Category Archives: Parenting ideas

I didn’t see that coming

By Julie Fison

I love holidays. But I find the planning stage extremely time-consuming and stressful. Will the accommodation be as good as it looks on the web?  Have I got the best deal available? Will there be enough to do for the kids when we get there?

The permutations for a perfect holiday are so complicated, the possibility of a disaster so great. And even when I think I have struck on a winning formula my children get older, their tastes change and it’s back to the drawing board (otherwise known as the internet). Holidays are so precious that I want to make them as close to perfect as possible.

But sometimes the elusive X factor can be found in the most unexpected places.

IMGP1207Last September, after months of planning, I set off with my husband and two sons, aged 11 and 14, along with three other families for a North Queensland driving adventure. The trip had lost its ideal status even before we left.

My older son had been chosen to compete in the Queensland rugby championships in Toowoomba, which meant he and my husband would only be spending three nights in North Queensland. Not great, but not a catastrophe. I could still explore the Far North with my friends and younger son.

However, the holiday didn’t quite work out that way.

While I was swimming with a friend at Four Mile Beach, Port Douglas, a garfish, not much bigger than my index finger, shot out of the water and speared me in the ear.  The small intruder left a 2.5 cm spike in my eardrum as a souvenir of its visit, before wriggling free and disappearing into sea

North Queensland is famous for its lethal marine life. Crocodiles, sharks, Irukandji jellyfish are the ones you normally have to watch out for in this part of the world. But garfish?

As it turns out, they are a lot more dangerous than they look. In the Torres Strait bigger garfish periodically spear fishermen, causing all sorts of injuries and in at least one case – death. As far as I can tell, I’m the first to be speared in ear – a very dubious accolade.

Because of my freakishly unlikely and extremely painful encounter, I spent three hours in surgery at Cairns Base Hospital having the spike removed, and the next five days convalescing in Cairns and Palm Cove, instead of exploring the Daintree and Cooktown.

Meanwhile, my son, who had gone further north, fell out of a tree at Cape Tribulation and broke his wrist. My wonderful friends took him to Cooktown Hospital to have his arm manipulated and set in a temporary cast. An eventful holiday to say the least.

To cap things off, I was forced to cancel my flights and take the train home because I had a perforated eardrum. Max and I boarded the Sunlander for the 30-hour journey from Cairns to Brisbane with a couple of magazines, a novel each, and two packets of jubes. I hadn’t even packed any electronic devices

Max had his arm in a sling and I was sporting a facial palsy and was almost completely deaf in one ear. (Yes, quite a pair.) A fitting end to the holiday from hell – right?

Well, not really.

I will certainly concede that Max would have had more fun without a broken wrist and I would have had a better holiday if I hadn’t been speared by a garfish. But at least I had good care in Cairns and had great friends to look after me.

I was sorry I missed out on the Daintree, yet I did have a few lovely memories to take home. We’d all had a great day snorkelling on the reef before the garfish incident and I also managed to enjoy some good meals in Palm Cove and Port Douglas with my friends. And as for the train trip home, I found it quite rewarding.

Normally, I would say that a 30-hour train ride with any number of children (even in a sleeper) is tantamount to torture, but because Max was injured, he was content to read and sleep.

I found just gazing out of the window as the cane farms drifted by and flicking through magazines quite therapeutic (for the first 10 hours anyway). I also had my medication to keep me busy – antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anti-viral pills to take at various times of the day, along with ear drops and eye drops.

When we needed a break from sleeper-life, we stumbled up to the dining car for a serving of lasagna and over-cooked vegetables, then staggered back for another nap. It wasn’t quite the Orient Express, but it was scenic, relaxing and the kind of experience that doesn’t come along too often.

I wonder how many times I’ll get the chance to hang out with one of my sons for a day and a half without any other distractions – to talk, read and play cards. Probably not too often, is my guess. And if nothing else, that made the holiday very special.

So ten weeks later, my hearing still isn’t great, but my face is almost back to normal. Max has his cast off and it’s holiday time again.

Will it be perfect? Who knows.

Something unexpected always crops up. I know it won’t be a rogue garfish, but there’s bound to be a hitch at some stage. I won’t mind if it’s not perfect, though. I know that just spending time together as a family will make it special and a little bit of adversity can provide unforeseen rewards – that’s what memories are made of.

Julie Fison website

Mummy’s boy

By Julie Fison.

Once a year, at a lunch in Brisbane, mothers of boys meet to share stories from the front line – tales of risky behavior, stinky shoes and rugby injuries. It’s an annual celebration of the special status of the mother of only boys – the lone female in the fog of testosterone that we call home. It’s a great event, but I’ve never heard any suggestion that our boys should join us. That would just be weird – wouldn’t it?

