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End of Academic Year Report
Could Care More....
Today is an auspicious day for me. My middle child is leaving primary school. This is hot on the heels of my eldest child graduating from her Masters in Engineering from university. My youngest child is entering her last year in primary. It is a lot of change. A lot to process.
I thought it may be timely for me to write an end of the academic year report with the key areas which I think we all need to take notice of in order to improve as well as celebrating the good!
Diversity, Equality and Inclusion
In a world that is screaming about inclusion and celebrating difference it is really interesting that in doing so it is only focusing on the ‘socially acceptable’ symbols of this.
In an interesting study, it was found that when people are not wanting to be accepted by the ‘in-group’ that this increaased feelings of aggression and thoughts of aggression when compared to people who did want to be accepted by the ‘in-group’. This has implications for today’s mainstream media malestrom of what is socially acceptable and the demographics who do not wish to be part of this new world.
Certainly the contagion of aggression is something that we should all be concerned about. Infectivity of violence is not limited to victimisation or perpetration, but also observation of violence (including via media). This implication of a wider susceptible population means that, unlike biological contagion, the contagion of violence does not require direct contact with an agent of infection. It suggested that, because observation also increases risk, the processes resulting in violence are related to that observation. Even in being directly involved in a violent act (as a victim or a perpetrator), a person is also observing that act.
I have spoke about the mirror neuron system before and how if I see you doing it my brain acts as if I was experiencing it. It seems to me that there is so much aggression and violence in the ‘fight’ (no pun intended) for inclusion that it is actually making the issue far worse and more incendary.
Specifically, the brain responds to stimuli by creating scripts, schemas, and attributions about the external environment and the individual's role within it. These processes allow the brain to develop consistent responses to repeated stimuli. If the stimuli cause intense emotional arousal, the brain's response is to become desensitised.
Such schemas and scripts are created through the shorter term processes to establish consistent “shortcuts” of behaviour. Those who have observed violence repeatedly, particularly violence as a response to stressful, provocative, or other emotionally charged situations, create schemas of the world in which more hostility is assumed than might truly exist. They also create blueprints of behaviour, which provide instruction on how to react to certain stimuli, primed by previous exposure, observation, and response.
In situations in which hostility is attributed to the other party (whether or not the hostility exists, known as hostile attribution bias), the brain immediately processes this shortcut and retrieves the appropriate script in response.
This observational learning is a complex process potentially specific to the higher intellectual functioning of intelligent mammals, because it is not simply a biological response, but also an emotional and cognitive one. In addition, observational learning requires interpretation of others' actions as well as inferences into the meaning of others' words, actions, and thoughts.
This means though that what has been learned can be unlearned.
New things, new behaviours, new strategies can be learnt.
Instead of aggression and inference of violence, let us teach everyone how to be peaceful, thoughtful, respectful of others.
Inclusion should not be at any cost policy.
Inclusion should be about everyone, all the time.
The foundation of inclusion needs to be respect.
If we feel disrespected that leads to a huge stress response in our physiology that comes from the most ancient part of our brain.
When we feel respected we automatically feel valued, wanted, a sense of belonging, a sense of safety.
When we feel safe, we do not feel aggressive.
It is both as simple and complex as that.
We need to all care more and do more to stop this rise in inclusion aggression.
Could do better.
On an entirely personal note I have been excluded a lot this school year from much class decision making and parental information sharing, and that is entirely because I refuse to use any platform or technology managed by Meta.
Which leads me quite nicely on to…….
Spoiler - it does not exist
From an education perspective there is a lot of focus on ‘online safety’, I think from a nuance and discourse angle this should be changed to online risk management. By using the word ‘safety’ there is the inference that anyone can be safe online.
No one is safe online.
I struggle to deal with the apparent ignorance surrounding this subject.
Let me list all the harm that being online can do and does do to not just children but anyone who uses the platforms.
At the root of all online harmfulness is its set of algorithms, the rules that any company uses to choose what content you see. The algorithms are designed to boost the company’s profits, but they also allow misinformation to thrive. Misinformation in the world of online is any information that does not support the narrative that the controllers of the world wants to be the popular one. Former Meta product manager Frances Haugen testified before the U.S. Senate on Oct. 5, 2021, that the company’s social media platforms “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.” You can read her testimony HERE.
Let me ask any adult reading this - why would you use any platform that did any one of the above?
Let alone all of them.
By using the platforms you are indirectly saying that you do not mind that they do this. That you are turning a blind eye.
