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Covid-19 Lockdown: Children at risk of becoming silent victims of the pandemic

During the current pandemic, parents and adults are experiencing an unusual uncertainty in their lives. These feelings of helplessness are magnified amongst children because they mirror the vulnerability of the caregivers they live with and are dependent on.

Coupled with the fear of falling sick, children are worried not only about being able to see their friends and relatives again, but also the resumption of school and their old routines.

It is often difficult for parents to calm their children’s anxieties because their own worlds have also been shaken to the core.

Evidence suggests that children are less vulnerable to the effects of the coronavirus, and exhibit mild symptoms (largely) if they contract the disease. However, while children have a lowered probability of becoming infected, they are experiencing effects of the virus equally.

It has been indicated that compared to adults, the covid-19 pandemic may continue to have increased long term adverse consequences on children. The associated lockdown and social distancing measures have impacted children both directly and indirectly.

DIRECT IMPACTS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON CHILDREN

1. Closure of Schools

For children, schools are not only a source of mental stimulation, but also help them in developing a social circle, along with contributing to physical development. For many, although the dissemination of education has shifted to digital platforms (many still lacking, thereof), the window for the scope of interaction with friends and peers has become limited.

Even a short-term shutdown of educational institutions and home captivity for children is indeed troublesome and anticipated to have detrimental effects on children’s physical and mental health. It also shatters the sense of normalcy that schools provide.

With the closure of schools and a lack of routine in place, children are adopting aberrant dietary and sleeping habits which are likely to disrupt children’s usual lifestyle and can potentially promote monotony, distress, impatience, annoyance and varied neuropsychiatric manifestations.

According to Anne-Sophie Dybdal, Senior Child Protection Advisor at the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Unit of Save the Children,

“People who are outside regularly have a lower activity in the part of the brain that focuses on repetitive negative emotions. This is one of the reasons children can slide into negative feelings or even depression during the circumstances they are living in now.”

According to a report, more than half the children who were not in touch with friends reported feeling less happy (57%), more worried (54%) and less safe (58%).

On the other hand, children who were able to interact with friends in person and virtually, reported considerably lowered percentages including only 5% who were less happy, 5% who were more worried and 6% who felt less safe.

Photo: Save the Children

2. Increased Risk of Online Harm

A survey of more than 3,000 parents found that screen time for their kids had increased by 500% during the pandemic. This has increasingly become acceptable considering children have limited options to occupy themselves with. However, more important than monitoring the screen time is the regulation of the screen time children are being exposed to.

During the covid-19 lockdown, the regulation of social media and the internet has been compromised through different ways.

Rise of Online Learning

The closure of schools has compelled the schooling system to make an online transition. Further, there has been an influx of online courses that parents are signing up their children for, to help them use the time at home productively.

The use of the internet for learning and socializing with friends may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying.

Zoombombing’ is a term that has hit the headlines since the covid-19 outbreak, and it refers to the disruption of Zoom conference meetings by unauthorized participants.

In Singapore, during the first week of lockdown, the streaming of a geography lesson was interrupted with inappropriate pictures and comments from strangers, and forced the suspension of Zoom as a tool for home-based learning. Schools in China and California (USA) have also witnessed hacking attempts and racist or sexist interruptions of live streaming sessions, with school communities also suspending the use of the tool. 

In addition, while it may seem like hackers won’t target children or that online learning websites can seem harmless, anyone, young or old, can be a target for identity theft, computer viruses or online scams. And by breaching any secure password, hackers get one step closer to accessing secure data.

Transition to Automated Monitoring Systems

As most of the online social network companies have shifted their in-office employees to ‘work from home’ mode, the regulation and review of potentially harmful contents have gone automated from manual. This automated content moderation has multidimensional fallacies and the resultant response may be late or inapt.

In simpler terms, it means that the content that was previously monitored by a human team, to report and clean questionable content, has now been replaced by automated monitoring systems to flag and remove inappropriate content. The automated response is not as effective and the discrepancy is being exploited by offenders to abuse children online.

Suppressed Security Mechanisms

Parents may suppress security mechanisms to facilitate their children to have access to an unlimited and uncensored time online, to help them cope with their monotonous routine. This is also an opportunity being taken advantage of by cyber criminals.

A report released by Europol, titled Pandemic Profiteering, stated that there was an increase in online activity by those seeking ‘child abuse material’. The report found a correlation between this increased activity being consistent with online postings in forums by offenders.

The rise is attributed to children being expected to be more vulnerable, less supervised, having more online exposure and are thus easy targets.

3. Unfair Distribution of Household Chores

During the covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the inequity in the distribution of household chores between the genders has become pronounced.

Compared to boys, girls are becoming more burdened with increased responsibilities. Disease outbreaks, like the coronavirus, increase girls’ and young women’s duties caring for elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school.  

According to a survey, 63% of girls are more often tasked to do more chores around the house, compared to 43% of boys. More than half of the girls interviewed (52%) reported they were spending more time caring for siblings compared to 42% of boys. 20% of girls reported that they have too many chores to do to be able to learn, compared to 10% of boys.

4. Improved Parent-Child Relationships

Amongst the multiple negative effects of the covid-19 lockdown, parents and children alike have noticed considerably improved relationships.

A survey conducted amongst parents/caregivers reported that 39% of them had an improved relationship with their children since the outbreak, including that their children show more love and affection to them and/or that their children are happier spending more time with them.

The reporting of improved relationships with their children by these parents/caregivers varied significantly across regions though, with greater improvements reported in North America (65%) compared to the lowest reported improvements in the Pacific (16%).

Parents have reported that they engage with their children through different activities including reading, art, music, playing and watching TV.

Spending more time with parents/family and having a stronger relationship with family were also the primary themes highlighted by children when asked what they had enjoyed the most during the pandemic.

Grant McCracken, PhD, (a cultural anthropologist with decades of experience studying American families), conducted a research where he found that roughly half of American families believe they will come out of covid-19 stronger than they went in, while only 5% think they will be weaker.

Over 60% of families reported a much more connected bond between mothers and daughters since the pandemic began. According to Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Alisha Sweyd,

“Mothers now have more time and energy to commit to engaging in conversations with their daughters. Thus, the mother is actually engaging the daughter’s brain in the most effective way possible to strengthen the relationship”.

However, this is true majorly for younger children.

Adolescents and teenagers are experiencing an increase in their sense of isolation, depression, and loneliness. In addition to navigating schoolwork at home, many students have taken on new responsibilities, including childcare, housework, and part-time jobs.

Impact on Children Whose Parents are Frontline “Covid Warriors”

While children have been enjoying the increased presence of their parents at home, a group of children is experiencing the complete opposite.

The pandemic has witnessed an insurmountable burden on nurses, doctors and medical experts who have been asked to deliver beyond their capacity. Being present professionally has meant these parents to be absent at home most of the time, to attend to the needs of their children. There is also the fear of contamination which further limits their interaction. Basic necessities for raising a child, like breastfeeding, are being jeopardized, if the mother is a frontline healthcare worker.

Young children may not understand why their parents are not returning.

Older children and adolescents with more mature thinking may offer respect toward their parents for being involved in the fight against the deadly coronavirus.

While medical professionals are being hailed as heroes on one end, there is also a polar reaction being displayed by a segment of population that is fearing the disease. Covid Warriors are threatened with possible eviction to avoid the potential spread of the disease. The unfair and unjust behavior being witnessed by children of these frontline healthcare workers, may lead to long-term psychological consequences like anger, aggression and generalized disregard for the society.

Roxane Cohen Silver, a social psychologist at the University of California, Irvine, specializes in human responses to mass trauma. According to her,

“The impact on a child’s sense of safety depends on the extent to which the family is affected. If there is a drastic change in their economic consequences, this event would shape the children’s view of the world.”

5. Psychological Implications

In one study out of China, researchers examined a sample group of 2,330 schoolchildren for signs of emotional distress. The kids had been locked down for an average of 33.7 days. After that single month, 22.6% of them reported depressive symptoms and 18.9% were experiencing anxiety.

Studies have identified interrelated sources of distress children may be experiencing during the current times.  These include, but are not limited to:

  • Stress associated with the fear that family members, friends or they themselves will become ill/infected
  • The fear associated with stigmatization, if exposed to the virus (particularly for children of health care and other essential services workers)
  • Feelings of loneliness, which are pronounced if a family member falls sick. The effects of being alone are also reinforced by physical distancing measures.
  • Stress associated with uncertainty around the duration of the pandemic
  • Stress resulting from intensified media coverage

Younger children are more susceptible to picking up cues around the house. Findings reveal that during the covid-19 lockdown, children have felt uncertain, fearful and isolated. According to a study, younger children, aged 3 to 6 years, have been more likely to exhibit symptoms of clinginess and the fear of family members being infected than older children (6 to 18 years old).

