I have spent countless hours telling her how pretty she is, how smart she is, and- whenever she sings us a song or shows off her dance skills we praise her on her talent. It is, after all, our job to build up her confidence, right? Last week I picked her up from daycare and she announced, “Mommy, I’m the best singer in my group”. I had to think about what she had said for a second. Had our nonstop complimenting turned our little girl into an egomaniac?

As a parent, it’s hard not to get caught up in praise-galore. There is nothing wrong with making your kid feel good about herself. It is simply very easy to go overboard. This was corroborated by Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, author of Spoiling Childhood: How Well-Meaning Parents are Giving Children Too Much– But Not What they Need.

The premise is that if you’re constantly letting your child know how great he is, he’ll develop an unrealistically high regard for his abilities– and an ego that might make him insensitive to other people’s feelings (not to mention unpopular).

If you feel like you have been praising a little too much lately do not worry. It is not too late to avoid the proverbial parent-praise trap. In order to control your child’s swagger, teach him to appreciate the things other people can do, but also to accept his own limitations. Generating a sense of modesty from a young age will help your child make friend more easily and learn the value of teamwork. Moreover, you will be helping– not hurting- him over the long term.

And yet, it is still important to keep something in mind. When your two-year-old picks up a box of Legos and says, “Mommy, look how strong I am”, or when your 3-year-old twirls around and sings, “I’m the prettiest princess,”, she is not really bragging. Toddlers are still developing a sense of who they are. And since they’re working hard to master skills like talking in complete sentences and sharing, your praise and encouragement are certainly crucial.Child psychologist Vicki Panaccione, PhD, asserts that kids this age “need to feel secure, so that when they come across other people who are better at certain things, they’ll still feel good about themselves.” In fact, boosting a toddler’s self-esteem can make her less likely to be conceited later on.

It’s all about praising her actions the right way. Focus on her effort instead of the result, and avoid generalizations (e.g. “good girl”). Instead, be specific in your comments, such as, “You didn’t give up when the building blocks kept falling down”. This way your child will understand exactly what it is she did well.

This is also the right time to teach your child that being nice to other people is as important as drawing beautiful pictures. Don’t just compliment a performance. Many child psychologists maintain that children should also be encouraged and complimented when doing chores. Encourage your child when she puts her dishes in the sink or says thank you Grandma. And explain why what he’s done is commendable — cleaning up the dishes helps you; it makes Grandma feel good when he says thank you.”

A friend of mine has two boys aged 4 and 2. Whenever they share their toys or help out around the house, my friend always tell her husband, in front of the kids, “the  boys were so good about cleaning up their room, I don’t know what I would’ve done without them.” When she told me about it, I thought I would also implement it with my daughter. What also helps is when people in your daily life do a good job, point it out to your child.

Once children hit the preschooler years things change. By age 4 or 5, children interact with their peers more regularly. They soon start noticing that some kids are athletic, some live in big houses, and some have lots of toys. My friend was telling me the other day that her son was bragging that his sneakers were cooler than his friend’s because they light up. My friend responded to her son’s remark by saying “It’s not a competition. Your friend’s sneakers are special, too, because they have Batman on them.”

To counter this growing sense of materialism, teach your preschooler to count his blessings. For example, make charity work a regular part of your lives. Collect canned goods as a family for a food drive or spend an afternoon at an elderly home or write a get-well note to someone in your community who’s ill. Giving thanks before a meal will also help take the emphasis away from possessions and get your kids to realize how lucky they are.

Also watch out how you talk about possessions in front of your child. If he hears you brag about the flat-screen TV you just bought, he’ll learn that such behavior is acceptable- and become more materialistic.

Tips for turning the praise around

When You Say: “You’re a great soccer player no matter what happened on the field today.”

It Means: Mommy is not being honest with you.

Instead, Say: “I like that you kept trying even though your team had a rough day.”

When You Say: “Wow, that’s the best drawing I’ve ever seen!”

It Means: Mom thinks every little thing you do is great.

Instead, Say: “Those flowers are very colorful, and I like how your picture tells a story.”

Sources:

http://www.parents.com

On the Supermom Myth

Nope, there is no such thing ladies…and why the hell would you aspire to be a supermom anyway? Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a 8am-18pm career mom (with after hours at home required, in my case), you will soon come to learn that it is very difficult but more importantly, exhausting to try to “do it all” for the sake of your family.

It certainly is a challenge. Let me set the stage here: If you are a full time working mom, something will suffice. You can’t possibly work more than forty hours a week and then come home and give your kids an optimal care. We sure as hell try though! I’ll give ya that. Remember that in the end….something always gives. It will be either your interaction with your children, or their interaction with you, or how they will perceive the values we teach them, but most likely it will be your own health. It’s all interconnected you see.
The trick is to take a deep breath, and try to embrace the motherhood while still keeping sane, relatively healthy, but more importantly don’t forget to laugh through this wonderful weird journey of raising children. Because each stage of your child’s life is so damn special, so make sure you decide how you want to live your life with your children. And fuck what society expects. Here are a few “-isms” that help me:

Down-to- earth-ism

There. I just made up a word. My parents worked hard to provide for the family. We understood work ethic and value from a young age. Remember to teach your children (especially Millennial moms) that the greatest things in life must be earned. It is ok to spoil them once in a while but keep their young feet on the ground. Let them earn their wings!

Manipulative games-ism

Our kids sure know how to have their way with us. That good old guilt trip does the trick every time doesn’t it? It is after all, one of their most powerful ammo. When they are between 3 and 7 they start to use several manipulative phrases (they are very strategic you see). Make sure to stand your ground and be secure in your own knowledge and wisdom. Even though our kids may teach us a few lessons, never doubt your own intuition. Kids will Want. This means when you say “no”, really mean “NO”. Sticks and stones may break your bones…

Practice what you preach-ism

Always show your deepest values. Kids learn most when we demonstrate certain behaviors. So instead of preaching, just show your children through your actions of understanding, kindness, perseverance, compassion, discernment, resilience, and strength. Sometimes you might even want to set the bar a bit higher. That is completely alright. They look to you for guidance so be the leader you were born to be.

Allow room for failure-ism

It is important to protect our children, but to a certain extent. We don’t become mothers s that we can protect our children from every single consequence of decisions they make. Even though it is our natural instinct to do so. When your child is at a maturity level to make practical decisions on his/her own, allow him. But also make sure you allow failure. This is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach our kids. Keep in mind that the lesson is NOT to purposefully fail but rather how to become resilient if and when you do. Teach them how to pick up the pieces after failures, mistakes, and moving forward in life. Teach them to not stay stuck, teach them to feel. To feel sad, to cry, to forgive (when appropriate) and to move on. Life is here for us in the moment. Teach your children to embrace life, even after failure, because it is all part of growing into the person they will one day become…

The layer cake-ism

Seems like kids nowadays have trouble with their periscope. They seem to see life as uni dimensional. Au contraire! I have always seen life as a layer cake. Life is comprised of a whole bunch of layers. For better or worse, much of life is very interconnected. When you make a poor decision in one area of your life it almost always has a domino effect in other areas of your life. Just like poor decisions regarding relationships can easily blend into poor decisions on the work front. Anyway the point is, help your children to understand that it is possible to achieve a joyful and abundant life when their values are permeated throughout all layers of life; career, relationships, family, passions, spiritual, self-growth/development, etc.

