Making Big Decisions ~ Parents and Young People

Young people chatting, 123RF stock photo.


 Parents / Guardians / Carers (PGCs) sometimes need a hand in approaching discussions with their children or teenagers.


The following are the topics covered ~












Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor  |  Volunteer Tutor 








Ideas on How to Approach Making Decisions through Discussion and Agreement


I have assembled here various articles by people distinguished in their fields. 


Dip in and out of the articles as you please. The whole lot together may be rather indigestible!


I have added my own perspectives in a number of instances in [ ... ICOB.] brackets.  I hope these are useful as starting points for conversations you may wish to have and also to give all PGCs a fillip when times get tough.




Please see the new Section at the very end of this Article, 'New National Childcare Scheme: Nine Essential Points for Parents'.  For any parent, guardian or carer who has a child in early childcare settings, The big change for PGCs when the National Childcare Scheme is due to start operating on Tuesday 29 October, PARENTS, and not their childcare providers, will be the ones who must apply for childcare fee subsidiesThere are other changes and websites and telephone numbers to access advice.  There will be no back payments.



I hope the following articles form useful templates on which to start discussions on anything from schooling, to sports, online activities including online gambling and pornography, extra curricula activities, and how much free time a young person has to spend with friends.  


Crucially, there's additional help in an extract from Dr Colman Noctor's book on how to navigate 'cop on' and understanding our children's relationship with technology under the heading WHAT IS 'COP ON' AND WHY DOES YOUR CHILD NEED IT?  Dr Noctor, is the Adolescent Psychotherapist at SPMHS, St Patrick's Mental Health Services.


Many of the studies were carried out in Ireland.  Please don't dismiss these as far away or parochial. The general information and ideas are easily extrapolated from the work.



Our 12-year-old is torn about which school to go to ~

She has become really upset and overwhelmed.

Hormones are not helping matters.



Should we just make the decision for her and tell her if it doesn’t work out she can lay all the blame on us?

Question:    We looked at two nearby schools for our 12-year-old daughter for secondary school.  She really liked the first and would have chosen it but unfortunately we did not get a place, although some of her friends did. She happily went with the second choice, where friends are also going, including one close friend.  We’ve just got a late offer for the first-choice school, which would strongly be mine and her father’s choice.  We think it is a better fit for her and she would like it and be happy there.  When we got the offer we took the approach of saying to her that this had happened and we would all think about it, and talk about it, and there was no rush.  


However, she has become really upset and overwhelmed.  Hormones are not helping matters.  She says she doesn’t want to disappoint us but in her head she had committed to the second school and worries about “abandoning” her close friend.  It’s very tough to see her so upset, yet we feel the first school is the best (sic) one.   Should we just make the decision for her and tell her if it doesn’t work out she can lay all the blame on us?


Answer:    The decision about which secondary school to go to is a big decision in the life of any 12-year-old.  In fact, it is likely to feel like the biggest decision they have yet made in their life so far.  In addition, this decision comes at a time when they are entering adolescence and able to think more long term, full of hormones and feeling emotions much more intensely.  


Your daughter is likely to be acutely aware of the pros and cons of schools, as well as the choices and losses about friendships.  This can feel like a lot of pressure.


Your question also raises the issue as to who should actually make the secondary school decision – should the child decide or should it be the parents?  And how do you resolve a dispute if there is one?  Legally, the answer is straightforward – the parents are responsible for making the decision.  However, from a child-centred psychological perspective, it is more complex.  


These big life decisions are best made in consultation with children and should take into account their needs and wishes.  In addition, the goal of parenting is to prepare children to make their own life decisions, so the ideal is to empower children to make good decisions as early as possible in their lives.


However, children develop differently at different ages – some are ready to take responsibility for big decisions at younger ages and others are not and need their parents to decide.  

Tragically, I see many children who have to make long-term decisions which they are not ready to make.  


For example, many PGCs let children decide how much contact to have with a parent in the case of parental separation (which has big implications for this relationship in the long-term), when it is better for the child if the parents work hard to reach an agreement and decide together.


Appreciate the Stress of Making a Decision

So, how do you help your own daughter in your own situation?  Firstly, it is important to acknowledge with your daughter the stress of making this decision.  She has the added complication of having to adjust her expectations – a decision had been made and her plans clear for one school and now she has to adjust.  Appreciate how hard it must be to consider changing at this time, after being committed to another school.  Also, listen and acknowledge her worries about letting her friend down.  Giving her time and space to express her feelings is really important.  Rushing a decision only adds to the pressure.


Say that it is Your Responsibility to Make the Decision

To relieve her of the burden of the decision, say you, her parents, will make the final decision.  Say you will take plenty of time to listen and discuss the issues.  Set a date in the near future as to when you have to decide.  Before that time you want to know what she thinks, feels and wants, but you will make the final decision.  


Remind her that you love her and only want what is best for her.  This is likely to provide her with some relief and space to think.


Explore the Issues with Her

Take time to unpack her worries and concerns, such as “letting her friend down”.  Praise her for her kindness and concern and ask questions to tease out the underlying issues.  Does her friend have other children she is going with to the original school?  How could she still stay friends with her?  (Often it is good to have a friend outside your school.)  

Be prepared also to share your views and explain to her why you think they are in her “best interest”.  Doing up a list of pros and cons with her might be helpful so you can make notes and review these later.  Taking a break from discussions and “sleeping on” the question are also good ideas.  


With a bit of time and patience, it is likely that you reach a consensus and make a choice that your daughter agrees with.  Though it feel challenging and emotional at the moment for your daughter, making this big decision could also be the making of her and build her confidence and sense of responsibility.


John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology.  He is author of several parenting books including 'Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers'.  See


The Irish Times, Sun, Jun 9, 2019, John Sharry



[I added headlines, colours, and emphasis of text and additions to the above article, ICOB.]



Communication and Positive Relationships

Image 117788627, mother and teenage daughter chatting, 123RF stock image.




As with all relationships, that of a PGC and a child needs to be nurtured and time put aside specifically so that it can be spent together. You could have a joint on-going project, which is useful when conversation is difficult to get flowing. Of course, you don't both have to be present when work is going on. It's helpful for one to catch the other up on what developments have taken place.


Famed educator and psychologist of the 1950s, Haim Ginott, developed ideas on the importance of communication and positive relationships with teenagers. Joseph Sacks clarified some of Ginott’s work with his own ideas based on clinical and classroom experience.


Please bear in mind that the following represents a parenting ideal that may be very difficult to achieve.  Have patience with yourself and try to implement the following ideas little by little.


1.      Teenagers Crave Self-Determination

Your teenager needs to feel independent.  Although limits need to be set, you need to give him or her as much autonomy as possible, within reason. Too much freedom can be dangerous, but too little can be equally harmful as your teenager will feel restricted, resentful, and maybe rebel. Each teenager is unique, and where one child might thrive under your supervision, another may need more independence.

You must be wise and work out what is just the right amount of freedom your teenager needs as he or she ages.


2.     Use “Golden Phrases”  

Golden phrases empower your teenager and encourage him or her to take responsibility. By saying things like, “You decide”, “Whatever you choose is fine with me”, and “I have confidence in your ability to make the right decision”, you communicate that you trust your teenager.


The truth is that we need to let teenagers make their own mistakes. 


It is more important that your teenager makes a self-determined choice than one determined by you as the parent. Your child’s sense of self is at stake, and that may mean you have to let him or her choose, even if you would have chosen differently.


3.     Don’t remind Teenagers of their Younger Years

You may think about the times when your teenager was growing up every day, but he or she would rather not.  Teenagers are trying to put distance between themselves and their childhood.  Statements like, “Remember when you were …” or “You were so cute when …” make your teenager feel like a child, squirm with embarrassment, at a time when he wants to be treated like an adult.


4.     A Teenager is an Unfinished Product

Your child is growing up, but he or she hasn’t finished.  He or she has not developed and refined character traits yet, and many important experiences still lie ahead of him or her.

As a result, your teenager is bound to make some poor choices and mistakes.  It is your duty as a parent not to point them out! 

Your teenager may believe you see flaws and shortcomings rather than his or her efforts to learn and grow.  This can be threatening to your teenager’s sense of self.  Not to mention, she or he is probably painfully aware of her or his mistakes anyway and doesn’t need help remembering them. [The human brain doesn’t mature until around 25-30 years. ICOB.]


5.       Don’t Try to Prove You’re Right

You may know that you are right in a disagreement with your teenager but resist the temptation to prove it.  When you engage in a battle of wills with your teenager, it becomes about more than the issue you were debating.  Your teenager’s 'sense of self' is involved and he or she has too much at stake to give in. Trying to prove your point only creates resistance.  Instead, be patient and remember that sometimes you must let your teenager learn from time and personal experience.


