Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Oprah Phenomenon

Australia has been well and truly besieged by the Oprah fever. From screaming teens to crying mid-lifers, it seems few have escaped the grip of the most popular, if not also the most powerful, woman in the world.

Oprah Winfrey didn’t inherit her fortune and she wasn’t born into a privileged family. A classic rags to riches story, she is where she is today largely through her own merit. And it seems to be this which appeals to so many. And of course there’s something totally unique about a talk show host who is more powerful than the celebrities she interviews.

But watching the “Oprah’s Ultimate Favorite Things” show last night, one might be forgiven for thinking she is really just a brand. And anything with the O-branded seal of approval is something worth buying. Oprah is a marketer and those Favorite Things shows smack of a Danoz ad from the 90s.

The Favorite Things episodes feature throngs of audience members falling all over themselves, crying with joy over the new (heavily over-priced) kitchen knives they will walk away with, while home viewers quickly write down the names of all the products. Everything about this facet of the Oprah franchise feeds the consumerist culture of modern day America, and increasingly the rest of the world. What Oprah has, we must have. If Oprah says it’s good, it must be. Never mind that multi-million dollar international companies just paid well to have their product endorsed by her.

In a clever marketing ploy by our country’s tourism industry, Oprah’s latest “favorite” thing is Australia. Considering that companies like Nike and P&N Cruises probably pay well into the millions for product endorsement, 5 million dollars to endorse a country probably isn’t too bad.

In a media conference during her visit, Oprah promised to repay the Australian taxpayer’s 5 million dollar investment in her, describing her impact on tourism to Australia as “immeasurable”.

Here’s hoping.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deficits of another kind

If you tune in to the right sources and listen very, very carefully, you might just hear the faint whisper which suggests that many children who have been diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) might actually be suffering attention deficit disorder of a parental kind.
Around the traps, thoughtful psychologists, school teachers, church leaders and single parents are starting to recognize that children who lack the significant individual attention of one or both parents, are the same children being prescribed Ritalin.

Of course, the pharmaceutical companies that suck millions from families each year are unlikely to spread the word, but slowly, ever so slowly, it’s getting out there. And there are no more outspoken proponents of this new-age view than the parents raising children who have been diagnosed with the developmental disorder.

Emily Cairns, Army wife and mother of two young boys, says her children’s behavior changes dramatically on about day 4 of a deployment when her little boys realizes Daddy is not coming home yet. “They cope fine when it’s just a day or two, but more than that and it gets really tough. The last time my husband was deployed, I ended up taking the kids to a doctor because they just weren’t themselves. It was the doctor who suggested it might be a separation anxiety issue rather than ADHD as I had first suspected.”

The online journal, ScienceDaily, recently reported that 1 million children in the United States may have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, simply for being the youngest kid in the class.

And yet the hype remains.

Trawl the mummy forums and you’ll find many women feeling helpless about their 2 year old son who simply won’t sit still. Not even for 5 minutes. What could possibly be wrong with my child, they ask, thoroughly exasperated and entirely convinced that if they took their child to the doctor, the kid would be prescribed Ritalin.

At a time when many children are abandoned to mass care at one point or another during the first 4 years of life, it may be useful to look at separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, dysfunctional environments and bullying as a cause for a child’s behavioural issues, before medicating them.

After all, they’re only young. And we put a lot of pressure on children to conform.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Cover Up

One stupid ‘tweet’ and the world’s dumbest celebrities make news.

This week it was Kim Kardashian who ‘tweeted’ to her nearly 4 million followers that a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant without a cover was “eww”.

Yes, eww. Apparently it’s a word.

And yes. This is coming from the same Kim Kardashian who shot to fame for creating a sex tape. Without having seen this tape, one might safely assume she was filmed exposed without a cover.

Ah the logic.

Breastfeeding mothers have come under fire a lot recently. Just last week, the UKs leading parenting magazine Mother & Baby published an article by the deputy editor, Kathryn Blundell, in which she stated that breastfeeding was “creepy”, because in her opinion, breasts are “funbags”.

