Dr. James H. Bossard, a former professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has found after extensive studies, that one of the greatest weaknesses in family life is the way parents talk in front of their children. He states: “The critical conversational habit or pattern was the most prevalent. These families rarely had a good word to say about anyone.” He went on to observe the negative impact that this had on the children in these families regarding their attitudes, acceptance by peers, and ultimately happiness.
In a column in The Times newspaper (8 June, 2017), Jonathan Jansen wrote about recent incidents of racism in schools, including a local example. Jansen states the following: “As a parent, I firmly believe that the most important foundations for learning anti-racist behaviour are laid in our homes. Long before a child enters school she is privy to parental conversations, parental friendships and parental attitudes towards others – blacks or whites, Muslims or Jews, gay or straight persons, etc.” In other words, Jansen cautions parents about the impact of their own attitudes on their children.
I would also like to mention a recent article taken from the Daily Maverick website on teenage depression. According to this article, in South Africa there is a suicide nearly every hour and there are 20 attempts for every death. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), suicide rates among teens aged 10–14 have nearly doubled in the last 15 years. Some of the major causes of depression and therefore suicide, according to Sadag, include the use of alcohol and drugs, abuse, disabilities, family fights or hostility, recent loss or relationship break-ups, death of a loved one, and exposure to violence.
It seems to me that we can go a long way towards reducing teenage depression by changing our approach as adults. In order to do this, we need to agree on the following:
Firstly, we must accept as fact that teenage depression is on the increase in society, along with the resultant attitudes and behaviour choices, and try to understand the reasons for this.
Secondly, and this is critical: we, as parents, need to be a part of the solution as opposed to the cause, in order to ensure that our children do not have negative attitudes, outlooks or perceptions.
Our children are regularly exposed to fears or threats – real or perceived – on a regular basis, at a time when they most need affirmation, love, and the presence of calm, reassuring adults around them. When a group of young elephants was introduced into Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve a few years ago, they embarked on a rampant trail of destruction. They only calmed down when older, adult elephants were brought in. In the same way, we need to protect our own children from fear and uncertainty. According to Yoda, the wise Jedi master of Star Wars: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.”
My proposal is that we look carefully at the true meaning of happiness and contentment, and teach this to our children, both in theory and in demonstrating this to them. Mo Gawdat, Chief Business Officer at Google, in his book Solve for Happy, states that happiness starts with a conscious choice. In the book, he refers to a happiness equation: weighing up our expectations against actual events, ultimately determines happiness. If we have unrealistic expectations, we will ultimately be disappointed on a regular basis. Gawdat stresses the importance of choosing our actions and attitudes carefully, and he challenges a number of mindsets and thought processes in this excellent book.
If I think of my own life experiences, I can see how my attitudes have affected my mood in the past. My delight in receiving my first (second-hand) bicycle was extreme, yet it is easy to complain that my current car does not have the latest state-of-the-art sound system or GPS technology. I also recall my two years of compulsory National Service in Oudtshoorn in the Junior Leader’s section many years back. We had to get up in the dark and march around dusty parade grounds in this harsh environment, and were regularly reprimanded. Yet I clearly recall being up early one cold morning and watching a sunrise, and feeling as happy as I have ever felt. What allowed this? Clearly, my expectations each day at the time were extremely low, so something as simple as a sunrise and the fact that the weekend was near were enough to fill me with contentment. If I had to spend that same weekend now, I would be devastated. A weekend
in an army camp with only men, army uniforms, no contact with the outside world, and hard beds, does not sound like fun. Yet at the time, a Sunday in camp was so much better than other days, that to me it felt like bliss.
I urge you to read Gawdat’s book, and consider his point about controlling our thoughts as opposed to allowing them to control us. He mentions three types of thoughts: insightful (problem-solving), experiential (aware of living in the presence) and narrative. The first two are normal and healthy, but the third refers to the chatter or thoughts about the past or future, which are often unrealistic, fearful, and unhealthy. The majority of these are negative. He describes how we can train our minds to substitute these with happy, positive thoughts, which impacts on those around us.
In May, I listened to Alan Smedley (Chaplain at Michaelhouse) speak to pupils at Clifton (Nottingham Road) School at their 75th anniversary celebration. His advice after describing many humorous experiences he had had as a boy at Clifton, was for children to ‘compare down’ as opposed to always comparing ourselves to those better off (with envy). If we are always grateful for what we do have as opposed to what we don’t, we will ultimately be more happy.
If we can adopt this philosophy, and choose to be more happy, live more in the present, have realistic expectations, and ultimately put others’ needs above our own, we can achieve true contentment, as opposed to the temporary highs which life promises us on TV or in some advertisements for amazing products. According to author Greg Baer, “real love is caring about the happiness of another person.” This is especially true regarding parenting. According to Baer, “when we unconditionally care about our children’s happiness, they feel a powerful connection to us. They feel included in our lives, safe, and not alone.” He points out that in creating an environment of unconditional acceptance, we need to distinguish between our love for them as individuals, and correction in relation to their behaviour. I encourage you to read this book, or download his free advice on parenting (www.reallove.com/Good-Parenting/EffectiveSkills).
