Updated: May 25, 2020
I’ve been really quiet recently on my personal networking side of things. And it’s not something I can attribute to the lockdown. It’s that damn documentary! Eighteen months in, a 90-minute feature length film completed and it feels like we have only begun.
For those of you that don’t know, my husband Rob and I stumbled upon some really worrying information when we were looking into the pros and cons of handheld devices for our kids. We're a blended family. I have a ten-year-old daughter and Rob has three kids aged fifteen, twelve and nine. We found out about the fallout from kids, from all backgrounds and loving families, being exposed to violent, degrading hardcore porn and predators while online.
As parents, living in a world where young kids having their very own devices is the norm, it was really troubling. We didn’t want our kids exposed to this. Of course, we wanted to find out how we could best protect our kids.
We also wanted to know why. Why has this happened? How bad is it really? This combined with our thinking that while we could protect and educate our own kids, there were so many parents out there who, like us before we started researching, had no idea there was a problem. So, what about them? So many parents who love and care of their children like us. Who want the best for them, same as we do.
As we tried to navigate our way through all the questions, it left us feeling overwhelmed. Neither of us are that tech-savvy. And kids seem to be all over technology these days, often helping us adults work things out. So many options, but which ones were good? So much conflicting advice.
We decided to take matters into our own hands, to do more research, seek out the leading experts in this field, find out what we need to be protecting our kids from and how, and to document this journey.
Fast forward eighteen months and here we are at the beginning of the launch of the film. A film which we have tried to make as comprehensive as possible. That shows some very accessible solutions that we, as parents, can put into place that can immediately make our children safer on their devices. It provides resources that empower parents to have safety conversations with young children and how to create open communication with older children.
It’s not been an easy road. Seldom in life are the things that matter easy. Working on all aspects of this film just the two of us with no budget or funding other than our own savings created a massive strain. Planning, timing, sourcing, travel, immersing ourselves in, and exposing ourselves to, information we cannot unhear or un-see. Banging heads creatively in our tiny studio, and not being able to let off steam to our spouse about “the asshole in work today”. Living and breathing this topic for eighteen months. Knowing the importance of this education and balancing that knowledge with creating something palatable for parents. Because we had to include a couple of stories and some information that some people may find confronting, but that the purpose of the documentary is to help. To highlight the issues.
To show the reality of the world our kids live in today. To show that it's far better for us to educate ourselves on this stuff and put ourselves in a position to protect and educate our kids, than it would be for us to have to try and pick up the pieces if the wheels were to fall off. For one of our kids to be some expert’s story, a news headline or part of a government’s report statistic.
So many times, I wanted to walk away from this project. Not a word of a lie. So many times, I screamed at my husband “Fuck this, I’m out”. He also had moments like mine, feeling like he just wanted to give up. We were emotionally exhausted. Carrying the burden of knowledge. Picking my daughter up from school, seeing all the children run out their classrooms grabbing their smartphones was almost too much to endure some days. “Do their parents know the potential harms?”, “Do their phones have filters?”, “Has anyone talked to them about staying safe online?”, “Are any of these kids being groomed, with everyone around them blissfully unaware?”. I felt like I knew this massive secret and I was keeping it to myself.
Some days it felt like pushing concrete in a wheelbarrow uphill, only instead of concrete, my wheelbarrow was filled with the weight of tens of thousands of children. I still have these moments. I ended up having to unburden to a psychologist before we finished the editing stage. For some reason I was really struggling to apply the ‘circle of control’ concept. Luckily, I’m quite aware when it comes to things like emotional wellbeing. Although it’s always easier to help others than oneself, I’ve always been really good and knowing when it’s time to seek professional help. It’s certainly been easier since we finished the film, I no longer feel like I am keeping a secret that all parents should be allowed to know.
As we begin this next process of launching and distributing, I’ve reflected on some of the things I’ve had to remind myself of. Regardless of what your project is or what you’re doing, the lessons, I think, are pretty much universal.
Healthy boundaries are essential, whether in your personal or work life, boundary set. It’s okay to say “No” or “Not right now”. It is not selfish to know your limits/capacity. You cannot be all things to all people.
Fill your cup on a regular basis. Especially in the current Covid-19 climate. Lockdown has been really hard on some people. Setting aside time to engage in an activity that you enjoy, that energises you rather than drains you, is paramount to good mental wellbeing. For each of us, the meaningful time will be different.
Never stop working on your personal development. Growth is a fundamental need for humans, and with growth comes challenge. Stand strong in the challenge. Long-term gratification releases serotonin in the brain, creating strong and positive emotions vs dopamine being released with instant gratification, which is fleeting and addictive.
You are always going piss someone off. And that’s okay. As long as it’s not a consistent thing because you are genuinely just an arse! You cannot please all of the people all of the time. Flexibility is key to good emotional health, and there should always be time to reflect on the words, actions and reactions of others. But do not do yourself a disservice by trying to placate someone else where it is counterproductive to healthy emotional wellbeing.
Turn your phone on silent when you are trying to focus. Better still, put it in a different room. And take some time on a regular basis to switch off from technology, from social media, from compulsive procrastinating scrolling through feeds.
Ask for help and accept that you do not need to be ‘perfect’. I do believe that we humans as a race, tend to swing the pendulum too far from time to time. In recent times a movement to be the best version of ourselves all the time, exacerbated by social media highlight reels has, I am sure, contributed to the reported increases in anxiety. Thankfully, more grace and the reality of being human is starting to be shown within our societies. For example, my good friend and author Jess Stuart’s most recent book ‘The Superwoman Survival Guide’ is a wonderful book which explores unrealistic self-imposed expectations and overwhelm. Asking others for help and accepting yourself are truly important necessities and gifts to give yourself.
