Top Must-Read Books For Teens This Christmas

The blogosphere is awash with Christmas gift ideas and as a family of prolific readers we are always on the look out for a good book.  I have picked my daughter's brains to put together a few recommendations (in no particular order) for the tween or teenage book lover in your house, each with a personal comment from my daughter.

  • Bitter Sixteen : Stefan Mohamed

A story about a sixteen year old boy Stanly Bird from Wales whose best friend is a talking beagle named Daryl.  On his sixteenth birthday, Stanly gains superhero powers of flight and telekinesis and after a series of extraordinary events decides to move to London, only to experience events even more traumatic and terrifying than those he left behind in Wales.  "The perfect combination of funny and supernatural elements with just the right amount of weird horror to keep you on your toes.  A real page turner." 

  • Burn After Writing : Rhiannon Shove

An interactive book that invites the teen reader to face life's big questions "Who are you now? How did you get here? Where are you going?" and to record them as a personal journal.  Divided into three sections The Past, The Present and The Future, the author encourages her readers to have fun with it as there are no right answers and then once they are finished to burn after writing.  "A book for people who like to think and ask questions of themselves and the world they live in.  I loved exploring myself through this book.  It is full of interesting activities and I want to keep it as a reminder of myself as I am now and refer back to it later in life."

  • FanGirl : RainbowPowell

Cath and her sister Wren had always bonded over their love and obsession with Simon Snow, but this all changes when they go to university.  An aspiring writer, with a social anxiety disorder, Cath is abandoned by her sister in favour of a high octane social life and left to her own devices.  The book charts Cath's struggle to branch out alone, a romantic dalliance, a clash with her fiction-writing professor, the betrayal of her writing partner, the psychological break down of her father and her determination to publish her own fan fiction Carry On, Simon.  "Writing is a passion of mine and I loved this story of Cath's pursuit of her dream against all the odds.  A really uplifting novel."

  • Goodbye Stranger : Rebecca Stead

Three friends Bridge, Emily and Tabitha are best friends with just the one rule - no fighting, but seventh grade forces physical and emotional changes upon their friendship group via a series of new experiences.  "Secondary school is a game changer for many friendships.  This is a sensitive portrayal of growing up and raises a number of important questions about staying true to yourself."

  • Life In A Fishbowl : Len Vlahos

The world of fifteen year old Jackie Stone is turned upside down when she discovers her father Jared has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Jared does not tell his family immediately and decides to auction off what remains of his life on eBay in an attempt to raise money and ease the financial burden of his loss upon his family.  Although the ad is removed, it is not before the highest bidder a reality TV producer, has arranged with Jared to film their lives 24/7.  In a quest to regain her family's privacy and dignity Jackie sets out to end the show.  "Humorous but sad.  A modern day tragicomedy reflecting on unpopularity, family life, reality television and the entertainment industry as a whole." 

  • Me Earl & The Dying Girl : Jesse Andrews

High schooler Greg and his one friend Earl spend all their time making films.  One day he is told by his mother to make friends with Rachel, a childhood friend diagnosed with Leukaemia. Andrews is a comic genius and manages to turn a commonly depressing subject matter into a hilarious story filled with teenage awkwardness, love and friendship at its centre.  "A bizarrely laugh out loud book which makes you have faith in the real power and value of teenage friendship."

  • Say Her Name : James Dawson

A Halloween dare at boarding school between Roberta "Bobbie" Rowe, her best friend Naya and local boy Caine to summon the legendary ghost of Bloody Mary by chanting her name five times in front of a candle-lit mirror at midnight, has unforeseen circumstances.  The words "five days" left on her bathroom mirror the next day start a sequence of events for Bobbie and her friends and a race against time before Bloody Mary comes for them.  "A chilling but witty horror story born out of a seemingly innocent teenage scenario."

  • The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time : Mark Haddon

The tale of a boy detective with autism, this book turned popular West End play, needs little introduction.  15 year old Christopher Boone lives in Swindon with his dad and his pet rat and has never been further than the end of the road until the murder of his neighbour's dog turns him into a detective.  Christopher knows a lot about maths but very little about interacting with people.  His world is logical and he turns to his favourite character Sherlock Holmes for inspiration to track down the dog's killer, which simultaneously brings him face to face with the breakdown of his parent's marriage. The book is funny and sad in equal measure and gives the reader an insight into the clinical world of an emotionally dissociated mind.  "I knew very little about autism before reading this and found the book both enlightening and incredibly moving.  The play is also definitely worth seeing!"  