And last month in New Zealand, Better Homes and Gardens magazine published a list of “commandments” for eating out with children. "Yes, I have seen table-side breastfeeding at a four-star restaurant," wrote the author. "If at all possible, take it to the ladies room."

What’s truly creepy is that mothers who actually perform a natural function with their God-given breasts are shoved into the toilets, yet models and actresses who expose themselves for other reasons are protected from public scorn by a multi-billion dollar industry that earns its money by keeping these women exposed.

How did we get to the point where we can walk past a newsagency with scores of exposed breasts on the covers of magazines without batting an eyelid, but we can’t bear the sight of a woman breastfeeding in public without a cover?

The World Health Organisation recommends partial breast-feeding until the age of 2 and full breast-feeding until 6 months, but children who are fully breastfed for the first 6 months make up between 1% and 25% of babies, depending on which country you live in.

For a practice that is recommended for the health of the child and the speedy post-birth recovery and weightloss of the mother, it sure is copping a beating from so-called parenting experts and governments whose economic policies ensure that babies cannot be breastfed for even close to 6 months.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Making Innocence a Myth

A recent 5-day study by Dr Mindy Blaise has received surprisingly little media attention, considering the nature of the research and the age of the subjects.

The Monash University researcher spent 5 days in a conveniently unnamed Victorian childcare centre trying to gauge the sexual knowledge and views of the 3-4 year olds at the centre. Blaise asked the children questions like, “Are you a flirt?” and “Have you ever kissed a boy?” Presumably, Blaise had to explain the word ‘flirt’ to the children. I doubt it is in the vocabulary of most toddlers.

Blaise believes childhood innocence is a myth (wishful thinking, perhaps?) and says she intentionally brought a topic into the preschool that adults usually ignore. She has since defended her work, stating that she was just raising issues that children are already discussing in childcare and kindy. So first she’s discussing topics that are being ignored and now she’s discussing topics that are already being discussed. It’s hard to know what to believe, but if the topic is usually ignored, that is probably because it doesn’t exist in the minds of 3 year olds.

She asked the children to comment on a picture of two crocodiles kissing and when one little girl concluded that one crocodile was a boy and the other a girl, Blaise concurred that the child's views were heterosexual. Seriously.

Psychologists and family groups had something to say about the research, with Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading child psychologists, weighing into the debate, "It's part of the general adultification of children. Why the hell can't we just let children be children?"

Apparently, the parent’s consent was given. They would not have given consent to a random stranger to question their child’s sexual knowledge (in fact, they would doubtless have called the police), but they happily gave it to an academic. However, the difference between one’s child being asked questions of a sexual nature by an academic and being asked by a stranger on the street is non-existent because the effect is the same. To use Carr-Gregg’s term, the “adultification of children” occurs regardless of who asks the question.

Is it just me, or are parents far too quick to forfeit their responsibilities these days? Do they really think that allowing a stranger to probe their children with sex-related questions at the age of three will make the birds and the bees talk any easier when they’re 12? Chances are the kid won’t need it anyway. By 12, they’ll probably know more than the parents.

Blaise’s article appeared in the March 2010 edition of the Australasian Journal of Early Childhood which featured other articles about bringing the subject of sexuality into the early childhood educational setting. Considering the vast number of 3-4 year olds who have spent time in institutionalised care in the past decade, and the plummeting rate of literacy in primary schools across the nation, one might have thought simple phonics theory to be a more useful discussion topic for the esteemed Journal.

Kiss and tell: Gendered narratives and childhood sexuality; Australasian Journal of Early Childhood – Volume 35 No 1 March 2010, pp. 1–9

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Sex Files

A current project of Marie Stopes International is the Sex Files, a study that collects information from teens about their sexual health views and what they want from healthcare providers and the Government.

The goal, says Jill Michelson, National Clinical Advisor for Marie Stopes International, is to collect the views of hundreds of youths, compile it and present it to the Government for appropriate legislation and funding amendments.

