The Social Media Generation

Most schools offer good advice, and have policies in place to tackle cyberbullying, but what about the wider implications of our kids being the first Social Media Generation?

They have grown up with Facebook and Twitter, they are used to their lives being shared online. My kids say, ‘Put that on YouTube’ when I filmed the dog doing something funny. They have not yet learned the dark side of the internet. 

I have written about keeping kids safe on the internet, but how should we be teaching our kids about Social Media, and the long term implications of what they are tweeting or facebooking. 

 I have had conversations with teachers who admitted they have no idea how Twitter works, don’t use Facebook and have never heard of Google+. Not that I am suggesting that they should all be as interested in Social Media as I am, but would they know how to tackle this issue in school? 

Googling ‘teacher suspended facebook‘ brings up a slew of stories, which suggest teachers are not always aware of the dangers of Social Media. This is not teacher bashing – millions of FB users have abysmally bad privacy settings on their Facebook page, but teachers are the ones who are often judged and punished for posting their indiscretions online. The recently launched Facebook Global Search  has been called ‘a creepers dream’ so now would be a good time to revisit your privacy settings.



TMI – Too Much Information  

Reality shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and X Factor, along with the constant exposure of the private lives of public persona may give the impression that there is no such thing as TMI. Details of celebrity romances, marriages, divorces and even deaths are headline news, and the Kardashians vie with Katie Price to share ever more intimate details of their live.

We don’t need to know the details of your sex life. Really.  





You Can’t UnShare 

When you click that button, there is no going back. Sure, you can delete the post, but can you be sure no one has taken a screenshot, or already shared or RTed your post? Google takes a ‘snapshot’ of each webpage – the ‘cache’ and this can be accessed even after the page has been deleted. That photo of you sitting on the loo, with a dog on your knee? Do you really want reminded of that in the years to come? 


Losing Control

Once you put a statement or photo out there, you cannot control what someone else does with it. Will they laugh and delete, or share with half the school? You might think that your new girlfriend would never ever show anyone that photo of you, but do you want to risk it?


Don’t Share When Angry

It is easy to snatch up a phone and send an angry email or text, or post a snarky comment on Facebook. Will it hurt a friend, or cause you trouble? 


Privacy Settings

When you write a post, can you be certain that only those you wanted to address can see it? Check your Privacy Settings to see if friends of friends can see your posts.




Teens should be taught that if they post abusive comments online, they may well be found and even prosecuted. That if they tweet a photo of their body parts, it might get passed on to others.

Actually, not just teens need to learn to think before they hit send. I began thinking about this when reading about the horrible abuse that Professor Mary Beard was subjected to recently. We need a national conversation about what is acceptable in debate, and what is not. Social Media is brash, new and still evolving. The anonymity of online message boards encourages people to be brutally honest, and this can stray over the line into nasty and bullying. Would the posters on such boards think twice if they thought that they could be identified and publicly shamed?

For many young people, Social Media allows them to stand up and shout out their feelings. They may think it is really funny right now, but  would they be able to look the person they abused in the eye and make that comment? Or will they later look back on their posts and feel ashamed of their behaviour?

I am not saying that the people posting the horrific abuse about Professor Beard are young men guilty of a ‘youthful indiscretion’, or that there should be an excuse for them. Of course our first job as parents is to teach our kids that online abuse is just as bad as going up to a person and punching them. And that once that comment is online, they might not be able to take it back. Even after an apology, people are going to judge them for that comment, for making it in the first place. 


What youthful indiscretions would a google search of your name show up? A photo of a drunken night out would likely not put a prospective employer off hiring you, but how would they view an abusive tweet or an extreme political viewpoint?  Should a person be forever judged by a silly comment made when they were 14 years old?

If a teen posts about bunking off school, and hating work, is he less likely to be accepted to that college course? Or get that job?  


The often anonymous nature of the internet, and a feeling of detachment, often leads people to think that they can write online without fear of repercussion. What if payback came years later?

We owe it to our kids to protect them from this, and to inform them of the pitfalls of Social Media. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. 



