Growing up – hitting the wave of the tweens!

Today I saw my son in a new light, as the boy he is and still wants to be, and the man he’ll grow into and is being pushed into faster than he or I might like! But growing up is inevitable and rather than hiding from it (which is what I want to do) we’ve got to face the next few years head on – together!

He turned 11 this week and in American terms is now a ‘tween’! Admittedly he’s been spoilt rotten with a trip to the Emirates stadium last weekend, a family tea party and a sleepover last night (which we’re all still recovering from!).

Watched him bonding with friends, playing FIFA until the wee hours and larking about in true lad style I thought to myself, my baby is grown up, I need to do something about this! Just before 2am we’d had enough and reluctantly gave the ‘still wide awake and giggly’ boys the responsible parent ‘it’s late, that’s enough now’ talk and confiscated the tablet. Before turning the lights out myself I thought I’d just have a look back at everything they’d been doing and then wished I’d waited for the morning!

Now I preach constantly about online safety for kids – at work I see what it can do to young people who get caught up in the cyber world without any warning or protection … so I am ashamed and shocked to report the following, but want to share my experience today to educate others.

I had diligently put parental controls onto the tablet when we first got it and used the tablets own settings to turn on safe modes etc. I regularly check what games and apps he’s using, chatting to him every couple of weeks openly about the dangers of the internet (slight overkill maybe but he now knows the spiel well enough to repeat it back to me, and I’ve heard him telling others to be safe online too!!). What I had failed to realise, and I didn’t check, was that these controls hadn’t worked on everything …. Youtube is completely open and not restricted by the controls I’d used.

To my horror I found films in the browsing history on Youtube of a nature you wouldn’t want your 11 year old to be seeing. My heart sank, I felt sick and like a complete failure. How had this happened? After asking Google and reading endless forums I discovered that despite my efforts at installing parental controls you need to go into Youtube separately to turn ‘safety on’ and restrict the content available. This isn’t new (something Youtube added after pressure from parents in 2011/12) but you have to look for it and turn it on in your browser even if you have added parental controls to your PC, laptop, tablet etc in other ways. So from this frustrated, angry with the world yet guilty with my own failure to protect my child parent to another – check your settings, regularly!!

Back to the bigger issue, that my 11 year old has now seen films that gave me a sleepless night. Switch on responsible, open and honest parent head it’s time to have a conversation about sex I’d not wanted to have just yet.

And this is where he surprised me and I saw him torn between the kid he still wants to be and the pressures of being a ‘tween’ today. When asked, he openly admitted to seeing inappropriate films, squirming uncomfortably as I asked him how, why etc, but spoke to me like a grown up. After a long chat and some basic talk about sex he asked me something. He doesn’t want to know more yet, he thinks he needs to know more before going to secondary school but right now he’s happy not knowing and would rather wait. So we made a pact – with a full on handshake and pinky swear! If he’s curious or has heard stuff at school that makes him uncomfortable or he wants to know about so he doesn’t look stupid, he’ll ask. And I won’t talk about it for a few more months.

I’m not sure how this will go and I’m not naive to know that this is just the beginning and what we need to do is talk more, not less. But what it has made me see is that we need to up our game. Society is moving fast, we need to too. We need to be on top of our kids and what they are exposed to every day. And I don’t mean sheltering them, especially if they are with other kids in the school playground. For me, whats more important is beginning the conversation and having a good relationship where your kids can come to you with anything whatever it may be and not feel scared to do so. I’m by no means there with that yet, and am under no illusion that he probably doesn’t like talking to his mum about this stuff (who would!), but he knows I’m ok with it and want to talk to him. My door is open…. and I’ll tell him everything he wants to know. For now he’s said that’s enough …. it won’t be long before we have to talk again though I’m sure!

So after a ban on Youtube for a couple of weeks, some serious chat, a cry, a hug and a pinky pact, drama 1 of the tween years is over.

Kids have a tough time during this ‘inbetween stage’, wanting so much to fit it and have friends but also deep down just wanting to be a kid and not needing to know the facts of life just yet. It’s my job to foresee this, I failed with Youtube and his curiosity over the word ‘sex’ being banded about the playground …. but I’m on it now…. bring it on tween years!

(For anyone who wants to change Youtube settings check here )

‘Patience is the best remedy for every trouble’ – just happened to be my sons fortune cookie tonight which he pointedly shared with a secret grin that only we knew how much it really meant to us both!

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Little Christmas wishes and new year promises!