6.     Be Nice!

Many parents who are in a conflict relationship with their teenager throw their hands in the air and exclaim, “Of course it’s that way, he’s a teenager!”  The truth, however, is that your relationship with your teenager does not need to be 'that way'. There are parents who have warm, respectful, and relatively conflict-free relationships with their teenagers.  You can aim to achieve this by following the golden rule. 


While it may sound simple, parents often overlook how important it is to BE NICE!  Be nice to your teenager.  Be kind, gentle, forgiving, and flexible.  As much as possible, be a source of pleasure to your teenager, not stress. She / he should think, “Mum always makes me feel good”. Yes, limits need to be set, but you will be surprised how setting expectations in a kind, thoughtful, way can work wonders for your relationship with your teenager. [Often, in family life, people can get into a habit of speaking rudely or in an offhand way to each other.  Everyone should try to speak to others as they would like to be spoken to themselves. If discourse starts from a low, possibly coarse level, downwards is going to be pretty unpleasant. ICOB.]


7.     Don’t Be Bossy

Ironically, the fewer instructions your teen hears, the more likely he or she is to comply with the remaining few commands you do issue.  Try spending an afternoon without telling her or him what to do – not even once.  


Then, at the end of the day, ask him or her nicely to complete one important task and you will be surprised to see him or her comply.  That is because the relief he or she felt at not being bossed all afternoon gave him or her a sense of self-determination and, therefore, the strength to comply.


8.     Ask Nicely!

When you do want or need to ask your teenager to do something, remember to ask nicely.  It’s amazing how many parents bark orders at their teenagers instead of speaking to them politely. 


How do you feel when your boss gives you a brusque order? Teenagers appreciate being asked politely just as much as adults do.


Try asking in and easy-going voice, “Would you please wash your hands before we eat?”.


9.     Never Criticise Negatively

Never use negative criticism with your teenager.  Even with the best intentions, negative criticism is poison to a teenager. Maybe you hope to benefit him or her by correcting some sort of fault or mistake, but the damage done to his or her self-esteem far outweighs the benefit.  Additionally, your teenager may come to resent you for your criticism, limiting your relationship and how effectively you can reach him.


10.     Praising your Teenager

It can feel like your efforts to compliment your teenager aren’t registering, or that they are doing more harm than good. So, how do you praise a teenager? The key is to avoid praise that is an evaluation, or where your teenager may believe his or her value is based on performance.  Statements like, “You’re such a great footballer,” mean well, but they have several drawbacks. [Praising someone for the sake of it is always patently insincere and of little value to the recipient.  That kind of praise is usually despised and does not reflect well on the one who gives it. 

Often, such empty praise may be seen as a form of pressure to work harder on the matter praised and can be viewed as a back-handed compliment. ICOB.]


Firstly, these sorts of evaluative statements put pressure on your teenager to always live up to an unrealistically high standard, to always be as good or better from now on.  He or she knows he / she can’t meet these expectations and feels bad or like he / she has failed.  Furthermore, this type of praise often feels untrue and insincere. He or she knows he’s probably not truly a great at sports as he or she makes mistakes often.  Rather than helping him or her focus on his / her successes, excessive praise reminds him or her of mistakes.


Secondly, disproportionate or over-zealous praise can tempt your teenager to accept an over-inflated sense of self which can easily be shot down by a few setbacks.  Instead of praise, try to use the golden tool of describing what you see your teen accomplish. [For example, you might say, “Gosh, you made the catch,” or “I see you practised hard for an hour,” or “You finished all your homework early”. This frees your teenager to make his or her own judgments about him / herself. ICOB.]  This creates true self-esteem, whereas evaluative praise, by contrast, creates a fragile sense of value based on others.


If your teenager helps you around the house, instead of saying, “You’re great!” describe what he / she did: “You set the table, that was helpful, thanks”. The point is to give a realistic picture of the accomplishment, not to glorify your teenager. Too much praise can make a person feel arrogant and uncomfortable.  Describing, on the other hand, leads to a realistic self-image and allows your teenager to conclude about her / himself, “I am liked, I am appreciated, I am respected, I am capable”. This ability to find self-value is true self-esteem.


11.     Give your Teenager Privacy

Teenagers need privacy.  You may worry about your teen and want to know what is going on but avoid the temptation to pry too much into their lives.  Giving him / her some space and distance is a mark of respect, and you may even find your teen is more willing to open up.


12.      Don’t Lecture

Teenagers, like everyone else, hate sermons, lectures, and speeches.  Stick to short sentences only. Instead of trying to explain to your teenager why he never does his homework, just say, “Bobby, homework, please”.


13.      Don't Fututise

Futurising is when you tell your teenager how his or her behavior now will affect the future.  

“If you ever want to get a job, you are going to have to learn to be more responsible”, for example. Or, “What are they going to think of you in college with those table manners?”. 

These types of statements are just negative criticism and insults, which is exactly how your teenager will perceive them.  

Futurising should be avoided like the plague. [Plus, it's a particularly ugly word, and should be avoided for that reason alone!  ICOB.]


14.      Discuss, Don’t Critique

If your teenager has an interest you dislike – or can’t stand – try to express your own tastes rather than offering criticism. [The next time your teen turns on his or her music, for example, avoid groaning or saying, “Turn down that rubbish”. Instead, acknowledge their selection – “I see you like rap” – and describe what you feel, “I still love Bowie”.  ICOB.]  Your teenager will appreciate that you had a conversation instead of critiquing or dismissing his / her interests.


15.       Reflect, Don't Argue

If your teenager complains about your food, try not to argue. Just reflect his or her complaint back, “Was the soup too cold for you? I was rushed today”. This validates your teenager’s experience and enables him or her to deal with it. By accepting her / his feelings you make it easier to express her or his appreciation for your good cooking. [I think it's reasonable to ask all children and young people to help with preparing a meal. It's a chance to learn a lifelong skill and a good way to hear everyone's news of the day. ICOB.]


16.      Respect your Teenager’s Opinions

When your teenager expresses his or her opinion, you need to respect and validate it.  For example, “It sounds like you think Manchester United aren’t going to make it into the top four this season”.  A young person’s opinions are like a small fire that needs to be carefully nurtured and kept aflame until it can develop into an adult belief system.  


You need to show your teenager that it’s fine to disagree with you.  Try to see things from his or her viewpoint.  Never, ever, ridicule or put down your teenager’s opinions.


Be very sparing even when you disagree with your teenager. If he or she expresses an idea you disagree with say, “I’d like to know how you came to that view. Can you tell me more about it?”  Reflect what your teenager said and only then say how you see things differently.


[Similarly, if your teenager expresses a vague idea and he / she is not completely sure how to it get across, help him or her to express ideas more clearly by restating back what you understand was meant by what he or she said. It could turn out you’ve completely misunderstood.  Being listened to and respected by one’s parents develops self-confidence and self-respect.  It helps a teenager turn into a successful adult, and your teenager will appreciate you for this.  ICOB.]


17.      Reflect your Teenager’s Experience

If your teenager has trouble getting out of bed in the morning, reflect to her or him that you understand. For example, “I know it’s tough getting out of bed on a cold morning. It would really feel great if we could stay there longer”. This validates your teenager’s experience, and the pleasure and understanding she or he gets may give her / him the strength to get up.


18.       Always take your Teenager’s Side

When a teenager comes home reporting a conflict with someone outside the house, don’t take the side of the other person.  Always support your teenager, even if you suspect he or she was wrong. 


By taking your teenager’s side, he or she will feel more secure and, therefore, more likely to admit mistakes he or she has made.  When he / she comes home bruised from conflict, help and support are what are needed, not criticism or condemnation.  You need to be your teenager’s defense team, always on his / her side.  Many parents think their children need them to be tough so they can learn to deal with adversity.  The opposite is true, however, and being warm and supportive is what will give your teenager the strength to deal with challenges and uncertainty.


19.    Reflect your Teenager’s Feelings

Reflective listening can serve as emotional first aid, helping your teenager heal from emotional wounds.  You should always deal with your teenager’s emotions before you start giving advice.  When your teenager comes home complaining that someone has wronged him or her, use responses that reflect the feelings they are sharing. For example, “Oh, that must have been embarrassing”, “Did that made you angry?”, and “You must have resented him for that”.  


When your teenager sees that you understand how he or she is feeling, it helps diminish some of his or her strong emotional responses.


20.      Never Argue with your Teenager’s Feelings

Accept your teenager’s feelings.  Reflect on what they’re experiencing and acknowledge their perceptions. Never deny your teenager’s feelings or experience.


21.      Accept that Schoolwork is a Burden

If your teenager complains about his / her schoolwork burden, don’t dismiss the concerns or say, “That’s life”. Instead, reflect the difficulty back, “I can see you have a lot of work. That volume of homework can be almost overwhelming when you must get it all done in one day. Is there anything I can do to help?”. 