So, in conclusion, be aware that as parents we are responsible, to a large extent, for the way that our children feel and function. Choose to interact positively with your children, and choose to be happy for their benefit. Choose to think and talk about happy events and experiences and create happy memories. Use the tools such as those proposed by Mo Gawdat, Greg Baer, or other experts, for the sake of your children. You will find it easier to do than what you may think, and I assure you that time invested in making small changes to attitudes, actions and choices will help each one of us, but ultimately have a massive influence on our children and their futures. In the words of Dale Carnegie: “Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.”
A-Level Post-Matric Option: Please be informed that we intend initiating a Post-Matric option in conjunction with St Charles College starting in 2018, in which school leavers can study towards a Cambridge A-Level qualification. This could be a significant and exciting option for girls who wish to study overseas in the future, or study Science or Mathematics based degrees locally, in particular. I have personal experience in teaching the Cambridge curriculum, and assure you that those who opt for this will receive an excellent, quality education which will give them a significant edge in coping at tertiary institutions, or to assist in getting into difficult courses. The level of a Cambridge A-Level qualification is the equivalent to a first year university education. It could also be an opportunity for those girls who are unsure as to what to study after school, to gain access a top international course in a safe environment near home. Please let me know if you would like to find out more about this initiative on firstname.lastname@example.org.
d6 Communicator: One of the strategic imperatives that resulted from the school’s Strategic Planning last year was to improve communication from the school. With this in mind, we will be moving our communication entirely over to the school’s d6 Communication platform from next term. A lot of work has gone into creating a more targeted d6 Communicator platform, and there are many other advanced technological updates in the pipeline too.
As of Tuesday, 22 August 2017, no communication will be emailed to parents. It will now be up to parents to refer to the d6 Communicator on either the desktop or mobile version to gain the information required. As a result, the Marketing Department will be holding three d6 Communicator parent training sessions on the following dates next term: Monday, 31 July at 07h30, Tuesday, 1 August at 13h00 and Wednesday, 2 August at 18h00 to help parents learn how to use the platform more effectively. We also encourage parents who have been using the d6 Communicator for a number of years to attend, so that they too can learn about the new d6 Communicator technology updates. More information on these workshops will be communicated with you at the start of Term 3. If you have not downloaded the d6, please do so as follows:
For the desktop version – please go to: http://www.school-communicator.com/downloads/school
For the mobile version, please go to your phones app store and download “d6 School Communicator”.
Introduction of Karri (powered by Nedbank): We are delighted to inform the St John’s D.S.G. parent community that with effect from Term 3, we shall be partnering with Karri and Nedbank to introduce a mobile payment application to the parent community. This is a mobile payment app that allows parents to make quick payments for school events, instead of sending children to school with envelopes of cash for civvies days, etc. Parents who download the app will be able to make fast payments of exact amounts straight to the School from their cellphones. You will receive a notification of an upcoming school event through Karri, can view the event details and then make payment without having to worry about finding cash at the last minute. There are no bank charges passed on to the parent, and bank charges to the School are less than the cash deposit fees currently being paid by the School. You will receive more information in this regard during the first week of next term.
Security at St John’s: One of our projects for 2017 has been to review all security procedures at the School and to enhance these where necessary to safeguard the interests of all pupils at the School. We have added a security guard at the New England Road entrance, and are in the process of evaluating all security controls in the School. Further upgrades and enhancements are planned for 2018, and we wish to assure the parent community that this project is a proactive initiative to ensure that the girls’ safety remains one of our top priorities.
Raffle Books: Girls have been issued Raffle Books by class teachers today. Please encourage all girls to sell as many tickets as possible, preferably the whole book. Completed Raffle Books and the money is to be handed in to Class teachers by 1 September. In celebration of our 120th Birthday, there are four wonderful prizes to be won and the draw will take place on our Birthday, 8 September, 2017.
Staff farewells: As the term ends, we bid farewell to a few staff members who are leaving us. Ms Jean Dyson leaves us to join her family in the UK after teaching here for over 11 years. She is loved and respected by the girls for her passion as a History teacher. She is also a person of integrity and wisdom. We wish her well in her future. We also say farewell to Mrs Kerry Johnstone who has been a hard-working part-time isiZulu teacher here for the past year, as well as to Miss Lorna Taylor who has been an enthusiastic and capable English Intern, Boarder Mistress, locum Librarian as well as a sports coach and uHambo leader. We wish them both well in their new ventures. I am grateful to Mr Peter Ducasse for assisting us as a locum Life Sciences teacher for the past month while Mrs Raciborska has been unwell. I would also like to wish Mrs Singh and Mrs Sara a good break as they take leave during Term 3.
I wish the entire community an enjoyable winter holiday with your families. I hope that girls make the most of the opportunity to relax with the long cold nights, perhaps with the company of good friends, family, a warm fireplace and maybe some Wimbledon tennis on TV. We look forward to seeing you all in July.