Essential Festival Tips For Teenagers & Their Parents

The festival season is upon us again and for many teenagers attending their first festival is an undisputed rite of passage, as they celebrate the end of exams and enjoy some quasi adult independence.

As a parent it can be a testing time but it can be made easier.  The first time my eldest teen went I spent days, (maybe weeks) talking to not only parents of teenagers that had already been, but also young twenty somethings full of festival "know-how".Image result for festivals

Now it is me that friends are contacting for advice so for those who maybe in a similar situation this year with their own teenager here are my top tips for reducing your stress and making their experience a lot easier.

  • Ticket PDF: we learnt the hard way!  Make sure they download a PDF of their ticket onto their phone in case they forget the paper version!
  • Tent: Don't send them with your best "family" tent, as it will smell like an underground toilet as people stumble past and pee at will in the middle of the night.  Buy a cheap pop up festival tent from Argos which they can just leave behind. It is also a good idea to buy one slightly bigger than they need so there is room for them to store their kit and still have room to collapse after a day's partying.
  • Tent Finder App: Gone are the days of attaching a flag to your tent to help you locate it amidst the sea of tents, now finding your tent in the middle of the night has just been made easier with the launch of a new app from Boutique Camping that lets you mark where you pitch your tent using GPS and then is saved as a pin on your phone map - genius!
  • Phone+Portable Charger: They will get separated from their friends and will regret it if they don't take their phones. Most festivals have lockers for hire and come with charging sockets which are worth hiring otherwise get a portable charger such as iMuto which they can use to charge their phone several times over.
  • Bum-Bag: To store their valuables when they are partying.
  • Wellies: They are ubiquitous with festivals but there are 2 important things to bear in mind, firstly don't send them with cheap ones or they will return with blisters aplenty after days of sweaty dancing and secondly they will want a change of footwear at some point - wellies 24/7 is really only for the foolhardy or for those that just don't dance!
  • Mac-In-A-Sac: Even if the forecast is non-stop sunshine, remember this is England after-all.
  • Headtorch: For those moments when they may need to find the loo in the middle of the night and want their hands free.
  • Bin-bags: To store dirty clothes, rubbish and stick over any holes that may appear in their tent.
  • Giant Wet Wipes: These are a shower in a bag essentially and as the novelty of being dirty wears off after 36 hours, they will thank you for forcing that extra packet in their rucksack as they head out of the door.
  • Deodorant/Toothpaste: No explanation needed, but make sure it is a roll-on deodorant, our teenager had his spray can confiscated in a bag search at his last festival.
  • Plastic Bottles:  Some festivals are more rigorous than others, but glass bottles are a no-go so decant liquids into plastic bottles to ensure they can keep hold of it.
  • Food: Festival food is expensive and even teenagers have a limit on how many buns they can eat containing a variety of meat.  Fruit in a tin is perfect for those mornings when they wake up wanting something resembling fresh and juicy, plus it will help to get their blood sugar up.  Beyond The Beaten Track is also a good range of hot meal kits recommended by DoE, but they will need a stove.
  • Hand Sanitizer: Festivals are germ farms and anti-bacterial gel is a necessity before they tuck into their festival grub, to avoid spending days huddled in a tent with food poisoning.
  • Loo Roll: They can never have too much!
  • Medical Kit: Neurofen (because they will get a headache!) and blister plasters!
  • Berocca: A high dose of vitamins and energy in a tablet for the days when they are wilting and need a pick-me-up.
  • Sunscreen: All teenagers dismiss it, but sunstroke is not a good look when you are trying to be festival cool.
  • First Aid by British Red Cross: Medical assistance is widely available at festivals but sometimes problems arise that need immediate attention.  When my teenager choked it was the fast reaction of a friend that saved him.  This app from the British Red Cross is full of practical tips on handling everyday scenarios.
  • Water: For re-hydrating and cleaning.

A final word of warning goes to the parents....Teenagers like to think they are invincible but humans were not designed to withstand 3-5 days of continuous drinking, eating rubbish food, jumping and sleep deprivation, they will return smelly, grumpy and exhausted and totally disinclined to answer any questions.  Expect grunting of a disproportionate nature from anything you may have experienced before and for them to sleep for close to 24 hours - yes seeing is believing!

Do you have any top tips to share?  Please let me know in the comments.

Editor's note:  This post was first published last year and has been recently updated with some new tips. 







How Do We Prepare Our Children For Failure?

