Monthly Archives: February 2017

Is your smartphone making you shy?

During the three years I’ve spent researching and writing about shyness, one of the most common questions people ask is about the relationship between shyness and technology.

Are the internet and the cellphone causing our social skills to atrophy? I often hear this from parents of shy teenagers, who are worried that their children are spending more time with their devices than with their peers.

This anxiety isn’t new. At the first international conference on shyness, organized in Wales in 1997 by the British Psychological Society, Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo was the keynote speaker. He noted that since he began the Stanford Shyness Survey in the 1970s, the number of people who said they were shy had risen from 40 percent to 60 percent. He blamed this on new technology like email, cellphones and even ATMs, which had loosened the “social glue” of casual contact. He feared the arrival of “a new ice age” of noncommunication, when we would easily be able to go an entire day without talking to someone.

Some of Zimbardo’s fears have been realized. Look at any public space today and you’ll see faces buried in tablets and phones. The rise of loneliness and social anxiety is now a familiar refrain in the work of sociologists such as Robert Putnam, John Cacioppo and Sherry Turkle.

They argue that individualized consumerism is isolating us from each other and selling us cheap techno-fixes to ease the pain. We rely increasingly on what Turkle calls “sociable robots,” like Siri, the iPhone digital assistant, as a stand-in for flesh-and-blood intimates. Even when spending time with others we are half-elsewhere, distracted by technology – “alone together,” as Turkle puts it.

And yet this sense of being “alone together” can actually be useful for shy people, who can turn to technology to express themselves in new ways.

A different kind of social

The shy aren’t necessarily antisocial; they are just differently social. They learn to regulate their sociability and communicate in indirect or tangential ways. Cellphones allow them to make connections without some of the awkwardness of face-to-face interactions.

When the Finnish company Nokia introduced texting to its phones in the mid-1990s, it seemed to be a primitive technology – a time-consuming, energy-inefficient substitute for talking. But texting took off among Finnish boys because it was a way to talk to girls without the signals being scrambled by blushing faces or tied tongues.

Two sociologists, Eija-Liisa Kasesniemi and Pirjo Rautiainen, found that while Finnish boys would rarely tell girls they loved them, they might spend half an hour drafting a loving text message. They also discovered that boys were more likely to text the words “I love you” in English rather than Finnish, because they found it easier to express strong feelings in a different language.

Another scholar of cellphone culture, Bella Ellwood-Clayton, showed how text messages served a similar purpose in the Philippines. Filipino courtship rituals are traditionally coy and convoluted, with elaborate customs such as “teasing” (tuksuhan) among mutual friends or using an intermediary (tulay, which literally translates to “human bridge”) between potential partners. The cellphone allowed young Filipinos to circumvent these elaborate, risk-averse routines and test the waters themselves by text.

Such is the case wherever cellphones are used: Texting emboldens those who are more dexterous with their thumbs than with their tongues. The ping announcing a text’s arrival is less insistent than a phone ring. It does not catch us by surprise or demand we answer it instantly. It lends us space to digest and ponder a response.

The shyness paradox

As for the looming “social ice age” created by technology, Zimbardo made that claim before the rise of social networks and the smartphone. These have made it easy for people to lay bare intimate details of their private lives online, in ways that seem the very opposite of shyness. Advocates of this kind of online self-disclosure call it “radical transparency.”

Not everyone using social networks is amenable to radical transparency, of course. Some prefer to hide behind online personas, pseudonyms and avatars. And this anonymity can also inspire the opposite of shyness – a boldness that turns into hostility and abuse.

So these new mobile and online technologies have complex effects. They aggravate our shyness at the same time as they help us to overcome it. Perhaps this paradox tells us something paradoxical about shyness. In his book “The Shock of the Old,” historian David Edgerton argues that our understanding of historical progress is “innovation-centric.” We think that new technologies change everything for good. However, according to Edgerton, we underestimate how much these innovations have to struggle against the forces of habit and inertia. In other words, new technologies don’t change our basic natures; they mold themselves around them.

