Ahh sweet nostalgia: my previous publications




Verity Johnson: Tirade on ‘female duty’ has no place in doctor’s office

Published NZ Herald  Jul 16, 2013
You definitely can’t start moralising on a woman’s failure to do her biological duty.

Being English, making a fuss is as painful to me as losing a kidney.

But Melissa Pont being refused the pill is worth sacrificing both kidneys and several ribs for. A doctor first refuses her contraception and then lectures her on her “reproductive duty”.

If that doctor tried that with women in my family, he would be kicked so hard he could never do his reproductive duty again.

It’s not refusing contraception that I have a problem with. If you are a Catholic doctor and don’t believe in contraception, fine. You’re entitled to that opinion. And yes, if you feel that prescribing contraception violates your ethics, you should be able to opt out of giving it.

What you can’t do is project your religious views on to others.

And you definitely can’t start moralising on a woman’s failure to do her biological duty. First, because you’ll get your stethoscope shoved somewhere that makes toilet trips difficult.

Secondly, because you should accord this woman’s beliefs the same respect yours have been given. Thirdly, people go to professionals for rational, objective advice, not an ethical interrogation.

It reminds me of when my friend went to our school’s career counsellor saying that she wanted to go to university. The counsellor told her she wouldn’t be suited for it – another unwanted, unprofessional personal judgment instead of an independent response.

Dr Lee should have just politely refused to prescribe her the pill and shown her to a doctor who would. But pulling out the white hat and settling in for a lecture has enormous consequences.

If all doctors sermonised the way Dr Lee did, it would destroy a woman’s confidence to ask for contraception.

Melissa Pont is 23 and she says she felt judged.

What if you were 16, got your first serious boyfriend, and wanted to go on the pill? You have to psych yourself up for at least a week just to ask the doctor in the first place. Then to be told you had the morals of a banker and the chastity of Courtney Love?

You’d probably never ask for contraception again. Then you’d really be in trouble.

We need to be creating a responsive, non-threatening environment for girls to get contraception. This is why we can’t have doctors who feel they can push their personal beliefs on patients.

In this situation, a doctor’s role is to do everything possible to provide an alternative doctor. After all, a doctor still has a duty to the patient’s needs.

Now, the Medical Council of New Zealand has recently updated its guidelines. A doctor in Dr Lee’s case has to tell the patient they have a right to see another doctor.

But the rules don’t say that the doctor must help the patient find alternative treatment or refer the patient to another doctor. This obviously isn’t tight enough if it lets Melissa’s case (where she had to argue for another doctor) go through.

The doctor’s surgery would have a part to play here, too.

Melissa’s surgery in Wairau Community Clinic has a pamphlet saying some doctors don’t prescribe contraceptives. I know that when I’m in the doctors’ office I’m not reading the information pamphlets; I’m more concerned with Kate’s toilet breaks and lettuce intake.

There should be signs the size of Mt Eden saying “some doctors do not prescribe contraception”. Then people would pay attention and could make good decisions about who they see.

So please, Melissa, make a fuss! Demand apologies, answers and better advice.

And the board upholding the complaint will show that doctors cannot launch tirades against a client’s choices. It’ll reinforce that doctors should be objective. And it’ll encourage other women who’ve had similar experiences not to be ashamed to seek objective contraceptive advice.

This is too serious a topic to get wrong. A woman’s organs are no one’s but her own. Unless of course you want to give me some kidney replacements.

Verity Johnson: Teach tweens the difference between reality and rubbish

Published NZHerald Apr 3, 2013

“Any remaining passengers on JQ431 to Auckland your plane is waiting to leave.”

Bloody flight attendants; they have no sympathy for those with time management problems.

When I finally boarded, I got a glare from the woman in row 1.

I knew I was late, and that my Victoria’s Secret bag was aggressively pink, but I didn’t merit that much visual abuse.

Then I remembered the controversy over Victoria’s Secret Pink campaign. Now, not only does Victoria’s Secret corrupt innocent girls, it also makes them late for planes.

Those undies are evil.

The media storm over Victoria’s Secret’s latest line is hotting up. Over 11,000 people have signed the petition on change.org calling for the brand to drop their Bright Young Things range. The underwear apparently sexualises tweens – despite it being marketed to students.

Good heavens – is society trying to sexualise young girls? Never!

It’s as if we hadn’t had 10-year-old Thylane Blondeau modelling for Vogue. Or the then 15-year-old Miley Cyrus’ topless photos. Or any music videos.

