Twerking the message home

Miley Cyrus

Miley Cyrus (Photo credit: rwoan)

I wasn’t particularly keen to write on this subject, but each time I try to put it aside, I get another little nudge telling me to get on with it.

So here we go:  the ‘Thank you Miley Cyrus‘ post.

Back in the day, my sex education lessons to classes full of anxiously giggling eleven-year-olds usually began with something like this:

Did you know that when a caterpillar develops a chrysalis and begins changing into a butterfly, every part of its body goes into a complete meltdown, and from the resulting goo an entirely new creature is formed?  Adolescence is a bit like that.   You start off as children and emerge as young adults, but the process in between can be pretty messy and radical.

Nothing I could say, though, would prepare the kids for the massive and traumatic changes that hormones would be wreaking on their bodies over the next few years, or the social and emotional fallout this would create.

The thing is, no one – not even the most sorted, mature and contented adult – can take self-esteem as a given.  Each of us is still racked, from time to time, with self-doubt, insecurities and a wavering self-image.  Yes?  And I’m pretty certain that everyone reading this can look back to their own adolescence and recall how exaggerated and extreme those doubts and horrors were, when sudden and dramatic changes were affecting their entire beings on a daily basis.  You’d wake up in the morning to find your voice, your skin, your smell, your height and weight, your emotions and mood and, of course, intimate parts of your body had suddenly transformed you into something quite new and unfamiliar.  How on earth were you supposed to go about developing self-esteem, when you didn’t know, from day to day, who you were?

Chrysalis to Butterfly (#1 of 5)

The caterpillar/butterfly is able to make these changes within the privacy of the chrysalis.  Our society doesn’t provide so much as a curtain for our developing young people to hide behind.  All these changes take place as they are going about their daily lives, interacting constantly on social media and – for an unfortunate few – in the full glare of publicity.

This is where Miley Cyrus comes in, of course.  How unimaginably ghastly for a talented and beautiful young girl to have to play out a fantasy life in front of millions on TV for years as she grows up and then to attempt to redraw herself as an adult in the same, unrelenting media glare.  It would seem that caring and helpful mentors have been sadly missing from her life, replaced instead by greedy and self-serving individuals encouraging her to boost their profits by – well – doing what she’s been doing.

I think we needed to see this hideously exaggerated adolescent transition played out on our screens, in order to recognise how much help and support the rest of our young people need.

A week or two back, the British media were reporting a story that many young people are being blackmailed into sending pornographic images of themselves to paedophiles.  They are, apparently, approached via social media by someone pretending to be an ideal potential friend of the required sex and age.  They are then asked by the new ‘friend’ to send compromising photos or videos of themselves.  

This they willingly do.

After that, of course, they are trapped.  The blackmailer threatens to send the pictures to their family and friends unless they provide more.  The suffering this causes to the kids in that already fragile, insecure and confused adolescent state can easily be imagined.

The point I want to pick up on is that so many of our young people will readily send such images of themselves to total strangers – because, I suppose, their lack of familiarity with their new, sexually aware selves, together with the blatant soft porn images surrounding them in the media, trick them into believing that only this will make them sufficiently attractive and desirable to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.

Why did it take young Ms Cyrus’ public gyrations and disrobing to alert us to the warped message being fed to her generation?  Surely it’s vital for all of us who live with, work with or otherwise care for young people, to help them to recognise and respect the fragile and incredible beauty of their bodies, and to lovingly guide them through the hazards and fears of puberty so that they can emerge from the process as adults with a relatively secure self-image and the confidence to  seek out and attract partners who will recognise and admire their intrinsic uniqueness and value.

We should not be leaving them prey to those who would destroy and devour them greedily before they can emerge from the chrysalis transformation.

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When is a prank call a wake-up call?

The 14-year-old boy was trying to put his vision of December 2012 into words for me. He was clearly shaken by what he was seeing and as confused as anyone looking into the future might expect to be. He didn’t make a habit of this, but he was one of those special, Version 2.0 kids and sometimes he just ‘saw’ things. I was used to him picking up a book I’d been reading, for example, and without glancing beyond the cover, summarising the information it contained. This was a bit different, though.

“How can you possibly see the future?” I was asking. “Surely it’s only potential as yet.”
“Oh yes,” he agreed, readily. “There are infinite possibilities… It’s just that they all seem to lead to this one point.”