Don’t take it too personal-ism

Your kids will eventually grow into teens, they will adopt new opinions and attitudes, which will probably be different from what you may have shared with them. Do applaud them. Oh yes, they WILL confront you. They will make a point and go out of their way to show you are “wrong” in your beliefs or ideals. It is just their way of exerting all this new knowledge. They test out the waters, usually on someone they love dearly- us. Try not to get upset with your teenage daughter’s opinion. Her newly developed opinions make her a new young woman. They are not YOUR opinions. They are hers. She is growing up into her own person. And this is really the ultimate goal of being a parent…to create independent thinkers!

Know that you are doing the best you can-ism

Us moms usually have the best intentions at heart. But sometimes the best of us isn’t what shines. We all have our challenging moments, mornings, days and even weeks. So even though they don’t wanna eat their dinner, or they make a scene cause you didn’t get that chocolate bar they wanted. In the end, they love you. You are giving it your best. That is ALL that matters.

Me-time-ism

We all get burned out at some point. Our fuse does get short. We are only human and we are working to cover all bases. In between providing financial support, caring for the children and inspiring them, making home feel really a home (and not just a house) for comfort, love and care, etc. I could go on…
Do NOT feel “mommy guilt” to take a few days off. Make arrangements of care for the little ones. Say it again “I DON’T FEEL GUILTY”. This is where the superhero mom would break all barriers and use her superhuman strength to move beyond any pain and exhaustion. Shit. Tough lesson for me I guess. I am not so superhuman after all 😦

But it is perfectly alright…Because I absolutely love being a mom! Superhuman or not.

On the Right Nationalist World Tour: A Trending Topic

Right nationalism is a hot trending topic right now. It certainly seems to be having its moment in the sun. For those who are not privy with this ethos, let me set the stage here.

The right nationalists (a great deal of them certainly) believe that the inequality and economic stagnation that is becoming characteristic in many rich democracies can be attributed to the rise of immigrants, minorities, and foreign states because they drain welfare states and public services, and help to push seizure trade deals. They are (mostly) anti free trade and free movement and bid to recreate the strong, ethnically and culturally homogeneous nation states that pretty much prevailed in the post-war period of the 1950s. In Britain, they managed to win the referendum. This particularly shocking event was followed by a less shocking event (I wasn’t surprised. Where you?); The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election.

It goes without saying that there are many right nationalist movements scattered throughout the rich countries, and many of them will have a chance to gain power and influence in upcoming elections. I hereby present you the four biggest opportunities for right nationalists to shake the liberal world order to its core in the next year.

I call it the right nationalist world tour. Here are the dates in chronological order:

  • June 23, 2016, London, UK.- 52% vs 48% referendum victory Brexit
  • November 8, 2016, Washington DC, USA- 306 to 232 electoral college victory for Donald Trump (don’t even get me started on the electoral college crap).
  • December 4, 2016, Rome, Italy- Constitutional referendum result is yet to be announced.
  • MArch 15, 2017, The Hague, Netherlands- General election results yet to be announced.
  • May 7, 2017, Paris, France- presidential election results yet to be announced.
  • September 2017, Berlin, Germany- Federal election results yet to be announced.

At the moment, the polls are looking vigorous enough to keep the right nationalists down in Germany and, to a lesser extent France, but in both UK and the US the right nationalist are kicking butt. To make matters worse, the Italians are up first and it looks like they are in biiig trouble. Why? Well, if their referendum fails and this triggers a new round of Eurocrisis, it could potentially change the conditions in the Netherlands, France, and Germany. Each race that tips has the potential to produce more momentum, particularly if other external factors hurt Europe’s current political establishment – think of a terrorist attack or global economic crisis. Let’s examine the state of each rat race in the tour, shall we?

The Italian Referendum

Italy’s constitution has always been messy.  Unlike most countries that run on a parliamentary system, Italy’s government is responsible for two houses simultaneously, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic. This means all legislation must be passed in both houses in the same text, and the government needs the confidence of both to stay in power. Goes without saying that this makes it extremely difficult for the Italian Prime Minister to get things done, and especially to maintain a stable government. Enter sandman: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wants to pass an array of reforms to make it easier for him to run the country, and essentially make Italy more similar to other parliamentary systems. The problem is that the reforms he is advocating will massively weaken the senate, leaving the Prime Minister without any balance between the two houses. This, in turn, will make it more similar to the British House of Lords, which allows the Chamber of Deputies to override it on most matters.

I’m going to get statistical in this part. Italy has basically already passed some electoral reforms that will give the leading political party winning in excess of 40% of the vote a minimum of 340 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, or 54% of the total (so if no party wins 40%, a so-called run-off is held between the two strongest parties). The remaining 277 seats are then distributed to the less fortunate parties proportionately. Together with the constitutional reform, the whole point of this electoral reform is to ensure that the leading party in Italian politics always enjoys a comfortable governing majority in the only house that really matters, thereby eliminating potential coalitions.

Italy’s small parties hate these reforms because with this new electoral reform they are essentially excluded of a chance to join coalitions with the major parties. Furthermore, because Italy is pretty much used to proportional representation and coalitions, there is a general concern that the reforms are undemocratic and give the Prime Minister too much power (not so peculiar for British standards). Among the leading opponents is the Five Star Movement, a Euroskeptic, anti-establishment party promoting protectionism and condemning foreign military interventions. It is certainly not a perfect mirror of Trump, since it actually recognizes climate change and cares a lot about the environment. However, Beppe Grillo is a clown. An entertainer with no political experience who really hopes to defeat Renzi’s referendum and capitalize on the defeat so that he can force a new election in which the FSM might potentially win. Once this happens, the doors will be open for achieving the longstanding aim of holding a referendum on EU membership, Brexit style.

As you can see in the table below, things are not looking pretty for Renzi. But it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. The most recent polls have “yes” trailing by 3 to 4 points!

media_sondaggi_sul_referendum_costituzionale_italiano_del_2016-svg

However, if Renzi blows the referendum, he is probably in serious trouble. The Five Star Movement is quickly catching the trail.

The Dutch General Election

In the Netherlands the PVV (Party for Freedom) is once again rising in the polls. Let by Geert Wilders, quite the bona fide Islamophobe, the party is now expected to increase its shares of seats in the Dutch House of Representatives from 15 to somewhere between 21 and 42, with most November polls putting them on around 25. There are 150 members in the House of Representatives, which are directly elected by Dutch voters every four years. If the PVV can score 28 seats, it is more than likely to have the largest number of seats, but far from enough to form a governing majority on its own (since this would require 75 or more).

Mark Rutte, the current Dutch Prime Minister, comes from VVD (People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy), a center-right party that supports austerity. Let me tell you the story about the 2010 elections. in 2010, PVV came third and VVD included PVV in a right wing coalition. When Rutte attempted to pass austerity measures in 2012, PVV blocked them and forced the government to call a new election. In that particular election, PVV’s numbers fell and VVD elected to form a unity government with PvdA, the Dutch Labor Party. This coalition reintroduced and eventually passed austerity measures in 2013. I should point out that this particular event seems to have destroyed the Dutch Labor Party’s “anti-austerity” authenticity. Its poll numbers have drastically decreased since then, much like the British Liberal Democrats’ numbers, which also dived after they vetoed their support for tuition fees. The VVD also took a hit, but a softer one. As the Dutch center has pretty much collapsed, a variety of anti-establishment parties on both left and right have experiences a rise in the polls, but none more so that the right nationalist PVV.