Older children were more likely to experience inattention and were persistently inquiring regarding covid-19.

Although, severe psychological conditions including increased irritability, inattention and clinging behavior were revealed by all children, irrespective of their age groups.

The toll the pandemic has taken over psychologically amongst children, is also presenting itself as physical manifestations. According to a study, children have experienced disturbed sleep, nightmares, poor appetite, agitation, inattention and separation related anxiety.

This has also been substantiated by a research implemented across 46 countries by Save the Children, where 46% of parents/caregivers reported observing changes in children’s behavior, with around 1 in 5 parents/caregivers reporting changes in appetite (19%) and sleep (24%). 1 in 6 (17%) reported changes in emotional regulation in their children, 8% reported more aggressive behavior and 4% reported the use of violence against others since the outbreak.

INDIRECT IMPACT OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON CHILDREN

Besides being directly affected by the pandemic, children have also landed on the receiving end of how the adults they live with are reacting to the social distancing and lockdown measures.

The impact on the children’s families has trickled down to them, in the form of increased domestic violence.

Increased Domestic Violence

The unemployment crisis and the economic uncertainty, along with feelings of restlessness and irritability, whilst stuck at home for long periods of time, have led to heightened tensions in the household. This has resulted in children facing multiple forms of abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregivers.

Social isolation is known to be a risk factor for child abuse . Researchers have found that all types of child abuse become more frequent during school holidays, summer breaks, and natural disasters (disease outbreaks, hurricanes, etc.). Women in an abusive relationship and their children are more likely to be exposed to domestic violence and abuse when family members spend more time in close contact with each other and when families have to cope with additional stress, financial problems, and/or unemployment.

Some forms of violence that children are being exposed to during the covid-19 pandemic and lockdown include:

  • Yelling or shouting (including verbal abuse)
  • Physical punishment (including hitting the child)
  • Aggressive behavior towards the children

The situation may be worsened if the virus causes the loss of parental care due to death, illness or separation.

Further, systems that were in place to prevent and report child abuse have also been disrupted. Measures to contain the virus have affected delivery of vital support and treatment services as well as contact with informal support networks. During the crisis, identifying children at risk is inherently more challenging given that many adults who would typically recognize signs of abuse, such as teachers, childcare workers, coaches, extended family and community members and child and family welfare workers, are no longer in regular contact with children.

IMPACT ON UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN

The pandemic lockdown has not only highlighted the need to put in place efficient social structures but has also worsened the pre-exiting social inequity.

The most affected group during the covid-19 outbreak are underprivileged children, who will take years to recover from the negative consequences of the pandemic.

Increase in Child Labor

The covid-19 crisis could lead to the first rise in child labor after 20 years of progress. The global number of child laborers decreased by almost one-third since 2000. But this progress is seen to be at risk because with the loss or reduction of household income, there may be an increased need or expectation for children to contribute to their families financially by engaging in work (which may include exposure to hazardous or exploitative forms of work).

Increase in Child Marriages

Child marriages are often encouraged primarily by financial incentives. During the covid-19 lockdown, when there is rampant economic uncertainty and an unemployment crisis, families may view child marriages as a potential means to gain financial security. This practice may be hastened by the closure of schools where the education of girls has been interrupted, and they are being viewed as a liability to the family.

Nutritional Deprivation

Children belonging to underprivileged families already faced the threat of malnutrition. The covid-19 crisis has further led to an acute deprivation of food distribution.

According to a survey conducted in 122 villages in India, the nutritional status of children and pregnant and lactating women of underprivileged sections in Madhya Pradesh has been poor, with their nutrition (food) intake in terms of net calories showing deficit of 51%, 67% and 68% respectively. This meant that the kids got less than half of required nutritious food while the women got only one-third of what is recommended for them.

In countries where children relied on school meals, are now facing shortage of food. In the UK, in 2019, 1·3 million children were eligible for free school meals, and a further 1 million children (deemed ineligible for free meals) were estimated to be living in food insecurity. In the USA, rural counties have been hit hardest by restricted food access; during the covid-19 pandemic, rates of food insecurity have doubled from 18% to 35%.

Increased Domestic and Sexual Violence

In the absence of any monetary sources to sustain the household, many poor families are feeling helpless which is leading to increased frustrations.

By the reason of displacement, the frustration and family conflict may manifest itself in the form of violence towards children. Further, with restricted movement because of the lockdown, children have become the most accessible and vulnerable targets of exploitation and sexual abuse

The Deputy Director of ‘CHILDLINE 1098’ India, announced that India saw a 50% increase in the calls received on helpline for children since the lockdown began.

Likewise, children without parents or guardians are more prone to exploitation.

Summary

The covid-19 outbreak is impacting children both directly and indirectly. The associated lockdown has led to closure of schools which is interfering with the mental, physical and social development of children. This has also meant the transition to online learning, which is putting children at risk of potential threats prevalent across the digital platforms being used. There are studies that have highlighted how the fear of the virus, and the quarantine measures are causing increased levels of depression and anxiety amongst children. On the positive side, parents working from home has meant an increased time spent with family, which children are declaring a highlight of the outbreak. However, on the flip side, children of frontline “Covid Warriors” are experiencing the opposite, because of the increased burden on medical professionals.

There have also been reports of increased domestic violence directed towards children, as a consequence of adults targeting children to cope with their frustrations.

The most affected group during the covid-19 outbreak are underprivileged children, who are experiencing increased involvement in child labor and increased domestic and sexual violence. There is also a rise in child marriages to help poor families gain financial security. The covid-19 crisis has also led to an acute deprivation of food distribution.

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Covid-19 Lockdown: What are adults struggling with other than the virus.

The covid-19 outbreak has affected everyone in one way or the other. Whether it is the children or adults. It has given a strong strain on mental health, financial aspects, and family relationships more than ever. It is quite true to say that this pandemic has completely changed our lives.

Being in lockdown for months has been challenging for adults. Many families have suffered from the virus physically as well as a lot of them coping up with the loss of a loved one. This condition has significantly increased the risk of mental stress and negative emotions in adults.

Here are a few areas to see how lockdown has impacted adults in different aspects of life.

Added Responsibility for Parents

Parents are going through the exceptional challenges of managing children alone. With schools and day-care services have been suspended, they are called to take the role of the teacher as well as caretaker round the clock while continuing their work commitments. Not only this but parents also go through the day to day challenges that include:

  • Struggle with establishing a healthy routine which includes academics, extracurricular activities, and bedtime.
  • Finding age-appropriate indoor activities for children and a balanced screen time.
  • Ensuring hand washing and other hygienic aspects to protect children and other family members.
  • Challenges of virtual learning.
  • Counseling about distant learning, social distancing, lockdown, and safety protocols.

Impact on work-life balance:

The ability to work effectively has been reduced by working parents due to lockdown and working from home. 47% of fathers reported that children are impacting the ability to do work from home while 31% of working mothers also reported the same.

Most adults are going through employee burnout because of overwhelming job demands, exhaustion, and improper routines.

Finances

Covid 19 lockdown has put a major financial burden on the families. Households with children are more likely to report difficulty paying for usual expenses. Parents are also worried about educational expenses, their savings, and future expenditures for the family.

A lot of people have gone unemployed due to the economic crisis. Others are worried about losing their jobs. Employees at workplaces are forced to take leaves to prevent overcrowding. The pandemic has given a drastic effect on the economy and both employees and employers are suffering the effects.

Emotional and Mental wellness

People are constantly worried about the risk of being infected as well as concerned about the loved ones getting infected. 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus.

  • The fast spread of the virus and insufficient trust in treatment led people to continuously suffer from anxiety.
  • Having indoors for months has become mentally overwhelming for adults.
  • Adjusting into the new normal phase of continuously following safety protocols get exhausting, both physically and mentally.

Worry of future

The coronavirus pandemic is a difficult time for everyone. The uncertainty about the future is making it worse. People are still unsure about the normalcy of life when they will be able to travel safely and see long distant family, economic stability, and everything that the future holds. People also rethinking their investment plans and income strategies to manage financial challenges.

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Diary of an Annoying Baby

Dear Diary,

I always thought I was my parent’s sunshine. Or at least that’s what they’d led me to believe.

Doting upon me every now and then, attending to my every need, and choosing only the best there was possibly available.

So when the other day I heard my parents complaining to their friends about how they are finding this parenting business a bit frustrating, I was taken aback. I admit that bedtime could prolong a little and my crying may become sort of annoying, but finding out that all this while my actions were slowly becoming irritating gave me the shock of my life. I had no clue as to what had happened and why.

So here I am dear diary, writing an account of the past weekend in the attempts to identify what wrong had I done to gain such ill wills?

Saturday

I spent the day at my grandmother’s (nono) house where I usually feel like a king.