So for the last seven years (the conversation happened in 2005) I’ve been watching with interest as one after another of his predictions has come true.

“It will all start with finance,” was his opening line. He explained as best he could that the financial world would go through a drastic and sudden change. He saw a deep polarity between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ developing and said it would have an effect on everyone. We would all have to re-think our relationship with the financial world.

In 2008 I texted him. “U predicted this.”
“Yep,” he replied.

The financial crisis, which still rumbles on, was the first of these events – the ones that take accepted aspects of our daily life and shake them to the core, until we wake up to what’s going on and decide to make some drastic changes.

Here in the UK, we’ve followed up with the MP’s expenses issue, the media intrusion debate and the maelstrom unleashed over allegations about a deceased DJ’s sexual behaviour. Other countries have had their own political, financial and social awakenings – the so-called Arab Spring being the most wide-ranging and important. Quite suddenly, shabby, unpleasant but long-tolerated practices cease to be acceptable. Dirty linen is hauled up for public inspection and washed very thoroughly.

The changes are happening at a personal level, too.
“It will be a bit like Noah’s Ark,” the boy told me. “Not the same as that, but something like it.”

Watching pictures of people’s homes, cars and livelihoods being washed away by the extreme floods this year has witnessed in many parts of the world, I can see what he meant.

The Chinese glyph for ‘crisis’ is, I learned recently, a mixture of two others – ‘disaster’ and ‘opportunity’.

The loss of life, given the huge amount of devastation, has been relatively small, but the changes at neighbourhood, family and individual levels have been massive.

Based on what my prophetic young friend told me, I’d suggest that this World Shift – the much-heralded 2012 End of Age – is not about mass destruction so much as mass transformation.

What if you’d always indulged in some rather dodgy work practices because everyone around you did, and then found yourself at the heart of a massive scandal? A disaster for you, but an opportunity to become more authentic in future. What if you’d dreamed of giving up your job and ‘following your bliss’ but been held back by knowing you had to keep up the payments on the car and the house? Suddenly they’re both washed away in a flood. Where does that leave you?
With both a disaster and an opportunity.

So, then, what if making prank calls to innocent victims had been a seedy but accepted part of your professional life? No one could doubt, after watching the interview, the depth of horror, remorse and pain those people in Australia are experiencing, or the deep changes the recent tragic event will make to their lives. Perhaps, though, they – and others engaged in similar forms of ‘entertainment’ – are being given an opportunity to make some core changes.

Our individual and collective wake-up calls to live a more honest, authentic and transparent life, free of subterfuge, sleaze and unkindness began with a tap on the shoulder. If we ignored that, the taps became more insistent… and if we reach the end of this Great Age without heeding that call, surely we can expect the kind of sledgehammer blow we are seeing around us.

Facebook – when is a ‘friend’ a friend?

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m probably the world’s last convert to Facebookism.

For years I’d held out against it.  I’d insisted that ‘liking’ someone or something was an emotional response, not a cute little thumbs-up symbol; that a friend was someone I cared about, related to and interacted with, not someone I’d never met who clicked a button in order to build their virtual popularity.

I was dragged, kicking and screaming almost, into opening a facebook account.  “It’ll help you publicise the book,” the (real) friends told me.  “It will drive sales.”

So I relented.  I joined.  Initially my worst fears materialised. (Fears tend to behave that way, of course, since we create our own reality, but my guard was down – I’d forgotten that!)  I was carpet-bombed with banal posts about the drinking and partying exploits of people I barely knew, I was exposed to the angst-ridden adolescent ramblings of  ex-pupils and I was approached to befriend people I didn’t know from Adam.

Then something quite amazing happened.  A genuine pre-Facebook friend began sending posts.  They were wise, profound, intelligent and thought-provoking.  She invited me to join a group and suddenly I was virtually meeting all manner of people who behaved the way my sort of friends do.  They sent personal messages and we started to get to know each other.  It was beginning to feel like a community … and I understood.

Yes, Facebook is a virtual, 2D version of friendship, but that doesn’t make it any less real.  All experience is real! We respond to this incredible world around us in all manner of ways – face to face is just one of them.  I’ve now found yet another way to interact with it.

So feel free to become my friend – real, virtual or both – and if you’d like to follow me, you’re very, very welcome.  I’ll do my best to lead somewhere worth going.