Check out this interview with a US college admissions officer, on what they look for in an applicant. He states:


‘Students always ask if we check them out on Facebook and Twitter. If an applicant seems really cocky or entitled, I do Google them. Facebook is so easy to block, but a lot of kids have open Twitter profiles. It rarely paints a good picture. You’ll see kids being really mean and disrespectful. Occasionally, there’s a picture of them drinking or flipping off the camera. Or they’ll be using bad language. It just comes off as immature. It’s a turn-off’ 





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Raising Girls vs Raising Boys

The comparison between raising girls vs raising boys is one that I have been making these past years. My children have conformed pretty well to the ‘gender stereotyping’ by being sensitive, artistic and the peacemaker (my daughter) vs rowdy, maths and science fan and dominant (my son). 

A friend recommended the book by Steve Biddulph, “Raising Boys” a few years ago. I glanced through it, but really didn’t get on well with it. I can’t remember much about it, or why I put it down, but was interested to hear that Steve has followed up with a book about girls, called (predictively) Raising Girls.  

On Radio 2 this morning, the presenter remarked that it was ironic that the book criticises the way in which young girls are put under pressure by the media, yet the Guardian illustrated their article with a picture of two very attractive actresses. The book has not been released yet, but the article focuses on this issue while giving the reader a list of ‘star aunts’ including Beyonce and Sierra Miller. 

I found it more troubling that Biddulph has only just recently discovered that young girls face massive societal pressure. From this article on the Girl Power Generation:

Professor Steve Biddulph, a child development specialist and author of bestselling books about the challenges faced by boys in modern society, recently turned his sights on girls. His Raising Girls, is also published this month. “I have been starting to get worried about girls recently,” he says. “Girls used to be doing fine but have recently started to have much more trouble deciding who they are. “It was an awakening for me. I was very clear that there was a boy-catastrophe unfolding. Part of what I assumed was that girls were doing fine, but about five to six years ago we started getting research and statistics coming in from around the world that girls were, in fact, the ones in trouble.”

Only 6 years since Biddulph noticed that girls were in trouble? In 1995 the UN Bejiing 4th World Conference on Women noted that the portrayal of women in the media was damaging, 

The world- wide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately

In 1998 the BBC reported on the media’s portrayal of girls (accompanied by this suggestion that girls should be shown as ‘buxom wenches’ !), and the New York Times reported in 1997 that women were more likely to be portrayed in film and TV roles talking about romance than careers.  Geena Davis’s foundation was created in 2004, Natasha Walter’s book Living Dolls has been on our bookshelves for some years, and widely discussed in the media.

Funny that a ‘child development specialist’ missed all of that.

In an interview with an Australian radio station near his home in Tasmania, he said: “I’m much more aware now of girls having enormous problems with things like bullying and eating disorders and generally not liking who they are. We’re noticing that even at primary school stage … There’s no mystery in what is causing that. I think we all agree about the pressures and what has happened here, that the corporations around the world started realising they could sell to young women and pre-teens. They gave them the message that your looks are the most important thing about them.”

Ok, so he was a bit late to the party. Never mind, as long as we are all talking about this issue, then all is well. Right? 

Well, no. This is where I part company with Steve. His ‘solution’ to this issue – or at least the one that the Guardian reviewer has picked up on – is that girls need aunts. Not that the media needs to change, but that we need:

‘a new feminism to include aunts mentoring younger girls and keeping them safe from the “toxic” influences of advertising and celebrity’

 Isn’t that pretty much what feminism is? Women helping and supporting women and girls?

Biddulph points out that no girl and her mum always get on, and for this reason it is good for girls to have an aunt – even a honorary one – in her life. While I agree that it is great for girls to have a positive role model in their lives, I don’t see Biddulph advising that my son should have a fun uncle in his life to compensate for him not getting on with his dad during puberty.

It is a natural part of puberty, for both boys and girls to ‘reject’ their parents. Children become adults and in doing so they have to assert their independence.

As I mentioned, the book is due out later this month, so at present I can only go on what is being reported in the media. Perhaps this idea of aunts is only a part of Biddulph’s solution for our girls, and I will be interested in reading the rest of the book. I researched his previous work when writing this blog post, and came across a review of his Raising Boys book, which leads me to believe that I may not agree with Biddulph’s findings.