Traditionally, the party with the most seats gets the first opportunity to form a governing coalition. There is a good chance that this could be PVV. But if other parties refuse to work with PVV, it could potentially be bullied out of power. Luckily this could also be accomplished even if PVV does exceptionally well and beats its current numbers.

The French Presidential Election

It is commonly known that French President Francois Hollande is going down, hard. The latest polls have him levitating around the 10%. The French presidential elections run in two rounds. The two parties with the strongest position showing in the first round advance to the second, while the rest are eliminated. The current polling strongly suggests that Alain Juppe will defeat Nicolas Sarkozy to become the center-right Republican Party’s nominee and can potentially end the first round with something around 30% of the vote, while the National Front’s Marine Le Pen will finish either closely ahead of him or behind him. This means that potentially all  the left and center-left candidates are likely to finish outside the top two, which would mean an early defeat for the current power bearer Hollande as well as the left wing Jean-Luc Melenchon and the centrist Emmanuel Macron, each of whom polls range from low to middle.

In my hypothetical round two, you’ll have a Juppe and Le Pen matchup, Juppe remains quite the favourite, leading by a near 2 to 1 margin. Le Pen is more on the extreme choice. She’s typically a French voter’s first or last choice. This is due to the fact that few voters are willing to move to National front in the second round. But since the first round is not until April, there is still plenty of time for things to change, and they will change substantially if Italy gets rid of Renzi and votes to leave the EU, or if the Netherlands manages to put PVV in government. It happened before, so who knows. In the 2012 presidential election Le Pen won only 18%. This was mostly attributed to Hollande’s unpopularity and an array of terrorist attacks in France. She has already managed to add about 10 points to that. I haven’t a clue what her ceiling is though. By the way, this would potentially mark the first time that National Front has made it into the second round since 2002 (they were seriously crushed then: 82 to 18).

The German Federal Election

My dear Angie, I once had so much faith in you. Faith no more. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been around for a good 11 years, and she remains a tough cookie to beat. The right nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) remains far behind in the third place, and the general sentiment is that the Socialist Party (SPD) won’t really work effectively in a left coalition with the left and the greens. However, Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been going down the rabbit hole in the polls for a whole consecutive year now, and there is are still 10 months to go before election (usually held in September). Let’s take a closer look at the stats:

opinionpollinggermanyfederalelection2017

Ok so CDU is black, SPD red, AfD is cyan the greens are, well the greens, the left is purple, and the liberals are yellow. What we see is that the CDU is down about 10 points compared to last year (August to be exact). This results in a low of almost a quarter of its support. Also in the same time span, the AfD has been climbing from the basement onto the low mid teens, occupying a space similar to Britain’s UKIP (UK Independence Party). Moreover, the left wing parties have not been able to make significant progress- the PSD have also lost support this past year, the left is pretty much on flatline galore, and the greens’s gains are being counterbalanced because of the SPD’s losses. The liberals have picked a few points here and there, but nothing worth talking about. The trend clearly seems to be for weakening SPDers to go to the greens and weakening CDUers to go to AfD (still with me?).

This particular race is still very far ahead, so it is hard to predict what will happen. Perhaps a miracle will happen and the CDU will recover some of its losses, and let’s not forget Germany’s history of right nationalism. Clearly, right nationalists will face higher cultural barriers. Having said that, it is safe to say that Germany is one of the countries that has most profited from the EU membership (tariff free market galore), but the German media narrative also seems to be riding the wave of eurosceptism, which has swept across the continent after the British people backed Brexit in the historic referendum on June 23rd. This can be clearly seen in articles where AfD chairman Bjorn Hocke is quoted saying “I know the German people want to be free of EU slavery”. Party leader Frauke Petry has made it very clear that Dexit is at the top of her party’s agenda.

However, a chance of a German referendum are essentially quite small, and it might not be that simple. Let’s not forget the experience of the Nazi manipulation of plebiscites, which left quite the scar in the trust of polls on a national scale. This is mainly because the country’s post-war constitution, which technically only allows for referendums if the constitution itself or the territories of the states making up the republic are to be reformed. So basically Germany is one of the few EU countries with little to no experience of national referendums.

In the years of the Weimar Republic there were two national referendums; during the Nazi rule, three plebiscites were held, with biased questions and obvious manipulation of results, may I add.

Let us not forget that a referendum does not legislate an organized political opposition- it is either a yes or no answer. Probably the reason why Napoleon and Hitler loved them so much.

And there you have it, Europe’s peaceful sophisticated well run cities are now falling apart with demonstrations and anarchy while media narratives are spinning out of control. The domino effect has begun. It is a rolling tumbleweed at work. EU: The beginning of the end?

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Picture courtesy of http://one-europe.info

On Raising Self-Awareness in Children

 

Dear ardent readers:

This self-awareness topic is getting a lot of traffic on the internet. Self-awareness is all about “tuning in” to feelings and thoughts. This is definitely an important skill for kids to develop since it can help your child to nurture his or her strengths and overcome his weaknesses. If you would like to teach all about self-awareness to your child in a positive and age-appropriate way, keep on reading because I have some tips on how to go about.

1. Accept and Recognize Your Child’s Emotions:

Understand your child’s emotions and never make fun of them, especially in front of others. This way your child’s display of emotion will help him or her control feelings and also express themselves in a better way.

Moreover, when your child learns to deal with emotions, he/she will learn to accept his/her behavior and understand how to function better.

   2. Empathize With Your Child:

When you empathize with your child, it will make him/her feel secure and confident. Moreover, empathizing with your child will teach him/her that his emotions are important and are nothing to be ashamed of or hide. Maybe your child did poorly in something and might be feeling bad about it. Empathizing will teach children that they do not always have to be perfect, and that making mistakes is part of life.

3. Let Your Child Communicate Candidly:

Always encourage your child to communicate freely with you. Let him/her express their thoughts clearly without worrying what you will think. It is also important to appreciate the fact that he/she also talks to you about what he/she feels and make the aware that you are happy he/she is discussing things with you.

Most importantly, if you do not fully agree with what he says, do not ridicule his/her opinion. Instead, guide him gently in a positive way. I know it may sound crazy, but there are plenty of parents out there that ridicule their children, seen it happen one too many times, and it’s fucking annoying.

4. Be a Role Model

In order to help your child develop self-awareness you have to first be aware of it yourself. Use your everyday behavior to show your child how to manage daily situations in a calm and positive way. So if you’re faced with an unpleasant or frustrating incident, teach your child how to react in a positive way and deal with the situation.

If you notice that you are getting angry about a particular situation, give yourself a timeout and show your child how you distract your mind for some time in order to handle the problem at hand better.

5. PAY ATTENTION, Be a Listener and Teach Effective Problem Solving

Yes, I did write the first words in capitals because this is essential! Always make sure you give enough attention to your child and are a good listener. Additionally, help your child understand how to respond to and not react in certain situations. It is OK if your child looses his cool and bursts out in anger or tears of frustration. Simply accept it as a natural reaction. However, you can help them by finding a better way to deal with the situation next time. And once he does so, make sure you appreciate him for his courage and help him aware of the difference.

Remember that your child will pick up most of his behavioral and social skill sets from you. Always aim to be your child’s role model and help him understand his potential best.