The royal treatment included playing with her all day, where she made no forceful attempts to put me to nap and catered to my nonsensical whims whenever. However, like always, it was only later that I realized something fishy was going on. I mean, how could a parent let their baby play with the drawing room’s crystals? Only nono was cool enough to care more about me than that fancy piece of crystal I kept throwing on the carpet.

Something was definitely wrong.

As I snapped back to reality, I figured the missing piece to the puzzle. A parent would never let their child have so much fun. Unless, they weren’t there in the first place.

My parents (which I later found out) had gone out for dinner, leaving me in the custody of my caring nono. The treachery slowly started to take over my senses and I showed signs of distress by exhibiting no interest in any sorts of games anymore. I refused to eat and said no to every toy.

When the bell rung I knew who’d it be.

Mama came forward to hug me. Instantly I let out a scream so high pitched that she had to cover her ears. Within seconds tears were rolling down my eyes and my limbs were frantically moving all across the floor.

I was officially throwing a tantrum. Incessant crying, spontaneous bouts of wails, and breathless sobs were the highlights of the outburst.

It took a good one hour for my parents to calm me down and even then I had the sad sniffles. I was angry and hurt at the same time and I made sure my parents knew this. However, by the end I was so exhausted that I’d fallen asleep in the car on the way back home.

Identified annoying habit #1: Mysterious crying aka temper tantrums

My rationale: I hate when my parents betray me like this. Each time they pull a stunt like that I feel the need to make them feel guilty for their actions. After all I am their child; their progeny; their lifeline!

Sunday

7:00 am

I woke up to the humming of the fan, snuggled cozily between my mama and abba (dad). Through the curtains I could see it was still early. The car ride last night had helped me go to sleep early and hence the reason for my unexpected early rise.

However, it seemed from my parents faces that they’d gone to bed quite late. Mama had two pillows under her head (a practice she usually follows when she’s got migraine), and abba had drool all over his chin (an indication that he was in deep sleep).

I fumbled around a bit trying to make myself more comfortable. I was still prickly. So I pushed a little more. It so happened, that mama was at the edge of the bed and when I arched my back she rolled down on the floor, opening her eyes to a rude awakening.

I giggled.

 My legs needed some more space so I pushed them high up in the air. They came down to plop on abba’s head. He got a little startled and wiped his face with the back of his hand in a funny manner.

I giggled again.

I plopped my legs again. This was fun.

Abba, however, did not seem pleased. He frowned every time I landed my legs between his neck and head. He took a pillow and put it over his head.

‘Abba. Abba. Abba’

I kept chanting till mama pulled me from behind and took me outside. She told me abba was up the whole night singing lullabies to me because all that crying from last night had given me gas and a tummy ache.

I giggled again. To me all this explanation was mumbo jumbo. It was fun while it lasted.

Identified annoying habit #2: Sleep sharing, which becomes worse when I go to bed at an odd time

My rationale: I just don’t feel comfortable sleeping alone in the crib and feel protected lying between my parents. Also, who doesn’t want to take advantage of all that cuddling from mama and abba?

9:00 am

I was still chirping like a happy bird when mama placed me in the high chair. I didn’t want anything to dampen my happy spirit.

So when mama placed the bowlful of sliced bananas in front of me I felt cheated. How could she ruin my mood by offering the same monotonous breakfast?

I was half expecting soda, or a slice of that chocolate cake in the fridge or even a bowlful of m&ms. But no, she chooses to offer a nutritious meal that will keep me full till lunch – no room for useless snacks.

I was furious. Yet again I put my vocal chords to work and started wailing.

‘This is all you’re going to have for breakfast’, she said and got back to scrambling eggs.

I had to do something else to get her attention. Actions speak louder than words. So I slowly tilted the bowl and gave it a gentle push.

*plonk*

It landed face down on the floor, scattering the food all over the floor.

*gasp*

Mama turned around to witness the accident and smacked her head.

I giggled again because mama seemed too funny doing that. It seemed that the trick worked because she slowly approached me and asked me in a sweet tone.

‘Tell me baby, do you want an apple?’

I shook my head.

‘Fruit loops?’

I shook again.

‘I know!’

She ran across to the fridge and took out some peaches. She hurriedly peeled the fruit, chopped up long slices and then even diced them so my non-dexterous baby fingers could easily grab them. With a triumphant smile she placed the finished dish in front of me. Then she waited in anticipation.

Her desire to watch me pick up a piece of those peaches prompted me to pull an act of mischief. So I tipped the bowl yet again.

*plonk*

I giggled once more as mama shook her head in despair.

Identified annoying habit #3: Food throwing

My rationale: The first time I didn’t like the bananas. The second time, mama’s eagerness forced me to act naughty. Otherwise when she ignores my silly actions I feel less prompted.

11:00 am

I was sitting on the floor taking out one book at a time from the drawer. I had exhausted my toys supply and there were no more toys for mama to take out from the cupboard.

And oh, did I mention that the two sets of blocks I own were all scattered across the floor?

Even after all this effort I still couldn’t seem to find what I was looking for.

Aha! Just as I was about to throw the last book out of the drawer my eyes looked at the object of my lifelong search: the pink color pencil!

I wanted to put the pink color pencil on top of my stacking blocks and witness how it’d look falling down. But as I turned around I saw mama putting back the toys in the basket.

I screamed in horror and crawled over hurriedly to snatch the half-filled basket from her hands. Immediately then I emptied the basket on the floor to non-verbally declare that I wasn’t done playing. Mama shrugged and walked out of the room mumbling under her breath.

I think I just made her mad.

Identified annoying habit #4: Creating a mess

My rationale: I lay out all my toys and books just because I am curious to find out about everything. How can I differentiate between an alligator and a crocodile if I can’t compare the one in my toys to that in the numbers book?

2:00 pm

When I saw mama drawing the curtains and switching on the bed lamp, I knew she was putting an end to my playtime. It was time for the afternoon nap but I wanted to play more. If only she wouldn’t be so cruel and let me race my cars around the whizz-around-garage.

I started to yell, with absent tears rolling down my cheeks.

She came forward to give me a hug and whispered in my ear,

‘Do you want to read your favorite book, Elephant’s Trunk?’

She had me at that question – she always does. I don’t know how she knows how much I love to look at the elephant’s colorful friends and move my fingers over his soft trunk. Either way, I squealed and twirled my legs to let her know I was excited. Mama came to lie beside me and started reading,

‘Elephant loves to blow his trunk at the start of everyday …. ‘

She flipped to the last page and then announced,

‘The End’

I looked at her with demanding eyes and tapped the book, a signal that I wanted her to read it again.

She pleasingly obliged.

Once again, she finished the story and closed the book. I tapped the book one more time.

She vehemently said, ‘no’. I started crying.

It seemed that my tactics were working, because she immediately opened the book to the first page and started reading again.

It was when mama was reading the story book for the seventh time that I heard her voice drift off. I looked at her worriedly and saw half her eyelids closing. Was mama falling asleep?

My suspicions were confirmed when the book slid from her hands.

*smack*

It landed right on top of her face. She seemed baffled.

I kept tapping the book with my closed fists again and again and again.

Half asleep, she kept reading the story till I could hear her voice in the distance as my eyes slowly started to feel heavy. Even then I nudged her each time I heard the story end, forcing her to keep repeating it over and over and over.

Identified annoying habit #6: Repetition

My rationale: I ask mama to repeat the story because at times I can’t remember the words she reads out loud. So when I hear it over it helps me remember. Also, I love to hear mama’s voice when I am going to sleep.

Image by Christopher Wright <https://www.artstation.com/artwork/zwVew&gt;

Dear Diary,

There you have it. I successfully identified five of the most annoying habits I may have seemed to develop. However, in my defence, these are not intentional. I am still at an age where I am learning. This comes from asking questions, exploring and identifying the effects my actions have on those who live with me. If in the process I tend to hurt someone I am always sorry. This apology though I cannot convey effectively. So I may come off as annoying and stubborn. I want my parents to have as much fun as I do when I am doing whatever they think is frustrating. If they see it from my eyes they’ll realize how much fun it is to be a baby.

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Body Connection and Self Love

By Zeina Habib ICF ACC Coach

Do you  feel on some days you’ve  been  holding your breath and you didn’t even realize it? Or you’re tensing all your muscles or clenching your teeth and are not even aware of it?

There are also days when you look in the mirror and you don’t like what you see; too many cellulitis, or your skin color is not perfect, or you’ve gained a pound and hate how you look. The list goes one and you can find many things you either hate or haven’t even noticed about your body.

Many of us have learned to be this disconnected,  as if our body has no role in our daily life unless we’re sick. We may have also been brought up loathing how our body looks or fearing the sin and  shame it may represent.

However, recent studies have confirmed that self love, self expression and self care are not possible if we don’t love and care for every part of our being, including our body.