Or would it?

Schools put on father and son events, there are mother and daughter lunches and even father and daughter dinners on some family calendars – but the relationship between mothers and sons is more often mocked than encouraged. And it’s generally accepted that there’s nothing attractive or manly about a Mummy’s boy.

But, US author Kate Stone Lombardi is challenging that notion. In her new book, The Mama’s Boy Myth, Lombardi claims that our view of the relationship between mothers and sons is frozen in a long-forgotten decade and she believes it’s time we changed. Although mothers have always been warned that keeping sons close will damage their masculinity, Lombardi argues that their relationship is extremely beneficial. She points to new research that shows that it is a “boy’s mother who is the most influential when it comes to risky behavior, not only with alcohol and drugs but also in preventing both early and unprotected sex.”

This is no way lets fathers off the hook. The problems faced by underfathered boys are well documented and on this subject Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys is a treasure-trove of practical parenting advice. But Lombardi’s point is well made, that it’s not just okay for mothers and sons to retain a close relationship in adolescence and beyond, it’s essential.  The mother-son relationship is just as valuable as every other family relationship. And that’s something most mothers of boys would agree with.

The Mama’s Boy Myth is due out March 15, or you can read an essay by Kate Stone Lombardi here.

Handling difficult questions

By Diane Stevens.

It’s not often that we look to politics for lessons on parenting, but if there’s one thing that comes out of the recent leadership crisis, it is this: (and I’ll be generous here) attempts at misrepresenting the truth generally end badly.

Like politicians, parents face a constant barrage of difficult questions – many of them directly relating to our past. So, how do we handle them? What do we say when our fifteen year old asks us: “Mum, did you drink alcohol at my age” or “when did you first really kiss” or my personal favourite, “you weren’t always studious at school were you?”  For a moment we might be tongue tied as our past modus operandi flashes in front of us. Maybe we feel our credibility as a parent is on the line. We don’t want to sink in the ratings of our teen’s own private opinion poll.

So, it’s tempting to throw up a diversion or maybe we feel a lie is the best way out: “I didn’t touch a drop until my 18th birthday.”  Perhaps just ‘gilding the lily’ will work.

Here, politics provides an example. As the leadership crisis unfolded and history was rewritten for political expediency, viewers were left to wonder if there was anything true being said. Where truth is sacrificed, a loss of credibility will surely follow. As parents, I think we also risk the same thing happening in our relationship with our teens if we resort to political spin when explaining our own past behaviour.

My experience of bending the truth backfired with my attempt to remember, in a state of muddled confusion, what story I told to which teen.  I found the loss in credibility as a parent was far greater than the risk associated with revealing the truth that I was once young and took ridiculous risks.

So, I decided to take the honesty route, figuring that the tricky question moment was an invaluable opportunity (a captive audience with my teen!) to seriously discuss the pros and cons of my past risky business.

According to Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence at Temple University, teens 14-17 years, can be the biggest risk takers. Steinberg’s research supports the view that teens use the same basic cognitive strategies that adults do and they usually reason their way through problems just as well as adults.   However, he points out that the difference is that teens take more risks not because they don’t understand the dangers but because they weigh risk versus reward differently particularly when their peers are involved.  (See our story on the Teenage Brain  and Rewards) Moreover, these higher levels of risk-taking among adolescents have been reported in studies of females as well as males (Gardner & Steinberg, 2005) and the fact that the gender gap in real-world risk-taking appears to be narrowing according to studies by Byrnes, Miller, & Schafer, 1999.

Research does suggest that teens do much better in life when parents engage, guide and at times offer some kernels of wisdom –‘ knowledge valued not because it comes from a parental authority but because it comes from a parent’s own struggles to learn how the world turns’ (Laurence Steinberg).  I thought by navigating these difficult questions with honesty and in the context of my own experience, it might possibly alter the outcome of my teens’ future indiscretions or, at the very least, make them stop and think about the consequences before they act.

Teaching a teen to drive

After hundreds of hours on video game consoles, many teens think they can drive before they even sit their learner’s test. So what happens when they actually get behind the wheel? Mother of five, Jo Mower, shares her experience:

With five children who love sport and a husband who works on weekends, I’m well and truly up against it on Saturday mornings – getting five kids to five different parts of Brisbane by 7.30am is no fun. So the prospect of our eldest son getting his licence is very exciting. And he’s dead keen – a good combination you would think …

Two days after he turned 16 the L plates were on, a driving lesson was already booked in anticipation of my teen passing the exam – “Mum, EVERYONE passes, it’s so easy…” I should have read the warning signs then.