I also found a thread on Mumsnet, in which one of the posters asked about the scientific research on which the book was based. Specifically she asked about the often repeated statement that a surge of testosterone around the age of four years is responsible for a rise in aggression. When I searched for information about this, I came up lots of anecdotal tales on parenting websites, basically the same urban myth being repeated and strengthened. Often the source of this assertion was Biddulph’s Raising Boys, which this blogger  remarked upon some years ago. 


This research paper (PDF)  is very interesting on the reasons for an increase in aggression in toddler boys, but does not find a link between hormone changes and aggressive behaviour

The testosterone surge  Increasing testosterone levels in young boys might affect the development of aggression. However, a link between testosterone and physical aggression in early development, although demonstrated in other primate species, has not been clearly shown in young humans (van Goozen, 2005). The postnatal testosterone surge in  humans appears to be correlated with sex-specific morphological change, not with behaviour.

The author also makes this important point 

Thus it becomes important to study the extent to which socialization pressures are applied to the early aggressive behaviour shown by girls as opposed to boys (Fagot & Hagen, 1985).
Are parents and other adults more likely to ignore or even admire boys’ aggression? Are they more likely to encourage boys to defend themselves in conflict with siblings and peers ?
Observations of young children reveal that parents are more likely to tolerate aggression when it is shown by a boy (Martin & Ross, 2005). Girls, as opposed to boys, are more likely to be required to relinquish their claims to an object in dispute (Ross et al. 1990). Perhaps because of such pressures, in conflicts with mothers, siblings and friends, girls are more likely to show submissive behaviour (Dunn & Herrera, 1997). Thus, girls are under considerable pressure to desist from aggression. Such social pressure may force overt aggression underground.It is important to recognize that girls and boys start out with similar levels of aggression. Unqualified acceptance of the common wisdom that aggression is a normative part of boyhood impedes detection of those highly aggressive girls and boys whose problems persist into later life.

I find it worrying that we are excusing our boys’ aggressive behaviour as something that they cannot help, a result of a hormone surge that has not been scientifically proven. At the same time we are telling our girls that they should just walk away, ignore the annoying boy, he will stop if we ignore him.

It worries me because we are teaching our girls from a young age that the right way to react to aggression is to walk away, and we are teaching our boys that aggressive behaviour is in some way acceptable, and to be expected.

This is a terrible lesson to teach our children, and leads to trouble in later years. Our daughters should be protected from aggression, whether it is a male toddler, a teenager or an adult man.

Over the years, I have read a few parenting manuals, and have taken bits and pieces from various books, websites and online discussions. My main gripe against such books is that they deliver a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, and are based on the author’s opinion rather than on scientific research.

Parenting ‘experts’ tell us how to raise our children. What to feed them, how to discipline them, how to prepare them for school, how to make them happy, or successful, or obedient. If we don’t follow the current phase, we are made to feel guilty, somehow lacking as parents.

My daughter doesn’t need an aunt to teach her that looking like a celebrity is not something to aim for. When she read an article in a pre-teen magazine, ‘How to Look Like Selena Gomez’, she remarked, ‘Why would I want to look like her? I look like me’.

It was her frustration that led me to start Jump! Mag.  Over the past year, I have discovered hundreds of girls like her, who love to read about inspirational women, science, nature and games – and much more. They enjoy writing for Jump! Mag, and they love to read the writings of other girls. The development of girls has become a focus in my life – and I am learning more about how to inspire and support girls.

We constantly underestimate the intelligence of our girls. How often have you said, ‘Isn’t this incredible writing, for an 11 year old?‘. It is incredible writing, that is for sure, but why are we amazed? Our girls ARE amazing, and we need to tell them so.

What is the best way to raise the confidence of a child – boy or girl? It is to tell them that they have done something well, to express approval and admiration. Then they won’t feel that they need to emulate a pop star or actress, because they are happy being themselves. 

Mary Robinson Everybody Matters

When Mary Robinson speaks, people listen. 

Not because she is the former President of Ireland, and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but because she is an inspiring and compelling woman. 


My ten year old daughter and I went to hear her give the Christmas Lecture at Dundee University this weekend, and were not in the least disappointed. I had heard Mary talk at the London Summit of Family Planning earlier this year, when her speech was sadly cut short as she had a plane to catch.

