The importance of oral language competency

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Associate Professor Pamela Snow of Monash University presented a keynote speech on the link and implications of oral language competency and vulnerable young people.

Oral language competency is the ability to process and comprehend language. One’s language competency is formed during infancy and childhood, and refers to the degree of language enrichment in the home.

Dependent on socio-economic status, the consistency and frequency of language and words spoken to children by parents can differ greatly. Parents who do not work outside the home can manage 616 words an hour, working parents can manage 1,252 words an hour and higher income earning parents can manage 2,153 words an hour.

The importance of language competency helps to form the basis of communication skills, and in turn, determines the success of maintaining relationships.

The complexities and nuances of language pose challenges for those with low levels of oral language competency, such as understanding what are jokes, metaphors, sarcasm and innuendo, to name a few. Children need a lot of emotional and linguistic exposure from their parents as they navigate through the complex world of interpersonal relationships.

By formal measured standards, 50-60% of young offenders have a language impairment. As such, it is highly likely that boys with behavioural difficulties have underlying language difficulties.

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By recognizing oral language competency as a key area of childhood development, policy makers, teachers and youth justice systems can be better equipped to assist vulnerable young people.

In what ways did your parents communicate with you as a child? How often do you spend time talking with your children?

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Baroness Susan Greenfield – How modern tech impacts on brains of children

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“Do we really want to live in a world where people have no self esteem, are narcissistic and have no empathy when you talk to them?”

This was one of the key questions Baroness Susan Greenfield asked in her keynote presentation on the second day of the Good Childhood Conference.

Thanks to technology, we have more leisure time than ever before. This means we have the greatest ever opportunity for developing the human mind. Susan expressed fear that we are not taking the opportunity to do so.

She argues that, as social media use has increased, face-to-face interaction has decreased. When you meet someone face-to-face, your words make up only 10% of meaning communicated. Social media narrows communication, as it doesn’t include things like body language, tone of voice and physical contact.

Susan argued that if we use social media too much, we lose these face-to-face communication skills. As a result, we feel uncomfortable in social situations, and so continue to avoid them in favour of social media.

Social media encourages us to disclose personal information with people we don’t know well, and Susan said their responses to this information cause low self esteem. But it’s not only self-confidence that she was concerned about.

Susan indicated use of technology was prompting a range of health problems:

Autism

“There is a link between autism-like behaviour and screen time”

Susan said there was a link between the typical brain wave response present in problematic face recognition, a characteristic of autism, and heavy internet users.

Gaming & gambling

Baroness Susan Greenfield on gaming
Baroness Susan Greenfield argued for some of the negatives of gaming, such as people hiding behind fictitious characters or avatars.

Susan said children who are addicted to video games have similar brains to problem gamblers. She cited this article in UK newspaper ‘The Telegraph’.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Susan said she would “like to flag that there are certain elements of gaming that can be good for you.” These elements included using video games to help people with disabilities to rehearse situations which may be difficult in real life. She also acknowledged that technology is good for input-output mental processing, and may be responsible for increasing IQ’s, but stressed that humans are designed for a deeper level of thinking than simple input-output processes.

Susan asked:

“Could the people who Tweet a lot be in some kind of existential crisis?”

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

There has been a great rise in diagnosis of ADHD in the developed world. Susan suggested the intense stimulation provided by video games and the instantaneous flow of information on the internet leads children’s minds to adapt to this pace of thinking. When these children are placed in slower paced situations, their minds race and they are unable to slow them.

What do you think? Are social media users undergoing existential crisis? Are people becoming more narcissistic and less empathetic as a result of technology?

You can find out more about Susan Greenfield and her research here.

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media

For what we’re about to receive: using gratitude to boost wellbeing in schools – Lea Waters

Associate Professor Lea Waters
Associate Professor Lea Waters

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy” – Albert Clarke

What is gratitude? How do we define gratitude? How has gratitude changed over time for us as individuals?

We all most likely began our life seeing gratitude as manners. As the “pleases” and “thank you’s” in life, as what our parents told us was right. Turns out, this is possibly the simplest meaning of gratitude we could have.

Opening our eyes to the power of gratitude, Associate Professor Lea Waters began by asking us to tell her what gratitude feels like. Having closed our eyes and brainstorming to find a moment when we felt gratitude or have received gratitude in our own lives, Lea then helped define this feeling of gratitude as:

“A worldview moving towards noticing and appreciating the positives in life” or

“An acknowledgement that we have received something of value from others”.

Gratitude is not just a feeling, but a reaction from a complex cognitive process. Lea explained that there is actually multiple factors that are taken into play right before we begin to feel gratitude for something, a whole judgement process considering factors such as:

  • Is this gift something of value?
  • Was it through kindness or altruism?
  • What is the cost of this action?
  • How is this impacting the person who’s giving?

Associate Professor Lea Waters

However, gratitude is more than a feeling and it is more than a cognitive process. Gratitude can improve your health on all different levels. The physical findings from studying the impact of gratitude on the body has come to show that:

Gratitude can:

  • Help us sleep better,
  • Support our immune system,
  • Help us cope with pain,
  • Reduce somatic symptoms.

So remember, “If we don’t show gratitude, it’s like receiving a present and not opening it”.

Why not try the exercise yourself, close your eyes and think of something you have to be grateful for, or a time you felt grateful; then share it with us!

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Is Childhood Improving for Aboriginal Children?

Professor Muriel BamblettProfessor Muriel Bamblett AM, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA), covered issues facing Aboriginal children in today’s society.

And, the stats were shocking.