Our house is a hotbed of exam anxiety at the moment as our eldest is in the final throes of preparing for his A'levels.  I have followed all my own advice and even that of others about managing his stress but it is tough - he is worried.

This is it, the culmination of years of hard work and as he sees it the end of the road if he gets it all wrong.

"Is this what panic feels like?" " I am not going to get those three A's." "Who was I trying to kid applying for the Russell Group Universities?  I am just not clever enough. "  "I am going to defer and do it next year."

As the days pass  this is the conversation that repeats on loop at varying intervals from morning until night.  There is no respite.  True to his revision timetable he appears like a parrot on my shoulder at 40 minute intervals to either discuss what he has learnt, what he is about to learn or his heightened anxiety.

There is nowhere to hide.  I am hunted from dawn until dusk.  Such is the plight of the SAHM of a teenager taking exams.

My youngest teenager meanwhile sits in the neighbouring room diligently preparing for her own Year 9 exams and living in constant fear of being shot down in flames if she so much as mentions one syllable of the stress word in his presence.

It is no surprise that our teens are susceptible to moments of self-doubt and anxiety when under so much pressure to succeed. As parents we evidently adopt all the strategies of reassurance at our disposal in the hope that we can allay their fears long enough to get them to walk through the door of the exam room and turn over the paper.  I have dug deep this week to placate and reassure him not only of his own ability but of our confidence in his ability. He was worked tirelessly and deserves to be rewarded.

The truth, however, is there are no guarantees.  Despite thorough revision, every year some pupils do fall short of what they need to go to University and the scramble for clearing places through UCAS commences.

What's not often talked about, however, is that upwards of 60,000 students use the system every year to find a place at university, and for many of these, it's a positive experience and out of initial failure comes success.

More than 30 years ago I was one of those students.  I can still remember the moment like it was yesterday.  Waiting patiently for the postman to deliver the scrap of paper that would deliver the verdict on which course my life would take next. The shock.  The disappointment of my parents.  The "oh shit" moment, followed swiftly by "what next?"

I phoned my first choice university, they agreed to defer my place if I boosted one of my grades.  I did that in the next academic term and then secured various work placements and went travelling.  My academic journey took a different pathway but it wasn't a bad one.  It was the best time of my life and benefited me in so many ways.

Personally I don't want that for our son.  I want him to succeed first time around.  I was studying humanities.  It could be picked up at any point.  He on the other hand is a mathematics whizz and in the debate over the gap year option, he was advised to keep at it and surge ahead on the crest of his wave.  If, however, like me he doesn't deliver what he needs we will obviously turn to Plan B and make it work.

In the meantime, the message is clear.  "You can only do your best."  

Underlying this however is the fact that he isn't prepared for disappointment or failure.

"I haven't failed at anything yet.  I wouldn't know what to do."  These were his words yesterday.  I reminded him of my own plight at his age.   I wasn't ready for it either.  Nobody is.

So how do we prepare our children, our teenagers for disappointment and for failure?

Simply, you can't.  I certainly wasn't prepared.  I knew after my exams that my chances of achieving what was necessary were slim but I hoped I was wrong.  Isn't that what we all do? Hold on to hope.  Even if our son messes it up, he will rage for a bit, get hysterical but until the verdict is delivered on the morning of 17th August he will still hold onto hope.

Nothing can prepare you for that punch to the stomach that says "You fell short this time."

Three years ago our daughter faced disappointment when she didn't secure a place at her first choice secondary school.  In hindsight it was a blessing in disguise but at the time she was beside herself.  She has come out a stronger person and unlike her brother is far more balanced in her approach to stress and the possibility of failure.

My mantra in being a mother of teenagers is communication, honesty and sharing.  There will be some things that as maturing teenagers they don't want to disclose but I hope that over the years I have developed a level of trust that guarantees them the assurity of at least one thing and that is my support, our support - that regardless of the outcome we will be there for them in the same way my parents were there for me and still are.

The world may feel like it is ending but it won't and they will survive.

The truth behind all of this is that you can't be prepared for failure until  it happens.  Failure itself is the only thing that teaches you how to cope with it.  It doesn't matter how much we say as parents to reassure our children the harsh cold reality of failure is the only teacher but it doesn't make them a failure.

An exchange with Alison at Unique Minds Counselling reminded me that persuading our teenagers to "Believe" in themselves is paramount. I know that as a parent I am not alone in that quest and Alison was spot on in her advice "The stress they put themselves under often engulfs them and they can only see life in one direction.  I try to encourage them to see that life has many pathways and whatever the outcome of exams - doesn't define them as a person." 