Delegate. As the previous points above note, you cannot be all things to everyone and you need to be able to ask for help. When it comes to work, it’s really important to know what you can and cannot do. Where does your expertise lie? If there is a task or tasks that you struggle with yet you know someone who can do it better than you, delegate. Sometimes it involves taking a hit on your finances if you are self-employed or a business owner, but if you delegate correctly, it’s only a temporary hit.
Don’t assume you know it all. We all have those moments, right? Be humble. I’ve both read and heard that we always have the ability to learn something from every person we meet. And of course, this makes complete sense. Because not only do we all have different life journeys, we all have different narratives/perspectives. So even if we share the exact same event with someone, our interpretations could be very different.
Everyone has an agenda. Don’t worry, I don’t mean this in a sinister way. Well not always anyway! Sometimes our agendas are wholesome and good, sometimes they are selfish or from a place of an unhealthy mindset. It is good to take a step back before you enter into what looks a potentially difficult conversation with someone. Ask yourself questions like “What is the outcome I am looking for here?”, “What bias I am drawing on?”, “Am I projecting because I am upset about something else?”. And it’s always okay to ask someone “Why are you asking this question?”. It’s a really helpful way of trying to understand the other person and where they are coming from.
Sometimes people don’t want your help. And that is okay. As humans we also have a need to contribute. Quite often, this takes the form of trying to help others. Having the wisdom to know when help is wanted reduces the chance of inadvertently offending the person you are trying to help or increasing their anxiety. If someone approaches you and you are unclear about whether they want to download, or get your opinion on something, ask. Ask them a question like “I have some thoughts on that that might help, would you like to hear them?”. After years of pissing each other off at times when just wanting to verbalise some annoyances or process without someone else’s input, my husband and I know to actively try to remember to tell each other “I don’t want you to try and help, I just need to think out loud” before starting our rambling. Sometimes we remember, sometimes we don’t.
Be kind. I’ve read different statistics on how many thoughts humans have per day on average. Around 60,000 seems to be the median result. There is no need to share the ones that are completely unnecessary and unkind, serving only to verbally masturbate over social media. I wonder what was it that happened that made some of us think that it is okay to be downright rude and inconsiderate of other people? Who made some of us the oracle of all knowledge? Or the definition of omnipotent? It’s okay to feel angry about something someone else does. It’s common to project. But it’s really important to try and think about the consequences of our actions, because it is especially easy in today’s switched on 24/7 world to be unkind without really thinking. Let’s not though eh!
Compromise, just not when it comes to your integrity. Compromise is part of life. Learning to compromise is a necessary part of life for healthy emotional wellbeing. Along our filmmaking journey, we have been asked to make a lot of compromises. Some of them we embraced. Some of them we said “no” to at first, mulled over and then embraced them. Others left us feeling conflicted in terms of who we are at our core, our values and what we are trying to achieve. These are the compromises we have had to reject and stick to our guns. The “no” to “yes” compromises and the completely rejected ones took time. We had to reflect, weigh up the pros and cons. Question our goals, our ability to flexible. Put ourselves in others shoes. There is no universal right or wrong. When it comes to your integrity, compromise is a personal decision that is either right or wrong for you at that time (because we adapt and change as we go through our own life journeys). Making the wrong decision doesn’t mean it can’t be undone. But in some cases, a lot of pain and unhealthy emotions and possibly behaviours precede. Be true to yourself. Know that sometimes you are going to do things you don’t necessarily want to do, but that will genuinely help you in the long run. Stay away from the requirements to compromise when you know that in long run, that decision will do more harm than good.
Life is not meant to be a walk in the park. By all means walk in parks, I love a good walk. But remove any ideals that life is there to be lived unchallenging, easy and predictable. Remove any sense of entitlement. Life can be really shite sometimes. Life can be really unfair. A friend, a little while after losing a child, living every parent’s worst nightmare, once told me “Some days are less shitty than others but all in all they are just all shades of shit”. I’ve read hard times help you appreciate the good times. I don’t know if that’s always true in the case of things that are less hard than, say, losing a loved one. I imagine in some cases, as creatures of habit, we tend to fall back into a pattern of taking some things for granted. I don’t necessarily see that as always being a bad thing either. There will be ups, there will be downs, we just need to keep on keeping on, learning, growing and asking for help. Striving to do our best. Being kind to ourselves and others around us. Knowing that we are not alone.
All in all, at the end of the day, the way I see it, we are all just trying to figure out our way through this thing called life. I imagine us as trees, a great thing I learned during therapy many years ago and expanded on to apply to all of us. We may belong to different varieties, but each of us are unique in terms of the number of branches we have, the number of leaves. Our branches represent the different areas in our lives, the leaves represent our emotional understanding. And although we stand tall and look like trees that have got our tree-shit together, not all of our branches are fully developed, some may have been broken. Leaves come and go as we forget lessons, remember them, learn new ones. So, we stand, but we are not this ‘perfect’ that we hear about. To Instagram and Facebook and the other social media apps, we are magnificent trees captured in a photo at sunset or sunrise with the sun shining through, at our best angle, showing only our strong, fully developed branches. We need to remember that trees are beautiful, and important, they have a purpose. They need help from outside sources like the sun and the rain. They need protection from the storm and the deforestation.
We need to remember who we are and try not to live up to expectations that no-one can attain. And we need to strive to remember when we can, how to look after our emotional wellbeing and protect our integrity.