She’s Nude, She’s Rude, She’s a Nudey, Rudey-Rudey

Is it wrong to be naked in front of kids?

In that publication that regularly gives me palpitations, The Daily Mail, Laura Libbert last year asked the sterling question “Was I wrong to let a stranger’s 5 year old son see me naked”? and since we’ve started swimming lessons for the kids this week, it seems highly appropriate to revisit the issue.


naked in front of kids - inflatable toys in swimming pool

Photo by Toni Cuenca on Unsplash

Apparently, she was accosted by a horrified mother as she wandered around the communal area of a female changing room in her gym ‘au naturel’, completely naked in front of kids.

Cue much muttering of “well I let my sons (4 and 6) see me naked and they don’t have a problem” and desperate canvassing of friends for their opinion – basically “be loud, be proud and woggle those dangly bits sista”

You know, nudity isn’t actually the issue here, it’s the lack of consideration for others’ feelings and the lack of social awareness which seems to blight so many trips out with children these days.

I don’t care if you run naked like natives with branches in your hair at home, I don’t want my kids viewing your shrubbery.

To be fair, it sounds as if the writer accidentally dropped her towel rather than auditioned as a model for an Art Life Class but a bit of decorum wouldn’t come amiss.

Isn’t it OK to teach your children that wanting your own space and preserving your modesty is your right? Caitlin was happy to change for swimming in a cubicle rather than strip off in the general melee of naked boys and girls running about screaming like banshees.

The article also raised the question of when it is no longer appropriate for children to see adults naked – or is it always OK?

Are we creating sexual hang-ups by hiding genitalia away? I think children are becoming sexualised far too early. Do I want my children to have sex education at 5? No. Do I want my daughter dressed like a beauty queen at 6? Certainly not.  It’s difficult enough for kids to grapple with the stark truth that their parents have sex, let alone be faced with free-range nudity when out in public.

No. I think the point is that parents need to be on the ball (if you’ll pardon the pun) to ensure that THEY take the lead in their child’s sex education and are filtering the morass of inappropriate material thrown at all of us by the media each day.

I’m sure at this point there will be much tittering (missus!) and cries of “well let’s see how smug you are lady when they are tweens and your ears are bleeding from their incessant demands” And I have a horrible feeling they’ll be right.

But is it wrong to want to protect childhood innocence for as long as possible? Do you think it’s OK to be naked in front of kids – particularly when they’re not yours?

Is it wrong to take your child out of school to attend your WEDDING?

A while ago, Daily Mail journalist Jan Moir opined that taking your child out of school to attend your wedding day is wrong. Hmm. Leaving aside the issue that in time gone by having a child out of wedlock would have made you a social disgrace (in which case I’d be the talk of the village), I find it hard to understand why some female journalists are so ‘anti-women’ and, particularly in the case of the Mail’s Liz Jones, so anti-family.

taking your child out of school to attend your wedding - bride and flower girl on boardwalk surrounded by reeds

I also can’t understand the draconian insistence that children must attend a full term of school in their nursery or reception years when they cannot even read or write (and in some cases are still wearing nappies)!

Of course, I can see that attending school on a regular basis teaches valuable life skills which will stand kids in good stead when they enter the employment market but can we please use some common-sense?

What if you happen to die in term time? Will your bereaved partner have to request permission to take the kids to the funeral? Taking your child out of school to attend your wedding is hopefully a once in a lifetime event, after all.

The headmistress of our local primary school is wise enough to understand that sometimes circumstances like this do arise and a few days absence per term are overlooked. A few days, mind, or the local authority fines start accruing.

The children also have a teddy bear they are allowed to take with them and photograph so that pictures can be included in his holiday album.

Whilst holiday companies continue to fleece parents mercilessly during school holidays, I’m sorry to say that absences are only to be expected.

A recent trawl of cottage letting websites revealed that some companies were adding as much as an extra £100 per week during school holidays. Basic economics or basic greed? You can fleece me once, but I won’t be coming back! The same principle of not removing kids from school during term time doesn’t seem to apply, I note, for school trips abroad!

It would be interesting to see what would happen to a holiday company that did not inflate its prices during school holidays. Would it sink without a trace or would it attract loads of loyal family customers?

Either way, it’s time for a radical rethink about this issue or there’ll be more staycations than vacations – and that, ironically, given the cost of living in the UK, could be even more expensive for families.

Taking your child out of school to attend your wedding for presumably a day or two’s absence is a minor issue in comparison to the holiday conundrum facing parents – and their wallets!

Should Children Under 3 Be Allowed To Watch TV?

In October 2012, Dr Aric Sigman, a Chartered Biologist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine published a report which suggested that excessive use of technology and gadgets could cause long-term physical harm in children. I think it’s fair to say that this report pressed quite a few ‘guilt buttons’ in parents around the country.  So should you let your toddler watch TV?

should you let your toddler watch TV - little girl watching TV with her teddy bear

Dr Sigman’s report suggested that ANY TV viewing for children under 3 is dangerous to their well being and development. To prevent this Dr Sigman suggests banning television until a child is three years old and then setting a limit on screen-time, with three to seven-year-olds limited to just half an hour of viewing per day.