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Exam and Revision Tips For Parents On How To Help Their Teenagers

As a parent of teenagers, going away over the Easter Holiday or the May Half Term for any substantial period of time is simply not an option as these are the key revision periods for the exam season, which is now just around the corner.

Five to six hours a day is the recommended amount of revision for GCSE's and A'levels and that requires incredible discipline on the part of the teenagers and patience and support from the parents.

Here are some tried and tested ways on how you can help your teens survive those long days of revision and ensure they approach their exams not only well-prepared but with confidence.

  • Revision Timetable

A thorough revision timetable gives teens a structure for their exam preparation and means they won't waste precious revision time, flicking through text books deciding what to do on an ad hoc basis and most importantly that they won't miss anything out.

Research shows that short periods of learning interspersed with regular breaks is the most effective approach to revision.  Ensure your teen writes down all the topics within each subject that they need to revise before preparing the timetable.  The general advice is to allocate 30-40 minute revision sessions to each topic with a 10 minute break between each and to vary the subjects, rather than sticking to topics all from one subject.

  • Breaks

Incorporating breaks within the timetable is essential.  A 5-10 minute break between each revision session is sufficient with an hour for lunch.  The important thing is that they take advantage of the breaks and are not tempted to just carry on through.  The brain can only absorb so much information at once.

  • Stationery

Writing  notes and learning them is one thing, but it is a good idea for teens to test their knowledge before exam day and practice papers are a good way to do that.  Be prepared and stock up on lots of paper and printer ink cartridges in advance, as well as post it notes and blank post cards - you can never have too much of any of these during the exam period.

  • Brain Food 

Revising uses up a lot of energy, so their body and brain needs good nourishment.  A nutritious breakfast to kick start the day is important, as is a well stocked fridge of healthy snacks and food they can prepare themselves for lunch if you are out, to ensure they are not just grazing on rubbish all day.  This is also true of sugary drinks, which while tempting when they are feeling tired will only cause a crash in their energy levels.  Drinking plenty of water will keep their brain well hydrated and make sure your teen is performing at their best.


  • Regular Exercise

With such an intensive revision timetable it can be difficult to find time for much else during the day, but sitting at a desk all day is not healthy.  It is absolutely vital they get out and take regular exercise, even if it is just a quick walk around the block to clear their head; it will enable them to put a fresh perspective on what they have learnt that day.

  • Sleep

The importance of sleep during exams cannot be emphasised enough.  It is restorative and will enhance their exam performance.  Encourage your teen to stick to a firm bedtime and not to be tempted to stay up late in the lead up to exams and particularly the night before an exam.  Cramming all night is futile as there is only so much their brain can absorb in one day.

  • Digital Detox

Effective revision and quality sleep can only be achieved without distraction.  Encourage your teenager to turn off their phone or any other electronic device while revising so that their concentration is not broken by text or facebook messages from friends.  Similarly when they go to bed persuade them to turn their phones and tablets off or put them away as the blue light they emit is particularly disruptive to a good night's sleep.

  • Revision Help

Apart from ensuring your teen has a quiet area to do their work and revise, be prepared to test them on what they have learnt or to sit and listen as they talk you through a topic - even if you have heard it a hundred times before - you never know you might learn something new!  Challenge them on what they have learnt and get them to think outside the box.  Encouraging them to develop an inquiring mind will ensure they are prepared for the unexpected.

  • Stress-Free

Normal routines maybe disturbed during the exam time, try not to stress about it and keep home life as calm as possible for them.   Teenagers taking exams are stressed enough so any additional nagging about the state of their room is unnecessary. The long term gain of their hard work will alleviate the short term inconvenience. Remember to just keep calm.

  • Positive Support

Relentless revision is physically and emotionally draining and your teenager will at some point during their revision feel the pressure and question their ability.  Don't dismiss their concerns out of turn.  Listen to what they have to say and try to alleviate their fears with gentle words of reassurance, congratulate them on the work they have put in, tell them you are proud of what they are doing and no matter how old or cool they are a hug works every time.

Do you have any revising teens in your house?  How do you help them through the exam period?




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My teenagers are growing up but does this mean we have to grow apart?  Growing up generally involves a defining moment in everyone's life.  For my daughter, this was not when she hit puberty, but when she turned 13.  This was the magical number to her.  It signified her official exit from one world into another and the start of my mine as the mother of two teens.