According to the American Psychological Association’s report, 81 per cent of music videos contain sexual imagery.

There will always be a company or media outlet that sells sex.

But is stamping and screaming in protest really working? Sure, it may stop one company. But there will be another one selling fishnets to 13-year-olds quicker than you can say Lolita.

But attacking the companies isn’t the answer. The way to stop the over- sexualisation of girls is to teach us what’s actually expected of us.

Despite years of watching MTV, I don’t wake up and slap on body oil and stockings to go to the supermarket.

Why? Because when I watch TV or music videos I know what I’m watching isn’t real.

I know that women don’t have to gyrate on tables to be accepted. I know that real men don’t call their girlfriends “ho”.

This is what we need to teach tweens – the difference between reality and rapper rhetoric.

Girls need to get how women really act – what’s OK and what’s not. When we know this, we can critique society when it tells us how to behave.

We can work out if we accept what it tells us, or if it’s just mindless, misogynistic mumbo jumbo.

This ability to analyse what we’re told is essential. Not just to tween girls, but to all young people. Think about all the crazy views society shows us. We need to work out what’s worth listening to.

If we have this framework of right and wrong then it doesn’t matter what the media tells us. If it doesn’t fit in to what we know is right, we can tell them where to shove it.

And yes, we watch a lot of TV. According to the UK’s Daily Telegraph it’s more than four hours a day.

But to us teenagers, friends and family are the biggest influences in our lives.

With drinking for example, in 2011 the BBC found that teenagers who saw their parents getting drunk regularly where twice as likely to get drunk regularly themselves.

According to the University of Washington, children of smokers are more likely to smoke themselves.

But this can be a positive influence too.

The sociologist Greer Fox found that girls who talked more to their mothers had attitudes and behaviour patterns that lowered the risk of becoming pregnant.

So parents helping their daughters make sense of society’s definition of women can fight against the barrage of bilge from people such as the Pussycat Dolls.

We need to talk to our tweens.

We need to explain that a girl’s self-worth isn’t measured in cup sizes.

We need to say that grinding every man you meet isn’t necessary.

We need to get up there and say that brainy is sexy.

And if you don’t like it then we’ll stamp our stiletto through your foot.

Verity Johnson: Equal Pay? Chill out, have a biscuit

Published NZHerald Feb 11, 2013

Kate Sheppard. Photo / Supplied

“How is Lord of the Rings Kiwi? Tolkien’s English! None of The Fellowship actors are Kiwis! Most of it’s CGIiiiiagghhhhhhhhhh.”

That’s how far you’ll get into an anti-Lord of the Rings rant before something hits you in the face.

When I was becoming a Kiwi, I learned New Zealand’s sacred trilogy: Lord of the Rings, the All Blacks, and Marmite. Insult them and it’s a ticket to an icy mood and a suggestion of where I should stick my opinion.

I quickly learned not to fight those arguments.

But there is one topic I will endure all groans and flying pens for: women in New Zealand.

I remember asking my history teacher, “Why are we so bad at getting women in business roles?” You’d have thought I’d suggested skinning a kitten.

The entirely male class (the two other girls in the class were away) and my male teacher exploded.

And out came the inevitable response:

“New Zealand is great for women’s rights! We gave women the vote first!”

Well, yes. But have you got anything more recent than the 1800s?

In 1893 we gave women the vote. That’s awesome. But in 2012 only 9.3 per cent of NZX-listed companies had women directors. Fully 65 per cent of local companies have no female directors on their boards. Kate Sheppard would be a grumpy bunny.

My generation is facing a strange scenario. We’ve grown up knowing girls are successful in school and uni. We’ve always been told men and women are equal. And we’ve seen how angry society gets over comments like those by Employers Association leader Alasdair Thompson in 2011.

So far, the Goddess Greer would be satisfied.

But then we get told that just 5 per cent of New Zealand companies have female CEOs. And that in 2010 only 13 per cent of doctors in surgical scopes were women. Or that in 2012 Statistics NZ said the gender pay gap was the widest it had been in 10 years.

Suddenly, for us girls leaving education for the workforce, being smart and energetic and ambitious seems unimportant. We have boobs. So we get paid less.

We start to feel both angry and disappointed. We thought NZ stood for egalitarianism. We thought we could do anything. But now it looks like we can’t.

As a girl with ambition, and the need to fund a kookai habit, I flirted with the idea of a business career. But New Zealand’s not presenting an inspiring picture for girls like me.

So what am I supposed to do?

I’ve had people, normally men, tell me to wait. The job sector will change organically over time. Just be patient, dear.