Editor's Note: This is not a comprehensive list but if you have any books to add please do let me know in the comments below - I need new book ideas for Christmas too!  


Mum Muddling Through 


Teaching  Children to Take Academic Responsibility

Guest Post

Claire Adams is a regular contributor in the blogosphere and I have always enjoyed her writing so was delighted when she asked if she could guest post for me.  For those of you who haven't come across her before, Claire is a personal and professional development expert who believes that a positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can find her online writing and giving tips about lifestyle and development as a regular contributor at

Teaching our children the value of an inquiring mind is a cause close to my heart.  It is a stepping stone to independent learning and here Claire pursues this and shows us how we as parents can teach our children to take academic responsibility. 

From a very early age, children have a tendency to identify with some segments of their lives and to completely disregard others that they don’t find appealing, or that don’t resonate with them. Education for the large part seems to children like a forced responsibility, as if they would rarely opt for going to school in the first place if it were up to them – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

It starts when you encourage them to think for themselves and question everything, not blindly accept what they’re presented with, thus helping them embrace the value of learning through thinking, as opposed to merely absorbing information. But in order to own up to their success, failures (of equal value) and choices, our role as parents can be a pivotal one.

Provide perspective early on

While they are still in primary school, children have a tendency to view everything through creativity and play – which opens up wonderful opportunities for creative thinking, problem solving and independent thought development. However, as they step into their tween and teen years, context becomes all the more relevant for them to understand why they are making an effort in the first place.

Not to impress others (us, their parents included), or to get a satisfactory number on a piece of paper, but to enrich their lives, broaden their horizons and, most importantly, equip them for their life ahead.

This is a time when their childhood dreams of becoming astronauts or vets can be brought to life with the right choices. So, talk to them, tell them your own experience, and ask them if they see value in what they are taught at school, how those skills and knowledge can help them succeed later in life.

Know when to step aside or in

Mothers know all too well, how tempting it is to bring out our Wonder Woman self and bring hell to anyone or anything who tries to harm our kids. But they often need us to do something else, they need us not to bail them out, and not to solve their problems for them. Facing responsibility, consequences as well as achievements is essential for their future choices. Ultimately, they need to learn we should all clean up our own mess.

Then again, certain warning signs may indicate that it’s time for an honest one-on-one, if you see they’re frustrated, slipping with their work, showing no sign of positive engagement, or that their behaviour has changed. Help them by teaching them to view this as an opportunity to grow, a positive challenge to learn or improve their time-management skills and overcome their limitations.

Teach them to ask for help

Teens are relentless independence-seekers, and they might find the school work difficult, but they will often avoid admitting they need help. Fostering this independence is commendable, as long as it results in them taking action and developing problem-solving and proper coping techniques, but if they are truly stuck, they need to understand the value of asking for help or guidance, whether that is from their parents or their teachers. Not everything is everyone’s strong suit.

Once they realize that temporary help is another way towards greater independence, they will be more inclined to seek help to overcome learning obstacles. They need a stimulating learning environment that cultivates critical thinking, and offers the tools to handle academic challenges properly, and we all know that’s not easy to come by.

Focus on commitment

I’ll never forget our neighbours daughter’s violin recitals and the hours she would spend playing and perfecting her skills in the days and months before the performance. She was a hard worker and a gifted child, but her stage-fright was so severe she would often freeze on stage or play poorly despite all her practice. Her mother would always praise her, not falsely for the poor performance, but for all the effort she had previously invested in her playing.

Our childrens' grades, teachers’ comments and results often won’t correspond to the amount of work they invest in their studies – they will sometimes do brilliantly well despite poor studying, but they will sometimes fail despite doing their absolute best. Commend them for their dedication, discipline and effort, not merely the end result. This way they will learn how to value their effort above other people’s judgement and they will learn not to give up at the first sign of trouble in their later academic years.

Claire Adams:



Fear Of Crime is Making Our Teenagers Unhappy

Growing up as a teenager in the 1980's in the idyllic English countryside I had very few worries and certainly none that kept me awake at night. Our teenagers today, however, are not so lucky.  Young people's happiness in the UK is at its lowest point for seven years according to The Children's Society, Good Childhood Report 2017.