But the introduction to the Sex Files survey, which asks “as many young people as possible… to jump online and record their thoughts on all things S-E-X related”, sounds more like an advertisement for a part in a porn movie.

Among the leading questions in their Sex Files introduction, the authors ask if access to sexual health options would be easier with one’s own Medicare card. (Read: Do you need to hide the fact that you're sexually active from you parents?")

Sharing a Medicare card with one’s parents is a small safeguard for many teens who might otherwise procure contraceptives or even an abortion without the consent or knowledge of their parents. Requiring this consent means many teenagers will need to discuss these topics with people who care about them. Not just the abortionist or staffer at the local clinic.

It should be remembered that Marie Stopes is Australia’s leading abortion provider. Killing unborn babies is their bread and butter so it is imperative to their financial survival that Australians are having sex, contracepting that sex and then aborting any resulting ‘mistakes’. It is important for them to maintain the sex lives of today's teenagers because it is they who will be pouring funds into the Marie Stopes kitty for the next half century.

If plummeting fertility rates are anything to go by, Marie Stopes and team are successfully educating the next generation to believe that pregnancy is – like swine flu – an illness to be avoided.

Last August, Jill Michelson got Marie Stopes’ name in the paper with some outrageous claims about pregnancy and child-bearing, so that use of the RU486 drug in their facilities could be broadened.

"We argued that pregnancy is a condition that may be both serious and life-threatening in particular circumstances," she said.

“What is undeniable is the fact that the risk to a pregnant woman of induced abortion is much less than the risk of continuing a pregnancy through to delivery at term. And we argued that continuance of pregnancy would ... also involve greater risk of injury to the physical and mental health of the pregnant woman, and a substantial risk that if pregnancy were not terminated and a child were born, the child would suffer from such physical and mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped."

This must be news to every woman who has suffered from abortion related mental-ilness. And news too for the hundreds of women who safely give birth every day in Australia.

The Sex Files will be released in September, but a mid-survey media release became available last month for National Youth Week.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cause to Celebrate?

On Mother's Day (ironically), the Pill turned 50 and it’s taken a while for the mainstream media to publish any bad news about the golden calf of the sexual revolution, but this week – if you searched hard enough – you could find a couple of reports that made it to print and demonstrated why the Pill’s claim to an anniversary celebration is more than a little dubious.

From Germany came fresh research that indicated a link between the Pill, lowered female libido and general sexual dysfunction. It’s not the first study to reveal this link but came at a less than convenient time for Pill backers who’d rather us think the oral contraceptive has brought about unfettered sexual liberation for women.(1)

From the Pew Research Center in the US came a study which indicates that more unplanned pregnancies occur now than 50 years ago, with 41% of children born in 2008 in the US being born out of wedlock.(2) Back before the Pill the figure was 1 in 20, or 5%.

And as if she had just read Humane Vitae and decided it was right, 70s sex symbol Raquel Welch issued her synopsis on the Pill and society to CNN. While admitting that the Pill has enabled women to delay having children, Welch came down hard on the Pill’s contribution to today’s promiscuous society.

Having lived through the past 5 decades with the Pill and having married four times, Welch apparently feels qualified to speak of the “sea change in moral values” that she has seen in America’s demographic over the past half century.

“I'm ashamed to admit that I myself have been married four times,” she wrote. “And yet I still feel that [marriage] is the cornerstone of civilization, an essential institution that stabilizes society, provides a sanctuary for children and saves us from anarchy.”(3)

So, dear mainstream media, it seems not everyone considers the Pill’s 50th anniversary a cause for celebration.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

(1) Harald Seeger, Ph.D., researcher, University Hospital Tuebingen, Germany; May 4, 2010, Journal of Sexual Medicine (online)
(2) Pew Research Center, The New Demography of American Motherhood, accessed 12-05-2010
(3) Raquel Welch, It’s Sex O’Clock in America, May 9, 2010,CNN online, accessed 12-05-2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Submission for the Paid Parental Leave Scheme Bill

On 18 March, the Senate released the exposure draft of the Government’s proposed Paid Parental Leave scheme to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 3 June 2010. Concerned citizens were given until May 11 to comment.