The report also highlighted how modern children will have spent more time watching TV than they do in school over the course of their childhood and criticises parents for using gadgets as ‘electronic babysitters’.

Well, guilty as charged, m’lud. However, in my defence…

The only channel my children watch is CBeebies. We have a few DVDs, generally second hand Disney or the current favourite, Wallace & Gromit but that’s about it. Frankly, given the cost of brand new Disney DVDs, I’d be tempted to replace Tinkerbell with Dick Turpin because the phrase ‘daylight robbery’ springs to mind.

Should you let your toddler watch TV? Justin Fletcher as Mr Tumble
Mr Tumble, clearly a danger

The TV is not left on as background but at the end of the day if I am alone and trying to cook tea, then yes, it is a babysitter.

Hubby and I don’t let our kids watch adult TV. I do remember breastfeeding through an entire episode of Midsomer Murders once but I don’t think Caitlin has any homicidal tendencies (although having seen some of the sibling rows around tea-time, I do wonder).

Where possible, we all eat together in a separate room without the TV.  And talk.  But, how many homes today have the room? Look at the composition of the nine millionth housing ‘development’ appearing near you and chances are there will be just one or two ‘family’ sized houses, the rest being 2-3 bed boxes or worse, yet more flats.

I was born in 1964 and during my childhood remember “Watch With Mother” and in many ways, that’s the point. I think TV can be an educator if it is used in a supervised and sensible fashion. Sitting down with your kids to watch something like Justin’s House or Numtums is a nice ‘family’ experience. I remember Trumpton and Chigley, Candlewick Green, the Pogles, the Clangers and Hectors House. Of course, there was Playschool and Playaway too.  It was all so innocent.

Today, on the other hand, Postman Pat has a mobile and a helicopter and to me, this is symptomatic of our urge to update everything, to modernise, to ‘make relevant’. That may well be where the problem lies. I’m surprised More Than isn’t sponsoring the programme to promote pet insurance for Jess.

Adult culture is constantly being repackaged, dumbed down and targeted at the most vulnerable – our children, for example, the ubiquitous Hello Kitty. And don’t get me started on the teen mags.

I remember the raciest letter you ever got in Jackie’s Cathy & Claire column usually read “I kissed a boy, am I pregnant”. The same level of sex education, ironically, displayed every morning on Jeremy Kyle.

Then there are those who think there’s something wrong with little girls liking pink and that boys should be playing with Barbie.

Having a girl and a boy close together, I have been able to observe closely the differences in gender development. Here’s an observation from our house – little girls like pink, they like princesses, they like make-up. This is not because some evil pink stasi has them in their sights. It seems to be some sort of simultaneous evolution among little girls of a certain age.

A second observation – boys like to break things, hit things and take them apart. The sexes are wired differently. Ieuan occasionally wears his sister’s ladybug costume but even he (at 3) is now finding it a tad ‘girly’. Caitlin is endlessly fascinated by my jewellery (very small!) and make-up (slightly crusty).

Of course, every child is different and no child should be shoehorned into a set of gender-based expectations if they make them unhappy, but I think sometimes we make childhood a lot more complicated than it needs to be.

TV is, for better or worse, part of how we live now but the responsibility and to a large extent control of our children’s well-being and development is in the parents’ hands. We’d be better off worrying about the quality of the nation’s parenting, the exorbitant costs of childcare and the lack of support for working mothers than about the amount of TV children watch.

Should you let your toddler watch TV?  The jury is still out.

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Stop! In the Name of Happiness – It’s The Buddhist Way

At this year’s Art of Wellbeing show in Cardiff, I was lucky enough to hear Lama Rabsang, a Tibetan monk, talk about the art of happiness.

Buddhism has much to teach us about the art of happiness

Photo by Chris Ensey on Unsplash

Born in Kathmandu, Lama Rabsang, spiritual teacher at The Dharma Centre in Brynmawr, first studied to be a monk age 11 under the direction of his uncle. He then went to India to Palpung Sherabling, where he completed his studies. After entering a three year retreat he was appointed discipline master of Palpung Sherabling Monastery, where he stayed for four years. From there he travelled via Birmingham all the way to Brynmawr!

Today, Lama Rabsang works on a voluntary basis, organising meditation classes and ‘drop in’ sessions, for people who may want to learn more about the ancient teachings of Buddhism.  He regularly travels to three sites in Finland where he gives empowerments, teaching and instructions, and leads the regular prayers, teaching and meditation sessions at the Brynmawr centre, as well as offering public teachings and advice for individuals.

The art of happiness Lama Rabsang

Lama Rabsang

Buddhism dates back to the historical founder, Siddhartha Gautama, who is more commonly known as the Buddha. He was born as a prince in Nepal in 623 BC but the religion came relatively late to Tibet, in the seventh century. It teaches about four noble truths linked to the existence of suffering and Buddhists believe in karma, meaning people are reborn in different situations, possibly thousands of times.