The scent of mulled wine and a sense of anticipation filled the air of the foyer when we arrived. As the staff scurried around, setting up the tables for the reception after the event, we climbed the stairs to the main lecture theatre, catching an exciting glimpse of Mary on our way.  The 350 seats of the lecture theatre were soon filled, as we organised our notebooks and pens, ready to take notes.   My daughter remarked that she could still smell the ‘gloomy wine’.

After the VIPs had arrived and been seated,  then there was a hush as we all looked towards the door. It swung open to reveal a very sheepish young man with a bottle of water and glasses, to the amusement of the audience. 

Dundee’s Lord Provost Bob Duncan welcomed Mary to the city of Dundee, before she was formally introduced by University VP Chris Whatley. 

Mary spoke of her decision to write her memoir being influenced by Ela Bhatt, who told when asked for advice, told her friend


‘Mary, you must. Our experience is not our personal property. It must be shared’


And so she did. She talked of her childhood and youth, and of the realisation that she was different to her classmates, who discussed what to do when they left school only as a stopgap to marriage. Mary didn’t know what she wanted, but it wasn’t marriage. She considering becoming a nun, until her parents sent her to Paris aged 17 years, to a finishing school. ‘And that changed everything’.

She returned from Paris, having had her eyes opened  She discovered feminism, socialism, and that despite the privileges she enjoyed, that she was not equal to her brothers. She began to question, not the teachings of the Catholic Church, but the way in which it was put forward, in a very patriarchal way. 

When she returned to Dublin, she was changed, and to her parents it was not for the better. Despite their best efforts to change her back, she continued to go her own way. She studied law at Trinity College, then went on to Harvard. 

It was a time of change. The start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King while Mary was studying in the States, . 

Back in Ireland, she was elected to the Senate, where she campaigned for legalisation of Family Planning and of homosexuality. Mary talked movingly about the people she met who influenced her, such as Josie, who had been abused by the husband from whom she sought a judicial separation. Mary fought in the courts, not just on behalf of Josie, but on behalf of those who came after her. 

In 1988 she decided to retire from elected public life, only to be surprised by a suggestion that she should think of becoming a candidate for the Irish Presidency.

It is fair to say that Mary Robinson transformed the Irish Presidency, from the day she took office and set a light burning in the kitchen window. A symbolic gesture to guide the Irish diaspora home, it showed the warm and compassionate side of the woman whose first interview as President was on a children’s TV show. 

She spoke of being the first Irish President to meet the Queen, and of meeting Gerry Adams against the wishes of the British Government – and of some of her Irish countrymen and women, including her hairdresser who refused to do her hair on the morning of the meeting. 

Mary attended the 1997 Pan African Women’s Conference in Rwanda, and she talked of the way in which Rwanda has furthered their advancement by championing women’s development. She stated:


‘I have seen the future of Africa, and she works


She left office in 1997, two months before the end of her term to take up the position of United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, a move that she now admits was a mistake. The previous holder of the office had left unexpectedly, and she allowed herself to be hurried into the job. She talked of her regret, that some Irish people may have seen her hasty move as a sign that the Presidency was a mere stepping stone to bigger and better things. She realised later that the reason that the previous holder left early was because the job was so difficult, and indeed it brought her to the brink of a breakdown until her brother took her aside and gave her some very good advice.

Mary spoke about the work that she did at the UN, during which time she addressed the huge challenge of ensuring that Human Rights were central to UN policies. She realised that there were important rights that the richest countries in the world were not taking seriously. The rights to food, safe water, health care and education. 

After her 5 years at the UN, she wanted to work on promoting Human Rights, particularly in African countries, working on health issues, and in particular on women, peace and security. In that time she realised that there was an issue that no one was as yet addressing. The conditions in many countries were worsening, and this was due to the changes in the weather. 

In Liberia, she was told that where they had once had two predictable rainy seasons, they now had long rainy seasons which prevented the planting of crops, led to food insecurity, water shortages and threatened the livelihoods of many.


‘The poorest people are most affected but are least responsible for the change in climate … 

We are warned by scientists that we are drifting towards an uncertain and unsafe world, but we do too little to ‘turn down the heat’…

We must talk about how climate change affects people.’


 The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice  was founded to draw attention to this important issue. 


