From 2016, schools will be allowed to test four-year-olds. Tests for children in reception are designed to give baseline measure of abilities upon entering formal education. But one of the issues in the run-up to the General Election when it came to education is that schools are results-churning factories. So are children going to be churning results at the expense of creativity? How do we encourage aspiration without causing stress, anxiety and harm to a child?

Senior Manager working in education Preya Danecha joined me on the sofa to discuss children and parenting. She is a firm believer in allowing children to be children. The tests, she says, will create a duality where children will be more results-orientated so will inevitably grow up quickly, while on the other hand parents will be complaining children are growing up too quickly in a social setting. This could create inner-conflict.

It is true that children are creative beings and as adults we are encouraged to paint, write or conduct a creative activity to help our being. Preya agreed and stated that tests and exams can be stressful even for adults, so for children pushing academia can be stressful.

Actually, according to a report, more children have mental health issues than two years ago. According to the charity YoungMinds, the number of children receiving counselling for exam stress has tripled. The studies are unsure what the stress is linked to, so I asked Preya if educational, exam and academic achievement could be one of the reasons contributing to stress and mental health issues in children?

She said it is two-fold. It can be pressure as there is an increasing academic and social pressure on children, especially with the epidemic of social media. But it could also be that adults are much better at spotting the signs and have greater awareness of issues children go through. So is it actually a bigger problem or is it that we have got better at spotting issues? It is food for thought.

I wanted to know: what are the signs of a child suffering depression, stress or a mental health condition? Preya stated the following;

  • A change in their mood – are they slightly withdrawn or have they stopped doing something they love?
  • A change in appearance – are they no longer taking care of their hygiene?
  • Self-harm – this can be spotted if the child in question is wearing long-sleeves during the summer.

Stress may not only come from exams and tests but can be placed on children by families. Sometimes parents can expect too much from their children. Preya explained that as long as parents encourage and motivate their children in a positive way and keep communication positive, it will have a positive impact. The method of communication is key.

Rather than a child not meeting expectations having a drastic consequence, communicate so you are encouraging your child than including punishment. How you pitch will have a positive or negative impact.

I want to include an extract from Humans of New York as an example of expectations having a negative impact:

“My father is an Egyptian immigrant, and all he ever cared about was our education. He used to print out these huge packets of math problems from the internet. Sometimes they would be 200 pages, and after school he’d make us do them at the kitchen table until midnight. He’d hit us if we got them wrong. One day I got a C on a math quiz, and I thought he was going to kill me, so I ran to the police station. I think he gave up on us that day. Now he just ignores us. I tried to kill myself last year by walking onto a busy highway. I just stood at the edge for thirty minutes until someone from my school told the principal. They put me in a mental hospital for two weeks. My dad didn’t talk to me for a month after I came back. When he finally did, he said: ‘Do you have any idea how much your hospital bill cost?’” Humans of New York

Parents should, Preya urged, always be active and interested too. Ask your child ‘how was your day’ and pay attention to them. Keep the communication lines open and stay open-minded.

What about the problem of individuality and nurturing individual talent in an exam-churning factory?! Preya disputed that her school has a range of activities including trips, sports, arts, and drama shows that encourage and nurture individual talents.

Her careers advice was to follow what you love as it is only then that you will be successful. She studied Sports Science and is a boxer but the profession she has entered is completely different. So it does not matter what you study, but rather follow your passion and love.

One thing some children may face during their time at school is bullying. Preya stated that a child must first and foremost report bullying so that something can be done about it. Also, individuality comes into helping a child. A child will gain self-confidence by being taught, and learning, to embrace individuality.

Preya also stated that children, like adults, should surround themselves with the right people. Parents who are supporting a child who is being bullied at school should not show they are affected as children do not like to upset their parents, so will be less likely to come forward with other problems if they see it having a negative impact on their parents.

I made a conscious distinction about being bullied at school because bullying can occur outside and many times online. In the news, there have been cases where children have been driven to suicide because of online bullying.

Parents should ensure their child(ren) are using the laptop or computer in a communal space such as the living room so you can see the screen and what they are doing. It is the same with grooming online – parents should hold passwords to their children’s accounts and regularly check to ensure their safety regardless of feeling they may be breaching their child’s privacy.

When it comes to online social media, parents should also keep their children safe by refraining from posting pictures of their children online. It is easy for predators to spot where a child is from their school name badge or uniform so take extra precautions.

Preya left us with some of her key advice: there is a time children step outside their boundaries. This does not mean you are a bad parent or that they are a bad child.

‘One is not born, but rather one becomes, a woman’ – Simone de Beauvoir

The ‘woman’ as a subject has been in scrutiny, flux, and under a critical ‘gaze’ for centuries. Subjugation, exploitation and objectification dates back to before the Suffragette movement and inequality and the abuse of the female subject remains prevalent unto this day.