Well the equal pay bill was in 1960. Women have been waiting half a century.

Are we there yet? No.

And why should I have to wait for my dream job? Why don’t I move to Australia where 30 per cent of CEOs are women? Perhaps that’s the reason for the brain drain …

It’s true that 120 years ago we stood for women’s rights. But have we become complacent?

When I talk to people about it they say something like “it’s fine, we had Kate Sheppard, we have the Equal Pay Act, chill out, have a biscuit”. We can’t just point to the past and say yep, we’re an egalitarian society. Don’t we have to keep proving we stand up for women?

Take this week’s speech by Malala Yousafzai – her first public speech since her botched assassination by the Taleban. New Zealand’s reaction was a smattering of press coverage. Now we’re talking about what we did on Waitangi Day.

Are we still the same country that led the world in the female rights fight?

Because if we were, surely we should be donating to Malala’s fund, holding vigils, writing songs, and creating awards for girls like her? Like they’re doing in Dublin, India, Nepal, England…

I doubt anyone my age knows who this girl is.

I didn’t until I accidentally clicked on an article about her while stalking Karl Urban on Google. I didn’t know she was fighting for the right to female education. I didn’t know she was shot. I didn’t know that she is 15.

And if we are the same revolutionary country, shouldn’t we be supporting both heroes like Malala, and everyday girls like me and my girlfriends? All we want to do is make something of our lives.

New Zealand can do better than this. We did it before, we can do it again.

But we have a lot of work to do.

After all, I was told at school that I can’t have a career and a family – private school was a good investment mum, eh?

Verity Johnson: Exam results mean more in context of a journey

Published NZHerald Jan 16, 2013

“Verity – are you eating breakfast?”

My mum had a right to be both shocked and afraid. You don’t want to meet me in the mornings. Normally I just skip mornings. But today? Oh no.

It was exam results day.

I’m unlucky. Judgment day came early for me because I did International Baccalaureate (IB). But as I type the majority of teenagers are warily eyeing up the week ahead. Because this week is NCEA results week.

In the run up to my results, a number of things went through my mind.

Apart from the vision of my decapitation by my Chemistry teacher, the most recurring thought was this: how much do my exam results matter?

I want to go to university, so I need my course requirements. But apart from that?

Booker T. Washington once said “success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome whilst trying to succeed”.

My final grade is just a number, but the process of getting there involved trying, failing, swearing, thinking, retrying, and eventual improvement.

It introduced me to determination, desperation and inspiration – particularly in inventing new expletives.

Isn’t this learning experience the most important part of education?

If I tell you I got a C you’d make a polite noise whilst thinking, “huh, average”. But if I tell you that I had improved from an F to a C then you think, “wow, that’s great!”

Final grades are a reflection of how good you were on one day, at one time, in one place. So if we look at our exam results, or our development, which gives us more for the future? Which shows more about our character?

I’m not saying results are worthless. Only that they are less important than the journey it took to get there.

Plus you have to ask whether exams are an accurate reflection of talent.

What if you’re sick? What if you misread the question? What if they ask you questions that haven’t come up in the 12 sodding previous exam papers you did for revision?

I received my shoddy English grade on the day I had an article published. I felt like mailing IB a copy.

And this is why exam results can be dangerous.

Let’s say you love Geography and get good marks all year but you botch the exam. Should you switch degrees to something you got a better grade in? Should you think you’re bad at geography? Should you let others tell you you’re bad at it? Of course not.

Years of experience and hard work aren’t negated by one exam result. So as long as you can get in with the grade, don’t let it persuade you out of following your passion.

Obviously if you want to be an engineer and you still don’t get gravity, you might want to reconsider. But if it’s just one stuff up? Ignore it. Keep going.

And in five years no one will ask you what you got at NCEA level 3. Not unless they’re really stuck for a pick up line.

Your future employer is interested in your degree or technical qualifications. Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells’ work in 2002 showed that in today’s network society communication and interpersonal skills are intrinsic to employment success. So grades aren’t the be all and end all. Results aren’t necessarily an intelligence gauge either. Albert Einstein was rejected from the Federal Polytechnic Academy because of his low grades in everything apart from science. Owen Glenn and Richard Branson never even made it to university. I wouldn’t call them stupid.

But despite the logic behind the irrelevancy of grades, I know they matter on an emotional level.

Everyone cares; students, parents, teachers, friends. And after all the stress of the exam period, the fastest way to get food flying across the dinner table is to criticise. Or worse, pick through the exam explaining to the person what they should have said.