The pleasure of this type of validation gives your teenager the strength to persevere without minimising his / her experience.


22.      Acknowledge your Teenager’s Worries

If your teenager is worried about a big game or a performance, acknowledge his or her concerns. You might say, “I know it’s scary to go out there and perform in front of all those people. You may feel like they’re judging you. Of course you feel nervous, it’s natural”. This shows you understand how your teenager feels and how she or he diffuses anxiety. [The great Bel Canto singer, Tony Bennett, tells a story of being in the wings before a performance and turning to see Frank Sinatra beside him.  He admired Sinatra greatly and told him he always gets very nervous before a performance. Sinatra nodded and said, the day you’re not nervous is the day you give up performing. ICOB.]


23.      Never Forbid Feelings

At times, parents may set limits on certain behaviours.  But we should never place limits on how teenagers are allowed to feel.  If your teenager is angry, allow him or her to experience his or her feelings.  


Never forbid, deny or repress an expression of anger.  If your teenager does become angry, never make fun of or belittle your teenager for his or her response. Anger does not go away when you forbid it; it just festers and gets worse.  Tell your teenager, “I see you are feeling really angry”, encourage him or her to talk about how he or she is feeling and take time to listen well.


24.      Express Anger without Insult

By the same token, when you become angry as a parent you should also express your feelings. But, the rule is “anger without insult” – you should never attack your teenager’s personality.  Express how you feel, “I’m furious, I’m boiling, I’m livid, I can’t believe what happened”; but don’t blame, attack, or criticise.  


Your teenager needs to learn that you are a person who has strong feelings, too.


 25.      Reflect, Don't Argue

When your teenager does something wrong or in error, don’t attack, criticise, put down, moralise, lecture, or give orders or commands.  All these things will put your teenager on the defensive and make him or her feel bossed.  Instead, describe what you see, what you feel and what needs to be done.  


Say, “There’s a mess in the living room after you and your friends. It makes me annoyed to see things all over the floor; everything belongs back on the shelves”. By describing the situation, your feelings and your expectations, you are giving your teenager information in a respectful way, letting him or her know you have faith in him or her to behave appropriately. This type of thoughtful, respectful, communication promotes healing and growth in your relationship with your child, increasing trust.  Remember, anger without insult.


26.     Tell your Teenager when you Don't like His / Her Tone

When you don’t like the way your teenager is talking, it is okay to tell him or her.  State clearly and directly – without criticising or placing blame – “It makes me uncomfortable when you talk that way”.



27.       Respond to Inappropriate Behaviour with Expectations

When your teenager behaves inappropriately, instead of criticising, ordering, or insulting him or her, state your values and expectations clearly and concisely.  “In our house, we don’t call each other names”, for example. Or, “In our house, we speak respectfully to one another”.  Haim Ginott developed the effective idea to write notes or emails to teenagers to address problems. Notes are extremely well received: the very fact that you went to the trouble to write a note shows tremendous respect for the reader.  


Additionally, instead of just blowing off steam and talking off the top of your head, writing a note allows you to plan and prepare what you have to say, making it much easier to control your passion and be constructive in your words. The written word also lends tremendous importance to what you have to say and it will be taken very seriously.


28.       Hurl Values, Not Insults

Offer feelings, not criticism.  Use “I,” not “you”.                                                                                                                   Statements like, “What is the matter with you”, or, “Look what you’ve done”, place judgment and blame.  Instead, describe your own values and experience: “I’m sorry this has happened”, or, “It’s a pity things worked out that way”.  You are making the same point, but you are doing so in a more positive and effective way.


You Can Build a Healthy Relationship with Your Teenager

Teenagers show respect for their parents when parents show respect for them!  Respect means that we should see the positive in our teenagers and appreciate their good qualities. We should treat them with kindness and consideration, recognising and reflecting their experience.


 [Many of us have been told “You must respect me, I’m your father”. We may have been taught ‘to honour thy father and mother’, but no-one will truly respect another who doesn’t deserve it as shown by his or her behaviour to and treatment of others, no matter who he or she may be. 


All humans are due respect, but people in authority are on a sticky wicket if they think claiming respect will make it so.  ICOB.]


 [I added headlines, colours, emphasis and additions to the text of the above article, ICOB.]



Building Resilience in Secondary School

Group of secondary school students in uniform, 123RF stock photo.




New study reveals ‘killjoy’ impact of progressing through secondary school


Resilience building is essential, and a tutor is key in talking through coping mechanisms with students for difficult scenarios


The well-being of Irish secondary school students decreases steadily from first year through to sixth, with girls suffering more of a decline than boys, according to a newly published Study.


The findings conjure up an image of first-year students entering the secondary school system full of joie de vivre and optimism, only to emerge six years later burdened down by the worries of the world. And that is probably exactly how many of the 55,000-plus students felt during the Summer, in the throes of the Leaving Certificate.


Of course, school is not the only thing happening in the life of adolescents. However, as the Department of Education and Skills’s well-being policy (2018-2023) notes, they do spend a large proportion of their time in school during their formative years, therefore “schools play a key role in developing and enhancing young people’s wellbeing”.


Well-being is not simply an absence of “ill-being”, says Dr Jolanta Burke, a chartered psychologist specialising in positive education, who led the Study involving almost 3,000 secondary school students aged 12-19 in schools around the Country. Yet up to recently well-being tended to be measured by weighing up the degree of negative elements such as depression, anxiety and self-harm.


“It is one way of looking at it, but it is not a way of capturing the wellbeing factors,” she says.


While the questionnaire used for the Study included reference to negative emotions and loneliness, it focused mainly on assessing well-being criteria such as engagement, happiness, meaning, achievement and relationship.


These well-being “skills” are increasingly being recognised as offering protection against mental health problems, just as a healthy diet and exercise lower the risk of physical illness and speed recovery after an ailment.


“Just because somebody has depression does not mean they don’t have the capacity to bounce back from it,” says Burke of the University of East London, who co-authored with Stephen James Minton of Trinity College Dublin a paper on the study that has been published in the latest edition of Irish Educational Studies.


“I had depression when my father died – but it was quite a normal reaction to death of someone really close, and my resilience skills and wellbeing helped me to get out of it faster.”



“Just because somebody has depression does not mean they don’t have the capacity to bounce back from it,” says Burke of the University of East London, who co-authored with Stephen James Minton of Trinity College Dublin a paper on the study that has been published in the latest edition of Irish Educational Studies.



It is also normal for students to experience anxiety, for example, just before their Leaving Certificate exams (or other major State exams), but well-being skills can help them cope with this stress much better.  Burke does not believe that the decline in well-being tracked by her Study is an inevitable part of growing up. However, the stress of school exams is undoubtedly a factor.


She says everything centres around the Leaving Cert, and when students enter secondary school they slowly become more and more focused on that one moment. “It keeps coming closer and closer.”  When she visited more than 50 schools over a two-year period, senior cycle students talked of being “petrified” about the looming Leaving Cert, believing that their chances of getting into university, a good job and even being able to buy a house all depended on it.


“They were putting themselves under pressure, their parents were putting them under pressure, teachers were putting them under pressure. No fun, just work, work, work – a bad idea.”

That’s a message some parents need to hear.  


Burke recalls a recent visit to the home of a friend whose now teenage daughter she has known all her life. “She always had fantastic after-school activities such as martial arts, drawing and dancing, doing all these fun things, and she was always excited afterwards.  I was really shocked her after-school activities are now just additional classes – language classes and grinds.”


At home, “all my friend was doing was screaming at her to ‘get off the phone and study’.”


Burke asked the girl when she had last been rollerblading because she used to love that, and she said not since last Summer because she had not had time since. 


Positive emotions, says Burke, are about creating moments in everyday life, not just over the weekend, that allows students to have fun, joy, a bit of carefree time.


“This is something that needs to happen in order to protect themselves from depression, from anxiety. That doesn’t mean if they have it they won’t have depression, but it is a very important aspect of keeping their mental health in check.”



School work apart, it is still very hard to be a teenager, she says. “Hormones are running wild, and some teenagers don’t have the support to help them through it.” But those who have good support from PGCs or “one good adult”, and have a good balance in their life, are likely to develop better well-being skills.


“So when they get to that difficult time it does not hit them as hard,” she says. “Adolescence is really unfortunately timed,” says child and adolescent psychotherapist Colman Noctor,   “because it is the point in your life when you are most scrutinised, coming at a time when you are most vulnerable.”  


As a result, he says “wellbeing is an ambitious concept for anyone between the ages of 11 and 19”.


When he asks young people what they think mental wellbeing is, they are likely to reply “happiness”.  But if you consider happiness to be laughing, jubilant contentment, we probably spend less than 1 per cent of our lives that way.