Growing up and becoming an adult meant many things for her, primarily though it meant us acknowledging that she was "one of us".  This was no ordinary milestone to her, this was THE time that everything would start to change. It was a fanfare occasion and she was going to make sure we didn't forget it.

In the days approaching her birthday last year, she reminded us how she had asked us to take her shopping for her brother when he turned 13.  Then only 8, she had decided that to mark the occasion he needed a skateboard.  Of course we went along with her plan and bought the skateboard on her behalf, which she then duly presented to him with great aplomb on the morning of his birthday saying "Now that you are growing up, you need one of these!"

The skateboard was a symbol of this important moment, no matter whether he agreed or not.   Quite frankly this milestone didn't mean as much to him as to her, but if  he wasn't going to make a fuss of his growing up she was.  We should have realised back then, that when it was her turn, she was not going to go quietly into this "grown up" world.

For her the single most important move to becoming "one of us", was to be instantly recognised as being "responsible".  This translated itself in a number of ways which had been clearly explained to us in advance. Top of the list was her own house key and alarm code.  Her friends had asked to get their ears pierced, but this was too frivolous in her opinion.  She wanted to be able to let herself in the front door of her house, by herself and  if we weren't there, that would be even better so she could "do" the alarm too.

There was also a request to allow her to take the public bus home from school, to take trips to the local shopping centre to meet friends and see a movie without one of us shadowing her.  She also requested that we assigned her a regular household job that was her sole responsibility.  Independence, was the name of the game for her.

This is of course all very endearing, yet the flip side of this quest for independence is that there is an element of pulling away from us and this is the bit, which although inevitable, every parent dreads.  As adolescents their friends take centre stage and we start to take a back row seat, learning to satisfy ourselves with the remnants of their time.

In her post "A note from a needy mum" Kelly at Daydreams Of A Mum, appreciates the independence enjoyed by her teens and relishes those times they "choose" to be with her and seek her out in their busy world. Those moments are treasured and indeed precious.

Equally, I know that my teens have to spread their wings and develop as individuals and I want them to grow up safely and move on with confidence, just not to the detriment of our relationship as a family.  I want to make sure we have those building blocks firmly in place that will ensure my teens, like Kelly's, will always seek us out, not because they have to but because they want to and that is a fundamental difference.
Ultimately, as they grow up I don't want us to grow apart and as my eldest looks ahead to University this year and my youngest prepares to turn 14, this is particularly pertinent for me right now. I love that my teens come to me and say "Mum can I talk to you?  I need your advice," I don't want that to stop, wherever they are in the world or if we have to resort to electronic communication.

To this end we always come together during the week to sit down to an evening meal to catch up and set the world to rights, sometimes more effectively than others. The weekends are more challenging as their extra curricular interests mean we are often running on different timetables but invariably it's the family meal that pulls us together again and sometimes we might strike gold with a movie that ticks all our boxes.

Friends who have been through this already have told me there is a moment when your children don't want to go on family outings or holidays anymore and this year Teen 1 will strike out alone on his own adventures, but we will still find some time to have that family holiday together.   It is difficult sometimes to get the balance right in finding something we will all enjoy but we do manage it and last year our Californian Road Trip was a huge success delivering something for everyone.

On top of this, I also don't want my teens to grow apart.  They are half brother and sister and are like chalk and cheese in many respects but we are lucky that they click.  Teen 1 always spends time with Teen 2 chatting on her bed at the end of each day and binge watching on Netflix together is commonplace.

Of course it's not all perfect.  They argue just like any other siblings but there is a bond between them.  They confide in each other and look out for each other.  Last year during my daughter's friendship crisis Teen 1 stepped up to the mark and really helped with some wise "teen on teen" advice.  I want that to continue beyond the teen years and throughout their lives, wherever they may end up.

We all revel in moving on to the next best thing in our lives and I know there is a point when we have to remove the safety net and let our children go so they can become more autonomous and thus ready for the full responsibilities of adulthood, but I am keen, to make this journey of them separating from us one which does not result in a gulf growing between us.

How do you feel about your children growing up and how are you coping with it?  I would be interested to hear your thoughts and experiences.


Editor's Note : This post was first published last year when I started my blog to chart my parenting journey through the teenage years.  The content has been refreshed but a year on the message remains the same, if somewhat more pertinent as I prepare for one teen to leave home.    