After the lecture, Mary answered some questions from the floor. First off the bat was a question about the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, following the death of Savita Halappanavar. As a former President, Mary is obliged to stay out of political issues. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but I sensed that she would love to rant about this, but was confined by her professionalism. 

Next to ask a question, was Cat, my daughter, who has written an article for Jump! Mag, to be published simultaneously with this one. Mary answered with warmth and at length – you can listen to the audioboo on Jump! Mag. I liked the advice that girls should be true to their values, and be confident and willing to speak up. 

The next question was about the renewal of violence in Northern Ireland  Mary spoke of a sense of false complacency about the peace process, and disregard of the underlying issues that were not resolved. She called the violence of the weekend ‘a wake up call’ and brought up the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has helped in other areas of the world.


‘There is hatred that has to be addressed…

We have to learn to care so much that we get beyond the seeds of violence and build reconciliation and relationships for the future’


Later that evening, as Mary signed books and chatted to a long line of fans, a large television behind her broadcast scenes of cars burning in Belfast. The following days have seen the violent protests escalate, and we can only watch in horror and in hope that the authorities can calm the situation. Those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Troubles are now trying to explain the conflict to our children. 

My daughter and I queued to have a book signed, despite the fact that I already have a Kindle edition of Mary’s memoirs Everybody Matters, I felt it would be a great memento for my daughter. 

When we arrived at the front of the queue, Mary greeted my daughter with enthusiasm (despite the fact that she had been signing and smiling for well over an hour) and spoke kindly to my girl, signing the book with the advice 







Simple Steps to Promote with Social Media



Started a blog for your business or have a campaign to promote with Social Media? It may look complicated, but just follow these six simple steps.


1. Twitter

Since I started using Twitter to promote my blog, I have gained a lot of readers. And more people comment, both on the blog or on Twitter. And let’s be honest, that is what we are all looking for, us bloggers. As much fun as it is to write, it is a lot more fun if people are reading and enjoying the blog. For a business, you are looking to connect to your customers, and to strengthen customer loyalty.

If you don’t use Twitter, then have a look at my Twitter guide first to get a basic overview of what it is all about. Don’t be mislead by the Daily Mail – Twitter is not about discussing what you had for breakfast, but a fast moving, information exchange highway.

I use Twitter to stay up to date with the trends and news, to communicate with both real and imaginary internet friends, to have fun. It might take a couple of days to get into it, but do persevere. And most importantly, do not lurk. Twitter is best when you communicate with others, don’t be afraid, jump in and reply to something one of the people you follow posts.

When using Twitter to promote your blog or business, don’t just post links to your website – no one will follow you if you do this, it is like following a spammer (a twitter account set up to promote a dodgy business deal or spread viruses; they spams others in the hope that they will click on the link).

Think about using the name of your blog or business in your Twitter name – you have a NAME and a USERNAME which begins with @ (mine is @lynncschreiber) – I don’t actually do this any more as I use my name but if you don’t use your real name on your website, then get your blog or business name on your Twitter profile.

For bloggers – Find other bloggers you like and follow them, then look at the people who they follow, check out their profiles and latest tweets and follow them too. Once you build up a group of other interested bloggers, you will notice an increase in blog traffic. Bloggers tend to like reading blogs, and may link to your blog or retweet (RT) one of your posts if they find it interesting. I am sometimes inspired by a blog that I have read, and write a post based on that one, linking to the original blog.


2. Facebook

Many businesses have a Facebook page set up to promote their websites, to reach people who are not on Twitter. Use your private FB account, and set up a page with the name of your business or blog – this gives you the advantage of remaining anonymous if you want to be. Beware though, when posting a link that you do it from the page, and not from your private FB profile.

As with Twitter, the key thing is posting enough to stay interesting and interacting with others. Facebook is slightly tricky, because not all your posts show up in your follower’s timelines. On average, only 16% of  page followers see the update posted.

Without being creative, it is really quite difficult to make FB work for a blog or brand, as this post shows.  Why do Facebook do this? They want you to pay for promoted posts. I have experimented with promoted posts, and I have to say it does make a difference. I picked up quite a few followers, and the engagement was definitely higher. Not everyone wants to pay for this, and that is where the creativity comes in.

You can raise the number of people seeing your page posts by encouraging your readers to [like] or share content. This could be because you have published a really great photo (cute cats and inspiring words do well), or because your post is so well written that they just HAVE to pass it on.