Picture courtesy of: http://ninapaley.com/mimiandeunice/2010/10/12/self-awareness/

On Raising Bilingual Children: Top 5 Myths Debunked

Myths about raising our children with more than one language abound. Very often parents are discouraged from doing so. I was often told it could potentially lead to confusion and speech delays, or that they’ve missed the “window of opportunity”. In this article I aim to debunk some common myths and to set the stage of the real story behind raising our children to be bilingual.

1. Growing up with more than one language confuses children.

Probably the most prevalent of all the misconceptions. Some parents tend to think that if a child is exposed to two languages at the same time, she/he might become confused and not be able to differentiate between them.

Pearson (2008) wrote extensively about bilingual children. One of her most important premises was that already at a young age all children can tell the difference between many languages. She says that this is especially true when the languages are quite different from each other- as different for example, as Spanish and Hebrew.

Rest assured that your child’s little brain has more than enough horsepower to cope with two languages or more without affecting the dominant language. I’m guessing the confusion myth is probably the result of older research that looked at inadequately designed studies and drew conclusions that early exposure to more than one language puts children at a disadvantage. This research prompted some immigrant parents to drop their heritage language and to emphasize proficiency in English.

So do what comes naturally. Remember that children suffer only if they are unloved or treated cruelly. They do not suffer if their parents talk to them and play with them in only one language, or in two, or in three or four. Having said that, whatever languages they are exposed to in general, they will deal with the situation as they grow up. You can do no damage to your children through your linguistic choices.

2. Raising a child to be bilingual inevitably leads to speech delays.

It is generally true that some children raised bilingual do take a little longer to start talking than those raised in monolingual households. The delay is temporary, however, and according to many experts, it’s not a general rule. It can be potentially dangerous to think that the child’s speech is delayed because the child is bilingual. Bilingual children vary from one another just as monolingual children do. Therefore, some will be early and some will be late speakers.

The problem usually arises when parents who raise concerns about the speech developments of their bilingual child are often told to stick to one language. This usually happens because in the past, bilingualism was the prime culprit in problems with language development. Having said that, all children whose speech is delayed should be assessed by a doctor and potentially a speech-language practitioner. Keep in mind that if your child has hearing or speech-language problems it is best to deal with professionals that are supportive of bilingual families.

Also important to point out is that when children are learning to speak they make mistakes in all areas of language. By “mistake” I mean something that adults usually don’t do (e.g. calling a cat a “dog”, saying  “I wented”). 3 year olds have certainly not got it all sorted out. No matter how many languages your child is learning, you can expect pronunciation mistakes, at least until they’re about 6 or 7 years old. Do not expect “perfection” from small children and don’t fall into the teacher role of correcting them.

3. Bilingual children end up mixing the two languages

Mixing languages is really not as harmful as you think. To those unfamiliar with bilingualism, it is simply proof that the child can’t really tell the languages apart.

Most children who are raised bilingual do tend to mix as they try to sort out both languages. Moreover, one of the languages often has a stronger influence on the child than the other. This tends to happen to kids who have a smaller vocabulary in the minority language and so they may draw on words from the majority language when needed.

Most experts agree that mixing is temporary. Eventually it goes away as a child’s vocabulary develops in both languages and when they have more exposure to each of the languages.

All bilingual speakers of all ages mix their languages though. It happens to the best of us. This process is also known as code-switching. A perfect example is the widespread use of Spanglish (mixing English and Spanish), especially within the Latino community in the United States.

Remember that children model what they see and hear, so if your child lives in an environment in which mixing languages is the norm, expecting your children not to do this is quite unrealistic.

4. I missed the boat to raise my child bilingual. It is too late

Well, one thing is for sure, it is never too late- or too early- for that matter, to introduce your child to a second language.

So what is the best time? Well, according to experts the optimal time seems to be from birth to 3 years- exactly when a child is learning his first language.

The next best time for learning a second language appears to be when kids are between 4 and 7 years old, because they can still process multiple languages on analogical paths. So basically, kids at this age build a second language system alongside their first language and learn to speak both languages like a native.

If your child is older than 7 and you’ve been thinking about raising him bilingual, do not worry, you’re still on time. The third best time for learning a second language is from about age 8 to puberty. However, after puberty, studies show, new languages are stored in a separate area of the brain, so children have to translate or go through their native language as a path to the new language.

5. Children’s brains are like sponges, and they’ll become bilingual in no time.

Although it is certainly easier for children to learn a new language it never actually happens at the speed of light. It is unrealistic to expect your child to learn Spanish just by watching countless episodes of Paw Patrol on television.

Don’t make learning a language a chore. However, introducing a second language to your child does require some kind of structure, but most importantly, consistency, whether it’s through day-to-day conversation or giving instructions. The main idea is to expose our children to language learning in meaningful and interesting ways that are connected to real life.

What if my child refuses to speak my native language?

Certainly food for thought! It is a common phenomenon that if a child is brought up in a place with a strong community language, that he or she rejects the minority language. My own daughter, also raised in a bilingual household, rejected Spanish for quite a while. It really got me thinking. What are we doing wrong? It occurred to me that if this happens, it is probably because we failed to provide the need for the language. After all, I do speak her other native language (Dutch), fluently. As parents we need to think about our relationship with our child and our desire for them to learn a language. I was really stubborn about wanting my daughter to learn Spanish, so I stuck it out, kept speaking in Spanish even though she would reply mostly in Dutch. Just as I was thinking about giving it up, she began speaking Spanish to me again. As a parent it is important to accept the fact that we cannot control all of our children’s life experiences. They will be their own people and make their own life, which will be different from our lives. Therefore, accepting language shifts is also a part of accepting generational differences. Don’t try to control the environment too much, and if things go wrong, be accepting and caring.

So to conclude, however complicated your family linguistic situation is, always be calm and relaxed with your children and do whatever comes naturally. Remember that children are resilient, but they are sensitive to tensions of all sorts. So make sure you take it easy 🙂

 

Sources

Krashen, S.D. (1996) Under Attack: The Case Against Bilingual Education. Language Education Associates  (3rd edition). ISBN: 0965280829.

Pearson, B.Z. (2008) Raising a Bilingual Child. Living Language  (1st edition). ISBN: 978-1-4000-2334-9

Picture courtesy of http://www.raisesmartkid.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Tragedy of the European Union: A Book Review

I know what you’re thinking. A book review as a weekly feature? Inspired by recent events (brexit), I decided to write a review on an illuminating volume that examines both the political and economic fault-lines of the European Union while at the same time revealing the roots of Europe’s current financial crisis.

Soros’s central argument is pretty straightforward. He argues that the eurozone faces a long period of stagnation and the risk of disintegration unless it radically restores its institutions. This of course, is hard to swallow given the recent incipient resurgence.

However, leave aside these few quarters of growth and concentrate on the long run, and Soros seems to have nailed it with his critique. Since 2009, eurozone states have taken important steps to strengthen the institutions created by the Maastricht treaty. I could definitely list several leaps forward, like for example the establishment of eurozone-wide rescue funds, the European Financial Stability Facility and its permanent successor, the European Stability Mechanism, which have already been tapped into in order to rescue the lost souls of Europe; Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus. I see a clear pattern, however; as the crisis has subsided, so has the eurozone’s drive to turn over a new leaf, despite the fact that the impetus is there.