“If you expect that all the time you are going to spend 99 per cent of your life disappointed or feeling that you are missing out.”


In other words, our expectations of what well-being and happiness should be may make us more unhappy.


“We live in a very mentally unhealthy world from the point of view of the pace, the pressure, expectations, the comparative culture, the tyranny of choice – all that stuff is incredibly more intense and difficult than it ever was.


“Children are not weaker and lesser than they ever were,” says Noctor, of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin and author of ‘Cop On’.  “They are trying to manage a much more difficult landscape than we did, without the necessary space to develop the skills to be able to manage it. Think how many times you tell a child to hurry up in the day.”


Now that children are growing up in a far more anxious environment, they need extra skills to cope. “In the 1980s we had lots of time – we stood waiting for buses, or sat on a wall waiting for a lift – we had plenty of time to be mindful.  Mindfulness has become popular now because our world is mindless.”


Boredom Class

He worries that the “wellbeing” programmes being implemented in the junior cycle of secondary schools since 2017 could be tokenistic. 


He also wonders if we are over-complicating matters.  Why not a “boredom class”, he says, where “once a week there was 40 minutes of nothingness” – with no need for facilitators, videos or interactive white boards. “We just need to sit and take stock.”   


While he believes the curriculum for social, personal and health education (SPHE) is a really useful notion, it still all depends on the willingness and the enthusiasm of the teacher to run it. Does it become a doss class or something that is meaningful?


“Anything that is universally rolled out and is at the mercy of the facilitator has the potential to be great or not so great, but it is an unfortunate indictment of where we are. We shouldn’t need to do this but we do, so let’s do it well.”


Jolanta Burke: “I had depression when my father died – but it was quite a normal reaction to death of someone really close, and my resilience skills and wellbeing helped me to get out of it faster.”


At St Wolstan’s Community School in Celbridge, Co Kildare, Deputy Principal, Anne Smyth, believes a good well-being programme can alleviate demotivation, demoralisation and despondency. 


“Life is tough for everybody; some kids deal with things well and others don’t. It’s a matter of trying to empower them to deal with the fallouts of life because things happen.”


The School set up a “wellbeing committee” to consider initiatives it might take. First it consisted of seven teachers who then invited two student representatives from each year, from first to fifth, to join them.


Proposals they have implemented during the past year include a dance in the PE hall on Mondays to improve physical activity; walking at lunchtime on Wednesdays; the display of inspirational quotes around the School, eg, on the stair risers, toilet cubicle doors etc, to uplift all school personnel; and the setting up of a “gratitude wall” in the reception area.


Tutor Time

Currently schools have to provide 300 hours of “wellbeing” to junior cycle students, and this is mainly timetabled through SPHE, civic, social and political education (CSPE) and physical education classes, says Smyth. By 2020 this is to be increased to 400 hours. One of the ways St Wolstan’s is going to do this is to have eight minutes of “tutor time” at the beginning of every day.


“It is all about building a relationship between the tutor and the student, so it is not just going to be registration and check notes,” says Smyth. Parents sometimes don’t have time in the morning when they are rushing out, so the school community is very important, and this will be a chance to notice if a student is missing, or late, or showing signs of vulnerability.


Resilience building is essential, she says, and “the tutor is key in talking through coping mechanisms with students of difficult scenarios that may arise. The relation with one significant adult is important.” Up to now tutors have not been able to move up through the school with their classes, as is done in some schools, but Smyth believes this is a good idea, and it is something they are looking at.


The most pressing issue in schools is the impact of social media on young people, says Smyth, and St Wolstan’s, an all-girls school, is no exception. The well-being programme tries to address the fallout through education and SPHE classes.


The School is considering the banning of mobile phones, and is consulting with parents, students and staff on the matter. But it’s very difficult because not only are phones such an integral part of young people’s lives, but the school is also quite progressive in its use of IT.  


While the school broadband filters out social media, phones using 3G and 4G can access it.  “There’s issues with that. They are under stress because their lives are so public, they live everything so publicly. You’re trying to teach them to discern and discriminate between what’s appropriate to be publishing and not.”


Negative Emotions

In Burke’s Study, females reported lower levels of well-being across the board than males, and also higher levels of negative emotions and loneliness. She was surprised that engagement was lower in girls, as was a sense of achievement and physical health. 


Positive relationships was the only well-being factor that ranked equally for both genders. 


Some of these differences, Burke speculates, may be due in part to a high level of negative body image amongst adolescent females. And this can be exacerbated through more frequent use of social media. The field work for the Study was done just before the introduction of the junior cycle wellbeing programme, and Burke suggests it could be used as a benchmark in measuring the impact by repeating the research in a few years’ time.


She believes the Department of Education and Skills has not been directive enough in its guidelines on well-being for schools, leaving many unsure of what they should be doing.  


More structure has to be put in place, and programmes that are being used must be evidence-based, such as one being widely used in Australia.  Enhancing the well-being of students can potentially reduce many problems in school such as bullying.


“If we had people who are well psychologically,” says Burke, “they wouldn’t have a need to bully others, and you would also have people who are able to protect themselves from it.  Also, bystanders are more likely to feel comfortable in standing up for others.”


She thinks depression could also be reduced because students would be better able to deal with challenges, and it could address some discipline problems too.  As for parents who think school well-being programmes are just depriving their children of vital class time in the pursuit of higher Leaving Cert points, at St Wolstan’s Smyth says “wellbeing is the mortar to the bricks of academic learning – and if you get that right the academic learning will be better.”



Secondary school students hit hardest by low levels of well-being are those who are under-using their character strengths.


This is the conclusion of the study ‘Wellbeing in Post-Primary Schools in Ireland: the Assessment and Contribution of Character Strengths’ by Dr Jolanta Burke and Stephen James Minton, published in Irish Educational Studies


However, it’s one finding that Burke says gives her a lot of hope because it indicates a clear way for potentially boosting students’ well-being. Working to your own character strengths can create a lot of positive emotions, she says, but many young people are unaware of what they are.


In the course of Trinity College research she was involved in some years ago, they asked Leaving Cert students to identify their character strengths. “We were shocked because over 90 per cent of them didn’t pinpoint their top character strengths correctly,” she says.  This meant they were unable to consciously draw on them when things got tough.


Schools in Australia, US and UK are looking at how better to equip students with self-knowledge about what type of strengths they have, she says, so they can use them through difficult times. 


“I think we live in a society which is so focused on improvement, we forget what is good about us,” says Burke, who believes schools and parents have to make a greater effort to help students understand their strengths.


Pioneering US positive psychologists Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman  led a team of social scientists in developing the VIA classification of 24 character strengths and virtues.


If, like this writer, you’ve never taken a questionnaire to explore your own, you might be interested to know that the non-profit VIA Institute on Character, based in Ohio, offers free online surveys of character strengths for both adults and youths aged 10-17 at


[I tried this questionnaire: to fill it in is free and one gets one or two lines on each of one’s 24 character strengths and virtues, ranked 1 to 24. To get the full results, rather than the short version, costs between $20 and $50, ICOB.]


[I added headlines, colours, added to and emphasised text in the above article, ICOB.]



Tips for PGCs to Support Positive Mental Well-Being During Exams

Image 112607476, father and teenage son studying. 123RF stock photo.




As almost 125,000 students across Ireland have finished their Junior and Leaving Certificates for another year, and many more students worldwide are facing State or other important exams, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) is encouraging parents to take simple steps to look after young people’s emotional well-being during the exam period.


While increased pressure and a sense of the unknown can escalate anxiety and stress for young people sitting exams, experiencing these feelings is entirely normal, and using proactive tools to manage them can, in fact, be helpful during intense situations like the State exams.


Paul Gilligan, Chief Executive Officer of SPMHS (St Patrick's Mental Health Services), says, “As parents, a day never passes that we don’t worry about or for our children. This can be especially true around exam times, which often represent a major stressful life events for our children. Raising young people to be emotionally healthy and resilient is one of the most important tasks we undertake.  


"It is vital that we first and foremost support young people’s positive mental health and equip them with the tools to manage their emotional wellbeing, rather than focusing solely on their academic achievement."


Dr Colman Noctor, Adolescent Psychotherapist at SPMHS, advises parents that empowering young people to accept and control their stress levels during exams has a long-lasting impact. He says, “With anxiety levels running high at exam time, we may intuitively think that downplaying stress and eliminating all triggers is the best support for young people.  


"However, acknowledging their anxiety and finding ways to cope with it is a much more effective solution”.