What is making our teenagers unhappy? Families struggling to pay bills and lack of emotional support at home were among the pressures mentioned, but according to the report's findings, fear of crime is the biggest concern.  A total 2.2 million of those interviewed cited this as the thing that worries them the most.

One in three girls surveyed said they were concerned about being followed by a stranger and one in four boys were worried about being assaulted.

As a parent of both sexes and living in London, these figures and statements don't surprise me.  Stranger danger is omnipresent.  As for being assaulted, sadly there is rarely a week goes by without reports of an attack somewhere in our capital.

One of my worst fears during my parenting journey to date has been that I won't be able to protect my children from danger.  Now as they grow up and become increasingly more independent I fear they won't be able to protect themselves.  My teenagers have become  used to me frequently asking them to "be careful" every time they venture out.  There is, however, more to it than just being careful.

Being streetwise is a good skill to have and a prerequisite to keeping safe whether you live in London or any other major city.  Our teenagers need to know how to be observant and aware of their surroundings and not to put themselves at risk.

We have a duty of care to our teens to guide them on that, but of course it does not provide a cast iron guarantee of avoiding danger.  Despite everything my eldest has fallen victim to crime twice this year, but in both scenarios knew compliance was better than resistance and thankfully escaped shaken and not physically harmed - albeit poorer.

The report's findings reflect the trend illustrated by the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which showed police recorded crime had risen by 13% in the 12 months to June.

Crime is of course nothing new, but what is disturbing nowadays is that it is so prevalent and so violent.  The use of weapons and now acid to cause serious injury is commonplace with no thought given to the consequences. In fact the ONS figures revealed a 20% rise in gun, knife and other serious violence.

News At Ten featured a series of reports earlier this month on violent crime which made for frightening viewing.  Aside from the staggering increase in the total number of offences committed, it was the frequency at which they occurred that struck me.

Every 14 minutes, there is a knife crime committed across England and Wales.  In London the number of incidents where shots are fired has doubled to two a day and one-in-six gun crime victims last year were aged 17 or under.

It is shocking and upsetting in equal measure that this is the cultural landscape our teens are growing up in.  Add to this the fact that as a result of living in fear of crime in their neighbourhood some teenagers are resorting to carrying weapons to protect themselves and thereby driving this increase, then the reality is even more horrific.

The teenage years are such an exciting time, it is a shame that for so many it is a period dominated by problems and fear with an inevitable long term impact upon their well-being.

What can be done to help? First and foremost these unhappy teenagers need support but if it is not available at home where do they turn?  For many the children's services provided by their local authority are a valuable resource, providing a much needed safety net not only in times of crisis but in a preventative scenario too.  As a rule those adolescents lacking the support of a stable emotional and financial family environment are the most vulnerable and arguably more susceptible to turning to crime themselves.

Youth centers give teenagers a place to meet and make friends, as well as a chance to take part in workshops, recreational activities and short courses. Youth workers operate outside of the centers, getting to know young people in schools, on the streets and in parks.  They also work alongside specialist teams responsible for youth crime prevention and issues connected to serious youth violence including gangs.

Unfortunately funding is being cut for these valuable local services that help our country's children.  This situation has various permutations and far-reaching consequences,all with potentially devastating results for the next generation.  As parents we owe it to all our country's teenagers to speak up on their behalf in a bid to help make life a little easier and our teenagers' world a safer and happier place.

How?  Well charity begins at home and in a week when the focus is very much on the needs of children, we can lend our support to the efforts of the Children's Society and sign their petition to ask for more funding to maintain local youth services.

It is not a time to turn the other cheek.  We can all make a difference to the society we live in.  Our teenagers today are tomorrow's adults and at the moment they need our help to reverse the decline in their well-being before it hits crisis point.

Disclosure: The Children's Society invited me to review their report.  No payment was received. All views and opinions are my own.



Editor's Note: The Children's Society is a national charity that runs local services and campaigns to change the law to help this country's most vulnerable children and young people.  The Good Childhood Report 2017 is the sixth in a series of annual reports about how children in the UK feel about their lives produced in collaboration with the University of York.  It is the most extensive national programme of research on children's subjective well-being in the world.



