Communicating with young people: the work of Jean Gross

Jean Gross, the Government’s Communications Champion, – awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List – came to talk at the GSA conference which I hosted as GSA President in Bristol in November, and she speaks out tirelessly about the need for us to communicate effectively with children. Her goal is simple: she wants us to do this so that young people in turn can learn to communicate with adults and with one another, and access what life has to offer – without communication, after all, we cannot fully function as social human beings, we cannot learn about the world around us, and our life is so much shallower and paler as a result.

Vanessa Feltz, the radio and TV presenter once described as the hardest working woman in the media – and for whom I have a lot of time, as I admire her dedication and incisiveness – wrote an article in last week’s Express newspaper about the work of Jean Gross, which is worth a read. In it, she mentions one of the shocking real-life examples which Jean Gross has encountered in the course of her work: one in five new parents, apparently, thinks it is ‘a waste of time’ to talk to their baby before he or she reaches three months old; they are, in effect, ‘spending their first quarter of a year on earth in silence’.

This is a shocking thought, knowing what we – as educated adults – know about the importance of communicating with babies and children from their earliest hours, to help them see the world and understand the love that surrounds them. As Ms Feltz eloquently puts it, ‘The thought is so cold, so sterile, so many million light years away from the kisses and tickles, nursery rhymes and games of ‘peep-o’ that we fondly believe come entirely naturally to our species, it chills us to the very marrow.’

But this is the reality that Jean Gross is encountering – parents who lack parenting role-models, and who have themselves been so poorly or inadequately parented that they have not learned how to parent their own children. As a result, we risk entire swathes of our population growing up unable to communicate well, and we cannot allow this to happen. Jean Gross is doing an amazing job, but we all need to help her in our extended communities. Let’s not be afraid of talking openly and widely so that parenting becomes understood through all the media at our disposal. Let us teach it in schools, and by the example we set to others. As Vanessa Feltz puts it, ‘Isn’t it time every 15-year-old was taught that talking to a newborn baby is not only fun and infinitely rewarding but absolutely essential for the baby’s future attainment and development?’

Together we can make the world a better place – but we need to start now, and we need to get the message out fast.

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