Five tips which can help with managing young people’s mental wellbeing at exam time include:


1.   Allow exam stress to be experienced and expressed

Try to avoid exam stress from becoming ‘distress’ or ‘panic’. You can do this by acknowledging the feeling the young person is having and introducing something helpful to address the feeling, but not dismissing it.  Introduce context, reality and perspective into the conversation;


2.   Pick your battles

High stress can trigger irritability.  Your teenager may be unreasonably cranky at the moment. Deep breaths and let it pass. There’ll be plenty time for apologies and negotiation in a few weeks;


3.   Don’t downplay distress by saying it’s no big deal

This is a big deal to the young person.  These statements don’t provide reassurance: they provide feelings of being misunderstood and invalidated;


4.   Provide space to talk, be approachable, be available – but don’t become a nagging supporter

Invite your child to speak and seize the moments when they do, but try not to pressure them to talk to you.  This can be counter-productive. When they do speak about their worries, be kind, listen intently, acknowledge their stress and sit with them. Avoid fixing, minimizing or talk of repeating …


5.   Give them the support they need, rather than what you think they need

If your child has under-prepared, being reminded of this ahead of the exam will achieve nothing productive.  Accept the ‘we are where we are’ position, and try to support them to perform as optimally as they can by encouraging good, sleep, exercise, nutrition – and multiple cups of sugary tea.


Also, always remember that the exams and the anxiety which can come with them will pass: you’re nearly there!


St Patrick's Mental Health Services, James's Street,

Dublin 8, Ireland.


[I added headlines, colours, and emphasis of text to the above article, ICOB.]



Celebrating & Reflecting on the Emotional Resilience of Parenting

Image 18833904, parents relaxing with their son. 123RF stock image.




 Paul Gilligan

Clinical Psychologist, CEO St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Author of ‘Raising Emotionally Healthy Children’.


01 June is the United Nations (UN) Global Day of Parents, a day proclaimed by the UN as an opportunity to appreciate all parents in all parts of the world for their selfless commitment to children and their lifelong sacrifice towards nurturing this relationship. 


Paul Gilligan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, celebrates and reflects on the parental emotional resilience.


And then one day you realise that your children are worrying about you. You wonder how you let your guard down. It dawns on you that your well-being is their well-being, that they love you as much as you love them.


The Global Day of Parents recognises that for the “full harmonious development of their personality, children should grow up in a family environment and in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.”  This is a powerful message.  It provides parents with an opportunity both to celebrate and to reflect.  Becoming a parent changes your life forever. You think about your children every day. There is never a time when you are free from their influence. Your life is never your own again, and it is fantastic. You wonder how you ever lived without them. There is immense happiness, joy, and love.


Parenting also involves substantial worry, hurt, and loss.  We worry about our children and for them. We feel their emotional pain and want to protect them from all that is bad in the world. Expectations on children and young people are immense and, as a result, child and parent anxiety levels have never been higher.  Balancing work, social and parenting life is a challenge.


Emotional resilience is central to parenting.  Being able to balance the stresses, losses and risks while staying focused on happiness and love is essential.  The better our ability to do this, the better our child’s ability will be to do the same.   


Building parental emotional resilience involves connecting with our “inner parent”, that part of us where our natural love for our child meets our natural ability to parent.  


Essential to this is investing in our parental self-awareness; that is, knowing and understanding ourselves as parents within the context of remembering that parenting is a journey of discovery, through which we learn more about our child every day.


Accepting and celebrating the uniqueness of our child and loving them unconditionally is also crucial.  Central to our emotional resilience as parents is knowing how to be happy and knowing how to feel good about ourselves.  It goes without saying that parental emotional resilience cannot thrive unless the environment we are parenting in is a safe and secure one.


The work required to build resilience benefits both us and our children.  Raising children to be emotionally healthy and resilient is one of the most important tasks we will undertake.  With emotional health, our child stands the best chance of making the most of their childhood and of growing to be a productive and happy adult. They will be the parent who is most likely to raise emotionally healthy children of their own.


Modern parenting involves resolving the many myths and the accompanying self-destructive emotions that we are confronted with on an almost daily basis.  Many of us feel we don’t spend enough time with our children, yet facts indicate that this generation of parents spend more quality time with their children than their parents and grandparents before them.


At times, we feel an overwhelming sense of protectiveness towards our children, a feeling reinforced by a barrage of messages about the dangers facing them, such as drug usage, alcohol abuse and social media.  Yet our children are probably safer than we, or our parents, were as children.  Good parenting is associated with having academically successful and socially popular children, yet contentment for our children usually comes from them being enabled to “be themselves”.


Worry and guilt dominate many parents’ lives, feelings which not only impact on mental health, but can also impact on parenting style and decisions.  


These feelings can reflect in children who often soak up this angst and transfer it into anxiety and discontentment.


For many, the UN is irrelevant, but, perhaps on the day dedicated to parents, it is useful to reflect on the three age-old and basic principles of good parenting: happiness, love and understanding.  Applying these helps us stay emotionally healthy and build our child’s emotional health and resilience and, in truth, makes for a better life.


St Patrick's Mental Health Services, James's Street, 

Dublin 8, Ireland.



[I added headlines, colours, and emphasis of text to the above article, ICOB.]



What is 'Cop On' and Why does your Child Need it?

My photograph of a skimmia shrub from the garden in its early stage of berries ~ acid green.




We need to understand the allure of technology if we are to help children develop healthy relationships with it


Dr Colman Noctor


As a child and adolescent psychotherapist I am repeatedly asked difficult questions: “At what age should I give my child a smartphone?” “When can I allow my child have SnapChat?” “When is it okay for my child to have a Facebook account?” “How much screen time should I allow my child a day?” 


These questions are never easy to answer and, more often than not, I have to give a slightly underwhelming reply: “It depends on the child.”  


Recently, in considering what I meant by this ~ what it depended upon, exactly ~ I kept coming back to the same concept: 'cop on'.


So, what is 'cop on' and why does your child need it?  Despite the phrase being popular in Irish discourse we find it difficult to define. I believe a young person can be described as having a good deal of cop on when they possess an ability to be rational, resilient and sensible. They also would have a sense of grittiness and good judgment when called upon to cope with life’s inevitable challenges.


It is my concern that the modern world seems to be working against nurturing our ability to develop cop on by emphasising the importance of speed and convenience over reflection or thinking things through.


This “on-demand” culture of constant entertainment, instant gratification and high expectations is leading to higher levels of frustration and anxiety in our young people today.  It is my professional view that these significant changes in our way of being and thinking mean our young people are finding it increasingly difficult to deal with life’s inevitable trials and tribulations.


In this exclusive extract from my book, Cop On: What it is and why your child needs it to survive and thrive in today’s world, I look at some of the challenges parents and their children are facing and explore what they can do to ensure that their children develop a good sense of themselves so that they can create an internal mechanism for good decision-making and cop on.


There is a strong likelihood that when your child is given an opportunity to do something that they shouldn’t, more often than not, you will not be there and that is when they need to use their cop on.


In order to foster this in our children we first need to understand the world from their perspective. First let’s look at the allure of technology for young people and explore how to recognise when their relationship with it becomes problematic and adversely affects their ability to be rational, resilient and sensible.


By understanding these dynamics, you’ll be in a better position to intervene or support your child to develop healthier relationships with technology.



The 'Fear of Missing Out' (FOMO) has been described as a modern syndrome for our communication-obsessed age, a fear that encroaches on many aspects of our lives. This need to be always available, or “always on”, can be observed in my clinical practice. It is not unusual to hear accounts of young people who set alarms on their phones to wake them throughout the night so they can check social networking newsfeeds to make sure they are not missing out on anything. This inability to regulate themselves applies equally to other online activities, such as gaming, which is suspected to have quite addictive qualities.


I have encountered parents who have to get up at 4.00am to unplug fuses in order to stop their children playing online games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Others have described having to come back from their family holiday abroad because there was no wifi available and their children became unmanageable as a result of their FOMO.


These extreme forms of being always accessible are signs of poor regulation, a difficulty that is common to many aspects of adolescent life but one that parents and children can work to help manage – with a little cop on.  If we understand that young people need to learn the skills of regulation and cop on then we need to acknowledge the need to teach them.


A small child does not know how to regulate the way in which her or she eat ice cream and so will eat to the point of being sick. It is therefore the role of the parent to teach the child to have the cop on to know of these consequences.


Similarly a teenager does not have the foresight to be mindful of the time while on a sleepover and consider their busy day the following day and so they stay up all night and are contrary and irritable the next day.



The adolescent clients I see refer constantly to the importance of the “share”, be it sharing a status update on Facebook, a tweet, an image or a music video. The most impressive aspect of the social media they use is its capacity to share so instantaneously and widely.


The psychologist Aaron Balick writes in his book The Psychodynamics of Social Networking that the allure of the share is the recognition acquired through feedback in the form of “likes”, “comments” and indeed further shares or “retweets”. Herein lies the power of the share: the sharer hopes that their funny tweet or an impressive image of them doing something exciting will generate a swell of positive feedback, giving them the recognition and validation of their peers. 