Out of the nearly 50 submissions received by the evening of May 11, the overwhelming majority challenged the unjust nature of a scheme which seeks to drive mothers into the workforce within 18 weeks of giving birth, denying a child its inherent right to one-on-one care by a person whose interest in the child's welfare is not vested in a paycheck.

We await the Government's response.

Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee
Regarding: Paid Parental Leave Scheme Bill 2010

Back in February when Abbott attempted to trump the Governments proposed Paid Parental Leave scheme, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Australian Women, Marie Coleman praised the move, believing Australia lags behind the international community’s standard for paid leave and that six months is the minimum required after the birth of a new baby.

"Indeed the scientific data on child development and the need for parental bonding would suggest that 12 months would be ideal," Coleman said.


Despite Unicef’s recent warning that placing a baby in childcare before the age of 1 can lead to aggressive and anti-social behavior during primary school, the Government continues to award women who return to work and ignores the needs of the majority who choose to stay at home with their children.

According to leading child psychologist and parenting author, Steve Biddulph, children under the age of 3 should not be placed in institutionalized childcare, but should remain in the care of a close relative, as formal or institutionalized daycare situations can lead to separation anxiety, emotional vulnerability and stress.

So the Government continues to ignore the mounting evidence in favour of full-time parent-administered childcare during the formative years. And the Government continues to ignore the 79% of 18-34 year olds who, in a recent Galaxy poll, voted for equal funding for all mothers.

Considering that unwaged mothers represent the majority of those who receive financial assistance in the child-rearing years, one might have expected the Government to be slightly more concerned about where their votes are coming from.

Please abandon this discriminatory and detrimental scheme in favour of a universal childcare endowment which assists all families equally.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Monday, May 3, 2010

Abortion - Depression Link... again

Yet another study has linked history of abortion with substance abuse and depression.

Findings from the University of Manitoba study, published in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychology, suggest a striking association between abortion and both mental disorders and substance abuse.

The study was flawed in that it did not look at other contributing factors or question if the woman experienced depression and substance abuse prior to an abortion, but the raw figures suggest a strong association. Out of over 3000 women, 25% of those who admitted to having had an abortion reported substance abuse or depression, compared to 7% for women with no history of abortion.

The author has cautioned against using the study’s findings as conclusive evidence that abortion is psychologically disturbing, instead urging clinicians to screen for depressive disorders for women who request an abortion.

Certainly taken with the numerous other studies with similar findings produced in the last decade, one might be forgiven for thinking this study might actually be quite accurate.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Generation Abandoned

Two horrible stories have made headlines this week, not for the newness of the subject but for developments in the story of the antagonist.

15 year old Phoebe Prince moved from Ireland last year and enrolled at a secondary school in Massachusetts where she endured months of bullying and abuse before taking her life on January 14 this year.

On Monday, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced criminal charges against 9 teenagers from the school and said that Phoebe’s death was "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behaviour and threats of physical harm".

Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother was concerned enough to approach several staff members, and there is evidence that the abuse was circulated on Facebook and by mobile phone. But it seems school staff failed to intervene and Phoebe was abandoned to the torment and her own inability to cope or escape.

Closer to home we heard news that 50 year old Victorian Gary Francis Newman will be jailed for 29 years for the brutal murder of 15 year old Adelaide teenager Carly Ryan.

The pair first met through an online vampire community and Carly subsequently fell in love with Newman, who identified himself as a guitarist and an adherent to the emo culture.

When Newman traveled to Adelaide to meet Carly in February 2007, Carly rejected him and her life ended brutally at the hands of the 50 year old.

Carly’s mother said in a statement: "I am relieved that Garry Newman is no longer a danger to the community and other innocent children." But one wonders what good that is when there are hundreds of others like him and thousands of girls like Carly with parents who don’t know what their children are doing online and who they are meeting.