Please parents, whatever your teenagers get, good, bad, or as expected, just play it cool.

If your teens do well, do the proud parent dance. But don’t Facebook your sister and rekindle the “mine’s better than yours” argument.

If they do worse than expected, please don’t go on about it.

You’re upset? Think about how they feel. They worked for this for a year. You just had to feed them.

Verity Johnson: Queen is fine for Britain, just not New Zealand

Published NZHerald Jan 1, 2013

Having the Queen as our head of state has gone out of fashion. Photo / AP

There are several unanswered Christmas questions.

One, can men cry when watching Vicar of Dibley? If not, don’t worry, bro, we’ll just blame the Baileys. Two, can you be rude to a wizened relation who repeatedly calls you your mum’s name? Three, if I sing at one volume, one speed and on one note, can I be excused from carols?

But the most important is: do we stay up for the Queen’s speech?

My family decreed that we would. But being the hard-core teen I am I’d fallen asleep by 10.30. That was lucky because my anti-monarchy sniping normally causes fruit to be thrown.

I’m not recklessly republican. I think Britain needs a Queen. I just don’t think New Zealand does.

The whole do-we-stay-up-for-the-Queen debate reminded me of another occasion Her Majesty intruded into New Zealand: my citizenship ceremony.

My private school education has trained me to expect every ceremony will be a stuffy English-esque affair; an event with all the bubbliness of a state funeral and double the pomp. But my citizenship ceremony was a diamond occasion; it was a night that crystallised the fun, friendly, free spirit of this country.

So you can imagine my annoyance when I had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

I could feel The Firm reaffirming its grip on its rebellious Australasian children. We were in danger of forming our independent identity and Britain needed to return to remind us who Daddy was.

I’m 18 and everyone my age wants to know: what does the monarchy actually do for New Zealand?

Our Prime Minister, Governor-General and Finance Minister are all Kiwis. We have our own Parliament, justice system and laws. What do we need from the monarchy except juicy gossip?

When my friends and I discuss it, we can’t figure out what the Queen does. She’s like a consultant: no one knows what they do.

We’re not just being rebellious teenagers, in 2002 58 per cent of Kiwis thought the Queen had little or no relevance to their lives.

An affiliation with the Crown is understandable for previous generations; our grandparents would mostly have had British passports. Our parents at least had trading links with the UK and would have been called “British subjects” until 1977.

But Australia and China are our biggest trade partners now, and in the past 50 years New Zealand has begun to seriously define its own identity. We have our own sports stars, adventurers, authors and actors. We gave women the vote before England, we said no to America over nuclear arms, and we win rugby world cups.

We’re are certainly not British subjects. We’re Kiwis.

Frankly, I think it’s a little patronising that England still imposes its Queen on us. It implies that New Zealand is a backward rock, not able or not trustworthy enough to lead itself.

It also reeks of a British superiority complex. By imposing their Queen on us it implies Britons see New Zealand as another of their inferior colonies. Britain doesn’t see us as an equal independent country. And however much I admire her hats, I can’t let Her Majesty tell me my country is inferior.

The entire concept of her being our Queen is rooted in imperialism.

This went out of fashion when everyone realised the rudeness of rocking up to a country and telling everyone to shove off because the English are taking over. The Queen represents an antiquated, arrogant approach to other countries rooted in the assumption mother England knows best.

Why is a foreigner our head of state? Are we not allowed to rule our own country? Can the British still be allowed to act as though New Zealand is no more than a pet on an elastic lead?

I don’t detest the Queen, she seems a lovely woman. And I fervently hope the royals stay rooted in English culture. Who else can I read about in Woman’s Weekly if Kate Middleton loses her job? I just don’t want her to be Queen of New Zealand.

I certainly don’t want to take an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

When I became a citizen, I swore I would respect and honour the spirit of New Zealand. I should take an oath to Kate Sheppard, or Edmund Hillary or Katherine Mansfield.

The Queen’s rule in New Zealand is a throwback to England’s empire. I shouldn’t be swearing allegiance to the concept of New Zealand as a royal lapdog. We’re St Bernards, not corgis.

Verity Johnson: Prevention better than the benefit

Published NZherald Dec 21, 2012
Giving contraceptive help to young teens shows compassion. 

The high price of emergency contraception punishes young girls for one mistake. Photo / Getty Images

When I meet new people I always try to impress them with how tough I am; it hides the fact that I’m so cowardly Dr Who scares me.