Let me elaborate my point with the case of the “banking union”, which the eurozone vowed to build to protect weaker sovereigns against future banking crises. Sadly enough, policy makers have fallen short of creating a sufficiently large pot of cash that can be used to restructure banks. Soros argues that any burden that cannot be imposed on equity- and bondholders will again fall on the shoulders of individual countries. I quote “The so-called banking union has been transformed into something that is almost the exact opposite. Instead of creating a European banking system, it re-establishes a national silos” (Soros, 2014). Fast-forward a couple of years and there have been measures taken in this respect. As of November 2014, the European Central Bank (ECB) will be the supervisor of all 6000 banks in the euro area in the framework of the Single Supervisory Mechanism. In order to ensure that the ECB has a clear view of the situation of banks it supervises from the outset, a comprehensive assessment of banks’ financial health has been carried out. In addition, the ECB has confirmed that the balance sheets of the banks covered by its Comprehensive Assessment of 2014 are now sufficiently resilient, even under significant economic and financial stress. The Single Resolution Mechanism is built around a strong Single Resolution Board and involves permanent members as well as the Commission, the Council, the ECB and the national resolution authorities. So basically in most cases, when a bank in the euro area or established in a Member State participating in the banking union needs to be resolved, the ECB will notify the case to the Board the Commission, and the relevant national resolution authorities. In this way, the decision-making procedures have been carefully calibrated so that it will be possible to decide on a resolution case in a more prompt manner.

For the Jewish Hungarian-born billionaire, the “tragedy” of the EU has one clear culprit: Germany’s political class- in particular, the chancellor Angela Merkel. Soros argues that for a great part of the postwar era, Germany was “always willing to give a little more, and take a little less. That is what made the process of integration so successful for a time.” Unfortunately, this approach changed when Germany finally reunified in 1990. Reunification turned out to be expensive and this changed its attitude regarding the rest of Europe.

Soros explains that his faith in the EU goal of “ever-closer union” was inspired by his father, who insisted, even in the midst of the Nazi holocaust, that they should bear no personal grudge against the German people as a whole. Unlike the British euro-sceptics or German conservative economists, who always believed that the single currency was doomed to fail, Soros expected the euro to succeed. For him, the euro crisis was not an inevitable consequence of over-ambitious integration, but a result of avoidable misunderstandings in politics, economics, and finance.

This emphasis on flawed understanding points to a third feature of Soros’s thinking that makes his analysis quite unique. He presents both the euro crisis and the financial collapse related to Lehman Brothers as classic examples of “reflexivity”- a process “by which flawed economic or political theories become so powerful that they alter the social realities they are supposed to describe”. This interference between perceptions and realities create waves of instability and anxiety in markets and political systems that few economists or politicians properly understand. Soros attributes his financial success mainly to focusing on reflexivity, and he uses this concept to diagnose the flaws or the euro project as well as to explain the US banking collapse.

Fast forward a couple years later and Soros claimed that a Brexit would spark a “black” Friday” for the UK, but the devaluation of sterling would bring none of the benefits to the economy that it enjoyed after it dropped out of the ERM on 16th September 1992- A Black Wednesday, may I add.

Soros added that unlike after Black Wednesday, there was little scope for a cut in interest rates, the UK was running a much larger current account deficit, and exporters would be unable to exploit the benefits of a cheaper pound due to the uncertainty cause by a vote to exit.

Having said that, a misguided economic theory- the excessive faith in the self-regulating financial markets that Soros calls market fundamentalism- is exactly what inspired these flawed institutional structures in the first place. In Europe, the key institutional flaw was the Maastricht Treaty. The false economic theories that these structures embody changed economic and financial conditions, setting up boom-bust cycles of initial over-performance and over-confidence, that soon followed by self-reinforcing collapse.

Soros’s book initially reiterates the call he made in an essay for the New York Review of Books in 2012. Germany should lead its partners towards a more integrated eurozone. This would involve, for example, issuing mutually guaranteed debt, or so-called “eurobonds” in EU jargon. In this way, Soros not only addresses political aspects, but also economic aspects, simultaneously. However, it it this predominant focus on the economic dimension of the current crisis shared by the majority of recent analyses, which severely limits their acceptance as well as their chances of success. I do agree with Soros’s reluctance to the currently emerging two classes of member states with a clear hierarchy: creditors vs debtors. On the one hand, there are creditor countries acting as controllers,  who are ranking high in the EU hierarchy, while on the other hand, at the bottom of the EU hierarchy, there are debtor countries, the recipients of support conditional on the implementation of strict economic adjustment programs, which are of course, controlled by creditor countries. Such a hierarchy is the breeding ground for anti-EU and nationalistic sentiments on either side: the population in creditor countries (the majority already busy implementing budget consolidation measures for some time now), is increasingly feeling exploited in the face of seemingly endless financial needs of debtor countries while at the same time experiencing tax increases and budget cuts themselves. And here lies yet another problem. The population in debtor countries is blaming creditor countries, and particularly Germany (surprise surprise), for the burden imposed on them by their economic adjustment programs.

Soros does acknowledge the fact that Merkel has managed to shape the EU institutions according to her vision. “The window of opportunity to bring about radical change in the rules governing the euro has closed”, he admits. In the absence of a grand leap towards more integration, the relationship between creditor and debtor countries brought about by the crisis has definitely crystallized. Furthermore, failure to act decisively will push Europe into deflation and allow the “process of disintegration” to gather much needed momentum.

I must admit, it is tempting to share this pessimism. After all, in May’s elections to the European Parliament, anti-EU forces made big progress. There is, however, one major shortfall in the current debate and the recent reform efforts on the EU level, namely the almost complete absence of a political and economic vision as to where Europe is striving to stand after having overcome the current crisis. I believe this shortfall is in fact one of the biggest threats to Europe’s future, and it is not addressed in Soros’s book, though it would make his case even stronger, if you ask me. Such a vision goes beyond pure economics and beyond the crisis and it is needed, particularly for the young all over Europe, who will be shaping the continent’s future. What many seem to forget is that one of the most important preconditions to hold Europe together, i.e. to avoid a break-up, is to avoid that the young become and/or perceive themselves as a lost generation. I mean its not like we’re in Orwell’s 1984 …or are we? Did Orwell pull a Nostradamus? Only time will tell.

A vision for a sustainable Europe needs to incorporate a view on Europe’s most pressing problems. And let’s get the facts straight. These do not only include the current record youth unemployment, the deficits in competitiveness in the so-called European “periphery countries”, and let us not forget the high indebtedness of the public and private sector. Furthermore, such a vision needs to account for the ongoing climate change or increasing income and wealth inequality, to name a couple.

This is a debate that federalists, including Soros, can potentially win. But they must go beyond simply arguing that politicians (such as Merkel) should have been more ambitious in the management of the crisis. Instead, they must acknowledge that the German chancellor, like any other EU leader, was constrained by her electorate in terms of the steps she could take. Soros should also stop spouting venom at Putin and blaming him for the refugee problem. That whole anti-Russia discourse is so 40 years ago. What would Russia stand to gain by flooding the European continent – of which it is a geographical part of – with desperate asylum seekers, many of whom may actually be card-carrying members of lethal terrorist organizations? Moreover, Russia’s economy would hardly recover anytime soon if Europe – its largest trading partner – is somehow reduced to violence and chaos as Soros somehow asserts.