While young people are negotiating the establishment of their identity in adolescence this recognition, validation, and feedback is never more important and valued.


 However, we must consider the long-term impact of this kind of validation over time . Just who are these “peers”? Just how nourishing to our self-worth can this feedback really be?


Psychoanalyst Sherry Turkle suggests that we have now moved away from this position of I have a feeling, so I think I will share it. 


Today it is common not to know how to feel; instead, the impulse runs more along the lines of ‘I need a feeling and so I will share’.  Such an impulse may stem from boredom or a lack of fulfilment.  The hope is that the feedback received will create feelings in the sharer, hopefully positive ones, and that the current moment that is devoid of a feeling will be filled.


In interacting with social media in this way, we continue to merge technology with emotion and meaning in our lives and this is what we need to realise.


In times of uncertainty, such as adolescence, we rely more heavily on the feedback and opinions of others to condone or condemn our choices; it serves as a sounding board to validate our choices about what type of adult we want to become. The difference today is one of scale: vulnerable, hypersensitive, teenagers are now trying on new identities and experimenting in front of 1,000-plus Facebook friends.


This is problematic, particularly as feedback via a simple “thumbs up” (or down) can lack empathy and be excessive in its tone and articulation. This validation and recognition that is so central to identity formation becomes a potential minefield of mixed feedback which is generated online and can be overwhelming.


As adults we are dumbfounded as to why young people subject themselves to this, yet if we learn to understand the importance of the feedback in cementing our sense of identity in a life stage that craves feedback and reassurance, we can learn to understand why. Therefore, the correct parental response is not to engage in criticism and prohibition but to teach the child to value themselves and develop the cop on to see through this fickle, empty feedback.



Keeping on top of all the different forms of communication across the multiple social networking sites, not to mention the selfies, shares and texts, means checking in with them consistently, and is a time-consuming task. 


The consistent use of social networking and computer-mediated communication can be compared to junk-food snacking: you dip in and out, interact as and when you like, and do so compulsively, without thinking, just like eating crisps. If we look at young people’s engagement with their virtual community as social snacking, we can better understand its strengths and weaknesses.


Social networking activities such as posting, liking, and commenting make for a quick, easy boost, a sugary rush of social energy from person to person: it’s the junk food of communication.  I describe it as such not to denigrate it but to get you to view it as an extra source of communication, a treat.


Therefore, checking in regularly on our smartphone is fine, but it’s not where we should be doing the bulk of our communication; the nature of its limitations means that the richness and meaning of a look, a warm embrace or even an empathetic conversation – the meat and potatoes of our communication diet – isn’t there.


So if social networking or computer-mediated communication is like junk food, then we have to make a point to engage healthily with it.  We know that most junk foods are fine in moderation and make for a nice occasional treat in addition to a stable balanced diet, but – and this is the crucial bit – junk food should not supplement or replace a balanced diet.


Virtual relationships are similar in terms of their psychological “nourishment”: they are harmless once we have the capacity to regulate them. Children who grow up on stable and balanced diets tend to see snacks and sweets as an indulgence that they are treated to occasionally.  Although they may desire junk food regularly and request it more often than other foods, they know how to relate to treats in a reasonable way.


In turn, we as PGCs need to show our children that we enjoy and value a balanced diet of face-to-face communication most of the time.  


So if we as PGCs are answering emails at the family dinner table during a meal or tweeting while we push our child on the swing in the park, we’re doing the technological equivalent of eating crisps for breakfast in front of our children.



The first and most important task in developing cop on in our children is for us to clearly role model cop on as PGCs.  


However, the technological evolution has happened so fast and is so pervasive that we as parents are only learning to moderate our own relationship with technology too.


It is surprising to sometimes consider that the banking crisis in Ireland is older than the iPhone. In 2009 we did not know what an iPad was. This was only ten years ago and now these terms are woven into the fabric of our discourse.  


As a nation, we have embraced technology and invited it into our family homes without many questions. 


There is a need for PGCs to learn to regulate their own relationship with technology if we are to impart the same messages to our children.


In my book I try to be as honest as I can about my own struggles with technology and show how I constantly aim to address these errors as they occur, which I hope is “good enough” and displays a sense of cop on.


Being the “perfect parent” is neither possible nor desirable, and the same goes for raising the “perfect children”. The truth of the matter is that raising children is difficult: fact. 

It always has been, and it always will be.  


It’s a time-consuming part of life for which there is plenty of guidance available, but very little of it is useful in real life. There is an inevitable trial-and-error aspect of being a parent. It can be very difficult and we will make mistakes, but in the words of Seval Oz, “If you are not making mistakes then you are not trying hard enough”.



It is important to reiterate that the internet and technology is not essentially bad – it is our use of and relationship with it that can be problematic.


Therefore, it is the role of PGCs to moderate this relationship and develop a corresponding relationship that offers a different perspective.  There are five key areas parents can focus on to nurture cop on in their children, all of which are explored in detail in the book, and based on psychiatrist John Gunderson’s “therapeutic milieu”.

“Psychological containment” is the cornerstone of the parent-child relationship. This means encouraging openness, honesty, and understanding of each other.  


Next you have to get the structure right. It’s crucial not to over-structure or under-structure our children’s lives as this can disable their own abilities to regulate.


Then you need to get them “involved”, gradually negotiating increasing levels of responsibility together without overwhelming them. 


It is also critical to offer the right kind of support and validation, taking time to listen to our children in a way that allows them to feel heard but also feel safe.  We must support them when they need to make tough decisions and taper this support as they become more able and independent.


All children are different and therefore need differing parenting approaches at times. The adherence to our need to develop relationships with our children has never been more important. 


With devices in their hands that are portals to an outside world that we cannot influence or control, we must look to how we can develop internal mechanisms in our children so that they themselves can make good decisions.


The introduction of the internet into our lives is the greatest social experiment of our time.


Never before have we embraced something so ubiquitous, so readily and with no idea of the possible consequences.  Our children have a different relationship with technology than we as adults do, and the main difference is that this is all they know.


Our children have arrived in the middle of a conversation and it is up to us as PGCs to inform them of what has gone before and teach them the value of their most protective companion on their onward journey; their cop on.


This is an extract from Colman Noctor’s book, Cop On: What it is and why your child needs it to survive and thrive in today’s world, published by Gill & Macmillan. To get the book within Ireland, call 01-500 9570 or see


St Patrick's Mental Health Services, James's Street,

Dublin 8, Ireland.


[I added highlighted headlines, space and emphasis to the text of the above article and amended some text, ICOB.]



Necessary Vaccinations for Boys and Girls

Graphic of infection,
image 34735824. 123RF stock photographs




 ThHPV vaccination is covered at the end of this Section.



The German Measles (Rubella) Virus is Making an Alarming Come Back in Western Europe,

and is Endemic in parts of Eastern Europe


There is a requirement of 95% vaccination cover to give a 'herd immunity' required to stop the disease from spreading.


The Health Service Executive (HSE), which is the National body in Ireland governing the Country's health care, has an Integrated Care Group for Children, and Dr Kevin Kelleher is on its Steering Group, and is also Assistant National Director for Public and Child Health. Dr Kelleher was interviewed on the subject of Rubella outbreaks in parts of North Dublin and an adjacent County. This is because around 8 per cent of babies nationally do not get the vaccination, and 13-15 per cent of babies are not vaccinated in North Dublin. 


There is no reason to think this profile is not replicated all over the 'Developed World'. 


Measles had previously been almost completely eradicated in the 'Developed World' according to the programme.


Dr Kelleher was asked why there was not full uptake of the vaccination (it is free in Ireland), he said that there is "a very stubborn group of people who are very anti-vaccination" and "who put out stories" via the internet, media, social media, which put people off having their children vaccinated.


Dr Kelleher told of of his experience of treating babies with measles when he was a young doctor, and ended by stating the following vehemently.


"Let nobody ever think measles is a mild disease. IT IS NOT."


He mentioned the group of people in the population who have not been vaccinated, especially in the "nadir" years 2001 / 2002.


People who do not have their babies vaccinated at 12 months as part of the MMR, and the booster vaccination when they start school, are not just risking the health and possibly the life of their babies, but they risk the health and welfare of all who come in contact with their babies and children.


Do you know for certain if you were vaccinated as a child?  The age group of approximately 40-35 years and younger, is more likely NOT to have been vaccinated due to the unsubstantiated scare over the three-in-one vaccination causing autism, during that period. The MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), can be TAKEN AT ANY AGE if a GP immunity test shows you have no immunity. 


(Visit  / 


The 6-in-1 vaccine protects a baby against six diseases: diphtheria; hepatitis B; haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib); polio; tetanus and whooping cough.  


Visit the above mentioned links for further information, plus the next two Sections.



A Digest of the Study

"Common Arguments Against Vaccination,

And The Answers to Them"

by Dr Ramesh Manocha, can be found at the end of this Post.