One of my favourite ways of impressing people with my hardness is to tell them that at my school in England, I was one of five virgins in my Year 8 class.

It’s true. I was. And the story gets me a gold star for being from the estate, yo.

The story itself is shocking, but New Zealand is not going to be outshone by England. According to the online New Zealand encyclopedia Te Ara, in 2006 our teen pregnancy rate was second in the world, beaten only by the US. Fame at last, no?

So when I heard that the Taranaki District Health Board is considering making the emergency contraceptive pill free for girls aged 12 and upwards I couldn’t share in the outpouring of outrage. I thought it was about bloody time.

New Zealand has a high rate for teenage sex. In 2005, research showed 20 per cent of 14 year olds were sexually active, and the rates of teenagers under 14 having sex have also increased. According to Te Ara 50 per cent of teenagers (17 and above) are sexually active.

I think we can all agree that 12 year old mums are a bad thing. At 12, I thought Durex was a brand of toilet paper.

So if younger teenagers are having sex, isn’t it a good thing that we’re making contraception available to young teenagers? That way they don’t become mothers.

And, as the Ministry of Health published, younger adolescents are less likely to use contraception when having sex. Logically, if young teens are having unprotected sex, we need to maximise the opportunities for them to avoid pregnancy by promoting the emergency contraceptive pill.

Last year, the MidCentral District Health Board – which covers Palmerston North – made the ECP free to women under 25. The move was followed by a 7.5 per cent reduction in abortions.

When the Auckland DHB tried the same, the reduction in abortion numbers was 13 per cent. So there is definitely evidence that the emergency pill reduces pregnancy rates in teens.

Plus, we need to remember that the pill is expensive – $40 plus. Lots of teenagers can’t afford that. An abortion is more than $1000. We certainly can’t afford that. And asking the parents for the money isn’t an attractive option.

And if you can’t afford the pill and you can’t afford the abortion, you’re going to have a baby. By having the emergency pill at such a high price, we are punishing teenagers for one mistake.

I don’t agree with Mr McCoskrie [Family First national director Bob McCoskrie] that it’s “morally flawed” to offer the pill free to young adolescents.

I think it shows compassion and understanding. It shows that we know everyone does stupid things, and that even though you made a mistake, we’re not willing to give up on you.

By promoting the emergency contraceptive pill we are saying that you don’t have to have a child you can’t support, or aren’t ready for.

A combination of improved sex education and contraceptive availability is the way toward a lower pregnancy rate.

[US researcher Dr Laurie] Zabin showed that teenagers in school-based sex education programmes had improved contraception use rates and fewer pregnancies.

Obviously 12 year olds shouldn’t be having sex. I wouldn’t trust them with teaspoons, let alone toddlers.

Parents need to be the ones who step up and talk openly with their children about how it’s okay to say no.

If this begins at a younger age, teenagers are going to feel more comfortable and make better decisions when they reach 15 or 16 and start wanting to have sex properly.

A more open approach to talking about sex takes on teenage pregnancies at a deeper level, whereas sex education and free contraception tackles it at an immediate level. And we need both.

So give the girls the emergency contraceptive pill. But not just that. Give them the conversation you wish you’d had as a teenager. Or you’ll be giving them the single mothers benefit.

Verity Johnson: Free choice is what leads to happiness

Published NZHerald  Aug 25, 2012

Parents shouldn’t push their teenagers into careers they’ll hate

There comes an age when teenagers realise that they are independent people. It’s that time of year. For those of us considering university the inevitable has arrived. “What are you going to do at university, dear?”

My response, “I want to do a BA in English and philosophy”, is like saying “I want to be a streaker up Queen St”. It gets the same shock, furtive interest, and head shaking that my parents gave their 18-year-old.

The correct answer is: “I’m doing a law and commerce conjoint.”

I did consider a law and commerce conjoint. I also considered plucking out my nose hair.

My brother had the same aversion to these subjects. He did history at university.

He got the response of barely concealed scorn: “And what are you going to do with that?”

Sociologists interested in parent-teenager battle lines may like to crack out the binoculars for a family’s university debate. It is a parental experience versus teenage determination confrontation.

The parents start sweetly: “You’re far too smart to be doing a BA.”

Then there’s the retort: “Well, what else am I gonna do?”

And here we find the two golden grails for vaguely smart Kiwis (unless you want to be a doctor). It’s law or it’s commerce. Or both.

A friend of mine, Celine, is blessed with remarkable intelligence. Children also flock to her and she adores their sticky selves. However, despite her wanting to take English and become a teacher, everyone is telling her to do law/commerce because she’s smart.