 Tis’ a pity that individuals such as Soros, who certainly have the funds and the brains to make a positive difference in places like Europe and Syria, have chosen instead to spread vicious anti-Russia propaganda, which will only make matters worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Rise of Digital Fluency

And here we have it. Yet another paradigm shift in industry; the proverbial bend in the curve. The Industrial Revolution is a notion and development that has fundamentally changed our economy, but most importantly our society. There is no doubt that major changes occurred within a short period of time. Industries arose and quickly replaced small-scale workshops and craft studios. It was the infamous switch from industrious to industrial, and certainly the start of a prolonged boom.

The Industrial Revolution dates back to the 18th century,  so around 230 years ago.  We can distinguish four stages in the continuous Industrial Revolution process. The first “acceleration” occurred toward the end of the 18th century: mechanical production on the basis of water and steam. The second stage takes place at the beginning of the 20th century with the introduction of the conveyor belt and mass production, to which we can link the names of icons like Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor. The third stage is also widely known as the Third Industrial Revolution, which involves the digital automation of production with electronics and IT. Imperative to this particular revolution is the mass production and widespread use of digital logic circuits, which in turn has mass produced technologies such as the computer, smart phones, and the internet.

At this very moment, we find ourselves at the beginning of the fourth stage, which is characterized by the so-called “Cyber-Physical Systems” (CPS). These systems are an aftermath of the extensive integration of production, sustainability and customer-satisfaction, which forms the basis of intelligent network systems and processes.

The bigger question is: What will be the impact of these ubiquitous, mobile super-computing, intelligent Cyber-Physical Systems? From self-driving cars to neuro-technological brain boosts and genetic editing; the evidence of radical change is all around is and it’s happening at the speed of light.

Even Professor Klaus Schwab (Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum), is convinced that we are at the beginning of a revolution that is essentially going to change the way we live, work and relate to one another. In his book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution, Schwab points out that previous industrial revolutions had actually liberated humankind from animal power, made mass production possible and brought the practicalities of digitization to billions of people all over the world.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is, however, fundamentally divergent. In essence, it is characterized by a range of new technologies that are being produced through a fusion of physical, digital, and biological worlds, which in turn, are impacting all disciplines, economies and industries, but most importantly, it is seriously challenging ideas about what it means to be human.

I was quite impressed myself with Watson- a machine that took on a far more complex challenge than his predecessor Deep Blue ( the robot beat the world chess champion): the television game show Jeopardy! A complete different ball game than chess. It is a game that draws on an endless volume of knowledge that at time also requires sharp analytical language skills, especially with jokes and puns.

It’s safe to say that we will all be surprised by the progress that occurs in the coming years and decades. I am particularly curious about the impact that this accelerating progress will have (is already having) on the job market and the overall economy since I believe this will significantly challenge the conventional knowledge about how technology and economics interlace.

The resulting shifts mean that we are living in a time of great capabilities but also great uncertainty. The world now has a potential it never even imagined it could have. It can connect billions of people to digital networks. Additionally, it has the momentum to dramatically improve the efficiency of organizations and even manage assets in environmentally-friendly ways (as opposed to the continuous environmental damage done by the previous industrial revolutions).

However, Schwab also express his concerns: that organizations might be unable to adapt to these changes; more importantly, governments could fail to use and regulate new technologies in a way that will capture their benefits. Furthermore, a potential shift in power will create important new security anxieties; inequalities may grow; and societies polarize.

Even though natural language processing software still has a long way to go and computers are not yet as good as humans at complex semantics, it is important to point out that they’re getting better at an incredibly fast pace. Having said that, surprising developments are underway because while computers’ communication abilities are not as extensive as those of the average human being, they are much broader. Google Translate is making this almost a reality because it initiated a serious of developments in the field of digital translation services. The translation services company Lionsbridge recently partnered up with IBM to offer GeoFluent, an online application that instantly translates chats between customers and troubleshooters who do not share a language (McAfee & Brynjolfsson, 2014).

It is common knowledge that computers have always been bad at writing real prose. Sure, I’ll give them the fact that in recent times they have been able to generate grammatically correct sentences. But, they’re still meaningless sentences. However, and this is where it gets interesting, recent developments demonstrate that though not all computer-generated prose is senseless. Forbes.com recently hooked up with the company Narrative Science to write the corporate earnings previews that appear on their website. Let me point out that these stories are generated by algorithms without human involvement. Just google an example of a Forbes Earning Preview to get a taste.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution has brought about an era of epoch-making connectivity and inequality, and its effects are definitely far-reaching. In the midst of these developments, the migration crisis is certainly a case in point. The conflict in the Middle-East may be the most obvious catalyst, but the dangerous combination of inequality and connectivity exerts a powerful pull for people crossing to Europe. Think about the Syrian refugee in a Turkish camp, or the underemployed young generation in the Cambodia slum, not only do they have essentially different life chances compared to the average EU citizen. They are also constantly tempted and taunted by an never ending stream of images and messages of what others have, and they don’t. This very same mix of increased global connectivity and inequality plays a critical role in many of the conflicts and governance crises we see around the world.

The World Economic Forum recently published a report with some shocking figures. Based on a survey of executives in fifteen of the world’s largest economies, the report expands on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, which will most certainly alter labor markets in just five short years. The report concluded that 7.1 million jobs will be lost- and the biggest losses will be in the white-collar and administrative roles. At the same time, some of these losses will be compensated with the creation of 2.1 million new jobs in the nanotechnology and robotics sectors. In addition, the report estimates that 28 percent of the skills required in the UK will undergo a great deal of change in the four years leading to 2020.

The big question is how can we possibly predict what kind of skills our children will need. The shifting paradigm involves an expectation that workers will retrain and re-skill throughout their careers. I personally think it’s quite alarming that over 90 percent of Millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years.

So I guess we can’t really predict the skills that will be required in the decades to come, but we can predict the qualities that will be required – soft skills like leadership, flexibility, communication, decision-making, working under pressure, creativity and problem-solving. These are all skills that educational policy has been trying to banish from the classroom so that education can focus on core subjects like science and math.

So basically, the WEF was just reinforcing a message that has already been delivered by others. Last year, Andy Haldane, Chief Economist of the Bank of England warned that almost half of all jobs in the UK are under threat from automation the coming two decades. This, in turn, will affect people at all levels of organizations.

These figures raise some important questions, particularly regarding the future of the education system. As Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in his TED Talk, children starting school now will probably be working until around 2065- yet we can’t even predict what the world will look like in the next five years.

Ever heard of Lazslo Bock? Well he’s in charge of recruiting at Google, and he recently said in an interview that “while good grades don’t hurt” the company is looking for softer skills like leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, etc. We are all slowly coming to the conclusion that the current education system was pretty much designed for a different era, and since it’s been under scrutiny from constant testing, creativity has practically been thrown out of the curriculum. Tony, Little, former Master of Eton College, has written extensively on the dangers that wider intellectual development is being constrained by an overwhelming obsession with exams.

For the leading non-governmental organization Save The Children this is a big deal. All these trends definitely matter, not only because children are incredibly vulnerable to the distortion created by political and social change, but also because childhood is a vehicle in which we can break the structural cycles of poverty and disadvantage.

On the one hand, there has been considerable progress made over the last twenty years in reducing child deaths and boosting education outcomes. On the other hand, the review of progress towards the 2015 development goals also show that millions of children have not profited from these gains, and that this is directly correlated to who they are and where they live. This can be seen as a potential threat to the 2030 global goals established by the UN last September.