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Teaching Our Children The Value of An Inquiring Mind

"Why?"  is a question commonly associated with the toddler years.  Most parents tire very easily of this period and the endless "why" questions, particularly as each answer is quickly met by yet another "why" question, but as our children progress to adulthood that is exactly what we want them to start asking again.

Why?  Because quite simply it is a sign of an inquiring mind and that is in turn symbolic of an individual capable of independent learning. So why is that important?

Well it demonstrates a natural curiosity, a passion for learning, a tendency for self-motivation and examination as well as an ability for critical thinking. All of which are valuable commodities to have in the work environment to which our children will strive to place themselves.

By asking "why", life becomes a journey of exploration and adventure and not one of passive acceptance.

My husband is a huge advocate of an inquiring mind and regularly bandies it around the house when referring to interns or junior employees who have impressed him at work.  He cares not for qualifications without an inquiring mind and is constantly reminding our teens of its added value.

It is fair to say the inquiring mind divides our household.  Our son is all about numbers, not for him the world of  "whys and what ifs", to him that hints at a world of unknown and unproven theories, which goes against the certainity of the numerical calculations he loves.

Our daughter on the other hand is cut from her father's cloth and questions everything.  No stone is left unturned in her quest to know more than there is to know and to think outside the box.

The value of an inquiring mind was never more apparent for us than last week.  It was a week of parents' evenings.  The first for our daughter, was focused on her making her GCSE choices and many of her teachers applauded her passion for inquiry and debate which according to them, ensures she always brings something else to the table other than text book learning.

The second for our son, was the last prior to his A'levels this summer.  Whilst his mock results showed his prowess in Maths and Economics, he is languishing slightly with Geography, his lack of natural inquiry held up by his teachers as the Achilles heal of his learning.  He, however, would argue that inquiring mind aside, his dexterity with statistics represents the ultimate in critical thinking, as it teaches how to criticize the way we habitually think.

So how can we help our youngsters to develop an inquiring mind?  Well encouraging a love of reading is the most obvious go to solution, as well as encouraging healthy discussion of subjects at home.  But that aside, there are those that argue teaching philosophy is the answer to ensuring our youngsters respond to life and its problems with an inquisitive mind, but how?

Well philosophy is by definition the love of wisdom which through its teaching of analysis and debate teaches children how to think,  which in turn creates and nurtures thoughtful minds.

Ireland is leading the way in this regard.  Its president Michael D Higgins has previously said that ‘The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children’ and  as a nation is already exploring reforms to establish philosophy for children as a subject within primary schools.

Meantime, in the UK, a network of philosophers and teachers is still lobbying hard for a GCSE equivalent and this was the subject of a conference earlier last week

In an interview with Professor Angie Hobbs. Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy, on the Today programme, John Humphries challenged the current teaching method with emphasis on A'levels, which in his opinion do little more than "teach to the test" with students simply learning bits of things and regurgitating them rather than actually thinking for themselves.

This is exacerbated by the fact that our children inhabit an age where googling questions is commonplace.  The obvious problem with all of this is that it encourages an environment of laziness and acceptance, whereas we need young people prepared to buck the trend of acceptance and ask questions, to discuss possibilities and make informed choices as a result.

Learning and regurgitating information is the polar opposite to thinking and will soon be a thing of the past as academics lobby to force our youngsters down a road of valuable inquiry.

Everyone has an opinion on something but very few people can effectively explain or defend their opinion without resorting to what they "feel" and this is the territory of emotions and irrational rather than rational thought.

Thus, by using the disciplines of philosophy and  encouraging our youngsters to push the boundaries of natural thought and to question the status quo without resorting to the comfort of the online search engine or how they "feel", the aim is that we will raise a generation of young people for the future with the capacity to respond to problems with inquisitive minds.

Philosophy is not a universal interest and "thinking" and the desire to understand beyond the obvious don't come naturally to everyone. Whether philosophy is the tool that will facilitate this process is yet to be seen, in the meantime it makes for an interesting debate.



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The Things Teenagers Worry About

Worrying is a universal currency that spans generations, but the world of teenage worry is relatively self-contained and probably no different to the one I inhabited as a teenager more than 30 years ago.

The teenage years are an emotional roller coaster, full of highs and lows which create a permanent sense of high drama and the perfect breeding ground for worry.  The truth is teenagers can be just as worried as adults sometimes but managing our teenagers' worry requires a different skill set.