We cannot be creative and curious if we don’t feel safe and connected to our own skin. 

Communication is more than 50% body language, our self worth is linked to how we view our body and  our first impressions of people are based on their bodies. Our brains make assumptions about gender, age, culture and race, the moment we see someone; and the more we know about our body and that of others, the more likely we are to be curious and compassionate instead of judgemental. 

This brings us to me writing this article for all the women  and mothers who want to embark on that self discovery and make sure they teach their kids connection instead of disconnection.

The first step in loving our bodies is getting to know it. What is our body like when I am stressed, hurt, happy, angry or relaxed? How does my body help me express my emotions? 

Just like emotional awareness, body awareness is all about asking ourselves these questions and using tools that will help us figure out. 

So in the next part of this article, I will go over a few tools I have learned from being a coach and from several books and conferences I have attended.

1- Body awareness and grounding 

Body awareness and grounding are very important and simple strategies to connect to our bodies. 

Body awareness is the simple act of  feeling every part of your body in space and time. How does your butt feel on the chair? How does your core feel? Is there any tension in any of your muscles? How about your fingers and your toes?

You’d be surprised how many times we realize we have been holding tension in our core or shoulders without being aware of it.

You can do this exercise any time during the day while you’re seated or  stretching out or walking.  I suggest taking a slow inhale from your nose using your abdomen and then exhaling through your mouth  slowly (i.e longer exhales than inhales)  while focusing on how each area of your body feels. 

If you feel any tension anywhere in your body, make sure you relax it or stretch it out for a few minutes. 

Grounding on the other hand, is a simple technique that allows you to bring your mind to the present. It is mostly used when feeling anxious, stressed or fearful. When you are having feelings that make you feel  lost inside your head, grounding helps  you  reconnect to your senses and to  the  present moment. 

The best way to do this is to put your feet on the ground and focus on feeling connected to  earth by using the breathing technique described above. Sometimes, looking around the room for items of a certain color or shape helps calm you down and bring you to the present. The basic idea of this is to reconnect to your senses so you are back in reality in the present moment. Needless to say, if you are experiencing chronic  anxiety or panic attacks, you should consult a therapist or coach.

2- Stress release 

In their book “ Burnout, the secret to unlocking the stress cycle” Emily and Amelia Nagoski talk about the stress cycle and the role our body plays in releasing stress. In summary, they say that  even when you’re no longer in contact with the stressor (i.e whatever is stressing you out), it is not enough to relax,  you need to finish what they call  the stress cycle.

Your body does not feel safe until it has released all the stress it has built up.

So, leaving work may remove the stressor of that day but your body will stay in stress mode until it has released the stress. They talk about multiple techniques to do so, the most important one being physical activity. It can be  any type of movement from running to  walking to dancing etc. Just don’t lift heavy weights since this  adds more stress instead.

In the end releasing stress comes back to us being connected to our body. There are many other useful techniques besides movement you can resort to such as a 20 second hug and creative art and you can find all these details by reading the book. 

3- Demystifying body standards

In her book “ The body is not an apology”, Sonya Renee Taylor talks about the importance of the body in our life. In her opinion,  the one thing we all agree on is that we all  have a body that we exist through and no one can deny that, no matter what God you believe in or what country you live in, this truth applies.

However, over the years, beauty standards put in place for  marketing purposes have been used to make us feel our body is not enough.

White skinny barbies or models on TV and magazines are used to make us all believe this is what we could look like if we try hard enough. They  removed all signs of cellulitis or wrinkles using photoshop so the women would look flawless. The problem with that is that it’s impossible.  Needless to say,  it still drove many women to try and achieve the perfect body, hating their present one in the process. 

This is why we need to change our perspective. 

We need to learn to love our bodies and teach our kids that there are many types of beauty out there. I am not just speaking about body shape but also about race, gender identity and disability. If our kids grow up hearing stories about people from different races with different body shapes or having disabilities, their normal will be different than ours.

This point in my opinion is the most crucial, it either sets kids  for the development of shame, fear and eating disorders or for the development of  curiosity, acceptance and self love.  

So what should we do to change our perspective and then that of our kids?

  • Take care of your body in the way you see fit.
  • Do gratitude exercises everyday including gratitude for body features.
  • Follow and buy from brands who support body diversity and have all types of beauty standards.
  • Join support groups that empower all body shapes and types. 
  • Read, and watch movies especially with your kids that support body diversity. This is very important for kids to grow up seeing this diversity and creating a new normal for themselves.
  • Watch out for the quality of self talk or the way you talk with your kids. Try to exclude body shaming language (i.e instead of I look fat, say  I’m beautiful I may have gained a pound and I can do something about that if I want to)

4- Respecting your body limits

This one is very important  especially when raising kids.

Growing up in the Middle East, there was always a neighbor or  a family member who wanted a hug or a kiss from me from me as a little girl . You’d hear my mom say, “ Go ahead honey, give teta (grandma in Lebanon) a hug” and so on. As a kid, I felt forced sometimes if I was not in the mood or simply uncomfortable around that person. Now when I look back on it, it felt as if I had no control over my body.

Forward a few years later I hated affection. I didn’t want anyone hugging me or kissing me and felt suffocated by it.

Affection is only stress relieving when it’s safe and wanted.  It is important as parents to give our kids the choice of where they want to be friendly and affectionate and with whom.

We need to also model that for them, as an adult woman, you have the right for your own limits, your own decisions when it comes to your space, contraception, your health and your body safety.

The same should be passed on to our kids whether it’s affection or later on decisions about their sexual life or their health. 

5- Expressing feelings

For me, being a dancer, my body is how I express my feelings and communicate them to the world. I speak through every movement. The same goes for people who paint, write, act or do any form of art. You don’t have to be a professional to express yourself through your body, it can be any hobby you pickup. It is important to feel safe moving and to notice if any shameful self talk comes up. Art is only liberating when we let go of shameful talk that could be limiting us from accessing our full potential. 

So monitor that self talk and connect with your amazing body. Let it all out. 

In the end, there are many books and studies that link trauma healing, self image and a healthy life with how connected we are to our bodies. So, we have a responsibility as women to face the discomfort and  shame that we may feel when moving  from being disconnected from our bodies to finding that connection again. We owe it to ourselves to live and love fully and we owe it to future generations to plant seeds of love, connection and care. 

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Find Yourself amidst the Chaos of Parenting

Parenting is exhausting.

To some it may seem like an unpopular opinion but there is some truth to it. Raising children demands our complete attention and dedication, and often times in the attempts to fulfill our responsibility as a parent we may get lost.

With the influx of ‘too much information’, it is difficult to gauge whether how and where we are going with our lives is acceptable or not. Family, friends, books and the internet, all are sources of information that tend to influence our decisions. These unconsciously enforce performance standards that compel us to ignore our innate sense of right or wrong, and influence our confidence to do so. Our confidence then is reinforced by outside of ourselves (what others think of us) rather than what we want to do.   

In this cycle of validation and trying to do what is the absolute right, we often ignore ourselves and what we want.

 ‘Who am I?’

I am a daughter to my parents, a wife to my husband, a mother to my children and a writer to my readers. However, these are merely roles that I play to the interactions in my life. None of these encompass who I truly am.

Ask yourself: who am I?

If the question makes you uncomfortable, you are content with being assigned the roles you play. However, if you are curious, you are on the path to self-discovery. This is the first step to finding yourself.

To know yourself is to know your purpose, your values, your visions, your motivations, your beliefs and what exactly you want out of life.

During the initial years of motherhood, I was often left confused trying to figure out why I was in a constant state of anxiety. After graduating from business school, I was able to land a job which made me feel that all those years of late night studying and stressing over career goals was worth it. But then when I chose to become a stay at home mom, I figured there was something missing: a validation from my own self. While I did not consider myself to be an inadequate mother (and my child was also thriving) I wanted something to help me remind of myself beyond the role of a mother. Thanks to the internet, I started to pen down my thoughts and share it with an audience. Apparently people were interested in reading what I wrote, and they encouraged me to write more. Slowly I started to find pieces of myself that were part of an identity I had pushed aside.

The moral of the story is that instead of depending on any external force to intervene and guide you to a happier state, it is an individual’s own responsibility to acknowledge and adopt an internal locus of control.

That’s what I tried to do, and thankfully I succeeded. This by no means implies that I find no comfort in being a mother. I love being a mother to my children. At times my heart swells with so much love that I pray I am reunited with them in a better place after life.

But I also love myself. My identity that once was; the one that I would like to keep.

Self Awareness: What do I want?

For some, the process of self-discovery may be easy. For many, not so much. Discovering yourself requires a high level of introspection and self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. It is categorized into internal self-awareness (how well you know yourself) and external self-awareness (how well you understand how others see you), and a balance between the two implies high levels of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the mindset that encompasses your feelings, values and core principles. It is the process of understanding your own character, motives, and desires. All these elements provide the basis for the facts we may be seeking during introspection.