In Phoebe’s case, the mother of one of the accused told the media she was shocked at the accusations about her daughter’s involvement, but that teenagers “call names”. The comment reveals an emotional numbing to what is actually anti-social behavior. How ‘name calling’ fits in with the healthy and happy lifestyle of a normal confident teenager is incomprehensible. The girl’s mother also said, "[My daughter] did not physically assault (Phoebe). I know she knows better than that. I wouldn't accept that." What hope is there for a bully who’s mother will accept that it is ok to verbally abuse, so long as it doesn’t go any further?

In Phoebe and Carly’s darkest hours, no adult was there to protect them. No parent, no teacher, no guardian who knew or comprehended what these girls had been doing and going through.

Children need their parents to stand up for them and to be close enough to them to know what is going on in their lives. If parents would only do this, school bullies and online stalkers might have significantly reduced chances of success.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

Matches, anybody?

The Family Planning NSW Healthrites Bookshop has just released a number of new volumes for promoting promiscuity, underage sex and explicit sex education.

Among the nauseating pile of bonfire supplements is an insidious kit designed especially for secondary school educators; a comprehensive Contraceptive Kit, to facilitate “hands-on teaching and learning about contraception”.

The kit contains a plethora of contraceptive information and ‘tools’ including condoms, an IUD, vaginal ring, pills, lubricants, a play penis and much more. All this is packaged in a stylish carry case.

The kit also contains a book of FPNSW photocopiable contraceptive factsheets. This in itself is a concern. As if playing with contraceptives wasn’t enough to make any parent withdraw their child from PDHPE, it doesn’t appear FPNSW has requested any independent review or approval of their factsheets which make ridiculous and fallacious assertions, such as that:

“[Implanon] does not allow a pregnancy to grow.” (Implanon Fact Sheet 2006 – the fact that pregnancies don’t ‘grow’ seems to have escaped the compiler of this fact sheet).

“[The Progestogen IUD] changes the lining of the womb so that it does not get thick enough for an egg to grow in it, even if the egg is fertilised.” (Progestogen IUD Fact Sheet 2006 - how an un-fertilised egg is supposed to develop in the womb is something FPNSW fails to explain).

Yep. Just the kind of kit every teenager has a right to live without.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Waving good-bye to the front page

It was all a bit surreal this morning. We awoke to tsunami warnings from the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre and a feverish media racing to bring us the details.

While Chile suffered a massive earthquake during the night, an extensive list of approximately 50 countries were issued with tsunami warnings. Warnings for the Australian east coast ranged from 3 metre waves to king tides to the ocean resembling a washing machine, with no significant land inundation expected.

Tragically, the earthquake has taken hundreds of lives in Chile and tsunamis have already taken lives on small islands in the Pacific. Certainly no one can blame us for being a little paranoid, but perhaps some calm warnings to stay out of the water and picnic elsewhere than the beach would have been sufficient. Instead, we got panicked live coverage from a calm Bondi Beach where scores of curious Sydney-siders gathered to see… 10 cm swells.

But hey, who cares that it all fizzled out to nothing. Thanks to our over-excited media, last night’s Sydney mardi gras failed to make headlines this morning.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Funding Childcare

In early February Tony Abbott promised voters that if he wins the election, he’ll trump Labor’s 18-week tax-payer-funded paid parental leave with a plan that offers 24 weeks of leave for primary caregivers.

Spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Australian Women, Marie Coleman praised the move, believing Australia lags behind the international community’s standard for paid leave and that six months is the minimum required after the birth of a new baby.

"Indeed the scientific data on child development and the need for parental bonding would suggest that 12 months would be ideal," Coleman said.

Prominent child psychologists agree. According to leading child psychologist and parenting author, Steve Biddulph, children under the age of 3 should remain in the care of a close relative, as formal or institutionalized daycare situations can lead to separation anxiety, emotional vulnerability and stress.