3. Google+

A bit slow off the ground, but G+ is not to be ignored. For one thing, it is GOOGLE, which means that your website will score better in the google rankings if it is on G+. The huge advantage it has over Facebook is that every single G+ post pops up in your follower’s timelines. This means that you don’t have to pay for promoted posts. The downside is that, as yet, G+ is still not mainstream. There are a lot of Social Media geeks, and a lot of brands on there, which leads me to believe that it will become more important. ‘If you build it, they will come’, seems to be the Google+ motto. We are all there, waiting for people to migrate over from Facebook. I think that it will happen eventually, so worth setting up a page now and slowly building up with G+.


4. Pinterest

Pinterest is of great interest to any business or blog that uses a lot of photos in their posts. It is to be seen as a virtual pinboard, where you can save photos  and the attached website for later. Followers of your Pinterest boards, can repin then, so sharing them with others. Only use this to pin pictures that you have taken yourself, or have been given permission to pass on – creative people get (rightly) quite irate when their work is distributed and copied without their permission or even a link back to their site.

It is worth putting a watermark on your original images, giving either your website address or your Twitter profile, so that even if someone removes the link to your site, interested customers can still find where the picture came from. It also prevents naughty folk passing off your work as their own.



5. Vine Instagram

Like Pinterest, these sites are visual and great to promote creative brands or blogs. Vine is the new kid on the block, and offers the opportunity to upload 6 second videos. You can really let your creative spirit run riot – here are some examples of brands who have made great Vines, and some that just don’t hit the spot. Don’t try and cram too much into one Vine, and spend some time thinking about what you want to highlight. Make sure it suits your brand or blog, and make it fun.

If the six second limit is too short for you, check out Instagram instead.  The other advantage that Instagram has is the ability to upload pre-recorded clips, which means that you can make the videos look much more professional. Other advantages that Instagram has, is the ability to choose which still should show on Facebook upload, and the fun filters that helped make the apps so popular. Instagram belongs to Facebook and therefore the integration is smoother and better than Vine, which is owned by Twitter.

Your decision might be influenced by where your customers and readers are. If you already have a large Twitter following, then Vine could work better for you. More FB fans then look to Instagram.




6. Blogger Networks 


Look to see if there is a network that would suit your blog.

Mums in UK are spoiled for choice between Mumsnet’s  Blogger’s NetworkBritmums and Netmums

On Mumsnet, there are, as you would expect, a fair few blogs about parenting, but also blogs on many other topics. You must apply to join, and your blog will be checked to see if the content is appropriate for a parenting website (so maybe don’t apply if you blog about the latest bondage gear). The blog will then be included in the list of blogs, latest posts put on the Bloggers’ Network homepage, promoted on their Twitter feed (the mainMNTowers account has followers) and Facebook page.

Netmums tends to be less political than Mumsnet, and more focussed on reviews and brands. They also promote on other social media channels, plus mentioned on their Twitter feed  and Facebook page  – I have noticed they are quite active on Google+.They also highlight a Blog of the Week, With almost 2300 bloggers at time of writing this post, it is a fair sized network. Another great blogging network is Britmums which is much more blogger focussed than Netmums or Mumsnet, which are parenting fora with a Blogger’ Network.

Britmums advertises as ‘lifestyle bloggers and digital influencers’, obviously with an emphasis on parenting blogs. They promote on TwitterFacebook and Google+, among other social networks.

Don’t feel that you have to do all of these options. They are ways of building followers, but you do not have to do them all. And some of them, such as Mumsnet and BritMums update automatically so you don’t have to be constantly posting links to your blog.


Do’s And Don’t

Do publicise your website, but don’t spam people with too many links to it. A couple a day is fine, especially on Twitter as it is fast moving.

Do make it easy for your readers to find you – add buttons to your blog to encourage readers to share on Twitter or Facebook, and a link to your Twitter page.

Do build up a community around your website– read and comment on other blogs, reply to comments on your own blog

Do read and comment on other blogs, using your blog email address and linking to your blog (if there is an option to do this, most comment forms have space for your URL).