Aboriginal children today are twenty times more likely to be homeless, receive over 30% less financial support, face a life expectancy 20 years lower than that of non-Aboriginal children, and they are more likely to experience disability, ill health, and a reduced quality of life.

Despite all of that, Muriel reminded us that this data doesn’t tell us about the good things happening in Aboriginal communities and spoke of the successes in culture and sport of indigenous people like singer Jessica Mauboy, AFL star Buddy Franklin & NRL star Jonathan Thurston.

Muriel shared that building Aboriginal culture into everything VACCA do is crucial, and that after their safety, the most important thing to establish in an Aboriginal child’s life is culture and cultural safety.

Professor Muriel Bamblett and cultural identity

How can we help provide an environment which respects that culture around us?

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

UN Youth Rep for Australia: Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Young people should be at the forefront of change.

This was the sentiment of the 2012 United Nations Youth Representative for Australia, Dan Ryan, in his keynote address Architecting new expectations for youth.

There didn’t seem to be a more appropriate person to speak at the Berry Street Childhood Institutes’s Good Childhood Conference, and Dan provided the floor with an invaluable, youth perspective during the day’s events.

The key issues Dan addressed explored the fundamental question of the conference: what does a sustainable, good childhood look like?

Dan spoke about what fantastic influences he had growing up, being raised and home-schooled through natural learning. No limitations or restrictions were placed on himself or his siblings – what subjects they learnt, what time they woke up, whether their homework got assessed or not, the jobs they could pursue, and so on.

Dan Ryan and his siblings
Dan Ryan speaking about his childhood and siblings.

Dan believes that this freedom allowed him and his siblings to make mistakes, learn from them, and develop and grow as people.

Because of natural learning and the influence of making his own decision, Dan believes he has been inspired to live a fulfilled life. He spoke a bit about how failure is a tool for reflection, that it shouldn’t be stigmatised and shamed, but welcomed as a learning curve for young people.

Speaking about his website, Dan outlined the abilities of young people to develop solutions and create change around Australia. On his website, youth can participate by:

  • Entering a solution they have seen working in their local area;
  • Browsing, discussing, rating and sharing solutions; and
  • Following in Dan’s journey as Youth Rep. with stories, surveys, photos and videos exploring issues related to youth.

Dan Ryan

Dan also touched on the conference’s contentious issue of social media, and claimed that while social media could be an invaluable, innovative tool for youth to learn about and create change, real change comes from people and communities. So long as there is a real community behind a movement, change can be achieved.

Dan’s keynote address concluded that the most important thing is including youth in the decisions that organisations make.

It’s important that we look for those moments, … look for opportunities to include youth in choices so that we can have societal change.

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

The rhythm of life, relationships and individuality

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop“The most powerful thing for me is that the repetitive nature of drumming provided a regulating experience”

Simon Faulkner developed Drumbeat based on his experience in addictions counselling. After travelling across North America researching rhythm-based therapies and working with Native Americans and African Americans, the impact of drumming as an analogy to relationships, community and expressing yourself became the basis for the music therapy.

For Drumbeat, the emphasis is taken away from musical ability. Upon determining that the group at the Conference was largely musically inexperienced, Simon began to lead the circle into drumming exercises that would be undertaken in the workshops with younger members.

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop

Despite the lack of actual drums due to a mix up, the group managed to generate enough noise to fill the room. The exercise kicked off with a core beat, what Faulkner described as a “mongrel beat”, mimicking the simple heartbeat. Once everyone was comfortable with slapping their knees, Simon threw in a hand clap and before long, the sound of foot stamps, hand rubbing and voices dominated the ground floor of the venue.

Simon concluded the workshop with the analogy of rhythms within life. Everybody has various rhythms, whether it be at school or in the home, but a person’s own individual rhythm can fit within a community’s.

If you make a mistake and miss a beat, the community is still there to support and help you get back into your rhythm.

During the lunch break, just before Simon’s workshop, students from Corpus Christi Primary in Melbourne had demonstrated Drumbeat to anyone interested; see the video below:

If you’re interested in music therapy, read further information about Drumbeat here.

Blog post by: SYN Media bloggers

Children Living with Domestic and Family Violence – Professor Cathy Humphreys

Prof. Cathy HumphreysIs our approach to family violence effective? Does it manage the intake of children affected by domestic violence well? Does it provide appropriate intervention where necessary? Are long term aims for the protection of children achieved? Does the system promote respect and justice for children and others affected by domestic violence?

Cathy Humphreys’ exploration of our sectors approach to family violence centred around these questions.

After her study, she deduced that “child protection is not necessarily well set up to respond to family violence”.

With only 6.5% of reports about the risk of harm from domestic violence made in NSW in 2007-2008 substantiated/ followed up, her questioning of our approach to family violence seems valid.

But reforming the process is not simple. Cathy stressed that if the scope of the child protection system is widened to cover more cases, there is a risk that the level of service available to victims of family violence will decrease.

And, the system is already overwhelmed.

But it’s not merely the level of reporting that was questioned. Cathy placed importance on involving children in the intervention process where appropriate.

“The children are saying ‘we want to be told what’s going on, no one speaks to us and tells us what’s happening'” she said.

Above all, Cathy stressed the importance of having an effective and efficient process for managing family violence.

“There are a group of children who really need the child protection system… without it they may die” she said.

Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice, by Lesley Laing and Cathy Humphreys

Social work and domestic violence‘, a new book by Cathy Humphreys and Lesley Laing will be launched at the Good Childhood conference later this afternoon.

Read more about Cathy’s views on the book in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.