While receivers of the Labor Government’s paid parental leave scheme will not be eligible for the Baby Bonus, they will receive nearly 50% more funding over the 18 week period than mothers who stay home with their children and claim the Baby Bonus. While “working families” who claim the paid leave will receive $543.78 (taxable Federal Minimum Wage) per week for 18 weeks, the $5000 Baby Bonus breaks down to $277.78 per week.

Additionally, families who outsource their children’s care will receive childcare funding approximately twice that of the Family Tax Benefit B received by families who use informal and family-based care.

The Kids First Parent Association of Australia estimates that over 3.5 billion taxpayer dollars will be spent on non-parental care (includes child care benefit, child care rebate, Jobs Education and Training Child Care Fee Assistance and Child Care Services Support) for 600,000 families during the 2011-2012 financial year. Alternatively, it will cost taxpayers less than 4.5 million dollars to fund Family Tax Benefit B to 1.4 million families with one stay-at-home-parent.

© Eva Whiteley 2010

Steve Biddulph, Raising Babies: Should Under 3s Go To Nursery

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fence the house, supervise the children

Three toddler drownings in the past week in Queensland has prompted fresh urgings by drowning awareness group, Hannah’s Foundation, for governments to get tough on water safety campaigns.

Hannah’s Foundation founder, Andrew Plint, who lost his daughter to drowning in 2007, said that unlike funding for infrastructure and renewable energies, there is little funding for drowning prevention and awareness services because "there is no income derived from them.”

In most towns across Australia, swimming pools and aquatic centres provide weekly swimming and survival lessons for children. Unfortunately, at around $14 a pop, these lessons are seen as a luxury and privilege of the better off. As a mother in Australia, it is difficult to view water safety and survival as a luxury and this is definitely something that governments could look at subsidizing. If the City of Casey, in Victoria can invest in the environment by reimbursing parents for the purchase of cloth nappies over disposables, surely it can look at investing in a skill that will benefit children for life.

Of course, subsidizing swimming lessons and water survival courses does not create a safe play environment for children. Even adults who are strong swimmers can drown.

In 1992, the Pool Fencing Advisory Committee in NSW helped to ensure that fencing for backyard pools would become mandatory but there are no such laws for dams. It is true it would be almost impossible to fence 10, 20, 30 dams on a farm property, but it is not impossible to fence the house yard to create a safe environment for children to play. Nor is it unrealistic to expect that local governments fence the exposed lakes and dams they build among neighbourhoods, like the large lake at Wattle Grove in Western Sydney, a highly built-up area with a large proportion of young families.

But even adequate fencing has failed to prevent the deaths of some children whose best form of defense against a drowning end is close supervision by those charged with their care. According to some reports, over 70% of backyard drownings occur in fenced pools. And 60% of 4 year olds can climb a 1.2 metre high fence.

The most recent drowning accident in Queensland occurred when a 2 year old girl was playing outside while her father remained inside. He found her face down in the property’s dam 15 minutes after she went missing. Just days before, a 2 year old boy drowned in a cattle dip on his family’s property at Bundaberg. Dams are dangerous, even for adults and strong swimmers. Growing up, we were warned vociferously against approaching farm dams and were absolutely forbidden to enter them. Certainly a 2 year old might have difficulty with this kind of direction, but a 2 year old should not be out of sight of his guardian, most particularly in a yard that is within walking distance of a dam and not properly fenced.

Queensland’s Premier, Anna Bligh stated this week, "…it may well be time for us to have some discussions with rural producer groups and local governments about what, if anything, we can be doing to make sure that those dams are a little safer.” You think…

She continued, "The reality is that on-farm dams are often a very important part of the rural production that the farm is focused on, so you have to be very sensible and have something that's workable."

Jamie Cupples, executive director of Farmsafe Queensland had a workable and common-sense solution for parents this week, "Fence off your house or part of your yard. Keep your child contained in a secure play area coupled with supervision."

© Eva Whiteley 2010