JakiJellz Reflectionsfromme Mum Muddling Through DIY Daddy


31st State – Skincare For Teenage Boys – Review

Skincare for teenage boys is not something you see marketed very often, but why not?  Male grooming is on the increase after all and the 21st century teenage boy is just as conscious of his appearance and looking good as the teenage girl - if not more so in fact, if my household is anything to go by!

Unfortunately, many teenagers also have to contend with acne in their bid to look good, with NHS statistics showing that around 80% of teenagers will suffer at some point.  Skin hygiene and developing a good daily cleansing regime have vital roles to play in keeping the pimples at bay during the teenage years and in my experience the sooner they start the better.

Finding the right products for teenagers, however, is a battle in itself.  There is not a one size fits all solution to skincare and certainly when it comes to teenage boys it stands to reason that their needs will differ to those of teenage girls.  Add to this the fact that there is not a great deal available in the UK and what is, can contain chemical ingredients which are just too harsh for young skin and the options available to our teenage boys are very limited.

With this in mind, Stephanie Capuano, a native Californian and a mother faced with this challenge herself worked with UK product developers whilst living here to create 31st State, a line dedicated specifically to the needs of teenage boys and derived completely from natural ingredients.

Knowing that her own boys would recoil at using products that looked too feminine Stephanie set out to create a brand that reflected the outdoor cleanness and freshness of the Californian lifestyle with products that were simple and "cool" to use.

With an 18 year old of my own who bucks the trend for wanting to look good and who has until now used a combination of high street as well as expensive male skincare products that put a strain on his university budget, my son was delighted to be offered the chance to trial the skincare products in the 31st State range.  These included the Foaming Face Wash, Overnight Clearing Pads and the all important Spot Control Gel.

As anyone with a teenage boy will know, the simpler the better.  They don't like fuss and they certainly don't like to waste time faffing about - oh no that is the preserve of the female species!  You won't be surprised, therefore, to hear that when I asked my son what he liked the most about the products his response was "The ease of use and the clear instructions."  His words not mine, I promise.  Teenage boys may want to look good but they don't want to look like they have tried too hard and this effortless vibe is central to Stephanie's mission.  As for the look of the products well in his own words again "I like the design, it is stylish, not too in your face."  No pun intended of course - just the usual teen speak.

All the products use gentle, natural but effective ingredients that work wonders not only on cleansing the skin thoroughly and removing all the dirt, oil and bacteria that can lead to blemishes and spots if left untouched, but also on calming and rebalancing the skin. Their motto is keeping it natural is what it is all about.  Anything that strips, irritates, bothers and otherwise annoys the skin is off-limits.

Tea tree renowned for its healing qualities releases into the skin slowly over a 12 hour period, reducing the likelihood of irritation and redness.  Manuka is antibacterial and works to target spots by helping to get rid of oil.  Witch hazel is widely used in acne products and is a natural antiseptic renowned for its anti-irritant, anti-bacterial and potent anti-inflammatory properties.  Magnesium, Copper and Zinc prevent breakouts and restore healthier looking skin.

Of all the products, my son's hands down favourite is the Overnight Clearing Pads.  The Foaming Face Wash he says is perfect for use in the shower in the morning, but at night and no doubt particularly if he has been out and just wants to go to bed, he likes the option of having something quick and easy to use and the pads tick that box.

He has learnt the hard way the result of not cleaning his skin properly so whilst he very rarely suffers from spots now, he likes the reassurance of having a topical treatment that will quickly sort them out if he does. His verdict on the Spot Control Gel is that it is great for use day and night.  It quickly reduces the redness and inflammation associated with spots and unlike many other over the counter lotions he has used it is not drying.

As with all skincare products the real test is the opinion of others.  It is all very well using a product yourself and thinking it is making a difference but if no-one else notices what is the point?  Now that he is away at University the first time I saw my son since he has been using the products was last week when he returned home for a study break.  As an over critical mother who can spot a dirty face at a hundred paces, I can honestly say his skin looked a lot clearer and brighter, which is not something you would naturally tend to say about a teenager's skin and certainly not one that is away from home for the first time.   Thus, based on his feedback and the overall improvement in my son's appearance that I noticed, if you are looking for a straightforward natural skincare range for your teenage son or know someone who is, I would say you can't go wrong with 31st State.  Take a look at the products here, they are good value and would make the perfect stocking filler - they are certainly on my son's list.