The new ‘Generation X’ has already adopted the pseudonym of Generation Excluded- referring to the millions of children who are failing to even reach their fifth birthday, or never learn in school because they live in a conflict zone, or belong to the “wrong” ethnic group, or are a girl. We have to change the status quo and demolish the barriers that prevent children and youth from surviving and prospering, in order for them to reap the benefits of the technological and economic developments that this Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing about.

Technology can definitely help us by making life-long constant re-training and re-skilling a more feasible option. So called MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) have succeeded in lowering the price of education and widened access by removing the need for mandatory assistance. This means students no longer need to be at set times or places, thereby facilitating those who already have a job, or for those who simply cannot afford to. Udacity, an online university, recently introduced the concept of “nano degrees”, which was primarily designed to train people for jobs in the field of web developing and data analysis. With the rapid pace at which technology is advancing, it is likely that future employees are going to have to take such courses at some point in their lives.

The debate is mainly divided on two fronts: “techno-optimists” and “techno-pessimists”. The optimists believe the technology transformation will either free humanity to new creative heights, or lead to a dystopia of increased poverty, purposeless and unhappy people while the pessimists put a great deal of focus on the ethical, legal, and moral issues raised by the deployment of robots. As you see, there are compelling arguments in both directions. However, on the future social impact of the rise of robots, I do believe is a bit premature to draw conclusions.

So, to bring it home. This transformational technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, particularly robotics, poses both risks and opportunities to policymakers and to society at large. The extent and scope of robotics and the digital economy displacing human-performed jobs is without precedent. In addition, short-sighted decisions made by policy-makers should ensure that our education system will adjust to the needs of the twenty-first century, which are infinitely different than any previous century.

¿Por qué es Importante Desarrollar la Inteligencia Emocional en Niños Pequeños?

El concepto de inteligencia emocional ha llegado a prácticamente a todos los rincones del mundo, en forma de tiras cómicas, programas educativos, libros, etc.

El tema de la inteligencia emocional es actual y de gran relevancia. Muchos se preguntan por qué precisamente se produjo el “boom” de este tema. Una razón muy importante según Claudia Sandino (2003), autora del libro Inteligencia Emocional para Padres, es la realidad social existente que, con sus múltiples presiones y abruptos cambios, ha desencadenado una serie de hechos como por ejemplo aumento de conductas delictivas y/o agresivas en niños cada vez menores, aumento de depresiones infantiles, en el consumo de drogas y alcohol,  aumento de enfermedades como la anorexia y bulimia.

También se ha visto la incrementación de divorcios, mientras que en el ámbito laboral, las licencias por estrés y depresión está aumentando crítica y rápidamente.

¿Qué es la Inteligencia Emocional?

Daniel Goleman, autor de La inteligencia emocional (1997), postula que la inteligencia emocional es una capacidad que nos permite conocer y manejar nuestros propios sentimientos, interpretar o enfrentar los sentimientos de los demás. Se puede comprender la inteligencia emocional como una capacidad administrativa de las habilidades socio-afectivas y que implica la habilidad para instrumentalizar nuestras emociones con el objetivo de optimizar nuestro desempeño frente a la vida. Cabe destacar que para poder administrar algo debemos conocer a fondo las características de aquello que pretendemos manejar, y éste es el caso de nuestras emociones. En resumen, se podría decir que en la base de la inteligencia emocional existe una intencionalidad y un trabajo de la voluntad.

Varios estudios han demostrado que las personas emocionalmente expertas, cuentan con muchas ventajas en diversos aspectos de la vida, por ejemplo plano laboral, familiar, relaciones interpersonales, productividad, etc). Una persona emocionalmente experta es mas capaz de conectarse con su aspecto emocional, conocer y manejar bien sus sentimientos, y a la vez, interpretar y enfrentar con eficacia y adecuación, los sentimientos de los demás.

Para poder desarrollar estas habilidades emocionales es imperativo contar con una clara conciencia de uno mismo. Esto significa desarrollar una atención progresiva hacia nuestros propios estados internos, preguntarnos qué sentimos, qué desencadenó esa emoción, porque reaccionamos de determinadas maneras frente a determinadas situaciones o personas. Si poseemos esta conciencia autoreflexiva, la mente es capaz de observar, investigar y analizar la experiencia, incluidas las emociones. De esta forma, se nos hace mas fácil comprender estas emociones y el impacto que tienen en nuestra vida.

Componentes de la Inteligencia Emocional

  1. Conocer la emociones propias: La clave de la inteligencia emocional es tener la conciencia de uno mismo siempre presente (es decir, el poder reconocer un sentimiento mientras ocurre). Teniendo mas certeza con respecto a nuestras emociones es una buena guía para las elecciones que tomamos, desde casarse hasta elegir entre un trabajo u otro.
  2. Saber manejar las emociones: Se basa mayormente en la capacidad anterior. Las personas que saben serenarse y librarse de ansiedad, irritación o melancolías excesivas se recuperan con mayor rapidez de las derrotas de la vida.
  3. Automotivación: Las personas que saben controlar la impulsividad y que también saben esperar para obtener su recompensa. Es así como cumplen con sus objetivos y logran estar mas conformes con sus logros.
  4. Empatía: Es la capacidad para reconocer las emociones de los demás, saber qué quieren y qué necesitan son las habilidades mas fundamentales para poder establecer relaciones sociales y vínculos personales.
  5. Saber manejar las relaciones: Esto significa saber actuar de acuerdo con las emociones de los demás: determinan la capacidad de liderazgo y popularidad.

Claves para ayudar a nuestros hijos/hijas a desarrollar su Inteligencia Emocional

Siempre hay que tener en cuenta que tú, como padre o madre, eres su principal modelo de cómo se comporta una persona con inteligencia emocional. Por esto mismo, es imperativo analizar el nivel de tu inteligencia emocional.

Es indispensable darle mucha importancia a la educación de las emociones en la familia y sobretodo animar a desarrollar las 5 competencias básicas de la Inteligencia Emocional.

  1. Ayuda a tus hijos/as a darse cuenta y entender lo que siente, y a aceptar y validar sus emociones. Trata de “devolver” una imagen realista, pero fundalmente, positive de él o ella misma. Anímalos a definirse, a describirse, tal y cómo es, por ejemplo, ayudandolos a “poner nombre” a lo que siente. De esta forma, promueves que sea más reflexivo sobre las cosas que hacen y sienten y sobre sus consequencias. Así aprenderán a expresarse mejor emocionalmente. Dales tiempo y ten paciencia si no se expresan. Escucha atentamente cualquier declaración emocional. Trata de no agobiarlos ni interrogarlos sobre estos temas. Así creas climas de confianza. Es importante que te presentes como modelo de expresión emocional: habla de lo que sientes delante de ellos/ellas sin necesidad de que te lo pregunten (esto aumenta las autorevelaciones).
  2. También favorece que aprendan a controlar aquellas emociones que los hacen sentirse mal o que hacen sentirse mal a otros y que no le ayudan a conseguir sus propósitos. Anímalos a darse más cuenta de las situaciones que les hacen tener los arrebatos de rabia. Trata de mostrarles otros caminos alternativos a las explosiones de ira. De esta forma los ayudas a reinterpretar las situaciones que los hicieron enojarse tanto. Podrías proponerles de que cuando estén muy irritados que deberían enfriar el enojo, que cuenten hasta 10, o que salgan a dar un paseo. Favorece que exprese su malestar y enojos sin dañar: “estoy muy enfadado porque…”.
  3. Ayuda a fijar sus propias metas y a ser constante, autodisciplinado, y en definitiva, responsable. Ayúdalos a tener objetivos, sobre todo, a media y largo plazo. Enseñar a perservar es muy importante y animarle a acabar lo que comienza desde muy pequeño/a. También es importante reconocer el esfuerzo y la persistencia en sus trabajos. A
  4. Anímalos a interesarse por los demás: por lo que otra gente siente, por lo que hacen. Es imperativo desarollar la empatía. Hacerle ver los climas emocionales en los que se mueve y animarle a interesarse por los estados de ánimo de los demás. También es una buena idea hacerle sensible a las problemáticas sociales y animarle a que desarrolle un juicio crítico y una actitud activa ante ellos.
  5. También es importante que te intereses en que desarrollen sus habilidades sociales para relacionarse mejor con otras personas y así poder resolver por sí mismo/a sus problemas.