She hates law and commerce, but feels like she ought to take them because that’s how our society defines success.

Why are we forcing people into decisions they won’t enjoy? Are we saying teaching is a worthless career? Is Celine wrong for wanting to inspire children?

Now, it would be much easier if we could ignore the fact that our parents care about us. Unfortunately, my mother, daring to poke fruit into the quagmire of my schoolbag, is daily proof that parental love withstands everything. Including festering feijoas. So, we know our parents are advising us because they care.

But there is an issue with parents thinking they know best. It runs dangerously close to assuming parents can still think for their teenagers.

There comes an age when teenagers realise that they are independent people. It’s normally when they run out of money on a road trip and think, “Aw crap, the parental pot of Visa gold isn’t here.” But, it is deeper than that; it’s an evolution of our own ideas and identity. If parents haven’t realised this, then there will be blood on the floor when the “your future” conversation comes.

At this age, the most helpful, and prudent, thing is for parents to offer advice, not ultimatums.

And when giving advice ask whether this advice is right for your child? Have you thought about what inspires them? If we’re spending all this money on education, then shouldn’t we be enjoying it?

The most fundamental mistake parents can make is giving advice that would suit their 18-year-old self. Your teenagers are not you.

Realising and responding to your teenager’s individual needs are essential. Last year, New Zealand Management magazine revealed 60 per cent of people hated or had a humdrum attitude to their jobs.

No parent wants to be the one who forced their teen into an unhappy lifestyle. If this 60 per cent of people were following their passion, would they be unhappy?

And so, back to university. If you want to be a lawyer, great, do law. If not, ask yourself, when was the last time you felt a rush of satisfaction, when you said “this is me” and “this is what I love”? (And I’m discounting finding a new flavour of Kapiti icecream.) That’s what everyone should be chasing.

“Oh, but I can’t get a job with anything apart from law.” Well, in June this year Forbesrevealed a study of 36,000 arts’ graduates. Their unemployment rate was half the national average. It makes sense. Do you think a top-class degree in something you care about, or a half-baked law degree is more attractive to employers?

The point of a degree is to stretch you. You want to learn to create coherent, structured, powerful arguments. Now, you are more likely to do this if you are doing something you care about.

In 1969, the psychologist Deci investigated the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

He concluded, as have countless others, that intrinsic motivation consistently outstrips extrinsic motivation.

If you care about it, you’ll try harder while doing it. If we want teenagers to excel at university we need to allow them to study what they’re interested in.

Nobody wants to be miserable. Parents don’t want it for us. The universities don’t want it for us. And we certainly don’t want it for us. Please, parents, help give us the courage to back ourselves.

We’ve always been told we can do what we want to do, not what everyone else says we should do. Now it’s time to help us put the rhetoric into reality.

Verity Johnson: Blame parents for teen binge drinking culture

Published NZHerald Jul 3, 2012

Families should teach their teens how to drink responsibly, writes student journalist Verity Johnson.

Red-cheeked amusement at plastic breasts is something I associate with 13-year-old boys. That was until I was forced to attend a dinner party with my parents.

Apparently 50-year-old men find the synthetic sensations equally appealing. But then again they weren’t responsible for their actions – Mr Jack Daniel was. These parents (or grandparents?) were so trashed that they thought the fake breasts suited them.

When we look at the underage bingeing epidemic, does anyone else think that it is not solely the teenagers’ fault? Is it possible they are copying what they see around them?

Teenage binge drinking is a sticky one. Too many teenagers have been cut down. This cannot continue. We need to do something. The approaching conscience vote in Parliament has sharpened the focus on this.

But raising the drinking age won’t work. It just reflects the lack of understanding about why teenagers drink. The current legal age is ignored, why would raising this change anything?

According to the parliamentary library, in 2003 the average age to start drinking in New Zealand was 13.6. That’s a whopping 4.4 years under the current age limit. There is a clear disregard for the legal limits. Therefore increasing it will have little effect on a population that is determined to drink.

Fake IDs are easy to come by. In 2009 it was discovered that one Auckland teenager had sold hundreds of them to teenagers at more than 15 Auckland schools. If I had wanted to get a fake ID I could have; they have become the norm of teenage life.

If the drinking age is raised, more teenagers will buy fake IDs. We haven’t tackled the motivations behind drinking, and so the problem will continue.

And believing that raising the age will send a moral message is, well, optimistic. The influence of friends and family is far more important to teenagers than the Government’s position.