So it is with shyness. After about 150,000 years of human evolution, shyness must surely be a resilient quality – an “odd state of mind,” as Charles Darwin called it, caused by our strange capacity for “self-attention.” And yet we are also social animals that crave the support and approval of the tribe.

Our need for others is so strong that shyness simply makes us sublimate our social instincts into other areas: art, writing, email, texting.

This, in the end, is my answer to the worried parents of shy teenagers. Is their cellphone making them shyer? No: They are both shy and sociable, and their phone is helping them find new ways to express that contradiction.

By John Moores University English and Cultural History professor Joe Moran

Original article published by the Conversation


Dealing with lying

Lying to stay out of trouble, to not worry their parents or to protect a friend – every boy has the ability and does, to varying degrees, lie about parts of his life to his mum and dad.

And parents are not oblivious to this – given boys start to gain the understanding they can make up lies from about age three, by the time they hit early teenage years and beyond they can be very skilled at skewing the truth to hide the reality from loved ones.

Some parents can struggle with understanding why their son may want to or feel like he needs to lie to his parents who only want the best for him.

Yet, like in relation to many other areas of his life – his view of the right thing to do and his parents view do not always match up.

Generally, by age eight – with a well-developed vocabulary and keen understanding of how others think – boys can lie “successfully” i.e. without getting caught. And as they continue to learn the nuances of body language, story-telling and quicker response times, they are able to manipulate the truth, as they need, as they get older.

So why do boys lie?

There are many reasons a boy may lie to his parents. Masterminds and Wingmen author and researcher Rosalind Wiseman lists five main reasons behind some untruths;

  1. Self-delusion

Boys may not necessarily believe they are lying when they view their “future self” doing an activity they have been asked to complete. For example, if a boy is asked to clean his room and tells his mother he has done it (but really hasn’t lifted any part of his floordrobe off the carpet) he may still believe he is telling the truth to his mum because he has every intention of cleaning it up in the future (whether that is in the next half hour, day, or week).

  1. Managing Parental Interference

Students Wiseman studied during her research for her book told her it was easier to continue a small lie and get in trouble once when caught in the lie instead of telling the truth constantly and getting in trouble each time. For instance one of the students told Wiseman; “I’d rather get yelled at one time instead of everyday. If I tell them the truth, then I’m grounded every weekend instead of just getting mad at the end of one test.” Wiseman said some boys believe their parents overreact to problems and feel they can work out their problems themselves without their parents’ help.

  1. Protection

Boys can construct lies to protect themselves or someone else. Wiseman said boys can become terrified of people “finding out about their true self”, including their own parents, and will hide it/make up stories to protect themselves from any ridicule they fear from the truth being told.

  1. Freedom and Independence

Teenage boys can build lies under the belief they can judge danger and risk more accurately than their parents – who they may not think went through any kind of similar situations in their childhood. Unfortunately, the teenage brain does not have the capacity to comprehend certain risks and dangers – the area of the brain which handles planning and impulse control doesn’t fully mature until about the age of 25 – and this can lead to boys navigating risky situations without parental knowledge which can have disastrous consequences.

  1. Cover up

Following on from number four, the cover up lie stems from situations boys do not want their parents finding out about for whatever reason. Boys can group together to come up with this kind of lie and will back each other when asked for the truth. Cover up lies can lead to friendships being tested and peer pressure playing heavily on boys as they try to help each other rather than tell parents the real story.

What can parents do?