The instant my son gets behind the wheel, he goes from being this calm, man of few words, to an aggressive, cocky, opinionated expert.  Maybe I exaggerate slightly, but it makes me very nervous, sitting in the passenger seat – the most nervous I have been in a very long time.

Every morning I face the question: “Can I drive?”  I don’t want to quash his enthusiasm, but do we have the time? It’s so much quicker for me to get the family to school. And do I really want him driving his siblings while he’s still learning?  But opportunities for practice are limited. He needs to log up 100 hours of driving to go for his test. I won’t let him behind the wheel when he’s tired (which is often, as with any Year 12 student), or when friends are in the car. How would I explain to a nine year old’s parents that we were late because my son crashed the car! So, I take a deep breath and let him get behind the wheel most mornings.

I thought his father would be the main instructor. Being a very competent, decisive driver himself, and coming from a family of teachers, he should be perfect. How wrong could I have been? They both come into the house after an hour of driving and go their separate ways, shoulders slumped.  A cheerful “How did it go?” from me is met with grunts from son, and shaking of head from husband.

Another father who shared his experiences between overs at the cricket one day was of the opinion that there was just too much testosterone flying around in too small a space with father and son together. “Learning to drive comes when boys are asserting their independence. It makes it very interesting.” To say the least!

I still have hopes that my husband can teach our daughter to drive when the time comes. Maybe that will be a better combination. Or maybe not … A friend has three girls – triplets. (Can you imagine the pain involved in getting in 300 hours of driving time?) He confessed there had been lots of tears shed in the car – both his own and his daughters’.

For us, things were starting to look up after my teen had notched up 30 hours. He was getting the hang of the automatic LandCruiser. It wasn’t quite the white-knuckle ride on corners and roundabouts that it had been at the beginning. I wasn’t being shot through the window or being forced into my seat with excessive breaking and accelerating.  I had a little more confidence we were going to actually stop in time at junctions. Until … we made the transition to a manual.  Only then did we realise our BIG, BIG mistake.  Starting out with the automatic first seems to have made driving a manual ten times harder.    

Driving to Ipswich, I was wondering which would fail first – would the gearbox fall out, or would we go through the tyre rubber if we squealed one more time?  At one point we were screaming at each other. I’m not sure we have ever done that before – as I said he is a man of few words. It has been very demoralizing for him going back to square one.

Yet, he’s determined to get those hundred hours and pass his test. So, we’re battling on. For all of the blood, sweat and tears, there’s a silver lining and it has a big red P on it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. Never assume a teen is competent just because he looks confident. The first time my son drove he thought he could turn right on a green light. He didn’t know he had to wait for a break in the traffic – scary!

2. I talk through the planned route and conditions on the day and how they will affect driving. If it’s raining, I remind my son that it will take longer to stop. Extra bags and passengers in a small call will also add to stopping time. I also keep an eye on the speedo.

3. When I am driving and my teen is the passenger seat I explain how I handle traffic situations and why.

Good luck!

Take heart if you’re teaching your teen to drive. Even Top Gear presenter, Jeremy Clarkson was terrified when he took his daughter out for a driving lesson.

She knew that if she were to brake, I’d wail like a banshee again, so she figured it was best to keep clear of the middle pedal altogether. It was quite simply the most nerve-wracking hour of my life.” Read the full story here.

Read details on how to teach learner drivers here:

And this is another good site for defensive driving techniques:

See details of how to apply for a learner’s licence here. 

And despite the many rumours about an increase to the number of hours required by learner drivers in Queensland. There are NO plans to change the rules. This is from the Department of Transport and Main Roads:

“At present, a total of 100 supervised on-road driving hours are required to be completed in a Queensland Learner Logbook including a minimum of 10 hours of night time driving.  Any driving hours that are outside the 3 year period at the time of submitting the Learner Logbook for approval will not be accepted.

There are currently no plans to increase the required number of supervised on-road driving hours for the Queensland Learner Logbook.  Please disregard any rumours.  Any change to the number of accrued hours for the Learner Logbook requirement would be well publicised before a change was to be implemented.”

Additional information relating to the Queensland Learner Logbook is available here:

Prize for young writers

To celebrate the National Year of Reading, young writers (under 23) are invited to submit fiction or non-fiction works of 1500-2000 words on any topic for a chance to win $2000 in the Questions Writing Prize. The Award is sponsored by Future Leaders, an Australia- wide project designed to provide young people with inspiration and skill development for effective leadership. Entries close July 1st. More details here:

You can find tips for young writers here:

Author, Dee White writes a very good blog on writing issues:

It is also worth signing up to the Sydney Writers’ Centre newsletter for writing tips and other news.

