Want straight-talking no-nonsense advice on looking after yourself or, if you have stumbled or waltzed into parenthood, your child? Call Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia’s leading adolescent and child psychologists. We are lucky: he has chosen to visit his old school – Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst – 51 years after he left, after a brief but happy stay as (yes..) a seven year old boarder.
Having spent Monday evening with Michael, heard the positive ripples from the seminar he led with Bedales and Dunhurst pastoral staff in the afternoon and seen him in action in his illuminating lecture in the Bedales theatre in the evening, I can see why he is such an influential and sought after figure in the topical area of adolescent wellbeing and mental health
Like the best teachers, he clearly likes, understands and relishes working with young people. There’s no whiff of condescension. There’s no beating around any bush or ducking any issue. That look on the face of an outraged teenage girl when her parent has told her that she cannot have what she wants is memorably named by Michael in the title of his best-selling book – Princess Bitchface Syndrome. We might think it – he says it. In his clunky terminology, nailed.
Parents’ occasional, supine feebleness over things digital is also nailed: “Find your digital spine!” he exhorts; if what your youngster is telling you s/he should be able to do is clearly against their wellbeing, forbid them!
Likewise nailed are things that anyone who has worked with children and been a parent knows intuitively. For me, one powerful truth is foremost in my mind: the value of what he calls “islands of competence” or sparks. This is what educators see on a daily basis: the impact on a young person’s life – and therefore wellbeing in the broadest sense – of something catching their interest, energy and ultimately passion. Michael talked with typical humour about his son’s passion for leg-spin bowling. It could just as easily be the violin or blacksmithing or tennis or Beowulf or the guitar or cross-country running or running your own car-washing business. The role of schools and parents is to create the environment which gives children plenty of choice – and then to allow the child to fan the spark into a fire, cheering on what they do.
Sometimes it takes a while to see the effect of those islands of competence or sparks. Intriguing then on the night following Michael’s talk to be at one of our first Old Bedalian gatherings based on a particular career area – in this case Art and Design. So, I and colleagues far better qualified to be there – Art and Design teachers above all – have such an enjoyable and stimulating couple of hours in a (stylish, hipsterish) place under a rumbling arch by Waterloo. Here are around 100 OBs – aged 19 upwards – who have made their ways in areas connected with Art and Design. Many conversations go back to those moments at school when a spark caught – and the fires keep burning and burning.