These take the form of repetitive patterns in our daily life through how we assume our identities. For example, if you find yourself often being praised for being responsible to your parents, responsibility is likely one of your inner values. If you feel a compelling need to always be there for your friends, reliability is probably an important value to you. If you are regularly late in submitting your work and this is creating professional problems, you are suffering from a habit of procrastination. These behaviors have an immediate effect on our relationships. Some may have a lasting positive impact, while habits like procrastinating may cause more harm than good.

The good thing is that self-awareness can be learnt through simple exercises. These exercises can calm our minds, quiet our thoughts, relax our bodies, and make us more in control of ourselves. They help in escaping an impulsive reaction to events and emotions and facilitate in choosing our response to any situation.

  • Exercise # 1: Feedback

Actively ask for feedback from people you interact with and listen to what piece of advice they have to offer.

  • Exercise # 2: Physical Activity

Engage in movement that requires thought.  Exercise that requires you to be mentally present helps hone your self-awareness. These include competitive team sports like football, which demand analytical thinking on-the-go, and yoga which places an emphasis on mind-body connection.

If you can, give a go at extreme sports. Challenging sports teach you that physical limits are breakable. They teach you that your limits are not fixed but temporary. And most importantly they show you that everything holding you back is in your head. 

  • Exercise # 3: Record your emotions

Keep a journal of your feelings. Write down what was happening, what you were feeling, and how you reacted. Was there a physical reaction, such as racing heart, body ache or nausea?

  • Exercise # 4: Identify your emotions

Imagine going into a situation and predict how you will feel. Practice naming and accepting the feelings. You might say “I may feel angry”, or “I may feel frustrated”. Naming the feeling puts you in control. Try to choose an appropriate reaction to the feeling rather than just reacting to it.

  • Exercise # 5: What’s beneath your identities?

Make a list of your roles and write down the feeling connected to each role. Your feelings for each role might be happy, frustrated, anxious etc. Think of as many feelings as you can.

Rumina is a mother of 3, who wanted to give undivided attention to her children. At the same time, she was interested in implementing her knowledge about Marketing in a productive way. She looked for options to work from home or through an outlet that would not compromise her choice to be with her children. Rumina made a conscious effort to become self-aware of what she wanted and how she would be able to manage it. With a renewed focus and determination, she put her skills set to use and started writing reviews about restaurants for different websites and also contributed to MuslimMoms.ca. She continued to pursue her expertise in marketing and made an Instagram account which has built over the years and helped her become an influencer. She has successfully collaborated with multiple restaurants, brands and local businesses in Canada. Today she has a registered business under FoodiliciousMuslimmom, and is working extensively with a vast number of Bloggers around Canada and the United States. The name of her business is a representation of her passion and her identity.

Self-Awareness Helps in Connecting with Inner Self

Self-awareness helps in uncovering our inner self and at times may lead to a conflict between who we really are and what we are expected to do, i.e. our inner self and identities.

As parents trying to pursue our interests and our passions, we may often feel that we are not doing complete justice to our role as a mother or a father. We may question yourself whether the time we spend on ourselves could be used to read another book with our children.

This unsettling feeling stems from the pressure to conform. Conformity is an outcome of peer pressure to perform according to the standards as set by our external environment. The will to battle conformity leads to inner alignment.

Inner alignment helps us in exploring our true self. This means that once we align our inner selves we tend to uncover our true potential and find out the qualities that help us differentiate from others. This does not mean that we try to find out whether we are better or worse than other people; it means that we acknowledge the fact that we are different. Just like everyone else is from each other.

Courtney Brown was a stay at home mom, who was passionate about fashion. Having a young daughter, Courtney has always looked for productive shopping solutions that could save her time and money. She noticed that friends and family members often asked her how and where she dressed so fashionably. It inspired her to create a place where women could freely ask for advice and find affordable fashion solutions. In 2007, she pursued her interest and found Cents of Style. Today, it is a multi-million dollar company

When you align what you feel inside as being you with the identity you present to the outside world, you will no longer need to constantly “remember” what you need to project to the world. This lies in identifying qualities that we display to the word and that we feel within us. These qualities then genuinely belong to us. For example we might boast of being good at baking and at the same time are able to make absolutely breathtaking cakes. This alignment between our outer and inner identities then clearly recognizes our quality of being a potential baker. However, if you say you find interest in reading and are unable to finish a book without forcing yourself, then this discrepancy indicates a mismatch between the outer and inner identities.

Whatever your inner identity rejects, you need to let go of. Whatever your outer identity rejects from your inner identity let it go. They are both lies that keep you from being authentically you.

Trust yourself. It might seem a daunting task – especially in times of distress and doubt when you are going out on a limb to feel better. But that is when it is needed the most, that sense of self-reliance. Learn to trust your instincts, the inner voice that is suppressed by the screaming world outside. Once you find this voice it sets you on a path of discovering the true you. That is when you will feel confident and let go of the fears you’ve harvested for yourself.

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Is the Use of Social Media Turning Us into Bad Parents?

Every parent is over the moon when their child takes their first step. Some cheer, some cry happy tears and more so make a video and upload it on Facebook.

Any of these actions seem acceptable in an age where social media has become an integral part of our lives. As parents, it is often difficult to judge whether our interactions with social media are justified or not.

These are still the times when we are experimenting and learning how social media may have affected our parenting.

While it may be a while before concrete conclusions are drawn, what we can do is, adopt a moral compass to gauge whether social media may be doing more harm than good.

https://www.instagram.com/edmon_deharo/?hl=en

For that we need to ask ourselves some questions.

Am I Invading My Child’s Privacy?

When we upload a post about our children, we are creating their digital footprint on the World Wide Web. Often times this digital footprint is created without the consent of the child, because at such a young age they trust your decisions and believe they have no power to question them.

Parents may often overlook the need to seek their child’s consent or adhere to the protection of their privacy. They may choose to indulge in sharing the child’s personal information or photographs on social media. This behavior has become so common that the Wall Street Journal encouraged the creation of the word “sharenting”, where they called it “oversharenting”; a combination of “over-sharing” and “parenting”. The practice stems from the connected nature of social media early-adopters, who are comfortable sharing their lives online. When they had children, they began to share large numbers of pictures of them online.

This practice has been examined and has led parents to question it. According to a survey, 24% of respondents said that they worry that the post will come back to haunt their child as a teen or an adult, while 32% have deleted a post about their child that they feared was oversharing.

Am I Neglecting My Child?

Social media is taking precedence over essential family communication. A recent report (conducted by the communication watchdog in the UK, Online Nation and the regulator Ofcom, as well as research by the online parenting magazine KinBox) has revealed that social media as well as other types of technology are leading families in the United Kingdom to feel increasingly disconnected from one another. This is causing families to become emotionally distant because the opportunities for possible interaction are being replaced with technology. For instance, when a child aged 3 or 4 years old throws a tantrum, they are quickly handed over (most times) a cell phone. This is instead of allowing the toddler to manage his emotions and regulate his feelings.

“If your child is allowed on the phone regularly this can result in a lack of opportunity to talk and connect as members of the family. Family relationships are being diluted by the presence of this third party,” says Ní Dhraighneáin, a Specialist Child-centered Play Therapist based in Clonakilty,

According to an anthropological study it was observed that family interactions during meals at fast food chains included 73% of parents using mobile devices during dinner and often appearing to “zone out” their children.

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Psychologist says that, “We are behaving in ways that certainly tell children they don’t matter, they’re not interesting to us, they’re not as compelling as anybody, anything, any ping that may interrupt our time with them.”

This overuse of technology is making children feel neglected.

When we are constantly on our phone checking social media, we are sending an unsaid and unintended message to our children that they are not our priority.

They learn to internalize the fact that our attention is being divided between their live presence and a lifeless device.

Am I Encouraging My Child to Become a Narcissist?

Social media has given its users the opportunity to showcase literally anything. From sharing a thought they may have had during the day, to posting about their accomplishments. The same behavior extends for their children when parents choose to highlight their children’s achievements online. Sixty one percent of Parents’ survey respondents believe parents brag too much on social media. Parents who brag online are often seen not only as obnoxious but also because the onlookers to feel a sense of inferiority and engage in a competition that may be false to begin with.

As we upload our child’s achievements or their photographs we are subtlety teaching our children to depend upon the validation from the number of “likes”, “shares” or “followers” we get. This can develop into a lack of empathy and feelings of entitlement.

Further, the implications of online bragging (about the child’s achievements) may affect their  emotional state. This is leading to the creation of a generation with “high arrogance and low self-esteem“.