Good luck!

Rewards – you get what you pay for

By Julie Fison.

The night before every school athletics carnival my son asks how he can improve his chances of success. The answer is to invent a time machine, go back 12 months and start training. It’s a bit late to start running around the block on the eve of an event.

This year to preempt this conversation, we encouraged our teen to start training over the summer holidays. ‘I will. Tomorrow,’ was his response. And tomorrow and tomorrow and … you know how that ends.

Three weeks later, with still no running happening, we offered him an incentive –a financial one. I am a little embarrassed to admit that we paid our son to go for a run every morning and offered a bonus for consistency (running five days in a row). I can totally justify this by adding that my teen was going to get holiday money anyway. Instead, we made him run for it. But, it worked. And he’s still training, even though he’s not getting paid.

Research into the teenage brain shows that a teen’s reward centre is much more developed than the consequence centre.  So, it makes sense that an immediate reward motivates a teenager much more than a possible consequence 10 months down the track.

So, are financial rewards part of a clever strategy or do they constitute lazy parenting or worse?  

The subject is a divisive one. Some friends are fiercely against them. But many others quietly admit they use financial incentives – to get their teens involved with sport or to do more training. And they are all happy with the results. My Whatever! colleague, Diane is one. She calls it ‘performance-based compensation’, which she feels fits pretty well with the real world. And don’t get her started on parents who excuse their kids from sport because they don’t have any natural talent. Sport is just too important to let slide. And you don’t have to be a star to benefit from sport. Research backs that up. A study by the West Virginia University found that young teens who play sport benefit physically, socially and mentally.

But teens sometimes need more than just an encouraging word to get into something (and that’s when a reward helps). Yet, once they’re involved – the sport, success or whatever, becomes the reward in itself. And hopefully self-motivation will develop with maturity.

One friend reports that she had to incentivize her teen to exercise, but once she had a reasonable level of fitness, her teen had the confidence to join a sports team. She endures exhausting training sessions without rewards because she loves the team spirit.

Another friend who generally doesn’t approve of financial incentives was so frustrated by her son’s commitment at his weekly rugby match, that one week she offered him a substantial bonus if he scored a try. He did! But the following week, with the same reward offered, he didn’t.

Cash incentives seem to work best if used occasionally rather than as a standard practice. They’re also best kept private – between you and your teen. Other parents aren’t going to thank you when their teen comes home demanding money to train because their friends are being incentivized.

The caveat here is that rewards can be the start of a slippery slope. What starts out as a two dollar incentive can easily turn into a ten dollar reward – until a teen starts acting like a super model and refuses to get out of bed for less than ten grand a day. That would be an extreme case. But that’s what many parents fear. The secret here is to set expectations and stick to the plan. TeenHelp, a US site, sets out some guidelines on the more traditional – pocket money for chores model, that are useful. The warning here, and elsewhere, is that financial rewards shouldn’t be used to manage bad behavior. ‘If you stop beating up your brother, I’ll give you fifty bucks,’ is unlikely to have a long-term positive outcome.

There’s also a big red flag to parents of very defiant teenagers. All rewards can backfire because your troublesome teen will just refuse to do anything without an incentive.  The teen has to learn to do what he or she is told without a reward, according to expert advice. (See more here.) 

There is no doubt that cash incentives shouldn’t be the default parenting technique. They aren’t the answer to everything and they aren’t for everyone, but they seem to help nudge a reluctant teen into something you know they will benefit from.


The Teenage Brain

Have you ever wondered what is going through the mind of a long boarder as he careers down a busy suburban road? Doesn’t he value his life? Doesn’t he care about his safety? Recent scientific research offers an explanation. It suggests that his desire for a reward – the thrill of the ride and the cheers of his friends, outweighs the risk of falling off the board or being hit by a car.

American neuroscientist, B. J. Casey from Cornell University has conducted studies which show that as your teenager grows, two different parts of his brain develop at different rates. The area of the brain responsible for emotion and motivation – the sub cortical region, develops ahead of the area of the brain that controls decision making and inhibition of impulses – the prefrontal cortex. This means there is a period developmentally when your teenager assesses the gains he obtains from taking risks more favourably than the possible dangers and consequences of his actions. Take the recent tragic story of a 17 year old boy who was electrocuted in Caulfield, Melbourne while train surfing after boasting about it to his friends on facebook. He had been drinking with friends before the incident. This is an extreme example of risk taking. More common, is the teenager who wants to play rugby with an injured ankle, drive fast on a deserted road or drink to excess.