I may have been there, I may have got the t-shirt, but that doesn't mean that I have all the answers and I need to be careful not to trivialise my teens' concerns with dismissive comments of assurance that they are worrying about nothing and everything will be fine.  That just doesn't wash.  Even if I have heard the same worry emerge from their mouths before, the important thing is always for them to feel that each and every time it is unique both to them and me.

So what are the main things that teenagers worry about?

  • School Work & Exams

Well it is no surprise at all that this is the primary source of worry for teenagers.  Now more than ever before our teens are under increasing pressure to secure those top pass grades, the A's and the A*'s in order to stand out in the crowd of high achievers.  Once they get to secondary school it is a cycle of constant assessments, all geared towards encouraging them to aim higher.  The pressure to succeed is monumental and as a parent you can do little to remove that pressure just alleviate it.

As well as the external pressures at school there are also the internal ones too.  No-one likes to be at the bottom of the class and this creates a level of competitiveness among the teens as they worry what each other will think if they don't do well.  With good grades comes success and with success comes admiration.  Whilst this can be productive in terms of encouraging them to work harder, it also results in more undue stress.

  • Friends

Without question friends are one, if not the most important elements of a teenager's life and have a significant impact upon their sense of self-worth.   The family takes more of a back seat as they strike out on the road to independence as a teenager and developing their own friendships as a result of emotional connections they have made on their own without parental input is a big part of this.

As well as making friends, with the secondary stage also comes the inevitable crises around falling out with friends and a teenagers' stress levels can be greatly affected by what's happening within their circle of friends.

I have written previously about my daughter's own traumatic toxic friendship scenario, but there is rarely a week goes by when she does not return from school with news of yet more "beef" (ie arguments) between various girl groups at her school, which can range from a minor disagreement to a full blown cat fight.

As a parent to both sexes, however, I have to say girls are definitely the worst in this regard.  If boys fall out they just draw a line under it, move on and never look back.  Not so with girls.  There are layers and layers of analysis and debate that go into every disagreement and lots of worry, tears and drama!

  • Peer Pressure & Opinion 

Unfortunately people are often judged on who their friends are but nowhere so much as at school.  In every secondary school there are different tribes or cliques and there is always a "cool" gang, generally made up of those who are not afraid to push the boundaries of authority, whether this is wearing make-up, hitching their skirt up, wearing trainers instead of school shoes or going to a party and drinking underage.

Their behaviour is attention seeking but to those teens on the outside they are brave and cool.  They are revered not because everyone else necessarily wants to do what they are doing but because they have the courage to do it and seemingly get away with it.

At my daughter's school the "cool" gang is referred to as the Queen Bees and there is a bizarre anxiousness among those on the outside as to what the Queen Bees might think of them.  No-one wants to be thought of as the geek after all.

As a result of situations like this, it is easy to see why some teens worried that they don't fit in may feel pressure to do things which are normally out of character, to secure a place with the "in crowd".  My son battled for a while with being part of the "in crowd" but his refusal to take up smoking resulted in him being ostracised.  It is a time when a teenager's self-confidence and strength of character is really tested.  As a parent there is little you can do other than hope they will stand true to the values you have instilled since birth.

  • Appearance 

Teens experience a whole range of different bodily changes, some of which can affect the way they look quite drastically like acne and this can cause a lot of worry.  I have written about how this has affected my teens previously and it is without doubt one of the most debilitating phases of growing up.  Even now with the worst behind them my teens are still very conscious of their skin and what others may think.

Body image is also a big issue, for boys it is all about being strong and ripped and for girls the emphasis is on being pin thin, a concept I explored recently in my post Challenging the Perception of Pretty.

It affects boys and girls in different ways but the fact remains that appearance is important.  We all worry at some point in our lives about how we appear to others but for teenagers more than most it is a big deal. Teenagers are all about  working out who they are and what they want to be and how they present themselves to the outside world is a large part of that. No-one wants to be the odd one out or god forbid laughed at for wearing the wrong thing.  As ridiculous as it might seem, in teenager world how you look speaks volumes.

  • Family

An unsettled home environment is very stressful and having experienced the breakdown of  a marriage firsthand I am only too aware how destructive that can be for a child of any age, but teenagers more than most are highly tuned to changes in the household status quo and to conflict.

Life is not perfect and there will be moments of unrest in everyone's life but as a parent it is our job to recognise the impact our actions may have upon our teens and to alleviate any worry they may have by protecting them from exposure to our own periods of angst as much as possible.  For our worried teenagers the family unit provides them with a safe haven and respite from their anxieties.