So what did the Lama advise?  Briefly, he told us nothing is permanent and that we will never be truly happy unless we learn to live mindfully, experiencing the joy of each moment.  He told us that negative thoughts cannot and should not be resisted.  He said that negative emotions like anger, desire, jealousy, envy and greed cannot be pinpointed to one particular point in the body and we should just let them wash over us like a wave and if we do this, they will soon be gone.

This has a particular resonance for me during the ‘arsenic hours’ of 4 – 7 each evening when the kids are wound  up, tired and likely to kick off at the smallest thing, I frequently find myself shouting and then wishing I hadn’t!

Lama Rabsang advises that when we reach the end of our rope we should absent ourselves and sit somewhere quiet for a few moments to, as he put it, “simply be”.

If there are situations in our lives that we do not want, we must either seek to change the situation or practise forgiveness.  For example, a cheating partner should either be left or forgiven.  Staying put in unhappiness will not help us. We must accept, change or move on. That is the art of happiness.

He also advised us to practise the art of gratitude.  He told us that here in Wales we are vastly better off than his fellow countrymen in Tibet and yet we are always chasing more, more, more.

Mindful meditation may be the answer to help us to focus on living in the moment. He gave an excellent example of how we are too future focused.  We spend ages cooking Christmas dinner, he related and yet after many hours shopping, preparing vegetables, planning the menu and setting a beautiful table, we will sit down to eat and promptly start discussing our plans for Boxing Day.

I could have listened to him for much longer because he radiated an enviable calm and happiness which filled the room.

Truly, a thought-provoking, and out of the ordinary experience for a Sunday afternoon. The art of happiness is definitely something worth pursuing.

I Feel The Need…The Need To Read

Ah, the need to read.  There’s nothing quite like that blissful solitude snatched in the pages of a good book.

These days I have the attention span of a gnat. Time was when I thought nothing of reading Tolkien’s “The Lord of The Rings” from cover to cover or one of the great Bronte novels. I’d be lost in the wilds of the Yorkshire moors in “Wuthering Heights” as my train drew into the station on wet Monday mornings or imagining being shouted at by Anthony Robbins after another energetic chapter of the self-help classic “Awaken The Giant Within“.

the need to read - piles of paperback books stacked high

Reading was an escape, almost a guilty pleasure. The need to read would wash over me in coffee shops, on trains and late at night snuggled under the duvet. And there is still nothing so thrilling as being let loose in a proper bookshop. Ah, the sheer weight of paperbacks, the pristine paper and the unbent covers, just the smell of the paper. Nowadays I wonder whether the sales from the coffee concessions outweigh sales of actual books in the few remaining bookshops left.

In Oxford recently, we visited Blackwells Bookshop. It was VAST. Wall upon wall of tomes with (obviously) an academic bias and it hit me suddenly that a good bookshop is truly a repository of knowledge.

Now it might have been the cheeky glass of Rioja at lunchtime, but I found myself whispering to hubby, “just look at all this knowledge, look at how much there is to teach Caitlin and Ieuan”. Not just the basics of reading and writing, but the World’s languages, science, philosophy, astronomy, psychology, the various areas of mathematics, religious studies and on and on and on…..

It made me wonder how much of our days today are spent in front of screens. Even in school at aged 4 and 3, my children are playing with computers and watching whiteboards. At home, they borrow the iPad and in restaurants, we bribe them with “Talking Tom” on hubby’s phone. At some level, I know this is not actually a good thing.

The logical consequence of everything being read on a screen or now via an ‘app’ is surely that it’s changing the language and the volume of information we can absorb in one sitting. I’ve written before about, to me, the sad dumbing down of much of the copy in magazines and newspapers. Each year there are lists of new words which make the official dictionaries but these words always seem to be ‘slang’ to me, increasingly unimaginative and increasingly inelegant.

Our inability to absorb large chunks of information is affecting, I suspect, both how our children are taught, and how examinations are structured and marked. This inability affects our TV programmes – notice how in a typical Channel 4 or 5 programme, each new section of the programme post ad-break starts with a 5-minute recap of stuff you viewed literally minutes before. Lazy programming for lazy viewers?

I still remember how the TV programme Horizon used to be, and QED and programmes about astronomy with Michael Burke and Carl Sagan. They made you think so hard it gave you a headache. Now today’s science programmes seem to be the same level as John Craven’s Newsround used to be!

There have been rumblings in the papers that the A level and particularly the A* will be replaced by some sort of baccalaureate examination – a tacit admission (at last!) that exams have been dumbed down but witness the furore this year and the demands for remarking of English papers where more stringent marking criteria had been applied.

Our children need to learn that failure is the spur to even greater learning and greater knowledge – and that knowledge needs to be administered and stored in chunks, not soundbites.

Sometimes I find the ‘noise’ from the TV, PC, iPad and Phone, promotional advert screens and billboards just too much. I have a Kindle and I think it’s a fantastic piece of kit but there will never be anything quite like a brand new book to me.

And you know what, if our kids are looking to reality TV icons like Tulisa or Chantelle as role models, we could do worse than stand them in Blackwells Bookshop and tell them “you want to see true wealth? well, you’re looking at it.”  Oh yes, we should ALL feel the need to read.

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