By having an adventurous nature, it may also make your teenager more willing to face the risks that come with gaining independence and moving out of home. In the animal world, when a mammal becomes sexually mature, it needs to leave its parents and the family nest and strike out on its own – find food and a place in the world of adults. With the added advantage of a longer, more protected childhood, your teenager similarly must adapt to his adult world. Expertise comes with experience so he must practise the skills he needs to survive. You can help him as a parent during this adolescent phase by guiding him with a light but steady hand, allowing him independence – stay connected with what he is doing. Let him go to your work and do photocopying, paper shredding or helping out in the mailroom. Skills learnt from babysitting, cooking dinner for the family and helping an old neighbour mow the lawn, act as an apprenticeship into adulthood.

This information is based on the article published in the Weekend Australian (11 February 2012) taken from the Wall Street Journal (28 January 2012) and the article published in National Geographic (October 2011). The articles  are based on scientific research conducted by American neuroscientist, B. J. Casey at Cornell University.


Enrol to vote

There is still time to enrol to vote ahead of the upcoming Queensland State (24 March 2012) and Local Government elections (28 April). The deadline for enrolment for Local Government elections has been extended to Saturday 25 February 2012.

Enrolment and voting is compulsory for Federal, State and Local government elections for citizens over 18. You can enrol if you are 16 or over but you can’t vote until you turn 18.

Enrolment forms can be downloaded here:

FAQ answered here:

The School Formal

For most girls (and boys) the Formal is the social event of their school lives and countless hours are spent agonising over a partner, a dress, the pre party, the post party and everything in between. At best, preparations for the Formal become a distraction, months ahead of time. At worst they can become a fully-blown obsession. Girls now seem to take the event just as seriously as if they were planning a  wedding.                                                              

For me, one of the more memorable aspects of the Formal was going shopping for ‘The Dress’. Both of my daughters asked for my opinion with every dress tried on (amazing as that might sound). And afterwards, I realised it was probably the only chance I would get to go formal shopping with them (since I was buying!!) until the next big event – their wedding!

Some tips that worked for me and others:

Set a budget before you go shopping. I found that by setting a limit of what I was prepared to contribute to this outfit, it then placed some reasonable expectations in my daughters’ minds. The girls would regale me with stories of friends and friends of friends that bought their ‘designer dress’ for some astronomical price on their recent family trip to Paris!  Right… I realised later that was just their devious plan to guilt me into increasing the budget!

Feedback from girls two years later: I asked recently a group of my daughter’s friends, if you had to do it over again what would you do differently? There was unanimous agreement on two things: Go shopping early, at least 6 weeks ahead and don’t buy BLACK as it was considered the safe bet so everyone wore it!

Allow at least 2 shopping excursions to find the dress. Formal dress shopping can be exhausting. You will probably find after four hours of pounding the pavement that your daughter will get disheartened. Take a break and try again another time. We needed three separate trips to cover the different locations as there are numerous shops in the CBD/Paddington/Fortitude Valley and the suburban malls of Brisbane. You might be lucky and find perfection on the first outing. However, we didn’t realise this until after we had exhausted all possibilities (and ourselves).

Having the dress made: This doesn’t necessarily save you money but your daughter will have a dress that is probably a perfect fit. Fabric, dressmaker fees etc. can add up and allow 7-8 weeks for the finished product. If you are handy with the needle, I applaud you, as this will be the least costly route.

Get an idea of what your daughter might like before you venture out: She might have discussed this with friends and have an idea of the style and colour of dress she would like. Hey, this was one of the few times my fashion opinion meant something and I exploited the opportunity to steer her away from some of her initial choices. Take a gander at the numerous designer and department store websites.  Also, the red carpet fashion at the Oscar’s is a great starting point to gain some insight as to where she might already be sourcing some ideas. Here is a small sample:

Red carpet images –

Bec and Bridge – an e-boutique 

Boutique Stores in Brisbane:

Bessie Head –– Broadway on the Mall, Queen Street, Brisbane

Carla Zampatti –– Level 1, Queen Street, Brisbane

Sass & Bide – most department stores

Violet Green Fortitude Valley – (fashion week 2011)

Ultra Suite: 709 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley;

Good luck and enjoy!


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Pistol parenting

This is the dad who put nine bullets into his daughter’s laptop, to punish her for posting disrespectful remarks on Facebook. He filmed it, then uploaded it to You Tube. Apparently this guy  missed the lessons on  reasonable punishments, but he’s sure good at following through on a threat. So, is this clever parenting, the work of a desperate man or is he a gun-totin’ mad man? I’ll let you decide.

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