Look at drugs: New Zealand is the ninth highest cannabis consumer in the world. Cannabis’ illegality doesn’t appear to be doing much.

What we know about people is that they learn from others. In psychology the social learning theory states that children learn from observing the behaviour of others. The likelihood of replicating the behaviour is increased if the child likes the person. We pick up habits from people we admire – parents or friends.

If parents spend nights in table top conga lines then this normalises the behaviour for kids. Growing up, kids learn right and wrong from their parents. If parents down Jack like it’s Just Juice, kids think it is OK to do so too. It also means that parents banning drinking won’t work. Not with that stench of hypocrisy.

What about society? We have a drinking culture. Remember (or rather don’t remember) New Year’s? You’re supposed to have been so drunk that you can’t remember whether you hooked up with a person or a tree.

And sports? Winning, losing, drawing, throwing, or anything to do with sports equals a booze-up.

Our society says to be drunk is to have fun. It’s a little naive to expect that teenagers will interpret BYO as bring your orange juice. We are told that vomiting into a gutter is the definition of a good time.

If we actually want to reduce teenage bingeing, we need to change what society demands. We need to show that drinking responsibly is the way to go. After all, drinking is going to happen. Moderating it is the challenge.

According to Italy’s Permanent Observatory on Alcohol and Youth study, Italian teens advocate drinking responsibly. They look down on teens who binge drink. Where is the difference between New Zealand and Italy apart from the sexy accent? Italian families teach their teenagers to drink responsibly.

Alcohol is a neutral substance, but in New Zealand it is a ticket to confidence and social charisma. What insecure teen can resist that mystique?

Teenagers can be rash, insecure and excited by growing up. Teens are alcoholic virgins burning at the touch of glassy flesh. Parents need to recognise this. They can’t just whip out the booze for teens and say she’ll be right.

We definitely can’t ban teens from drinking and rely on the sober fairy to keep the RTDs away. Both ways will find us peeling people off the floor.

Adults need to help teach teenagers. Set a good example at home. Be a mentor not a tormentor. Otherwise teens might not make it to adulthood.



Verity Johnson: Is the Brain Drain a Bad Thing?

published NZHerald  May 16th 2012

Australians taking our Kiwi talent is always a difficult subject to broach in conversation.

Phar Lap’s dual nationality hasn’t been resolved and he died before World War II. So it’s normally rather tense when the exodus of NZ’s brightest students to Australia is mentioned.

In 2010 it was estimated that 566,815 New Zealanders were in Australia, and New Zealand students are increasingly hopping over the ditch for university. Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon’s recent Herald article highlighted the fall in NZ’s university rankings as the reason for Kiwis choosing Australian universities. Although falling university rankings are significant, there are several reasons we students consider crossing the Tasman.

With 25 per cent of the population, NZ’s highest ranking university and a hotbed of young talent wouldn’t it be logical to assume that Auckland University absorbs local hotshots? Well, yes and no.

One of the reasons Aucklanders covert Australian Unis is because Auckland University can be seen as an extension of school. If you live in Auckland there is a push to live at home for university. According to realestate.co.nz this April saw property prices in Auckland hit a record high. Plus, Auckland University discourages locals from staying in the halls of residence. Living an hour away from Auckland is a key criteria for acceptance into the halls. These mean that if you’re an Aucklander going to Auckland university, you’re probably staying at home.

Now as tempting as the washing and cleaning fairy is, staying at home makes University seem like you never left school. Given the pain and exhaustion of the final year of school, it’s not something we want to be reminded of. Plus it hardly encourages our independence (or future girlfriend/boyfriend chances) if we don’t learn to cook and clean.

Young people are craving independence; to have a sense of control over our lives. Now of course we move out and go to other NZ universities. But Melbourne University is ranked 37th in the world. There we could earn our independence and go to the highest ranking university in the southern hemisphere.

What’s more, smart people crave challenges to stave off the boredom gremlin. Auckland is NZ’s best uni. To do a bachelor of Arts, Languages, or Theology there requires 140 points at NCEA or 24 at IB. Being familiar with the IB system I can use this to demonstrate. 24 is the minimum score needed to pass the diploma. The world average mark for IB is 30.8. Therefore smart Kiwis looking to do a Bachelor of Arts aren’t presented much of a challenge. This discourages them from looking to Auckland University because they don’t feel as though their talents are appreciated. Nor that the course will be particularly challenging. However Melbourne (Australia’s finest) wants 34 for a BA, which appears more of a challenge.