Disclosure: We received the 31st State products in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own and those of my son and unbiased.   

Three Steps To University Open Day Success

Choosing the right university is about so much more than the course.  It is about the location, the environment, the facilities, the extra-curricular activities and the ambience.  What appeals to one student won't necessarily appeal to another.  These are decisions that can't be made from a distance online.

Open Days dominated our weekends this time last year and whilst a thing of the past for us at the moment, I have been reminded by friends going through the process this year of just how valuable they are.

Your teenager needs to go along and get a feel for the university, after all you wouldn't buy a house without seeing it first would you?So where to start?  Well irrespective of where in the country your teenager may be looking to study, the principles for getting the most out of an Open Day are the same. Just follow steps one, two and three.

Step One – Choose visits wisely

Whilst it may not be possible for them to visit every university on their prospective list, there is no doubt it is an important way to help them make a decision, so encourage them to visit three of their five choices at least.   Their decision on where to visit may be dependent on distance and travel expenses but that aside, they should also check the Open Day dates of their wishlist universities to see if there are any clashes.

After each visit, make sure they make a list of what they liked about each university and when looking at other potential universities, look out for those positives to make comparisons.

Location cannot be overemphasized.  Help them to think about where they would like to study – is it a big city university where they can have easy access to all the opportunities and entertainment a major city has to offer? Or would they prefer to study at a campus university which is predominantly in a rural setting, where they can lead a student-centric life and feel part of a close university community?

We live in London, a city with everything on our doorstep but our son opted for a campus university away from home and this is also a big consideration in making that final choice.  How close to home do they want to be?  If they can't decide before the Open Day then make sure they visit both types, home and away and can compare the two.

Open Days are also a good way for them to eliminate those universities that don't tick all their boxes too.  Those that excited our son in the prospectus fell short of his expectations when he visited, which just goes to show that what looks good on paper or online may not pass the close and personal test.

Step Two – What to do when they get there

Whilst as a parent you may have a view on their university selection, ultimately it is their decision to make.  They will be the one studying and living there not you.  Make sure they go prepared with all the questions they want the answers to. This is their opportunity to see the facilities; meet the academic lecturers who will teach them; meet the students who are currently studying there and find out what goes on at the university, besides the lectures!

Examples of some questions they might want to ask:

  • What is the local area like? Where is the nearest supermarket? How easy is it to find a part time job?
  • What sports clubs and societies are there at the university? They might have a specific interest in mind or they may want to try something new.
  • What is the social life like?  Is it campus focused or do students tend to head off campus to socialise?
  • What are the different accommodation options and how do they compare?  If it is off campus, how far away is it?

Make sure they also ask any specific questions about their course to the lecturers. This is the main reason they are there after all.  Universities usually do a presentation about the courses on Open Day or they might even be lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak one-to-one with them.

Encourage them to look out for any specific campus tours or interaction sessions for their subject area so they get a real taste of what is involved each year, as these are a great way of getting a feel of what their chosen course might be like. If they can find a student helper (often called ambassadors) that is studying their course, this is an excellent way to find out directly from them what the course is really like.

Most importantly and one thing that really helped our son was getting in contact with students from his school who were already studying at the universities he was considering and doing the course he was applying for and arranging to meet up on the Open Day and chatting not only to them but their friends.    

It is not a time to hang back or be shy, they need to make the most of their contacts if they have them, speak up when meeting lecturers and other students and avoid "wishing" they had done so later.

STEP 3 – Trust their gut instinct!! 

After taking everything in at an Open Day persuade your teenager to take a minute to step back and listen to their gut. Back to the house analogy - we all know when it just feels right.  Similarly after each visit they should probably have a good idea about whether it could be the type of university they would like to study at just by listening to their instincts.

They need to think about the people they have met throughout the day, the students and the lecturers.  Can they see themselves working alongside them?  Can they see themselves living with them?  Time spent reflecting will avoid regrets later.

Of course having family or close friends at an Open Day with them is great as it's good to listen and share opinions. Personally, however, I think the best test is for them to do a trip alone.  Many universities will invite students back for a second visit once an offer has been made and accepted.  These are known as Offer Holder Days and as going it alone is what this next stage of their life journey is all about, step back and let them explore once more by themselves.  Ultimately, it is their life so let them make it their decision.