If this is the case own it. Be honest with yourself that your comfortability, your life design, your (dis)connection with others, keeping your finger on the pulse, however you want to describe it, just be honest. You are using a product which actually places you as the product and does so knowing that it is damaging society and those within it.
Reducing self-esteem amongst adolescents, particularly girls
Some of the most disturbing revelations concern the harm Meta’s Instagram platform causes adolescents, particularly teen girls. University of Kentucky psychologist Christia Spears Brown explains that Instagram can lead teens to objectify themselves by focusing on how their bodies appear to others. It also can lead them to make unrealistic comparisons of themselves with celebrities and filtered and retouched images of their peers.
Even when teens know the comparisons are unrealistic, they end up feeling worse about themselves. “Even in studies in which participants knew the photos they were shown on Instagram were retouched and reshaped, yound girls still felt worse about themselves and their bodies.
Why would any person who says that they value and appreciate human beings use a platform that literally destroys self-esteem? The kind of people who want to make a fast buck, who want to capitalise on pain, who really do not care about humanity. that kind of person.
Maybe a person who doesnt want to think about that as they mindlessly scroll through an instagram feed as they try to block out and zone out of a horrendous day in their life.
Massaging the figures about how much harm they commit
Meta has (not surprisingly) pushed back against claims of harm despite the revelations in the leaked internal documents. The company has provided research that shows that its platforms do not cause harm in the way many researchers describe, and claims that the overall picture from all research on harm is unclear.
University of Washington computational social scientist Joseph Bak-Coleman explains that Meta’s research can be both accurate and misleading.
The explanation lies in averages.
Meta’s studies look at effects on the average user. Given that Meta’s social media platforms have billions of users, harm to many hundreds of thousands of people can be lost when all of the users’ experiences are averaged together.
“The inability of this type of research to capture the smaller but still significant numbers of people at risk – the tail of the distribution – is made worse by the need to measure a range of human experiences in discrete increments,” he wrote.
You can find his research HERE
Of course this may not concern you, as you may be OK with harm being committed to others. It is an issue to me though and it is not getting any better.
Just in the UK alone there has been 230,000 new PTSD referrals between 2020/21 and 2022/23 in England, which suggests a rise of about 77,000 cases a year on average.
That is a lot of people who have had huge shocks to their nervous system.
So much so that they have been debilitated by it.
I really dislike the terminology around PTSD. When someone is unwell because of trauma they are not disordered.
Their nervous system is behaving in a really normal way to really abnormal experiences and environments.
Social media platforms are abnormal environments. Let us just understand and own that.
There have been studies that link PTSD to social media usage. There is also research that links problematic social media use with PTSD. You can find that research HERE.
This leads me on to TikTok.
I did not want to hate TikTok but I do.
It’s addictive, it can negatively impact mental health, it sets unrealistic standards, and it’s right at the top of the tree for cyberbullying.
TikTok’s algorithm is designed to add daily active users by focusing on retention and time spent on the app. It’s specifically designed to get you addicted by learning your tastes, sexual orientation, mental health status, and other sensitive information, and then taking advantage of them.
In 2021, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health did a study of what they called “TikTok Use Disorder” or TTUD.
What they discovered pretty much confirmed what everyone already suspected, that those addicted to TikTok displayed worse memory recall than those who weren’t addicted.
In short, the TTUD study took a large sample of students who regularly use TikTok and tested their memories. The students who scored higher on the TTUD scale (and thus are “addicted” to TikTok) scored worse on the memory recall test.
This group of students also showed higher rates of anxiety and depression.
While it is possible that the study was a case of correlation vs. causation (perhaps the students were already depressed or anxious and turned to TikTok for relief), there is no doubt that TikTok, poor mental health, and loss of attention span are connected.
One of the biggest problems with TikTok is how much of your time it steals. If the average time spent on TikTok per day is 52 minutes, that adds up to about 7 hours per week—which is about 364 hours per year, or about 15 whole days.
And that’s just the average.
There are plenty of people who use the app a lot more than that.
Think of what you could do with two more weeks in your year!
And what did you get in return?
Some videos to distract you from real life.
There is a huge push on TikTok of attention seeking in the form of performing challenges that can and do lead to tragic outcomes.
There is also an issue with self-diagnosis of various conditions because of falling down a TikTok rabbit hole, or even worse copying behaviours that seem to be encouraging victimisation, aggression or the worse of human behaviours.