Como padres debemos tener presente que a medida que los niños crecen y cambian, también cambian sus problemas. Para que las lecciones emocionales sean más efectivas, deben ir junto con el desarrollo del niño, y ser repetidas en las progresivas etapas de crecimiento. El objetivo principal es adaptarse a los cambios de comprensión en los niños y a los desafíos que tenga que ir enfrentando a medida que vayan madurando. Cabe destacar que es indispensable tener presente la edad de nuestros hijos para poder explicarles las cosas de una manera correspondiente y exigirle en la medida de sus capacidades.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Perks of Positive Psychology and Positive Parenting

Positive psychology has taken traditional psychology to a whole other level.

Let me first begin with some definitions. What is positive psychology? Basically, it’s nothing more than the scientific study of everyday human strengths and virtues. Moreover, positive psychology focuses on the “average person” with a specific interest in what works, what is right, and what is improving. In essence, positive psychology is an attempt to urge psychologists to adopt a more open and appreciative perspective regarding human potentials, motives, and capacities (Sheldon & King, 2001). Its primary focus is on positive; positive emotion, positive character, and positive institutions (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).

Regrettably, psychologists still know relatively little about human thriving and how to encourage it, not only because they have not given this question the attention it deserves, but more important, because they have been oblivious to the value of this matter.

Let me illustrate what I mean with an example of the predominant negative bias of traditional psychology. Clinical psychologists have focused the majority of their attention on the diagnosis and treatment of pathological conditions. As a result, there is a constant search for “fixes”, and little attention is paid to the nature of psychological health. For years, practitioners of social cognitive psychology have devoted vast attention to the biases, delusions, illusions, and errors of the human being. Freud’s theory is a prime example of this bias. His theory on the animalistic id has been predominant in theoretical psychology. Furthermore, contemporary terror management theorists give dominance to the fear of death (Sheldon & King, 2001).

Let me give a more specific example. When a stranger helps another person, psychologists are the first ones to see the selfish benefit in the act, unwilling to acknowledge the existence of altruism. So as you can see, the negative bias, once identified, can be found lurking around all corners of psychology literature. It is exactly this focus on bias that is preventing psychologists from perceiving other important human processes and characteristics.

Research findings from positive psychology are intended to supplement, not just replace what is known about human suffering, weakness, and disorder. The goal is to have a more complete and balanced scientific understanding of the human experience. The highs, the lows, and everything in between. Thus, a complete practice of psychology should include a broad understanding of suffering and happiness, especially the interaction between these two.

Happy but dumb? Let’s take a closer look at this world famous happiness myth…

Happy people are stupid people: There seems to be a cultural assumption that happy people are anti-intellectual, delusional, or shallow. Blonde jokes can be quite consoling to shrewd, less popular brunettes. Part of the problem is that everyone knows someone who is brilliant and unhappy. Additionally, everyone knows someone who is successful and not happy.

Well, nothing could be further from the truth. A decade of research suggests that both of those individuals (smart/unhappy, and successful/ unhappy) are actually under performing what their brain can do. The reason I say this it’s because if you raise the levels of positive emotion, the cognitive abilities and success rates go up. The real story of happiness is based on the idea that every person has a range of potential- in terms of intelligence, athletic ability, musicality, creativity, and productivity- and we are more likely to achieve the nirvana of our brain’s potential when we’re feeling positive, rather than negative.

Happiness as a Work Ethic

Achor (2010) took positive psychology to a whole other level and incorporated into the workplace. He sparked a revolution in how companies think about work performance and job satisfaction. His research from Harvard and from Fortune 500 companies revealed that the good o’l formula should actually be the other way around. So, instead of thinking: success brings happiness, we should be thinking: happiness brings success.

In his book, Achor (2010) describes how only 25 percent of your job success is predicted based upon your intelligence and technical skills. This is surprisingly small given companies’ recruitment policies, and the importance of educational attainment in society. The bigger question is: why are we ignoring the other 75 percent of potential? Well, this “silent” 75 percent of long-term job success is based upon your ability to “positively adapt to the world“: optimism, social support creation, and viewing stress as a challenge.

We often wrongly think that the “deep” people are the ones who sulk. The darker the movie, the less fulfilling the ending. The more messed up the painter or the musician’s life, the more creative we assume they were. But this is just simply not true. It actually requires a supreme amount of  depth to be positive and hopeful in the midst of misfortune. In essence, negative emotions stem from the most primitive part of the brain that responds to fear and threat. Basically, seeing the negative is just too damn easy; formulating a cognitive strategy about how to positively respond to challenge requires a much higher-order functioning in the brain.

Researchers like Barbara Fredrickson have found that when we are negative, our brains resort to “fight or flight” thinking about the world. But when we are positive, our brains “broaden and build”, which allows us to create new patterns of success and expand the amount of possibilities our brains can process.

Positive Psychology and Positive Parenting

Even though being a parent often seems like a disconcerting task, the teachings of Positive Psychology can help us sail through rough and troubled waters.

From the propositions of positive emotion and positive relationships, to resiliency and motivation, there is not a topic covered in this emerging science that does not have some relevance to child development. Let’s look at some examples:

  • Psychologists Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan’s research of self-determination theory (2003) shows that children’s social behavior naturally becomes more self-regulated as they grow. Autonomy is not only a naturally occurring part of growing up, but a sign of a healthy development. In studies of children’s abilities to manage their own behavior at school, Brown and Ryan found that autonomy and a greater ability to self-regulate is often associated with greater pleasure and interest in studies, resulting in the ability to handle stresses more effectively.
  • Research has also found that people are happiest, most productive, and most creative when using their personal strengths. The field of Positive Psychology calls these signature strengths, those special skills and abilities that allow an individual to shine. The VIA signature strengths questionnaire for adults has been supported with millions of people across multiple cultures. The childhood version of this survey, VIA Strength Survey for Children, is freely available for children to identify their unique strengths.
  • Philanthropy is known to elevate positive feelings. Though children have limited financial resources, they have much of value to give others. Examples might include donation of toys to needy children, and participating with parents in charitable activities such as working at a food pantry.
  • Encouraging children to examine the known facts of the situation, separating facts from fears. Remind your child  that most fears do not come true, and if they do, the result isn’t as bad as was initially feared. It helps to examine the worst that can happen and decide on a course of action, should it occur.

These are just a few tips that you can implement in your parenting style. It not only provides opportunities for children to experience success on their own terms but it also supports them in learning to notice, name and regulate their emotions.

What are your thoughts?

 

Literature:

Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822–848