Have you been through this process?  If so what advice would you add?  If not is there anything you want to know?  All comments welcome as always.

Disclosure: This is a collaborative post.


What is Responsible Drinking for Parents?

What are your views on drinking alcohol in front of your children?  Do you make a conscious decision to abstain when with your children or just not to drink to excess?  Have you ever been drunk in front of your children?

In a new report released by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) 29% of parents admitted to having been drunk in front of their children, whilst 51% said they had been tipsy.  Out of the parents that admitted to having been tipsy, 29% of their children said they had been embarrassed by their parents' behaviour as a result and 19% said they felt they had been given less attention.

Invited to take part in a discussion on the findings of the report I was asked whether I drank in front of my teens.  My response quite simply was yes I do.  Asked my opinion on drinking in front of children I expressed the view that it was all about moderation.  Yet the English language is a fickle beast.  Moderate drinking can of course mean different things to different people, one person's glass of wine can be another's bottle.  So parents where should we draw the line?

The differentiating factor for me is responsibility.  We are bombarded by "responsible" marketing messages every where we look but the pinnacle of responsibility is surely responsible parenting.

As adults we know what it is to overstep the mark.  Thus, when it comes to alcohol, it is important as parents we exercise self-control when with our children.  This is at its height when they are younger.  Whilst that early parenting phase for me is well and truly over I was always conscious of the need for a sound mind at all times in case of an emergency.  In fact my husband and I have clocked up quite a few A&E trips with our children over the years and aside from being able to drive, a clear mind was very much a necessity on every occasion.

As they grow and move through the tween phase, our children become more perceptive and aware of boundaries of acceptable behaviour.  Add to this the benefits of education.  Tweens soak up information like sponges .  There is nothing more enjoyable than your child returning from school and brain dumping everything they have learnt in a series of "Did you know?" statements.  Included in this is the introduction to PSHE lessons and its important messages on social media, bullying, puberty, drugs and alcohol.  Tweens are suddenly armed with facts as well as an inquisitive mind.

In the report 11-12 year olds described alcohol as "like sugar for adults".  Well that must be bad then.  After all we spend our lives telling our children to cut back on sugar.  Fizzy drinks are banned, juices and smoothies with their abundance of natural fructose must be limited, along with biscuits and cakes and sweets are forbidden.

Well to be honest in my house all of these things are allowed in moderation.  Yes there is that word again.  But it is a word which for me encompasses the necessary sentiment.  It is about the avoidance of extremes.  My children know the difference between what is acceptable and what will send their dentist or me into a tail spin and them out of control.  Isn't it the same with us as adults when it comes to alcohol? By all means enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer but just know when to stop when children are present.

Now as a mother of teens have my parameters changed?  Almost certainly.  That is not to say I lose control and dance on the table, but a lazy Sunday lunch with teens is one of midlife's pleasures and is more likely to end with a board game, a movie and an afternoon nap than a trip to A&E.

That said, it doesn't mean I have abandoned parenting responsibly.  Control is the defining point in all of this and is one that we emphasised to our eldest teen when he started on the teen house party circuit and more recently when he headed off to university to confront the first hurdle that is Freshers' Week and its inherent heavy drinking culture.

There is no right or wrong.  It all comes down to a matter of personal choice and everyone's choice will be different, even within families.  The only element to remember is that we are setting an example for our children at all times with food, exercise and alcohol.  Ultimately, however, our children will make their own decisions regardless of the example we have set, or what they have learnt and they will almost certainly make some mistakes along the way because that is life. . In the meantime, whilst flying the flag for responsible parenting, let's also remember life is for living - in moderation of course!


Did you see the report? What are your views on drinking in front of your children?  I look forward to hearing your views.


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How Do We Build Our Teenage Girls’ Self-Esteem?

Has your daughter ever called herself ugly?  If so how did you react?  Did you - like me - respond with a sharp intake of breath and a vehement "No you are not!"?

At the time of this shock announcement from my daughter I was in Paris on a girls trip, basking in the early evening sun, glass of wine in hand, overlooking the courtyard of the Louvre, after an afternoon touring the Dior Exhibition. My happiness boxes at the time were well and truly ticked.

The call started innocently enough with general chit chat about school, her mates, her test scores, hockey practice and then bam! Out of nowhere "Mum I'm so ugly.  It'not fair. Being a teenager really sucks!"