Even the ‘hardest’ degrees at Auckland are topped by Australian universities. The one of the highest grade requirements for Auckland is a 32 in Bio Medicine. Bio Medicine in Melbourne requires 36-37. The consistently higher targets that Australian universities require incentivise students to work harder. The carrot of satisfaction is dangled in front of smart students when they’re working on a challenge. Now that is an attractive prospect.

Even so, is it wrong to let our students study overseas? Many young New Zealanders become claustrophobic and are itching to explore the world. Studying overseas means big city appeal and global horizons. Instead of seeing this as an exodus, we should see this as an opportunity.

There are undeniable benefits of a global perspective. So instead of lamenting the loss of rising Kiwis, we should focus on lassoing them back. Why don’t we pay for our best and brightest to study overseas on the promise of an exciting job back home when they graduate? That way we don’t lose Kiwis indefinitely and can plug the brain drain epidemic in NZ. The students get a global education and NZ gets bright, world wise graduates to improve our economy.

How is that a bad thing?

Verity Johnson: Falling standards? What about Alf Garnett

Published NZ Herald Jan 18, 2012 

What do James Bond, Zorro and Iron Man have in common? They’re all children’s heroes. And they’re famous for skewering countless villains (and beautiful women). Families sit down to watch them fight their way across the small and big screens.

This has been so for countless years; three generations of women in my family have the hots for Sean Connery. But if they’ve been seducing, shooting and swearing for half a century, then why aren’t we all corrupted by their terrible influence? Because the content of television shows doesn’t affect us.

The recent rage about TV and film shows that 73 per cent of us think there’s too much sex, violence, and bad language on TV today. The only reason this is bad is because it could hurt younger viewers. Apparently they’ll lose it and become lewd, loose and loud-mouthed. This is a popular and resurfacing myth.

Psychologists decided to test it by monitoring St Helena’s island in the Atlantic Ocean.

The island was given television in 1995 and the psychologists investigated the effects on youth. The children watched TV shows with identical levels of violence to the then current UK ones. Psychologists monitored children before and after TV’s introduction. They found absolutely no difference in behaviour – violent or otherwise. This could suggest children have more sophisticated ways of learning. Has watching James Bond turned me into a nymphomaniac? Not that I’m aware of.

What’s more, a lot of the criticism comes from an adult perspective. The problem is that adults and children don’t see TV programmes in the same way. In 2010, the children’s showWhat Now drew complaints. It had said “next time I’m holding one of my balls, you’re invited”. The complaint came from an adult viewer who thought this was inappropriate. But children watching the show wouldn’t have seen the double meaning. Adults watching can get offended at innuendo or double entendres on behalf of their children.

But they are seeing it from an adult perspective. Their children aren’t offended because they see comments in an innocent light.

The Herald noted that the “concern about sex, profanity and violence on television” is “among older survey respondents”. Is the older generation trying to impose their standards of acceptability on young people? Shouldn’t the question be whether younger viewers are concerned? Nearly 60 per cent of males from 15 to 21 years don’t have any problem with TV content. The people watching it don’t feel threatened or hurt. So ignore the older viewers. If we’re worried for the children, we should listen to the children’s opinion. Furthermore, there is the idea that this is a decline in standards.

But in the 70s, shows such as Till Death Us Do Part were strewn with racism and sexism. This was the show where the main character Alf Garnett called people “coons” and said a woman’s place was “chained to the bloody kitchen sink”.

They were happy to humiliate black people, but had an iron embargo against nudity. Nowadays, racism is rightly clamped down upon, and we get a few sex scenes instead. I’d say standards have increased over time. Sex didn’t cause the slave trade. The shift shows that society’s attitudes have changed to addressing more significant harms. Racism spawns hate and division. We have realised this; just look at the rightful sacking of Paul Henry. Compared to racism, the harms of swearing and sex are minimal.

It is good that we are concerned for our children’s welfare. But if we really care, then bigger measures than curbing TV content should be taken. Parents, adult friends, family and peers are much greater influences on young people. If we’re concerned about swearing, then we shouldn’t swear in front of our kids. Kids learn from people they care about, not from TV shows. If you’re worried about kids watching sex scenes, then don’t be embarrassed. If you’re embarrassed, they’re embarrassed. Just talk to them honestly and openly about sex.

TV content is not attacking the moral fibre of the nation. The moral fibre of the nation is made of firmer stuff. Young people are taught right and wrong by relationships and experiences.

It’s quite insulting to think that they could be so easily swayed. If worse comes to worst, you have control over the TV. If you don’t like it, turn it off.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s