For the first time on the eve of Little Christmas (as it’s known in Ireland)I secretly wrapped presents for my children to surprise them with in the morning to celebrate the twelfth day of Christmas. For those who don’t know, tomorrow is the last day of Christmas, the Epiphany – the feast of the three Kings. In some countries this is the day Christmas is celebrated and presents are exchanged. This isn’t something we have celebrated with gifts before but as we’ve had such a lovely time over Christmas,  I want to eek out the Christmas cheer out as long as possible (It may also be the result of semi-conscious working-mum guilt as I go back to work!).

Funnily enough they were both telling us over dinner tonight that their Polish friends get presents tomorrow as they celebrate their Christmas on the 6th January. I can’t wait to see their faces in the morning now! The presents are only small but how exciting to get presents at the end of Christmastime too! A new Walker family tradition to put on the list for next year!

It’s also almost 6 days into 2015! And as the cliche goes time for some new year resolutions! To be honest I have no idea why we make new year resolutions and it’s getting late so I’m not going to Google it! Last year I said I’d write more …. hmmmm…. let’s roll that one onto this year! I’m sure I’m not alone (please tell me I’m not!), hundreds of resolutions get made at the beginning of the year and are already broken by the end of January! The trick I guess (and I’m no expert) is to make them small and relevant – they’ll be more achievable, right?!

So as you’ve guessed, one of mine is to write more! Along with exercise more, eat healthily, take photographs every day … blah blah blah! What happened to small and relevant??? Some of those I hope to achieve sporadically throughout the year (she’s says having just shared a box of Milk Tray with the other half!), but the most important promise for the new year is the one we made as a family over dinner on Sunday. Admittedly this was a bit of an (engineered) attempt to steer family life but the kids were the ones that came up with the goods.

So the Walker household have all signed up to the following (it’s going to be tough but the emphasis is on trying to do these things and helping each other to do it too!)

Walker family promise for 2015:

  • Be kind to each other
  • Be happy and positive (including when we’re talking! – especially relevant for my oldest who is 11 in a week but is sometimes getting too much like a teenager than I’d like just yet!)
  • Talk nicely to each other
  • Be thoughtful

So a Happy New Year and Merry ‘Little Christmas’ from me.

Hopefully I’ll be back with more about me, my family, hopes, dreams, opinions and whatever else I think of to jot down over the next few months!

LGComms – be the best and prove it

It’s good to take time out to reflect, assess where you’re going and what you need to do next. LG Comms academy was the perfect opportunity for this – and what a treat it was!

Disclaimer: Much of the below is borrowed from the brilliant speakers and comms people I met in Manchester last week – with a personal slant.

As local gov communicators we’ve got a tough job battling conflicting messages promoting our location as THE place to live, work and play against the onslaught of messages around cuts and changes to services. Gloomy? Don’t be! Challenged, excited? Yes, you should be! Attending #ComsAcad last week for the first time I left full of energy, affirmation and inspiration; as communicators we’re on the right track, we’ve just got to do more of the good stuff and prove to the world what we’re made of.

So, what did I learn? Way too much to write down and my heads been buzzing since. It was, honestly, an inspiring experience – and I don’t use that word lightly, it’s a much overused word! There were too many motivational speakers to name but if you get the chance I’d go and see these ones again – Alex Nickolay-Kell from Google, of course, (who can say no to a Google cupcake!); Brigadier David Allfey who related comms to militant leadership like no other and left the room sitting bolt upright and *silently* saluting his performance. I was awed by stunning campaigns like GREAT, Break the Silence, #DementiaFriends and left totally gutted that Local Gov can’t compete with a budget of so many millions! However felt a real sense that everyone in the room was there with a shared goal – to learn, share and do great things for local and central gov comms!

There were a number of recurring themes that hit the floor throughout the week that I’ll try to summarise; trust, telling a story, the importance of staff and thinking differently.

Let’s start with storytelling (and no I don’t mean at bedtime!) … it’s the best way of relating to the people that matter – your audience, but we’ve got to make it human. Leaders and politicians want us to challenge them to straight talking – and if they don’t yet agree, then you should be pushing them to do it. Nothing builds a great story than the REAL story even when it isn’t great news. We heard from a brilliant panel on Crisis Comms and the message was consistent… stuff happens! Don’t hide, be visible; be proactive and tell the truth – it always comes out in some way or another but if you’ve built relationships with the media, they’ll be more understanding.

And what makes a good relationship? Trust of course. And to win that trust it goes back to that old saying of treating other as you wish to be treated – and if not, then as you would your family and friends. If you feel you know someone you’re more likely to be a bit more forgiving when they do something wrong. If there’s no relationship there then … stuff happens!