In my relatively limited experience of 18 years as a mother to two teenagers I have found myself faced with a range of scenarios I went through myself, yet whilst my worries may have been the same, there is no doubt that there are far more external pressures in this world our teenagers are in than the one I grew up in, that only serve to exacerbate the worry they feel.

Parenting teenagers is stressful and joyful in equal measure and as parents we worry for them.  Mac at Reflections From Me wrote a great post about Letting go of worry which reminded me that sometimes we do need to learn how to manage worry and let it go as many of the things we worry about just don't happen.  That is a tough message for our worried teens to digest but they can benefit from our guidance to minimise any growing anxiety.

Like many other parents I don't have all the answers but I have certainly gained from sharing my experiences and taking advice from others.  Just as I say to my teens, talking about life's stresses and knowing you are not alone makes a huge difference, after all a problem shared is a problem halved.


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18 & All Grown Up – A Birthday Tribute

18 years ago yesterday I started my maternity leave for my first born. I had four weeks to prepare. Well that was the plan anyway!  Less than 12 hours after packing up my kit, I was in labour and within 20, at 21.44pm my son arrived weighing just 2.9kg or 6.5 pounds as it was back then!

Like most first births that I know of, it was horrid and protracted, ending in an assisted delivery by forceps.  I don't think as a human being I have ever felt so violated as I did that day.  The only thing that saved me was the unswerving support of my ex-husband and the arrival of my younger sister.

She was due to turn 30 in mid March which was my son's real due date and had planned a big party to celebrate.  I had always said that it was unlikely I would be able to go.  Just as I was being wheeled into theatre, she arrived at the hospital having flown back early from a business trip and gave the mid-wife her party invitation to hand to me.  On it she had scrawled "You will be able to make it now.  Go girl!"  She has always had a knack of making me laugh in a crisis.

In all honesty my son was not a gorgeous baby,  but in the same way Hans Christian Andersen's ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan, he has matured into a handsome young man, with a smile that melts hearts.

Our journey together over the last 18 years has been tumultuous in stages, particularly in his early infancy when his father and I fought to save a relationship that spanned our teenage years and early adulthood. Divorce when you have a young child is tortuous because you so desperately want to do the right thing by your child and the family unit that you have created but there is also the instinct for self-preservation that demands you think of your own well-being.  Happiness is something we are all owed and one of the simplest ways to be happy is to let go of the things that make you sad.

As a single working mum my son kept me going each day and I don't mean just until it was time to clock off and get back for bath time, but in terms of giving me a much needed focus for my life at that time.  His well-being and the future I could offer him became my number one priority. I didn't want him to suffer as a result of his parents' separation.  I wanted more for him in every possible way and never wanted him to feel let down.

The relationship between a mother and her son has been held up for centuries as being crucial to the way a young man will grow up.  By my own admission I am quite strict, but hope that over the years I have also been fair.  I have always showered my son with love and affection and not just with physical displays.  I have always made sure he knows I am there for him no matter what and I hope in doing so, as my son takes that final step into adulthood today I have imparted an emotional intelligence that will ensure he is in tune with his own feelings and is as a result astute, empathetic and compassionate to others and above all loyal to those dear to him.

An incredibly shy child, as a young adult he remains quite reserved particularly in "new" company.  His preference is to sit back and observe, but once confident he is warm, engaging and great company.  He boasts a large circle of friends and has an ability to bring disparate groups together, reveling in the new relationships he has helped to foster.  This has helped him to gain a reputation as a good team leader and throughout both primary and secondary school has been head boy, school prefect and various sporting captains. He is diligent, hard working and extremely organised (almost to the point of being anal), kind, considerate and funny.

Of course life is not perfect and there are many things he does that infuriate me daily but as  those dear to me are prone to remind me, on a scale of 1 to 10 they are minor and common to most teenagers and as today is a day of celebration I am only focusing on the good bits.  A few months ago Alison at Mad House Mum asked for my contribution to her celebration of teenagers and today seems like a good day to remind myself of the great things about my eldest teenager.  So to my 18 year old son, I say I love it when you ....

  • walk up to me and just say "hug"
  • you laugh and your face lights up
  • worry constantly about everything
  • always look out for your little sister
  • make the house shake with your music before you go out
  • pretend you are not looking at yourself in the mirror (!)
  • become so focused on something it becomes an obsession
  • are so passionate about proving people wrong
  • tell me to calm down because it's not good for my health
  • tell me I don't look old - just like your mum

To anyone else that asks I say, all in all I adore his smile, welcome his hugs and admire his tenacity in life but more than anything else I love that he is my son and the young man he has become.


