Thursday, May 3, 2012

Extreme Etiquette

Would you let your child drive a car without making sure they knew the rules of the road? What is one of the things we hope our children get out of playing team sports? How to follow the rules and work well with others.  So it makes sense that when your child hits the surf or you drop them at the skate park that they know what they are doing.

I live in a coastal area, as do many Australians.  The other day I was chatting with a boy of about thirteen about surfing, I asked him if he knew the ‘etiquette’ of surfing.  He looked at me puzzled. This inspired me to start  asking around.  In my community skate parks are getting more and more popular. So I asked the skaters the same question.  To their credit most of these young surfers and skaters knew not to ’snake’ anyone, which I think means to wait their turn. That’s a start at least. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The youngest child that goes surfing on his own in my neighbourhood is nine and I’ve seen kids as young as seven get dropped off at the skate park on their own.  I am not going to discuss what age kids should be participating in these activities on their own, this is not what I’m getting at.  What I want to know is-Do your children know the etiquette?  Especially if you are not a surfer or skater yourself. Do they know how to behave out in the surf or at the skate park?  Not following etiquette will make them pretty unpopular to say the least and can get them severely injured.  Being in the wrong place when someone is surfing a wave or coming down a ramp at top speed is very dangerous. Also some older guys can get pretty cranky when younger people come along and disregard the rules either in the surf or at the park.

This is unacceptable, however if you make sure your child is polite and follows the rules they are a lot less likely to get their heads chewed off. I find the older surfers and skaters are mostly very helpful and friendly, as in any situation there is some one from time to time that is just basically not happy and wants to take it out on someone.

Talking about surfing and skate etiquette is a great way to open up a conversation with your child.  You may be surprised at how much they know and they can teach you something new or it might be a great opportunity to learn something together.

The Surfing Handbook has a very comprehensive list of surfing rules, complete with drawings.  If your child surfs and you don’t have a look at it with them.
At the skate park things are a bit different.  Our local skate park can get very crowded and even toddlers are there while parents are otherwise occupied with their brother or sisters soccer game or other activities that go on at the park.  I have witnesses some really lovely gestures by children, taking little ones by the hand and keeping them out of harms way.  If your child is there as a spectator, make sure he or she knows where to sit or stand to watch the action.  While you’re at it make sure you know where to be, not only will your child most likely be embarrassed if you are in the way, you could get injured.

Fat Tony at Transworld has a list of ten things bmxers should not do while at the skate park.  There is some mild foul language and the photos are very ‘interesting’ but it is a good read. Most of the advice applies to all riders.

Finally, here is a beginners guide to skate parks from
Surfing and going to skate parks are great ways to stay fit and learn social skills.  As parents we can help our children enjoy their time outdoors by making sure they know the rules. Ask your children if they know the rules of the surf or their local skate park.  Did their answer surprise you?

Michele Dennis
Art of Parenting

image courtesy of surfcrs under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Teenagers & Sex

I have received a few questions lately from parents who are concerned about their teens and sexuality. I guess it is in the front of everyone’s minds with all the media coverage recently. How do we support our teens to have a healthy attitude towards their sexuality and sexual relations?

When thinking about this question I did a lot of reading up on sexually active teens and what they are up to these days. If the research is correct, life for a sexually active teen is very different from their parent’s experiences. Which comes as no surprise, generational change is to be expected.

Some of the changes are positive, some research shows the rate of teen pregnancy has gone down. Girls are feeling empowered in relationships and generally there is more respect between the sexes. But what happens when things go horribly wrong? How do teenage girls get into some pretty scary situations? It’s true alcohol and drugs are often involved when poor decisions are made. And self-esteem must be an issue. What about the young men, boys in some cases who think it is ok to participate in group sex, that queuing up with several guys for their turn with one girl is some kind of male ‘right of passage’? And that the girl ‘wanted it’, ‘asked for it’.