Have you heard that marketing is a science not an art? That one’s been around for a while now and was strung out again at #ComsAcad. I was pleased to see Paul Masterman, Head of Comms at Staffordshire CC argue this during the panel on staff engagement (urgh – jargon encrusted local gov term!). Communications needs to be both science and art – we absolutely need to make more use of data for evidence based campaigns but don’t forget that personal touch – we are after all talking about human beings, are we not?

 

I was pleased to see a strong focus on internal comms over the 3 days. Staff are our most crucial asset – and number one ambassador. It’s no secret that word of mouth is the most effective tactic in the book and who better to do this for us than or own people. Unsurprisingly (but something many of us probably haven’t focused on until now) is that line managers are the most trusted managers with the greatest influence. Of course, it’s make total sense. But they are often the forgotten managers when it comes to internal comms. So use them! We also heard from the brilliant people @TheICSpace who are pulling together loads of great resources and case studies for internal communicators. If you haven’t seen it already check it out http://communication.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/ic-space/. And send them your own case studies and share ideas with fellow IC guru’s.

What really left a big impression, was the passion that oozed from both Cormac Russell of Nurture Development and Dominic Campbell of FutureGov. Taking a radical approach to building services and communities and the role of the ‘citizen’ was top of their agenda. I urge you to look up them up – you won’t be disappointed.

Cormac compared communities to football teams – 22 people doing the work and 3,000 people telling them what to do! Genius! He is challenging us to rethink everything we do in local government and reshape communities. A huge ask but one I think has massive merit in tackling. We need to shift the focus from what’s wrong to what’s strong and really listen to our communities (and I mean REALLY listen – don’t just bang out that survey monkey questionnaire!). Communities are waiting to be liberated and we can help them do that by going to where the people are actually living their lives. His challenge – rebuild the sense of ‘citizen’ empowering people to be self-sufficient where they can be, doing things better than we can on their own and supported where they can’t.

So think about this:
1. What is it that people in communities are best placed to do to create better lives?
2. What is it they can do with help?
3. And then what’s left for us?

Dominic, spoke along similar lines, frustrated with local government, insistent that we should be investing in communities, getting to the heart of issue and finding the right solution – not just bolting on digital to tick that ‘digital first’ box! According to Dominic, the majority of local government websites are past it. We’re running behind the times when it comes to digital and we should be using it as a sophisticated tool to aid the delivery of services in a tech driven age. FutureGov have launched a fantastic project doing just that, ‘Casserole Club’ connects people to share meals with those that need it. Simple and effective I can’t wait to see how it rolls out. Take a look and sign up if you can spare a meal or 2 a week!

You may be thinking that some of these concepts are just way too huge to tackle when all we do is communications. Wrong. We shouldn’t just ‘do’ comms. We should be challenging leaders and managers at the outset of business changes and new ideas to involve comms. We can help shape the thought process, get to the heart of what it is we’re trying to achieve, think about what it is the customer wants/needs and influence how we do that in the right way.

Is it odd that I haven’t mentioned digital yet? The digital theme was discussed in abundance, but alongside it a health warning. Don’t fall into the trap that building a website or ‘doing’ social media is the solution and will do! Digital is a tool like the many others so shouldn’t be used in isolation. Our job is to figure out what the issue is, what outcome we want to achieve and find the best way to do this. Google pointed out that we need to be cleverer with the plethora of data that is out there to pick ‘moments that matter’ to our audience to be seen and heard through all the noise – totally agree.

And whilst we’re on the subject of data, evidence, evaluation and proving our worth should be the basis for all local gov comms. If we do all of the above, we’ll be building a profession to be proud of (world class according to Cormac Smith) and the people who employ in us to ‘do comms’ will be coming to us with problems and trusting us to do the job in the way it should be done.

So, be good at what you do, think harder and faster, put customers at the heart of the solution and know that this is only the beginning!


And just because there was so much more to tell these are just some quick notes I didn’t get in but want to share:

We’ve got to focus on making our worth known at the top table with focussed and evidence based comms only – no room for vanity campaigns!

Remember – local gov is like gravity, you know it’s there when you need it – you don’t need to know exactly how it works to keep you the world spinning!

3 key things the media will ask in a crisis:
Are you sorry?
How are you sure it won’t happen again?
Will you resign?

And some good videos:

Hero content – Volvo Van Damme split
Shocking content – Pub loo shocker

Dementia Friends video

Check out the Behavioural Insight Team – some great stuff going on there testing people’s responses to slight changes in messaging. Really good stuff.