Only six months ago she had challenged the perception of pretty described by her classmates, dismissing it as no more than the stuff of barbie doll dreams and flying the flag for being an individual not a type; championing the value of personality over beauty.  Maybe as a result of this I had rested on my laurels too much, confident that she was well rounded and as such had missed some vital signs along the way.

My response was met with the retort "You are my mother, you have to say that!" As mothers we all want our children to be happy and that means shouldering their anxieties too when they come along.  I had spent 14 years trying to bring up a confident young lady, who I hoped would embark on this final stage of her journey to adulthood feeling good about herself.  Everyone praises her outward social confidence but if she felt like this inside had I failed?  UCL's recent Millenium Cohort Study revealed that a quarter of 14-year old girls are depressed.  Did this episode make my daughter one of them?

My maternal heart strings had been pulled and right then all I wanted was to see her beautiful face, her wide grin, give her a big hug and remove this "ugly" word from her list of personal adjectives.  But until I returned home, words were all I had at my disposal.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugly like hate is a strong word, reserved for extreme circumstances. There are those that argue if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then ugly must be too.  It is like a good bottle of wine, all a question of personal taste and what one person finds beautiful or ugly will be different to the next.

This is not, however, about defining what is ugly but rather pinpointing what we as mothers of teenage girls can do to boost their self-esteem.  A strong sense of self gives them the emotional scaffolding they need to handle these moments of self-doubt and criticism.  No-one had called my daughter ugly, just herself and even if it is just the once that is enough.

Beauty and appearance are thorny issues when raising girls.  Our girls are vulnerable.  All it takes is one throw away comment at the wrong time and their sense of self-worth can become quickly wrapped up in this  body image nightmare, which even if they don't come to it until later, is still an issue to be confronted, not trivialised or ignored.

Dove's Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) is committed to helping young girls as well as women have a healthy and positive relationship with the way they look.  Part of this is their Uniquely Me programme which gives parents heaps of practical advice and activities to help their daughters remove the emphasis on looks and focus on their inner "me" to boost their confidence.

So what can we do as parents?

  • Model a healthy self-image.  Therapist Michele Kambolis says “Our words and actions have a powerful impact on our children.”  If we as mothers adopt a self-critical approach we risk our daughters following suit.
  • Praise them not only about their looks but for their effort.  Saying “I really like the way you put your outfit together” instead of “You look gorgeous”, puts the focus on their effort being the most important element, not the end result.
  • Don't under-estimate the significance of fathers.  Daughters look to their fathers for assurance, guidance and approval.  In her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Meg Meeker argues that a father has a valuable role to play in in guiding his daughter through a potentially toxic culture.  I was glad my daughter had her father whilst I was away, they have a strong bond and he was quick to intervene.
  • Congratulate them on all their achievements and don't forget to praise their imperfections as well. Remind them that life is not perfect all of the time and mistakes and disappointments provide valuable life lessons too.

Alison Bean, a fellow mother of teenagers, counsellor and psychotherapist had this advice when I asked her:

"As a mother the most important thing to remember is to communicate with our children. Encourage them to talk about how they feel, and why they feel ugly or dislike themselves. Don't dismiss their negative thoughts. This may be hard to hear at first, and all you want to do is cry out " you're beautiful to me inside and out" but their feelings are real to them and need to be acknowledged. As parents we need to make a conscious effort to balance our own compliments to them and try to direct our praise away from just their appearance and focus on the things they are good at; sports they play, art or creative work they excel in, musical instruments they play. Furthermore encourage them to spend more time with people they feel happy with, family members or close friends who don't constantly judge. This will help them to feel better about themselves, which in turn increases their self esteem and self worth."

In our family, we advocate a philosophy of sharing which I hope allows our teenagers to express their concerns, but more importantly gives us the opportunity to step in and provide support before an issue manifests itself into something bigger.  Our teenagers need to know that we are on their side as parents and nothing is more valuable than unconditional love for those moments when their confidence takes a knock.


I would love to hear from you if you have had a similar experience or have some thoughts to share on building self-esteem.  



 Mum Muddling Through DIY Daddy








Students Spend Nearly £400 In Freshers’ Week

How much is Freshers' Week costing your teen?  Research  I read this week shows that students across the UK can spend around £400 in Freshers' Week.  Put this in the context of the average annual student maintenance loan of £1500 and the reality of the maths is scary.