So what do we do? Assume that only footy players and degenerates participate in these things, that our children will never find themselves at a party where such a violation takes place? I’m afraid not. We need to treat sex education, healthy body image and sexual values to our children just like we do every other aspect of their lives that is important to us.

We need to talk to our children about sex and relationships. Start young and be available to your children whenever they want to talk about things. The media is bombarding our children constantly with music clips and songs with alcohol and sex as the themes. Sex is constantly in the news and your children will have spoken to their friends about the latest indiscretions that make the headlines. So you need to be in the conversation too.

Sit down with your child and let them know what your values are. Most parents don’t even talk about the nuts and bolts of sex much less the emotional aspects of it. Help your children practice how they might support a friend who may be about to make a decision they may regret. Just like we help them say no to drugs, help your child by going through some scenarios, as embarrassing as it might be. It is possible that your child may need to help a friend who has had too much to drink and about to do something they will regret for the rest of their lives. Discuss with your son that even if it appears that a young girl is enjoying a sexual act with several guys, it is their responsibility to not contribute to someone’s pain. Also discuss how her judgement is probably impaired and she may feel quite differently the next day. We all do things we regret and I’m sure all teens can understand this.

Research shows that girls who end up at a party drunk and giving away sex or oral sex to several boys thought that it would give them some power or social status but the reality was very different. The girls regretted the decision and were socially ostracized, not only by the other girls but also by the very boys who were queuing up. Now we as adults can see this coming but what we have to keep in mind is that a teenage brain is not fully developed and it is part of the teenage experience to make mistakes. As a society I think it is our collective responsilbity to ensure that our children not to make such damaging ones.

It is also important to model positive behaviour. Your children are watching what you do much more closely than you think. Your children see you respecting the opposite sex and behaving in a warm and loving manner towards your partner, they will know what your core vales are. When you tell someone that you don’t appreciate derogatory comments, it may not make you the life of the party but it will show your child that you walk the talk.

The more we talk about body image and healthy sexuality the more likely it is your child will feel good about themselves and their relationships. Isn’t that what we want for our children and our society?

Michele Dennis

image courtesy of

Take a Hike

Hi Michele,

During the holidays, our family is spending time in Wales, where there is lots of hiking and outdoor activities.

Our children always roll their eyes when we tell them we are going hiking for the day. They do not want to go. But I don’t want to leave them behind on one of these journeys while we are on holiday.



Hi Janine,

We all do have to do things we don’t want to do, even when on holidays.

Explain to your children that when your family is travelling there will be days when they will be asked to participate in things that are important to you and there will be days where they can choose the activity, which may not be of interest to you.

It is important for children to understand that sometimes we do things for the people we care about because it is important to them, not because it just happens that we want to do it anyway.

Activities such as a family hiking day can be followed by a day doing something that the children choose.


image courtesy of

Homework Helper

Hi Michele,

My 9 year old son hates doing his homework; every night it is a battle.

How do I support him?


Hi Jon,

Organisation is the key. Have a set time and place to do homework.

The homework space should be clear and tidy and close to you. You can sit down with your child at the beginning of the week and look at how much homework they have, what other things they have to do that week and what things they would like to do, then you can outline a plan for when to get their homework done.

Also there should be minimal distraction. The TV should be off and computer used only for the task at hand. Once the homework is done, your son can get to the things he wants to do with his free time.

It is also important not to fuel the fire. A simple statement saying you understand that he doesn’t like to do homework, unfortunately it has to be done. He may carry on, you then say that you need to start dinner but you are here if he needs help.

Young children may need more help than you think, so stay near by. Make sure that there isn’t something larger going on like genuinely struggling with the work. Finally children need to be well rested and have a healthy diet. If your child is tired, hungry or fuelled by junk food the task at hand may seem more challenging than it is.


image courtesy of

Morning Mayhem

Hi Michele,

The morning before school madness is really getting to me!