Do get involved in “memes” if you want to – basically a meme is when one blogger posts about something that interests them and asks others to do the same, linking to other blogs on the same topic. It can be feminismfrocks or something completely different. Another popular one is Silent Sunday.

Do use hashtags to direct traffic to your website. If you blog about knitting, use #knitting. That way anyone seeking information on these topics will find your blog link.

Don’t think you have to do everything, and be everywhere. There is such a thing as Social Media Fatigue.



Featured Image Copyright Jason Howie

Avoid The Knife – FGM in Kenya



I met Vivian in Nairobi. We were told that we were to meet a young woman who had narrowly escaped Female Genital Circumcision (FGM), a practice that is barbaric and abusive. She had escaped being cut, not because of the intervention of Western aid workers or other incomers to her rural Kenyan community, but because her parents forbade it.

The Luo community, to which Vivian and her parents belong do not practice FGM, but she grew up in a Kuria community where girls are cut. It is seen as a rite of passage,  which most girls eagerly anticipate . When Vivian’s parents refused permission for her to be cut, she tried to go behind their backs. She was nine years old, and impressed by the stories of her friends, who told of month long celebrations, and generous gifts of money given to girls who do not cry.

Girls are told that they will be unable to find a husband if they are not cut, and are called names and ridiculed for refusing.

For many years, Vivian’s parents sent her away during the ‘cutting season’ to protect her. Even this did not help, and she sneaked out to attend a ceremony. Only the intervention of her brother, saved her. It wasn’t until she was 14 years old, that she realised that her parents were right.

Vivian told this tale on a warm summer evening in Nairobi. She talked of her teen fears of not finding a husband, and of the peer pressure she was subjected to. She talked of the church, where she was told that FGM was bad, but not why it is bad.

She talked of going ‘back home’ and seeing the school friends she left behind. One of her friends dropped out of school when she was 12 years old, and soon was married to a man in his 70s. She now has five children, and blames her parents for taking her ‘to the knife’. She has nowhere to go. There is no divorce in such a community.

Vivian is an intelligent, educated and beautiful young woman, who is now working as a researcher in Kenya. Where Vivian is educated, her friend is unschooled. Where Vivian is  a free woman, her friend is enslaved by her circumstances. Vivian would not look out of place on 5th Avenue. The same could not be said of her friend.


Girls who are circumcised drop out of school earlier, marry earlier, have children earlier. The initial complications such as shock, severe bleeding, tetanus or sepsis are only the beginning of a life of pain caused by the ceremony. Later health issues may include the  formation of scar tissue, cysts, infections, infertility and childbirth complications, including increased risk of mother and newborn deaths.

Kenya is one of many African countries that has officially banned FGM, but it still goes on. It continues because girls like Vivian are told that they are worthless unless they agree to be cut. It continues because young boys and men are told that a woman who is uncut will be unfaithful.

FGM is violence against women, perpetrated to keep them subservient to men. As Lancashire midwife and anti-FGM campaigner Cath Holland puts it,


 “At its root, FGM is all about patriarchy. It’s about controlling women – controlling their sexuality, controlling their libido. In communities like Pokot it’s regarded as a prerequisite for marriage.”


Cath travelled to Pokot in the Rift Valley to train midwives, and returned a changed woman. Horrified by her experiences, Cath decided that the best way to effect change, was from within the community. She invited two Kenyan midwives to UK to inform them of the dangers of FGM. These women went back to Kenya to spread the word. One of their most effective tools is the Alternative Rite of Passage.

In the past years Cath has raised enough money to fund two alternative ceremonies, with a third one planned in December 2012 (during the traditional cutting season).


‘We were informed by the group that altogether over the last 2 years 414 girls participated in our “Alternative Rite of Passage” (ARP) ceremonies. Of these only 4 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. The majority of the girls are still at school and some even attending secondary school’


Working within the community is the only way to protect girls from FGM. They have to be informed of the dangers, and empowered to make the decision not to be cut. Only then will they be able to resist the peer pressure, and the pressure from their community and family.


Vivian talks about her experiences, not only to foreign journalists and bloggers, but to the young girls who live in the community, paying back the advice she received from her mother. She was able to avoid the knife, and now she hopes that by telling her story, she can inspire other girls to do the same.


This post is part of the Violence Against Women Bloghop –  16 Days of Activism