An estimated 1.4 million women and 700,000 men have suffered domestic abuse in the last year, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Domestic violence is but one of the issues author Saurav Dutt addresses in his latest book ‘The Butterfly Room’.

Saurav’s works explore a range of topics that predominantly centre on issues impacting the South Asian culture, India and Indians. Thus, although these issues are not exhaustive to the South Asian community, Saurav looks at and debates LGBT, inter-racial marriages, divorce, and class in the context of a British Asian family who have exported the Indian culture from Asia and adopted it into the Western cultural sphere.

The book centres on a wealthy family, upheld by the father figure Rohan who represents the patriarchy. The sentence that caught my attention and grabbed me was “anything is better than silence”. This one sentence captured the resounding silence in the words of the book.

One of the reasons women are oppressed is because of the fixed, stereotypical gender roles they are assigned to from a young age. We dress a girl in pink and boy in blue. This is the basics of when gender distinction are created and then after that, in the terminology of feminist Judith Butler, performed and thus prescribed.

Fixed gender roles filter in women’s everyday lives, from the notion of their bodies as reproductive machines, to them being assigned to roles within the household. Saurav and I began by discussing inequality within the household and how women are assigned to the domestic sphere.

Saurav explained it is rampant and endemic regardless of one’s educational or wealth status and needs to be openly debated. It is only when it is openly discussed will change come into effect.

But it is not always easy to speak up and sometimes women are criticised for their bravery and for their voice. Saurav described the indifference to the role of women and how, if she is courageous enough to represent her views, her views are perpetuated. Women are told to fit within parameters of definitions and there is hypocrisy where women, if they speak out, are slammed for their bravery.

Lakshmi, mother in Saurav’s story, suffers physical abuse at the hands of alcoholism. She attends a meeting with other women to share her story but after hearing their stories she feels hers is not as bad so she should ignore the abuse.

Saurav explained that if you are experiencing emotional, physical or psychological harm, you are a victim and should never feel guilty, or that the harm you are experiencing is not as harmful as that of an others.

Legal Aid is available for women experiencing domestic abuse and violence but Saurav described it as limited, outdated because one needs to present physical evidence. But lots of charities do provide help and do take women’s claims seriously.

But coming forward is not easy, particularly for a woman in a marriage. In the South Asian community, leaving your husband ties you to words such as ‘shame’, and often divorce is frowned upon. Furthermore, a lot of women firstly have a father, then a husband and then a son, so some have a lack of autonomy and independence. Therefore, the fear of being alone can sometimes be greater than the fear of abuse.

Saurav stated that women in this situation should state ‘I can be autonomous’. Vulnerable women should be confident in portraying the best of their abilities and step outside their gender roles, even if it means going against the norm.

Also, if your marriage falls into dis-repair, you should never feel as though you are helpless in the chain of events but rather you are an arbiter of choice. Remember, a collective voice is more powerful than a single one, so if you stand up and speak out, somebody else may have the courage to do so too.

And it is not just women who should stand up but men should also stand up for women. Saurav said he finds International Women’s Day a fallacy because every day is a struggle for women and that men should step up and talk about issues that affect women too. I whole-heartedly agree that if we are to see real change, men and women should stand alongside each other; what greater representation and act of equality is there than both sexes standing together for one cause?

We briefly touched upon inter-racial marriages and Saurav’s character Sunita who has fallen in love with an English-man named David. In 10 to 20 years, Saurav explained, parents will not have a choice but to accept inter-racial marriage which is a good thing. At the moment, girls in India have the pressure of having to find someone of the same religion and caste but this will soon change and for the better.

‘The Butterfly Room’ was inspired by real voices and stories of women who had experienced domestic violence. The sufferers and survivors, Saurav explained, were enlightening and insightful. Their accounts make up the bulk of the story with some wives locked in relationships, some youngsters struggling with admitting they are homosexual, and some women who had left their husbands.

It was also inspired by the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ about a brutal rape case in India that sparked global attention. The documentary, however, was banned in India as they argued it gave a platform to the worst people in society; ultimately silencing the voices of the brave women that spoke out.

As a comment, I asked Saurav what he made of President Modi’s campaign #selfiewithdaughter after banning the documentary? He said he thinks it is a smokescreen and diversion from the larger issues in India and that not a single penny has gone towards funding services that help women who need it.

Ending the show, Saurav told us about his exciting up-coming project. He is now writing a book entitled ‘Despite the Gods’ which explores the rise in Atheism and the reception atheism would receive in a religious country such as India.

I want to revert back to the quotation at the beginning of this article. ‘One is not born, but rather one becomes, a woman’. This means that women hold the power and we are able to become whatever we want to be. We should celebrate difference and be proud of being women!