How can the mornings go more smoothly for my three kids and myself?


Hi Natasha,

The most important factor in the morning running smoothly is being prepared.

Everyone having a good night’s sleep (especially you!) and preparing as much as you can in advance will be the difference between a good morning and a disaster.

Have the food for breakfast and the lunch boxes in the fridge and the school clothes ready.

If you have a child who struggles to get up in the morning have them get their clothes and school bag ready the night before.

Also try to know how much your child can do for herself and to participate in the jobs such as making breakfast and lunch, having expectations that are too high or low is a common mistake.

Depending on the ages of your children they may enjoy a chart on the fridge so they can tick off the things they need to do.

You might consider getting up a bit before your children to have a cup of tea or get yourself dressed.

Also, leave the TV off.


image of The Electric Mayhem posters courtesy of

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Art of a Proper Holiday

I have a confession to make. This is not what I intended to write about for the January newsletter. I have a half-finished article on cyber-bullying on a word document, stuck in my laptop. Here's what happened:

Our week-long holiday was fast approaching and the article was still not finished. Partly due to school holidays and partly due to good, old fashioned procrastination.

Suddenly I had a great idea! I could take my laptop along and finish it while the kids were swimming, or otherwise occupied - just like all the other journalists and bloggers do all the time.

Well, somehow things didn't work out the way I planned and I was unable to access wireless in our quaint seaside village and after jumping through several hoops and getting nowhere I decided to give up on my quest to get the article finished and get back to my holiday.

Through all of this I learned a valuable lesson - finish your work before you start your holiday!

The lure of modern technology is enticing but it can let you down. And a holiday is meant to be a break from the daily grind.

So now it's back to the beach for me.

I just hope I can remember this valuable lesson next year!

Michele Dennis

image courtesy of

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Day at the Beach

One thing is a guaranteed certainty for me, this time of year my mind is almost always at the beach.

I am lucky enough to live close enough to get down there often but somehow I just can’t get enough. This spring I find myself as busy as usual and am really missing a relaxing day at the beach. There is so much to be gained from a day of doing nothing in particular, whether it is a day at the beach, a picnic in the park or just lazing around the house, the whole family will benefit from some serious down time. But as I look at our calendar, I wonder how do I pull this off? The embarrassing truth is, I have to schedule it!

As strange as it feels scheduling a free day for your family I think it will be worth it. The idea is to block out the first day on your calendar and other then a few obvious exceptions don’t let anything stop you from have a decent chill out session.

Depending on the interests of your family members and the ages of your children there are several options for your day. If your family enjoys being active you could go on a bike ride or a hike. You could spend the day at the beach, surfing, playing cricket and making sand castles. You may be surprised when your much older children get into making a sand castle. Maybe what your family really needs is a day at home, doing nothing in particular. Or if you fancy a little retail therapy-try an op shop spree or hit a few garage sales.

Of course, weather is going to be a factor and this is where it is important not too plan too much. If you are set on a big trip to the beach only to wake up to a rainy or windy day everyone is disappointed. Leaving your day open means you may go to the beach but you may go to the op shop and the second-hand bookstore.

My sons are getting older and don’t always want to come along with mum and dad on family outings. At first I was a little sad and even hurt when they chose being with their friends over us. Now I use these outings as a way to stay in touch with the boys and their friends. A day out with my children and a couple of friends can be really fun for everyone and as we all know the studies are all saying that the best thing we can do for our teen is to get to spend time with them and get to know their friends.

If you tend to get a little too busy then scheduling a chill out day will help reconnect your family and recharge yourself for the busy week ahead. For me it also gives me the incentive to drop a few of the non-essential things I sometimes fill my life up with. Every once in awhile I need to take a step back from it all and look at what exactly I have signed myself up for. If I can let a few things go and not replace them with other non-essential busyness I might be able to have a few more relaxing days in the future.

image courtesy of