This is extremely prevalent in the upsurge in people thinking they have ADHD. This so concerning to me as neuroscientist as the medication attached to this condition is not gentle by nature. It is increasingly misused and abused. There is a great study which you can find HERE which found that misleading vidoes are widely disemminated on TikTok.
I see a lot of children (and adults) who are distressed, disengaged, disconnected and disenfranchised. They need to be loved, made safe, given boundaries, treated like human beings and given opportunites for play and connection.
That is not online.
We need to all care more and do more to stop this reliance on social media.
Could do better.
Which brings me on to …..
The rise of mediocrity
This is everywhere.
A celebration of a thing or a person at any point in time which you annot attest to being either great, poor or average.
There is a lack of consistency amongst us.
This can be explained by many factors. Tiredness, fatigue, distraction, lack of focus, attention, not being able to make a decision about who or what a person or thing is.
If people cannot make a decision about who or what a person or thing is this is a problem.
This is mediocrity.
Mediocrity means that someone or something is inconsistent.
Consistency is lacking.
It is disturbing to me that mediocrity is becoming an accepted norm in society.
There is too much amplification without there being achievement. Something is not awesome if it is just ordinary. Why are we saying it is?
There is little real connection, little meaningful exchange between human beings. This is a massive issue.
There is too much emphasis and giving platforms of exposure to people doing nonsense things that do not help humanity and too little to those that really are wanting to make a difference in the best, most humane way.
How many people do you know that give their attention to nonsense and think it funny?
I do not think it funny, it makes me sad and cry tears of frustration.
This problem goes right from the micro where teachers and parents are thinking it amazing for children to longer be able to focus or sit still for five minutes, right the way to the macro, excusing bad behaviour of people in the public domain who obviously have no integrity.
How do you want to be seen?
or consistently who you are, and what you stand for?
We need to all care more and do more to stop this rise of mediocrity.
Could do better.
Academia, education, learning
This has been one of the toughest academic years that I have ever been through. Academia used to be a place of refuge and safety for me. It was a place where I could refreshingly take comfort in expanding my mind, critically thinking, having debate and discussion in respectful ways.
It was a place where I felt that everyone could take advantage of what was on offer, where there was opportunity and expression that could support you to be who you wanted to be.
One of the saddest pieces of learning for me this year is that academia is no longer a safe place. It is no longer a refuge. It is no longer a place of opportunity and expression.
There are 13 years between my eldest and middle child.
In those 13 years I have gone from being concerned about educating my child to my greatest worry being about the wellbeing of my two youngest children.
I never imagined I would need to have integrity and courage to attend an induction evening at a school. I never thought that I would ever be left thinking did others not see the same performance as I did? when left feeling concern at how many distressed young children were evident there. I certainly did not think that by wanting the best for children, their growth, development, learning and ability to thrive I would be forced to defend my position of wanting this. The projection and misnaming of mental health conditions is also a huge area of frustration and worry for me.
It is as if there are emporers new clothes everywhere.
Those closest to me have remarked this year that when in repose, or thoughtfulness that I look extremely sad.
This is not a deliberate action.
This is just a sorrow and grieving process that I am feeling.
I have often said that it is like I am witnessing the slowest ever car crash that I am unable to stop, but perhaps I shouldn’t anyway.
I care deeply about the world, about humanity, about who we are and what we stand for.
I am no luddite, in that I do not want progression.
I want humanity to progress with all the gifts that we have and embrace opportunity for all.
There are resources aplenty for progression.
We just have to acknowledge the greed, avarice, manipulation and evil that is controlling those resources.
If there is one bit of advice I would like to give to people it is this -
Know who you are, know what you stand for, be consistent with it, have courage, find allies, act kindly and remember how human you actually are.
We all need to change the environment that we live in, not the people we actually are.
We need enviornments that help us to thrive not just about survive.
We need to embrace the best of us and acknowledge the worst of us.
Care more, it really does make a huge difference.
Take some time this August to ground, earth and purely connect. We need that space, that time, that calm to support ourselves to be the best that we can be in the Autumn months.
I will be writing to you daily in August with just a few minutes of something to do. It is up to you how much or how little you do. I will provide all you need, you just have to commit and be consistent.
Then you will not be in danger of being mediocre.
A huge thank you for reading my writing and much appreciation for being part of my quest to creating a better (and kinder) world, one brain at a time.
“Be brave to stand for what you believe in even if you stand alone.”