Parenting coach Sue Atkins offers some advice to parents;

  • Explain the impact of his lie – how finding out he has lied has impacted your feelings i.e. “when you… I feel… because”
  • Explain the negatives associated with lying – distrust, dishonour etc.
  • Make it his responsibility to regain trust in the relationship – what needs to happen for us to rebuild trust?
  • Have a frank discussion about lying – why it happened? Why they felt they needed to lie? What can you do to help the relationship be more honest – i.e. don’t “nag” about homework or cleaning bedrooms (the small things)
  • Explain how small lies can quickly build into bigger and bigger ones – all relationships need to operate on trust and honesty, at home, with friends and later work colleagues – lying portrays dishonesty.
  • Explain that growing up is all about learning and making mistakes is part of that journey – but healthy relationships are built on trust so we need to build that again.







Families connect at the dinner table

The dinner table is more than just a battleground over the last meatball in the dish, a place where picky eaters struggle to get through their final few peas, or where hungry teens devour enough food to keep them full for the week – it is a place families can get together at the end of every day and chat over a meal, debate, question and talk about their lives – connect with one another away from technology and other distractions.

Young boys are bombarded with constant access to updates, news and social media posts throughout any given day. Boys need to know there is a place for them to retreat from this constant input from their phones, tablets etc . – that place can be the family dinner table.

A number of international research studies have revealed the impact the routine use of the “family dinner table” can have on children and teens, in terms of their ability to develop resilience, self-confidence and positive relationships.

As Growing Great Boys (2008) author Ian Grant suggests the dinner table should provide a forum where children can unload, share jokes, be “dusted down and picked up, given some adult perspective and wisdom and sent out to face their world again – strengthened and supported.”

“Around the dinner table, your boys can debate ideas, learn how to use their brain as a sieve not just a sponge, enjoy sharing their life and discuss with you, the adults, the big questions of life,” Grant writes.

The Family Dinner Project is a movement in the US, backed by researchers at Harvard University, which aims to promote the importance of spending quality time with family at the dinner table.

“Over the past 15 years, research has shown what parents have known for a long time; sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members,” the Project states on its website.

“Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviours parents want for their children; higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem… we also believe in the power of family dinners to nourish ethical thinking.”

Harvard Medical School associate professor of clinical psychology and author of Home for Dinner Dr Anne Fishel says sitting down for a nightly meal is great for the “brain, body and spirit” – and the menu is irrelevant.

Dr Fishel says research showed dinnertime conversation boosted the vocabulary of young children, more so than being read aloud to on a daily basis – this boost in vocabulary had flow on effects on reading skills development and overall ability.

She says older children also greatly benefit from spending time with their family at the dining table.

“For school age youngsters, regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art,” she claims.

“But all bets are off if the TV is on during dinner.”

Dr Fishel questions what is so “magical” about the family dinner table.

“In most industrialised countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other,” she says.

“This daily mealtime connection is like a seatbelt for travelling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviours.”

She says quality time at the dinner table is key; with small positive experiences daily gaining momentum and extending to nourishment of a stronger relationship away from the table.

One question for mums of boys

As a mother of four sons, a former boys’ basketball coach, counsellor and a secondary English teacher for 16 years I have come to see that there is often a mismatch between what a boy does and what his mum thinks has happened.

A statistically significant number of boys are wired to learn in highly physical ways, are impulsive, quick to act/slow to think, non-cautious and eager to take risks without realising it.

They are also constantly trying to have fun or do things that make them feel good. There is much debate whether this is because of differences in brain processing, the influence of heightened levels of testosterone, the ancestral wiring of men to be defenders and protectors of the tribe, or the social and cultural influences.

Whatever is behind it, author and social philosopher Michael Gurian writes about boys’ need to achieve some sense of success – whether that be climbing a tree, winning a game, hitting a target with a ball, finishing a Lego building or sharing a sporting or artistic achievement.

Gurian writes that boys are looking for reasons to give themselves ‘self-worth’ or a sense of “I have done good.” This inner striving also plays out within the boy world where boys are constantly striving to maintain a level of ‘status’ within the circle of boys they find themselves.