The parents’ over affirmation in the early years include rewarding the child at possibly everything they do without much effort. However, this kind of reward system becomes absent once the child ages and starts witnessing individuals smarter than him. They then start questioning their perception of affirmation and start doubting their capabilities.

There is also a class of parents who want to sound humble yet boast about their children. This is called “humble bragging”, a term coined by a writer on Parks and Recreation, Harris Wittels, and it describes a way to brag about your life and accomplishments in a covert way that allows you to avoid shame or guilt. This type of bragging is worse than being bold.

“But humble bragging is disingenuous,” says social media expert Karen North, Ph.D., Director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at the University of Southern California.

“It’s manufactured modesty as a guise for overt bragging.”

And it’s this dishonesty that bothers people. The opposing nature of a humble bragging post (my friends want me to come to the beach but all I want is to chill at home) is provoking because it asks readers to go in two directions at once, reaction-wise.

Am I Spying on My Child?

With multiple social media platforms available, and our children signing up for a majority of them, we are given the access to our children’s personal lives. If we want, we can choose to stalk them from the comfort of our couch. We can witness their every day life, their friends, their hangouts, and even check every financial transaction they have made. Parents may even tear down boundaries and browse through their phones for more information.

Photos, stories and videos of their actions may stream on our timelines in a way that it might become difficult for parents to resist. However, it is then important to realize that as parents we need to give space to our children. Spying is not a healthy way to keep up with the lives of our children. Bonding with them and listening to what they say and what they might not, helps develop a strong relationship between parents and children.

Do I Trust My Child with Social Media?

The uncontrollable penetration of social media into our children’s lives is forcing the integration of trust in a parent-child relationship. This trust is translated as the choice to monitor your child’s activities instead of choosing to spy on them.

As opposed to spying (which diminishes all forms of protection of one’s privacy) monitoring helps promote an open communication between the child and the parent.

The parent’s oversight is a safety measure that allows children, in most cases teens, to engage independently with technology. They are able to prove their responsibility and gain valuable experiences while maintaining privacy. It serves as merely a preventive technique for protection against predators and cyber bullies.

Monitoring provides lessons in communication and offers parents a chance to connect with their children. The ideal way to monitor technology involves parents actively and openly communicating with their teens. This method requires a lot of dialogue, intentional interactions and proactive education.

According to the PEW Research Internet Project, it is estimated that 68% of parents claim to have incorporated rules about the types of internet sites their teens are allowed to visit. Most also have guidelines regarding what personal information gets shared online. Games are monitored as well with 67% of parents restricting what kinds of video games are or are not allowed to be played.

Am I Communicating With My Child?

The irony of using social media is that parents and children are distant when they are together, but are more present when they are apart. This is often seen when parents and children despite being in the same room choose their screens over human interaction, and while at school or at work, they will text, send photos or share updates about what is going on with them.

In this manner, social media is facilitating communication between children and parents, especially teenagers who are often times harder to reach considering the demands of their social and school life. However, this does not mean that parents have a right to infiltrate their child’s online space. Parents should understand that their child’s digital presence is as sacred as their real life, and includes their peers and friends. Social media gives parents the opportunity to empathize with their children and understand the importance of communicating effectively. Social media helps parents to pause before responding or commenting on their child’s posts and realize the impact it may have.

Conclusion

When we pick up our phones, we may find ourselves to be making the excuse that this is for only a minute. While it is no sin to catch up on global updates, or squeeze in a few minutes to check up on your friends’ life events, it does make a difference once those minutes turn into hours and your children wait for their turn to be attended to. Parenting in the age of social media is making everyone question how it has altered the concept of being a parent and how its use can be managed effectively.

What is the Cost of Not Investing in Your Daughter’s Education?

According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of 6 and 17 are out of school and 15 million girls of primary school age will never enter a classroom. Although cultural and social norms differ across societies, there is a common pattern when it comes to the educational status of girls.


Cultural barriers, infrastructure and financial constraints have limited women’s participation in the formal labor force. This implies that girls are not prioritized in a household’s education investment decisions.


There may be a varying level of investment in girls’ education across the different socio-economic classes, but there is always the question of,


“How much return would a girl child’s education yield when compared to a boy?”


Apparently it is assumed to be lesser.


However, if we look at it from a different perspective we can observe that besides looking at the return on investment, there is also an element of incurring costs when a family chooses not to help their daughter realize her educational potential.

Return on Investment Versus Cost of Inaction

Return on investment is a standardized way of summing up the balance between the benefits and costs. According to the World Bank, the potential economic and social costs of not educating girls are large. The impact of this not only affects countries at a macro level, but on a micro level, it directly affects the families of the girls not receiving formal education.

The investment case is not only made with respect to returns but also with respect to the cost of inaction.


Every family needs to understand that when they choose not to invest in their girl child’s education, they are choosing to incur the cost of inaction. This means that a family’s inability to act upon investing in their daughter’s education can cost them and contribute to monetary and non-monetary losses.

Costs of Inaction for Not Investing in a Girl’s Education

1. Cost of Losing Potential Household Income

The most evident benefit of investing in the education of a girl child is the receipt of wages over her lifetime. Contrary to educating a boy, girls when they become successful reinvest and give back to their families.


When women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. According to the World Bank’s findings, when women reinvest that 90% of their income back into their families and communities, it is most typically spent acquiring “food, healthcare, home improvement and schooling for themselves and their children”, the elements that can help provide for a family and contribute to a better living.


According to the Canadian Arm of Plan International (2010), “If they (women) are healthy, educated and empowered they will pull themselves out of poverty and bring their children, communities and nations along with them.”

The Council on Foreign Relations finds that one additional year of primary education alone can increase a girl’s future wages by 10 to 20% percent, while an extra year of secondary school adds another 15 to 25%. This increases their economic opportunities and chances of earning higher wages to reinvest into their family, which has a macro effect on the community level. Women with a secondary education are less likely to state that they do not have enough money to buy food versus women with primary education or less.

2. Cost of Assuming Marriages are More Financially Rewarding

The practice of marrying off a girl before the age of 18 (child marriages) is encouraged primarily by financial incentives which are cloaked under cultural values.


In contexts where bride wealth or bride price is practiced (i.e. a groom or groom’s family provides assets to the bride’s family in exchange for marriage), families may reap immediate economic benefits from marrying their daughters. In such cases, families may obtain a greater financial amount the younger the bride is. In circumstances where dowry is practiced (the bride’s family provides assets to the groom’s family), a younger and less educated bride may require a lower dowry, which would incentivize parents to marry daughters at a younger age. These incentives are either to gain profit or reduce potential costs. However, these may seem economically lucrative to the girl’s families in the short run, doing so becomes costly in the long run for the following reasons:


Opportunity Cost of Employment

A girl who gets married during the years she can attain an education, vocational training and an educational degree, contributes to losses in terms of the opportunity cost of acquiring a steady stream of income. This leads to an intergenerational transmission of financial dependence and in extreme cases, poverty.

Young married girls also lack the knowledge base and the marketable skills needed for formal work. This is confirmed by the fact that the option for (or given to) girls in many countries is often to either be married or be in school, and once a girl is married, it is very rare that she is also in school.


Further, young girls conceive early in their lives and take on the reproductive and parenting role at a younger age. This creates a barrier to employment as they are required to attend to the needs of their children, especially in cases where they can’t afford help on the single salary of their husband.


In relation to earnings, a study shows that the interruption of education as a result of child marriage reduces the earnings of child brides in adulthood by 9% on average, which has negative impacts for households and national economies.


Cycle of Educational Inequity

The lack of education (coupled with cultural barriers) often compels these girls when they become women to marry off their daughters the same way, creating a cycle. This cyclical trap reduces the educational prospects of her children indirectly by reinforcing inequitable gender norms among the next generation. The inequity discourages potential investments that could be made to support girls’ education if they form a bigger group.


Cost of Raising Multiple Children

On a macro level by far the largest economic cost related to child marriage is from its impact on fertility and population growth. By contributing to larger families and, in turn, population growth, child marriage delays the demographic dividend that can come from reduced fertility and investments in education.


On a micro level, the demographic dividend means that girls have the knowledge to choose when and how many children she can have. The decision is influenced by the resources she has and how they can be managed to help her children have access to a quality life. However, this is only possible if a girl has the information database, which is a consequence of receiving education.

3. Costs of Healthcare

Lack of education makes it more difficult for girls to access information on health and welfare for themselves or their children. Girls’ education is linked to increased health knowledge and increased use of household resources to promote the education and health of their children.


Infant and Maternal Mortality

According to a study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the single biggest factor, by far, in reducing the rate of death among children younger than five is greater education for women.
This is because educated mothers have fewer pregnancies, owing to the knowledge they have about contraception and also because of increased employment opportunities. Fewer children means the mother can focus on improving the health status of the manageable number of children she has. Educated women also are better able to seek and negotiate life-saving health care for themselves and their young children.