Of course, your health and that of your children is very important, but so is that of other family members who may be older or frail, most especially pregnant women, and any women you know who may be planning a pregnancy.  Catching RUBELLA in early pregnancy carries a risk of miscarriage.  


Nine out of ten babies affected by Rubella in the uterus WILL HAVE major birth defects such as deafness, blindness, brain damage, or heart disease.


The first signs of German Measles are a high temperature and a sniffy nose ~ just like the common cold.  In fact, some have no symptoms at all. By the time the telltale red splodges appear, two to three days in, you have already infected others. 


Proximity is enough to infect another, so being in the same room is sufficient to pick up or spread the infection.  If you feel you have the sniffles, do not go out.


PLEASE visit your GP to discuss this and other matters that affect you as parents / guardians / carers (PGCs) and the infants, children and young people in your life. Please take time to visit for further very important information on immunisation in general. 


You may not remember if your child received his or her first MMR vaccination or the booster when he or she started pre-school or at the age of four. Your GP should have records of all these vaccinations.  If you've moved location or cannot access your children's medical files, a very simple test will let you know if your children have been vaccinated.


You need to keep up-to-date on what's happening in the various fields of vaccination.


Pregnant women may need to learn about getting the WHOOPING COUGH (pertussis) vaccination while pregnant to protect the foetus in the womb and during the first few months of life.


PERTUSSIS is a highly contagious disease that can be life threatening and is most serious in children less than six months of age ~ possibly resulting in hospitalisation for pneumonia and brain damage.  







Having considered the matter of vaccination and the possible consequences of contracting any of the illnesses contained by the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), plus the duty of care any school or educational establishment has to its employees and students, I have come to believe it is reasonable for an interview board to ask any potential employee, at interview, if he or she knows if he or she has had the MMR vaccine.


Some people do not know if they had this three-in-one vaccine at a very young age, but a GP immunity test can show if a person has no immunity.  


 If a potential employee does not know if he or she has been vaccinated, or knows he or she is not vaccinated, I believe it is the duty of a educational establishment to indicate they WILL EMPLOY STAFF who have been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine.  An adult can have the vaccine from a GP very easily.


Whatever is the personal choice of someone regarding having or not having the MMR vaccine, I have come to believe the COMMON WELFARE of all the staff, students, and their families, in a early education school / Montessori / kindergarten, junior and secondary schools, college or university, MUST OUTWEIGH a personal choice not to be checked for an immunity test, or not vaccinated, if shown not to have been vaccinated.


I consider no-one can reasonably expect to be employed in a place of work, particularly full of women of child-bearing years, plus female students, without having had the MMR vaccine and, of course, their partners and offspring of male teachers. We each have a societal duty. 


This is just the front line of infection defence. The infection could easily be brought home to the family by anyone working in or attending the educational establishment.



Click, click, click. That is all it takes to fall down the rabbit hole of the anti-vaccine movement that has taken root on social media.


Just a few taps on Instagram, for example, and one is taken deep into the realm of ‘anti-vax’ conspiracies, ranging from pseudo-scientific vindications for the disgraced British scientist Andrew Wakefield's  bogus links between the MMR jab and autism in children, to hashtags such as #vaccineskill (with some 18,236 posts), to mocked up images of youngsters punctured by a barrage of needles.


This is viral content in the most literal sense. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pinpointed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the 10 biggest global health threats for 2019.


Similarly, the number of measles infections across Continental Europe tripled to 82,500 in 2018, compared to the previous year - a surge which killed 72 children and adults. 


Recently, Rockland County in New York State took the “extremely unusual” step of banning non-vaccinated children from public places for 30 days, in a bid to halt an outbreak of measles – a disease declared eradicated from the US in 2000 which has infected at least 153 people in the area since October.


Across the world, the anti-vaccine movement is drawing together disparate supporters from US President, Donald Trump, who prior to election scatter-gunned numerous anti-vaccine tweets, to Russian trolls, from Hollywood celebrities to hipster parents in the English Home Counties and Orthodox Jews in London.


Dr Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project established 10 years ago at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says the sheer scale of the anti-vaccine messages online have become far harder for health professionals to contest.

“These emotions and views don’t start with social media companies but are amplified by them,” she says.  “But as a society we need to think seriously about what we can do because something has broken in a big way.”


The decision to leave a child unvaccinated, she points out, is not just a threat to them, individually, but also the so-called ‘herd immunity’ – the resistance among any given population to a disease.


“I think it is irresponsible to not vaccinate,” she says, given measles is deadly in one in every thousand cases, while infection can damage the entire immune system and lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).


Dr Larson believes matters are reaching a point where the British government might need to reconsider its current position of leaving the choice entirely down to parents.


“I wouldn’t wait until there is a crisis,” she says. “If I were in government I would seriously consider putting requirements in place. Going to school, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say a child needs to be vaccinated because they put others at risk.”


Religious beliefs are believed to play a role.  The number of vaccinated children living in the ultra-orthodox Charedi Jewish community in Stamford Hill in north London, for example, is estimated to be well under 80 per cent, while Dr Larson says some Muslim communities have also raised concerns about gelatine in some vaccines.


But it is also at play in affluent neighbourhoods where parents, inspired by the natural health movement, are choosing not to vaccinate their child.  


“The way we live our life is to stay well and really focus on being healthy,” one mother says. “There are vaccinations now for things that wouldn’t even make a child that ill. I don’t want him to suffer, obviously, but he never gets ill. I really don’t understand this need to protect ourselves from things that won’t do our child too much harm.”


Stressing she is “pro-choice rather than anti-vaccine”, she admits she has been criticised for her approach and lost one friend altogether. Another mother from an affluent area, says she, too, is wary of admitting that she hasn’t vaccinated her five-year-old daughter.


“There’s not enough information out there,” she says. “You’re just told, if you don’t vaccinate your kids they’ll get measles, and you’re a stupid hippy. You’re chastised by the health system if you don’t do things by the book, in the same way as if you don’t breastfeed.  It’s really hard as a parent to navigate.”


Certainly, the public health community has little time for such arguments.  According to Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, “one unvaccinated child is one too many” and recent measles outbreaks are a sharp reminder of how serious the disease can be.


“We need to cut through the fake news, with evidence-based, easy to understand health advice for patients such as that provided by Public Health England,” she says.


“They should feel equipped and confident to challenge any spurious claims they might encounter so that they can make sensible, informed decisions about the long-term health and wellbeing of their children.”


The spectre of British doctor Andrew Wakefield, drummed out of the British medical profession for his 1998 paper that made a link between MMR and autism, still looms large over the modern day vaccine info-wars.


Twenty years on, he has rehabilitated his reputation in the US to such an extent that he is in a relationship with supermodel, Elle Macpherson, and has amassed avowed supporters who fervently believe his (professionally) debunked claims.


Anna Merlan, a US-based journalist and author of a forthcoming book, Republic of Lies, on the rise of conspiracy theorists in America, has interviewed Wakefield, shadowed him giving talks on a cruise ship and attended a sell-out screening of his documentary, Vaxxed, in New York.


“He is very charismatic and feeds into long-standing suspicions [in the US],” she says. Whenever asked about his exile from Britain, she says he is “able to skilfully talk about it as a vendetta against him by a medical establishment who felt he was getting too close to the truth”.


In April of this year, Facebook agreed to ban advertisements with anti-vaccination content while Instagram has announced it will also introduce controls.


 [The above are excerpts from an article in The Telegraph, 27 March 2019.]







Dr Muiris Houston

The Irish Times, 28 April 2019.


Among children who get all doses of DTaP vaccine on schedule, effectiveness is very high within the year following the final dose – at least nine out of 10 children are fully protected.


Despite having effective vaccines, infectious diseases such as mumps, measles and whooping cough are on the rise globally.  And while false news about vaccine safety – leading to vaccine hesitancy – has undoubtedly played a part, are there other reasons for this unwelcome trend?


The latest figures from the World Health Organisation suggest there has been a 300 per cent increase in the number of measles cases worldwide in the first three months of 2019.  


It noted that many countries are in the midst of sizeable measles outbreaks, with all regions of the world experiencing sustained rises in cases. Coming on top of sequential increases in measles cases in the previous two years, it is clear we have a problem with a potentially fatal infectious disease, that – until relatively recently – we thought could be eradicated.




Uptake of MMR vaccine in several wealthy areas slides, according to official figures.


Kitty Holland, Social Affairs Correspondent

Tuesday 27 August 2019, The Irish Times.


Parents in some of the wealthiest parts of the State (Ireland) have been slowest to have their children vaccinated, unpublished figures show.  Uptake of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine among infants in South-East Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, South County Dublin and East Wicklow was 87 per cent in the first three months of this year, compared with 95 per cent in the Mayo, Galway and Roscommon area.