Fear of losing status is behind many dumb decisions boys make at school and when and they bring home their sense of disappointment it is often poor mum who will wear their emotional angst in many different ways. Boys can struggle with verbal communication and often their behaviour is a way that they use to compensate for this.

Often their behaviour is their language. While girls communicate verbally, boys express their emotions through actions rather than words, seeking attachment indirectly through activities or play. – Dr William Pollack, Real Boys: rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood

Here are 21 examples that show the importance of questioning before deciding how to deal with a situation.

1. A normally well-behaved 5-year-old lad suddenly began throwing toys and pushing other preschoolers. Why? His favourite ECE had gone on maternity leave and he was grieving, sad and felt abandoned. He didn’t want to be there.

2. A boy was sent to the office after he pushed another boy over in the playground. Why? The boy was defending his sister who had been hassled by the boy the day before and he wanted to stop him from doing that.

3. A 4-year-old boy drew a picture with lipstick on the wall near his mum’s bedroom. Why? He wanted to draw her a special picture and couldn’t find a texta or paper. He drew it where she would see it the best.

4. A boy was seen running up to greet his friend at the school gate and punched him. Why? Boys often struggle to know how to greet each other and the punch is a form of “aggression nurturance” or a way of showing how much they like a friend.

5. A boy was playing a vigorous game of chasey and knocked over a girl he didn’t see. Why? He was running so fast that he never saw her and it was an accident and he will feel awful for hurting her.

6. A boy stole a book from a school book fair. Why? He saw his friends stealing and rather than lose status he chose to join in even though he knew it was wrong.

7. A boy who struggled with his mum leaving him in kindergarten, wipes away tears and then turns and gets angry over a tiny thing and throws sand in another child’s face. Why? This is the sad-angry response many ECEs see often as many boys are unable to manage sadness or disappointment well so they channel it into anger as it’s a more ‘accepted’ male emotion.

8. A boy began throwing biros and pencils in class. Why? He may have been bored. He may have been trying to impress a girl. He may have been getting worried as he had cross country coming up later on and was scared he’d lose status.

9. A boy has a tantrum about going to school. Why? There’s a sight word test and he doesn’t know his words. It’s easier to not turn up than to turn up and fail.

10. A boy sees his mum waiting at the bus stop to collect him. He races up to her and slams into her leg hurting her. Why? He is trying to show her how much he loves her and has missed her. He didn’t realise it would hurt her.

11. A boy threw a stone and accidentally hit a window. Why? He was aiming for a tree and missed and never meant to hit the window.

12. A boy was asked to bring in the washing and mum found some of it in a basket with the pegs still on it later – not finished. Why? The boy was really wanting to go and ride his skateboard so he took ‘some’ of the washing off in a hurry and hoped that would be enough.

13. A boy was asked to vacuum the daddy long legs spiders and their webs out of the lounge and hallway but he never did it. Why? He was uncomfortable hurting the spiders and felt sorry for them.

14. A boy was asked to get dressed to go to a community event and came out with a very holey T-shirt and dirty jeans. Why? He chose his favourite clothes for such a special event.

15. A boy was asked if he had his jocks on for school – answer no. Why? It feels better without them!

16. A boy was sent to get his shoes from his bedroom and never came back. Why? He either forgot what he was asked to do or on arriving in his bedroom he was distracted by some Lego and started playing.

17. On the way to soccer a boy starts getting ‘narky’ with his sister. Why? He suddenly became hungry.

18. A boy toddler is throwing a mega tantrum in the car for no apparent reason. Why? His sister’s foot was resting on his favourite blanket.

19. A boy is not answering his mother when she calls out to him while he watches TV. Why? Boys are often single focus and he is unable to hear her as he is watching TV.

20. A boy cannot find his socks? Why? He is looking in the wrong place as he has forgotten where the sock drawer is.

21. A boy has lost his school jumper – again. Why? He was so intent on playing he lost all sense of where his jumper was – even forgot he had a jumper!

Original article published by Maggie Dent