Personal Healthcare

An educated woman is empowered enough to know about her physical, sexual and reproductive rights. This translates to her demanding access to medical care during times of illness and disease. In addition, globally, malaria in pregnancy is a public health challenge. Malaria and HIV/AIDS are among the two most important diseases contributing to the global health burden of our time.


Girls and women who are better educated are less likely to contract and spread HIV/AIDS because they have more knowledge about how it is contracted and practice safer sex. For that reason, girls’ education is often called the “social vaccine.” The same is true for malaria. If all young adults completed primary education, we could expect 700,000 fewer new cases of HIV infections each year, or 7 million in a decade. As for malaria, if all mothers completed a secondary education the odds that children would carry malaria parasites would be 36 percent lower.


Education also helps with the psychological well-being of women. There is also a negative association of education with intimate partner violence. However, this association only holds true for women having higher education (16 years), which makes a strong case for encouraging girls to continue beyond primary school.

Child Healthcare

In countries where potential impacts are statistically significant, universal secondary education for mothers could reduce stunting rates for their children by more than a third. There is also a relationship between higher levels of maternal education and more advantageous health investment behaviors at each phase of early development of the child (9 months, 2 years, 4 years, 5 years), the stages at which it is potentially most sensitive for children’s long-term health and development.

Summary

When analyzing the relationship between education and return on investment, every family needs to understand that when they choose not to invest in their girl child’s education, they are choosing to incur the cost of inaction. This means that a family’s inability to act upon investing in their daughter’s education can cost them and contribute to monetary and non-monetary losses. These costs of inaction for not investing in a girl child’s education include the cost of losing potential household income; cost assuming marriages are more financially rewarding (which translates into opportunity cost of employment, continuation of the cycle of educational inequity and cost of raising multiple children); and healthcare costs (including maternal and infant mortality, personal and child healthcare).

Girls Education – a cure to world problems

Can you imagine how transformative the world would be if 132 million girls receive a quality education from now on? Every child has a right to access school. However even today, One hundred and thirty two million girls are unable to get an education which is their basic human right.

Giving girls access to schooling is a central part of eradicating global poverty, according to the World Bank. In developing countries, several factors prevent girls from their right to education. As a result of which, child marriage, poor health, and poverty add to the world crises. In order to find solutions to these problems, we must understand the significance of a girl’s education and what it offers to the world.

Helps Saving Live of Infants and Mothers

A mother’s education has a negative relationship with infant mortality. In a society where educated women increases; infant death rates decrease. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a projected 1.8 million children’s lives could have been saved in 2008 if their mothers had a secondary education

Women with proper education know the importance of health care advice and medical treatments. Which helps in reducing the mortality rate of both mothers and infants.

Higher Earnings and Economic Growth

Women with a primary education earn up to 20% more than those with no education at all. Secondary education will be expected to provide them with twice as much.

Access to education is essential to lift them out of poverty as well as to accelerate economic growth.

Individual Empowerment

School gives the girls space where their voice is heard. It provides them with freedom and leadership opportunities to make decisions. They learn and develop skills that will help them take charge of their homes, careers, and communities.

Reducing Child Marriage

Every year 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married. Child marriage is a human rights violation and results in serious consequences for girls. Providing girls with secondary education could help in decreasing child marriage as well as securing their basic rights.

Better Health Management

Education equip women with better ideas of where to turn for health care advice and medical treatment. They understand the significance of prenatal care, vaccination, hygienic childcare practices, and make an informed decision about themselves and their children.

Facilitating girls with a quality education is imperative in global crises. It reaps remarkable solutions to the social, political, and economic problems of the world.

Social Media vs Mental Health of Children – The Right Balance

Are you the worried parent who fear the risks of excessive social media usage and want to protect the mental health of your child? Well, the truth is, with technologies evolving and the world moving at a fast pace, it is impossible to keep the child away from screens. However, it is important to find the right balance and make the use of social media smarter to protect their mental wellness.

Social media use is currently the most common activity enjoyed by children and teenagers. The colorful and highly engaging social media applications make children and youngsters spend hours watching videos, photos, and content of the accounts that they follow. Which results in decreased productivity in real-life activities. For example, academics, sports, and relationships. This addiction further results in anxiety and mood irritability because children fail to comprehend the relationship between their reduced performance and screen usage.

As a parent, it is important to navigate and take necessary measures if you feel the child is feeling stressed or irritable due to excessive social media usage.

Below are a few ways that could help parents attain the balance between technology and the mental well-being of the child.

Boundaries:

Start by setting boundaries of what websites they can access, and for how long. Decide a moderate time mutually and be sure to follow the schedule.

Guide and Supervise:

Educate the child about the productive use of social media, counsel them about how they could use their time wisely to enhance learning. Give them the freedom to follow people of their interest and if possible, join their social networking websites and follow them on their accounts to supervise their activity.

Be informed:

Educate yourself about the applications and websites your child is using so you can identify their feelings and any behavioral changes they are going through.

There is a wonderful guide published by Legacy Health Endowment for the parents and guardians to get a better understanding of the most popular apps that children and teens use and the potential risks that they carry.

Encourage Non-Virtual Activities:

It is also important to counsel children about the alternate activities that they can engage in. It could be sports, pursuing their hobbies, or simply spending time with friends.

Talk and discuss:

Last but not the least, normalize the discussion on the effects of social media. Ask them about their views and perceptions. Provide them a safe space to open up about their feelings without being judged. Help them develop realistic expectations of the online world and understanding the difference between online and real life.

Social Media is said to be a double-edged sword. While children who use technology are more vulnerable to behavior changes, it comes with its benefits. In today’s digital world, children need to learn and practice networking websites to keep up with times and trends. Nevertheless, strong supervision and support should be ensured by parents to achieve the right use of technology.

How Safe are Processed Foods?

By definition, processed foods are foods that have been altered from their natural state in the attempts to make them safe for consumption or to provide convenience for the user. An apple sliced and diced for a salad is processed; corn oil extracted from the vegetable and undergone complex manufacturing is processed; and even yogurt curdled from milk is processed.

Can we have a balanced diet with processed foods?

So why would a couple of food preparatory procedures lead to such a notorious reputation for processed foods?

Why are Processed Foods So Bad for You?

While the hue and cry over the consumption of processed foods may seem exaggerated at times, there are genuine reasons for the extreme reactions, as concluded scientifically.

  • Processed foods are addictive. Processed foods can be looked upon as artificial in nature. Therefore, when compared to whole foods, the body employs an artificial means to digest them. Opposed to the efficient mechanism of natural food digestion, processed foods over-stimulate the production of dopamine, which is a chemical messenger in the brain and when released produces a feeling of pleasure and satisfaction. Processed foods, then transform into unnecessary cravings to replenish that pleasurable feeling. The addiction compels the body to consume refined salts and sugar in large amounts contributing to obesity and potential diabetes.
  • Dairy products contain phosphates which are essential for the metabolism of carbohydrates and mineralization of teeth and bones. The phosphate levels found naturally in these products are acceptable by the body. Processed meat, however, includes additional phosphate additives which are used as preservatives. These additives are also found in flavored soft drinks and powdered products to enhance flavors of the food products. The level of phosphates in industrially treated foods then becomes much higher when compared to natural food items. The abnormal levels of phosphate in the body may lead to organ calcification, which is the formation of calcium and phosphate deposits in the arteries and veins, contributing to kidney failure and bone loss.
  • Manufacturing and processing of food often contributes to the alteration of the food composition. A food preparation process as simple as boiling a potato can cause much of the potato’s B and C vitamins to migrate to the boiling water; and if that liquid is eventually not consumed it implies a permanent loss of the potato’s nutrients. Similar losses occur during industrial food processing – only that these are on a larger scale and more detrimental. Food processing is destructive to vitamins including A, B1, C, E and folic acid, along with dietary fiber. Factors that contribute to the losses include heating the food over extended periods of time, a process essential during food manufacturing. In addition, the longer a food item sits on the shelf of a supermarket, the more it is prone to lose its nutritional value.
  • Processed foods contain harmful ingredients which are commonly used during their industrial manufacturing.

Trans-fat: Chemically speaking, trans-fats are an outcome of hydrogenation of vegetable oil which makes the oil less likely to spoil and the food manufactured in such oil to stay fresh for longer. In simpler terms, it is considered to be the worst type of saturated fat that raises your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol. In addition, trans-fats also raise your levels of artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides.Trans-fats, or labelled on packages as ‘partially hydrogenated’, ‘fractioned’ or ‘hydrogenated’ fats are used in the production of commercially baked goods including crackers, cookies and cakes, and many fried foods, such as doughnuts and French fries.