The Health Service Executive data, communicated to Community Health Organisation (CHO) areas in August 2019, show the lowest uptake of the vaccine between January and March was in the eastern region of CHO 6, making it most vulnerable to an outbreak of measles or mumps.


The western region of CHO 2 had the highest uptake of the vaccine in the first quarter.


As children and adolescents return to schools and colleges the HSE is urging parents to check their children’s vaccination records and ensure they are up to date.


Number of cases of mumps reported so far this year passes 1,000.


Doctors warn of further mumps surge as cases exceed 1,600.


State at risk of losing status as having eliminated measles.


Immunisation rates for MMR have fallen to 91 per cent nationally – from up to 93 per cent in recent years – and are as low as 85 per cent in some parts of the Country.


In some ways we are a victim of our own success in that people don’t hear about cases of measles.


Dr Suzanne Cotter, HSE specialist in public health medicine, said the “slippage” in recent years was disappointing. “As a Country we need to see a vaccination rate of 95 per cent, to protect the community. These are not just numbers. They are children and we are talking about children’s lives.”


GP and spokesman for the Irish College of General Practitioners, Dr Liam Twomey, said there had “always been difficulties convincing parents [immunisation] is important. Parents have lots going on, they let it slip, they forget about it.”


Immune-Compromised Children

He did not believe anti-vaccination misinformation had much impact, but suggested “in some ways we are a victim of our own success in that people don’t hear about cases of measles, don’t believe it’s a real danger and so don’t see immunisation as a priority”.


However, when there are outbreaks in areas this “can jolt people out of their complacency”, he said. Asked about the disparity between uptake rates in different areas, he replied: “Those rates could turn around and next year be completely different.”


Dr Cotter said immune-compromised children who could not tolerate vaccinations depended on their more robust peers to get their vaccinations to protect them. “Parents have a responsibility to their own children and to the community,” she said.


Symptoms to look out for are irritation, ‘flu-like symptoms, a rash in the case of measles and swelling along the jaw line with mumps. Anyone with such symptoms should stay at home so they do not infect other people. Adults can avail of the free vaccine with the only charge being their GP administration charge. Children are routinely vaccinated at 12 months, with a booster in Junior Infants.






After decades of declining pertussis (whooping cough) and mumps incidence, for example, recent years have seen a resurgence of each disease despite maintenance of high vaccine coverage.  


Cases have mainly been among young-adult age groups.


For mumps, protection appears to wane over decades, prompting the use of additional doses of vaccine for outbreak control. And doctors are seeing an increasing number of adults with the interminable “whoop” of whooping cough.


Falling Immunity

In April of this year (2019), Toronto researcher Dr Jeff Kwong and his colleagues published a study in the journal Vaccine suggesting that the vaccine for pertussis works well at protecting people from the disease during the first decade of life, but that immunity later falls.


It seems vaccination is more complex than we might have thought.


Pertussis vaccines are effective, but not perfect.  They typically offer good levels of protection within the first two years after getting the vaccine, but then protection decreases over time. Public health experts call this “waning immunity”. Similarly, natural infection may also only protect you for a few years.


When it comes to waning immunity, it seems that the acellular pertussis vaccines (DTaP and Tdap) used now may not protect for as long as the whole-cell vaccine (DTP) doctors used to use.  Whole-cell pertussis vaccines are associated with higher rates of minor and temporary side effects such as fever and pain and swelling at the injection site. Serious neurologic adverse reactions, including chronic neurological problems, occurred rarely among children who had recently received whole-cell vaccines, prompting the development of the acellular version.


Fully Protected

In general, DTaP vaccines are 80 to 90 per cent effective.  Among children who get all doses of DTaP on schedule, effectiveness is very high within the year following the final dose – at least nine out of 10 kids are fully protected. There is a modest decrease in effectiveness in each following year.  In the first year after getting vaccinated with Tdap, it protects about seven out of 10 people who receive it.


About three or four out of 10 people are fully protected four years after getting this version of the whooping cough vaccine.  And receiving the newer (acellular) version of the vaccine was associated with twice the odds of contracting whooping cough compared with those who received the older vaccine when they were infants.


Resurgence in Mumps

Meanwhile, Scottish researchers have found evidence that the resurgence in mumps cases is due to waning immunity.  

They wanted to know why a vaccine-preventable disease is re-emerging in highly vaccinated populations. 


In 2015 some 67 per cent of those infected with mumps in Scotland  were fully vaccinated individuals.  Most of these cases occurred in adolescents and young adults, in contrast to the pre-vaccine era where outbreaks were among primary school children.


So it seems vaccination is more complex than we might have thought.  What was traditionally viewed as a “done and dusted” task for childhood may now need to extend to adult life.  With waning immunity a scientific fact for whooping cough, measles and mumps, booster vaccinations throughout life are likely to become part of future national immunisation programmes in Ireland.






 Gender-neutral HPV vaccine can help to eradicate cancers for future generations.


 Mon, Aug 26, 2019, The Irish Times,  Mary Horgan


Wherever you live, you will need to have a conversation in the near future with your early-teenagers, especially boys, about the HPV vaccine, what it helps prevent, and why boys as well as girls should get vaccinated. Most teenage girls are up to speed but it would be good to check with her also. 


There appears to be an erroneous notion that HPV vaccination only applies to girls ~ this is so dangerously incorrect.


The HPV vaccine was launched in September 2019 in Ireland. I suggest you prepare yourself with the information in this Section and if you wish to use a search engine, logging into the NHS site gives one reliable and easily digestible information.


The HPV vaccine was made available to both boys and girls for the first time in Ireland from September 2019.  


This is a hugely positive step that will help to prevent HPV-related cancers in men and women and save many lives into the future. The HPV vaccine was first made available to 12-year-old girls in 2010 with the purpose of reducing the effects of HPV-related infections, predominately cancerous changes that can happen in the cervix and result in cervical cancer.


It is important to be aware that the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cancer in areas beyond the cervix, particularly the anal area, and head and neck cancers.  


These cancers don’t discriminate on the basis of gender – males get cancers from HPV too.


Globally it is estimated that 85 per cent of anal cancers are attributable to HPV infections, and we are now seeing a 20 per cent increase in the incidence of head and neck cancers in Ireland.


Facts Show that the Side Effects from these Vaccines are Very, Very, Few

Nearly 50 per cent of these cancers are caused by HPV and the majority occur in men.  Some 20 countries have now introduced the vaccination for boys, including Australia where the uptake rate is up to 90 per cent. By vaccinating both boys and girls, we are creating what is known as herd immunity or reducing the incidence of the HPV infection being passed on to other people across our communities.  


If only females get the vaccine, then males can still pick up the HPV infection and could infect other people, while being themselves at risk of the associated cancers.


 [I added headlines, edited text, made additions, added colours and emphasis of text to the above article, ICOB.]



Common Arguments against Vaccination & the Answers

Boy with Rubella image. Stock image 123RF.



Dr Ramesh Manocha


Vaccines are among the greatest inventions in the history of medicine. 

They have saved countless lives and reduced human suffering by an amount which is impossible to calculate. However, today there are many rumours and concerns going around about the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations, which have caused many people to reject them. Here, we will consider their questions and answer them as we can.


Vaccines cause autism.

This is a common refrain, but one that has been thoroughly debunked over and over again. There is no evidence showing a connection between vaccination rates and the prevalence of autism. This argument also relies on the idea that suffering the worst effects of these preventable diseases, including death, is preferable to an unsubstantiated increased risk of autism, an extremely controversial idea.


Mercury is dangerous! And it's in the vaccines!

Firstly, that's not quite true: the only thing in the vaccines was Thimerosal, which is not the same as the dangerous mercury you are thinking of. Secondly, the FDA called for (and achieved) the removal of that substance from all vaccines other than the flu shot back in 2001. And if you like your vaccinations like you like your Jamba Juice (i.e. — a la carte), doses without Thimerosal are available if you are really a stickler for it.


Download from 'Generation Next'.

Read More: Vaccination 101: Here's Why You Should Vaccinate | Big Think

Dr Ramesh Manocha | July 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Tags: vaccinations | Categories:Uncategorized | URL:



Best of Luck!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O’Brien


If you see any errors, typographical or factual, or if you disagree with any of my ideas, I should be very glad to hear from you.


Please let me know what you think of my ideas ~ if you don't tell me, I won't know if I've gone wrong somewhere!


 All my Posts originate in my website,,   "Education Matters".  They are developed, updated, and continually revised.


If I quote a person, group, organisation, or establishment, I do my very best to source the material quoted, and to attribute it properly. If I cannot satisfy myself I have found the author or speaker who voiced a quote, I resist using it, no matter how tasty a bite! If I refer in passing to views expressed by others, I attribute the views even if they have not been given verbatim in the text. 


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