No wonder they're glued to it

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Future Directions: practical ways to develop emotional intelligence and confidence in young people

By Diane Carrington and Helen Whitten

Network Educational Press pound;24.95

Getting your Children Through Divorce: a parent's guide to separation

By Anne Hooper

Robson Books pound;8.99

The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander: from pre-school to secondary school. How parents and teachers can help break the cycle of violence

By Barbara Coloroso

Piccadilly Press pound;9.99

The Media Diet for Kids: a parent's survival guide to TV and computer games

By Teresa Orange and Louise O'Flynn

Hay House pound;9.99

Who'd be a kid these days? Bullied at school, parents splitting up, brain fried from too many video games. Now, blow me, the stress has fired up your hippocampus and you're drowning in adrenalin, noradrenalin and cortisol.

The biology bit comes from Future Directions, which is for teachers to use with young people as they start to think about leaving school. The book recognises that many - maybe most - adolescents are lacking in self-knowledge and self-belief, and that although that's probably quite normal, it's still possible to help them. After all, the world's full of adults who through lack of self-knowledge and good advice are in the wrong jobs, mixing with people they don't like, trying to live lives that don't suit them very much.

This is a large-format spiral-bound book with lots of examples, exercises, tasks and information for teachers to use with young people. It deals with well-being, choices, what it's like to be at work, and how to achieve good work-life balance. It's a good resource for form tutors and learning mentors - and you can't help thinking that it has something to offer to them as well as to the young people they work with.

Maybe the ultimate threat to self-esteem lies in bullying (the damage accrues to the bully as much as to the victim) which Barbara Coloroso takes on here with great wisdom. Her title spells out the complexity of the phenomenon; that it involves what she calls a "deadly triad: bullies who terrorise, bullied kids who are afraid to tell, bystanders who watch, participate or look away".

For schools worrying about bullying - and they all should be - perhaps the most important message comes in a quote from Professor Terrence Deal of the University of California: "Policies and procedures, rules and regulations, often serve as substitutes for values. What schools need is that shared sense of 'this is the way we do things here'."

That phrase, "this is the way we do things here", has such a recognisable dignity and resonance. It works for proud regiments, good schools, the best workplaces.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work in every family. Just to read the questions in the Q and A section on "What to tell the children" in Anne Hooper's book is to feel your blood run cold at the sheer shabby cruelty of it all. "Why did Daddy go away?" "Will you still both be my mummy and daddy?" "Will my brothers and sisters be with me?"

But it doesn't do to deny reality: some marriages do become unsustainable, many children endure the consequences and survive, and everyone involved needs help in dealing with it all. And, as the author points out, in some cases the children are either relieved that Daddy's gone or hardly notice he's not there because he never really was. One of the book's brief case studies says, "They much preferred their new stepfather, who did take an interest, and who actively cared for them." Anne Hooper's wise, non-judgmental advice will bring help and reassurance to what is, sadly, a large potential readership.

Compared with the agonies of adolescent stress, bullying and divorce, the problem of dealing with a child's TV or video-gaming addiction seems like trivial stuff. Lots of parents, though, endure regular battles well illustrated by the quote that appears on the cover of this book, "Just five more minutes pleeeese!"

I tried the book on the young mother of a gaming fanatic, just as a head or teacher might pass it on to a worried parent. She liked it very much, finding it non-preachy and lighthearted, presented so as to catch a busy parent, with quotes, bullet points, illustrations and varied typography.

The "diet" analogy is important because it accepts that what you're aiming for is reasonable moderation rather than puritanical denial. Many - perhaps most - parents will be reassured that quite a bit of what they're doing is fine, and those who are really worried about their child's "screen-hungry"

addiction are given workable strategies for step-by-step improvement. It's interesting, as the parent who helped me with the book pointed out, that the book presents good evidence that children actually want their screen time controlled. As one 12-year-old says in the book, "Don't give in, it shows you're weak."

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