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Challenging The Perception of Pretty

"What do you think pretty is?"  This was the question a teacher at my daughter's school asked during a PSHE lesson last week.  The responses from the group of 13 year olds were varied but the one that provoked the greatest reaction was  "Blonde hair, clear skin, a thigh gap and a flat stomach!"

The debate that ensued around this one girl's interpretation of "pretty" was lively according to my daughter who on hearing the description felt affronted.  Firstly she is a redhead not a blonde and secondly she has battled with bouts of acne so always feels self conscious of her not so "clear skin" so a small part of her took this definition of "pretty" to heart and felt personally offended.  On a more general level she found her fellow classmate's description shallow at best, which of course all led to a lively debate over dinner that night as she challenged the perception of Barbie doll beauty as she called it.

"Pretty" is not a word you hear used very often nowadays but according to the Oxford Dictionary means "attractive in a delicate way without being truly beautiful". What is truly beautiful anyway? For me I have always relied upon the old adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".  Every person is unique and beautiful in their own way and surely real beauty is more than skin deep.  I tell my daughter she is beautiful everyday because to me she is, but more so because she is inquisitive, clever, sensitive, thoughtful, hysterically funny and generous - I could go on....

The sad thing is that the pressure amongst teenage girls to pursue an idealised vision of pretty and to look and be a certain way is omnipresent.  My daughter is not overly hung up on her looks at the moment and would rather head off to browse the shelves in our local bookstore on a Saturday afternoon than the cosmetics counter at Superdrug.  But this is now, who knows what the future holds.

Apart from the peer pressure of being amidst girls that place such a value on the way they look there is also the indirect pressure exerted by the media to look a certain way, all of which combine to create a cauldron of issues surrounding body image for our young girls to navigate.

Last year there was a big media storm over the London Underground poster "Are you beach body ready?" as everyone castigated the advertiser's use of a genetically blessed young girl with the seemingly perfect bikini body.  

Originally a poster for Protein World, there was a huge public outcry as the poster promoting weight loss came under fire from some feminists and body image campaigners who branded it body-shaming.  Who were Protein World to decide what the perfect beach body was and why was a thin body a prerequisite for going to the beach anyway?  Amidst the general furore an internet prankster hit back with its own version of the poster featuring three curvaceous women and the caption "Yes.  We are beach body ready."

From a marketing perspective the campaign was heralded a huge success.  Not only had it captivated attention on an extensive scale, but it had also provoked a response and as such was described by Marketing magazine as "one of the most effective and innovative pieces of brand marketing in living memory".

It is exactly these kind of messages, however, that can be so easily misconstrued by our young girls at an age when they are just learning to be comfortable with themselves and their bodies.  Just as one person's perception of "pretty" is different from another's, so one person's understanding of these kind of messages can differ to another's too.  Take the image of the girl out of the Protein World poster and then the question becomes less offensive and thus less provocative.   Don't we all ask ourselves if we are ready for the beach every year whether we are a Size 0 or a Size 20?

Blonde, clear skin, a thigh gap and a flat stomach may be one person's ideal "pretty" body image but not another's, but sadly some will always strive for that idealised vision accentuated by clever marketing campaigns. We know of one family whose world has been turned upside down in the last few months as their 13 year old started dieting with a group of friends to get herself bikini ready for the summer holiday.  Devastatingly it all went too far and she returned to school after the summer transformed and battling anorexia.  After an extensive period in hospital she has returned to school, but not without consequences.  She cannot do any exercise and must eat frequently and at regular intervals under supervision.  She cannot concentrate for long periods and is easily tired.  The impact upon hers and her family's life is truly heartbreaking.

It is normal for teenagers to be conscious of their bodies and want to look great and lead a healthy lifestyle and I have written about this previously in relation to teenage boys, but there is a fine line between a positive and negative body image and the latter comes with anxiety and in some circumstances unfortunate consequences.  I am glad that schools encourage children to discuss these issues openly amongst themselves as it is only through conversation and debate that these unhealthy "pretty" perceptions can be challenged.

So what's a parent to do?  Well in a world where so much emphasis is placed upon the way we look, it is not surprising body image issues are rife among young adolescents and as parents I think we need to guide our young girls and boys through the madness and ensure they maintain a sensible and healthy perspective on their looks.


What do you think?  Let me know in the comments below.


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