Salt: Adopted from the ancient Egyptian practices of using salt for preservation, sodium chloride is used in processing foods to prevent them from spoiling. In addition, salt deters the development of food-born pathogens. Aside from their preservation properties, sodium also helps bind ingredients, enhances the colour of the food, improves taste and functions as a stabilizer. All these properties imply that the use of salt in processed foods should mean goodness for our health. However, the levels of sodium in these foods are beyond the daily requirement of our bodies. These increased salt levels in our blood force our body to retain fluid simply to dilute the extra sodium. This raises blood volume, forcing our heart to work harder while at the same time, making the veins and arteries constrict. The combination raises blood pressure.While foods such as luncheon meats, salad dressings and confectionary items contain high levels of sodium, it is primarily fast food items that raise concern. Fast food chains exploit the addictive nature of salt which compels the human body to crave more burgers and fries.


Refined grains: opposed to whole grains, refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ which are part of the whole grain kernel. The processing not only gives the resulting flour a finer texture but also an increased shelf life. However, the benefits come at the cost of ridding the grain of fiber, iron and vitamins, making the flour less fibrous and lesser nutritious. Refined grains are nutritionally imbalanced as approximately 25 different chemicals are added to refined grains and breads products, including artificial colorings and flavorings. Refined grains food products’ manufacturing also employs the use of bleaching agents. Because they are processed, refined grains are excessively starchy and high in gluten.Refined grains are used to produce white bread, rolls, sugary low-fiber cereal, white rice, and white pasta. Inclusion of such food items can contribute to 9.4% higher risk of Coronary Heart Disease. They are also responsible for contributing to several degenerative diseases. Calcium leaching from the bones and teeth occurs because of the altered phosphorous-calcium balance in these products.


High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): HFCS is a common sweetener which is chemically similar to table sugar. However, unlike table sugar it costs less to make, is sweeter in taste, and mixes more easily with other ingredients.High-fructose corn syrup as a substitute for sugar can be found in almost every food that is processed; ranging from frozen foods to whole wheat bread, to soft drinks and ketchup. The addition of this sweetener in processed foods is pharmacologic – meaning that its quantity present in the food items is not natural and therefore borders on alarmingly high levels. Such increased sugar levels are responsible for causing heart diseases, obesity cancer, dementia, liver failure and tooth decay. Further, the influx of an increased sugar in the body causes the body to release greater amounts of hormones and endorphins, making it work harder and lead to undue fatigue. HFCS is also responsible for causing mood swings and withdrawal as the body starts craving the replenishment of the high levels of sugar in the bloodstream consequently leading to cranky and peculiar behavior.

If Processed Foods are Bad for Adults, They are Worse for Children

A child’s body demands a 360-degree dietary intake comprising of all the essential nutrients, minerals and proteins. When you substitute processed foods with natural food items, you essentially comprise on the child’s physical and mental development.

  • Processed foods are laden with refined carbohydrate which is simply refined sugar, and includes not only table sugar, but also sucrose, fructose, glucose, dextrose, and corn syrup, all of which are common food additives. Consumption of these ingredients on a regular basis is the primary cause for adult on-set diabetes later in a child’s life.
  • Additional sugar in processed foods is the major culprit for causing obesity amongst children. The problem starts with glucose which is the basic form of energy releasing foods. In whole foods, starches are molecularly bound together which forces the digestive system to break down the food to turn it into glucose. This digestive procedure takes place slowly over a period of time. Processed foods however, need relatively no digestion time. They’re absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream, which leads to a high blood sugar level. The distressing levels of sugar in the bloodstream force the glands to release insulin and convert the glucose into fat to get it out of the blood. The fat deposits are then stored into the body eventually leading to an overweight child.
  • Processed foods lead to lower IQs amongst children. Researchers with the journal ‘Community Health’ (a publication for health promotion and disease prevention, released by the United States) studied the eating habits of 4000 kids at age 3. These children were tested five years later with reference to the correlation of their diet with their mental capacity development. Those who ate high processed foods had lower IQ scores. Those who ate whole foods scored almost two points higher. Commenting on these findings, Cindy Kepler, a clinical dietician associated with the study said,

“It seems what’s really going on is that processed foods contain excess amounts of fat and sugar and they don’t have a lot of nutrients. So the issue is that more nutrient dense foods, actually probably correlate to the better IQ.”

  • According to the U.S. Food and Drug Association, artificial food colors and preservatives in processed foods may be associated with behavioral changes within children. A growing list of new studies show that synthetic dyes can cause hyperactivity in sensitive and non-sensitive children. Further, a 2007 study commissioned by the British Food Standards Agency linked a mix of food dyes, with increased levels of hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Why are Processed Foods So Popular Then?

The aforementioned debate may have compelled you to completely erase processed foods from your lifestyle. However, realistically speaking this is just not possible. Processed foods owe their popularity to the following reasons.

  • Food processing helps make available edible items that would otherwise be out-of-season or dependent upon stock replenishment. For instance, it is the courtesy of industrial processing that helps us enjoy a glass of orange juice during summers, or chomp on prawns beyond their 80 day harvesting season. Food processing enables the year round availability of foods that have limited growing seasons.
  • Processing of food extends their shelf life. Jams, salad dressings or ketchups which would otherwise succumb to spoilage within a week, last up to several months owing to industrial food processing. This is an economical approach to usage and facilitates individuals to include flavors of choice to their diet. A very specific example of nutritious foods that benefits from this factor is pasteurized milk. The processing can enable the packaged milk to last up to 2 weeks.
  • This brings us to another advantage of food processing: food safety. Fresh foods, including meat, fruits and vegetables have an increased likelihood of harboring pathogenic micro-organisms that cause illnesses. Like mentioned earlier in the example of pasteurized milk, processed foods prevent food spoilage by reducing the number of viable pathogens that are likely to cause diseases. The processing involves heating food items to sufficiently high temperatures over prolonged periods of time to destroy harmful bacteria. Further, inclusion of certain additives during industrial processing helps prevent fats going off (rancid) and prevent microbial growth most likely to lead to ill health. In addition, packaging helps prevent food tampering and makes it less prone to be corrupted by rodents and insects.
  • At times, processed foods are healthier than their counterparts available in their raw form. Quoting the example of milk again, processed milk is often fortified with calcium and vitamin D, allowing the consumer to meet his daily dietary requirements. Juices are also equipped with similar. Breakfast cereals may boast of additional fibre, while canned fruit (packed in water or its own juice) is a good option when fresh fruit is not available.
  • Lastly, the primary reason for consumption of processed foods is usually convenience. If a mother has a working lifestyle, or is pressed for time, it is ‘oh so much easier’ to pop a few chicken nuggets into the fry pan and serve it to kids in a matter in minutes. The influx of processed foods has largely gained its popularity from people’s choice to engage in activities beyond the kitchen.

Are All Processed Food Unhealthy?

Not really. Processed foods lie on a spectrum and can be categorized into three categories. Only the extreme end of the spectrum signifies ill effects to the body.


1. Minimally Processed Foods – these types of food items are often available as pre-preparatory ingredients primarily for the user’s convenience. These are whole foods that have no more than about two additional natural ingredients to help preserve freshness – like Vitamin C or a minute amount of added salt (less than 5 percent of the daily value). Their composition is not substantially changed from its natural form and the food retains most of its nutritional properties. Fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, meat and milk are good examples.


2. Moderately Processed Foods – these are an outcome of extensive manufacturing processes that convert the raw ingredients into a completely different form. For instance, grains are ground into flour to produce bread, pasta, cereal or fresh pizza dough; milk cultured or churned into yogurt, cheese or ice cream; and meat trimmed and ground into burger patties. Moderately processed foods are more likely to lack nutrients owing to the industrial processes they go through. This implies that these foods are high in calories relative to the amount of vitamins, minerals and other key dietary nutrients. On the contrary, there are instances when food is processed to help preserve and enhance nutrients and freshness of foods at their peak. Examples of such items include milk, canned fish and pureed and jarred baby foods.


3. Highly Processed Foods – these are prepared with maximum processing, and are more commonly referred to as ready-to-eat meals or junk food. Highly processed foods are made from combinations of unprocessed food, minimally processed food and processed food ingredients and require little or no preparation. These types of foods are likely to be high in refined carbs, added sugar, fat and/or empty calories. More often than not, highly processed foods contain artificial colors, sweeteners, preservatives and flavors. While these types of food are packaged to stay fresh and save time, the combination of different ingredients also leads to an increase in food safety. Spice mixes and salad dressings are apt examples of such an instance where food, if refrigerated properly, can last for prolonged periods.

Summary

Processed foods have been integrated into our diets to the extent that a complete replacement is just not realistically possible. However, information is the key to recognizing the extent of hazards packaged foods may pose to our health. With minimal efforts and simple food replacements, one can easily lead to a cleaner eating and subsequently wean themselves off processed foods altogether.

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