As the mother to a Fresher myself this year, I know first hand the financial pressures involved and whilst staggering, sadly this figure does not surprise me.  What does surprise me is that the biggest spending city according to the research isn't London but Edinburgh, with past and present students spending an average of £426 during Freshers' Week and Bristol students spending the least at £334.

Tuition fees and accommodation costs aside, before even setting foot on campus for Freshers' Week, students have numerous additional start up expenses including insurance, the TV licence fee, access to the university internet, a student rail card and of course the all important books.  Yes of course some of these costs span generations and had to be paid in my university days, but for the 21st century student the impact of inflation on day to day living, makes that first week so much tougher.

Paying for entry to Freshers' parties, signing up to become a member of various clubs and societies and simply going out and being sociable with new-found friends, places huge financial pressure upon our teens and it is easy to see how this number can be reached so quickly.

In fact the rising cost of being a student has meant that twice as many students who graduated last year compared to 2015 or earlier, felt unable to actually enjoy themselves at Fresher's Week and with such a current emphasis on the mental health of our young people this is a worrying statistic, with potentially far-reaching consequences.

For many leaving home for the first time, keeping track of their spending is a daunting task.  They have worked hard for their exams but it doesn't end there, there is still more to come.  Going through our son's allowance with him before he headed off, it suddenly dawned on him that he would need to manage his budget carefully.

He worked hard to save for the customary bucket holidays with his mates over the summer as a final farewell to those fond and cossetted schooldays, but come last weekend he was close to penniless before his loan dropped into his account.

Numbers are his thing, so dropping him at university we had high hopes, that he of all people would manage it. Needless to say and maybe like most parents, we gave him a cash bonus as we left, to ease the pain of the first night at least.  Only 72 hours in and we had our first anxious call about the possibility of exceeding his allowance, alongside a text saying "it is not me to be fair, it is just how Freshers' is".

Has peer pressure got anything to do with it?  Well the research says yes and no doubt as a young teen trying to make an impression and not wanting to be left out of the party bubble in the first week, no doubt it has.

But what do those in the know say?  London is littered with universities, so I contacted London South Bank University for an opinion on Freshers' spending.  Student Advice Manager, Chris Wright said "For many students when they get their student loan it is the first time they are receiving such a significant amount of money in one go, therefore it is easy for them to overspend during Freshers' as they think they will have a lot left. Freshers’ is an opportunity for many to meet new people and to have a good time; everyone is trying to keep up as they do not want to be left out. Therefore many will spend money not taking into account that other students are maybe spending money they have saved over the summer or that their parents have given them, or that they have earnt.  Students can also see their loan as a way to update their wardrobe and to buy the things they have wanted for a long time, especially if they are going to events and would like to make a good impression on their peers."

The bitter truth is that the maintenance loan doesn't cover all the costs.  So is it another case of falling back on the bank of mum and dad?  No parent wants their teenager stressed.  How far can we or are we able to go to support them in their ambition?

Of course there will always be those parents (for whom money is no object) who do step in and bail their teens out, but life's harsh lessons are not learnt that way.  There comes a time when the safety net of mum and dad needs to be removed and they learn to stand on their own two feet.

I worked throughout my time at university.  My allowance was set and there was no room for manoeuvre.  It dawned on me very early that if I wanted to keep up with the Jones' and remove all financial angst, a job was the way forward.

There is nothing worse as a teenager than being told "when I was your age" but sometimes needs must and I have banged that message home all summer.  It is a divisive issue, some think working is a distraction but there are plenty of part-time jobs out there that won't get in the way of their studies.

So what else can they do to alleviate the burden? Well my advice to my teen was avoid going out every night.  Some low key nights are good. Leave your card behind.  Contactless payments are a devil to anyone, let alone a young teen starting out alone on  a budget.  Make the most of student discounts and the NUS extra card is certainly worth applying for.

What next?  Well hopefully not a financial hangover and a recognition of some vigilant budgeting, plus the knowledge that of course we understand and we will be there if needs must, but 72 hours is too soon for that. To coin a well worn phrase, your university years should be the best of your life, it would be a shame if it starts out so soon for our son and many others under a cloud.


Do you have any experiences to share?  I would love to hear how you or your teens coped or maybe are coping. Please let me know in the comments below.