Guest Post – Potential Effects of Smartphone Overuse Syndrome In Teenagers

Are you or your teenagers addicted to your smartphone?  Do you argue about the presence of phones at mealtimes?  Do your youngsters sleep with their phones in their room?  A ubiquitous accessory nowadays, it is so easy to fall into the trap of constantly checking our phones for news and messages at all times of day and night.  This obsession, however, to always have our phone nearby is reaching epidemic proportions among our youngsters in particular and seriously affecting their mental health.

Dr Martin  Lee is a Consultant Rheumatologist and Associate Senior Clinical Lecturer currently working for Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Hospitals and Newcastle University. He has a specialist interest in Young Adult and Adolescent care and created the concept of No Phone Zone in 2016 based on his reflections that the overuse of smartphones (particularly at bedtime and during the night) was having negative effects on his patients’ sleep hygiene, mental and physical wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, productivity and online safety.

Here Martin shares his thoughts and findings - it is serious food for thought as we move further into an age of increased smartphone usage.

The Importance of Sleep Hygiene and the Potential Effects Of Smartphone Overuse Syndrome (SOS) In Teenagers

Smartphones have fundamentally changed how we live and their functionality has had many positive impacts on our lives. The invention and rapid evolution of smartphones now means that access to the internet, social media sites and a multitude of applications is rarely more than an arm’s length away, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. However, are there potential downsides to this technology that could be having a negative impact within our homes and on our lives?

Smartphone Overuse Syndrome (SOS)?

As a consultant physician working in the UK with an interest in adolescent and young adult care, I witness first hand potential negative consequences of mobile phone technology almost on a day-to-day basis. I believe that smartphone overuse has the potential to hinder relationships within our families and also have a negative effect on our own, and our children’s, sleep patterns and mental health.

Teenagers are frequently referred to my clinic complaining of chronic fatigue, daytime sleepiness, pain and headaches. These symptoms are frequently accompanied by symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, low mood and feelings of anxiety. When taking a history from these teenagers, a key and recurrent theme is frequent access to the internet and social media, often using smartphone technology and often at night.

Trends in smartphone use in Teenagers (parents look away now!):

Over the past decade there has been a huge increase in electronic media use in teenagers. In 2010 a survey of over 2,000 American youths aged 8 to 18 found that they spent an average of 7.5 hours a day using entertainment media.

With the increased availability (and reduced costs) of smartphone technology, there has been a rapid increase in both smartphone ownership and smartphone use among teenagers. A recent study found that American college students spent nearly 9 hours a day on their mobile phones!

In 2016, Deloitte published its UK mobile consumer survey. Key findings of this report include the fact that about 91% of 18-44 year olds in the UK own a smartphone. Nighttime smartphone usage was particularly high in the teenage population and about half of all 18-24 year olds check their phone in the middle of the night.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in partnership with Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) recently conducted a published a survey of 2,750 pupils aged 11-18, looking into teenage use of mobile devices overnight and the impact this is having on their health and well-being. The survey revealed that almost half (45%) of teenagers checked their mobile devices during the night. Of these teenagers, 23% checked their mobile device more than 10 times per night. Other findings of the survey included the facts that 68% of teenagers said that using their mobile devices at night affected their schoolwork.

Smartphone use and sleep:

Alongside increases in smartphone ownership and use in teenagers, recent data also suggests a shift towards poorer sleep patterns over the past decades. These changes include going to bed later, taking longer to fall asleep, shorter sleep duration, poorer sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness. Several other studies have demonstrated a relationship between mobile phone use at night and shorter sleep duration or increased daytime sleepiness. There are 4 key reasons why smartphone use in evenings and at bedtime could potentially have a negative impact on sleep quantity and quality.

  1. Sleep stealing (sleep can potentially be displaced by smartphone use at night leaving less time for sleep).
  2. Smartphone use at bedtime can lead to increased mental, emotional or physiological arousal and therefore interfere with time to onset of sleep.
  3. Light emission from smartphones that use LED technology (‘blue-range’ light) may disrupt our sleep by interfering with our body’s melatonin secretion and its in-built 24-hour clock.
  4. Smartphones left switched on at night can disturb sleep and reduce the quantity and quality of deep or ‘restorative’ sleep.

Smartphone use and mental health disorders in teenagers:

It is well known that there is an association between depression and sleep disturbance but studies have also found that sleep disturbance can lead to depression in teenagers. One study of over 17,000 adolescents published in 2012 reported an association between nighttime mobile phone use and poor mental health, suicidal feelings and self-harm. A further study of over 300 teenagers published in 2015 found that smartphone use in bed before sleep was related to shorter sleep duration and higher levels of depressive symptoms.

Conclusions:

There is overwhelming evidence demonstrating that teenagers are using smartphones more and more and that smartphone use at night can have a negative affect on sleep and mental health. I believe teenagers and their families should be educated about sleep hygiene and the potential effects of smartphone use at bedtime and at night. This education should include advice about setting limits on smartphone use or introducing phone free areas of the home or times of the day.

Martin's passion and commitment for pioneering a change in the way families manage their smartphone usage is heartfelt.  He truly wants to make a difference.

If Martin has forced you to question your habits and those of your youngsters as he did me then you can find out more information at  www.nophonezone.co.uk and for those of you who would like to take steps towards creating phone free zones in your own home, Martin is offering a discount on his fun nophonezone bags with the code MOTHEROFTEENAGERS.

It is an unspoken rule in our house that phones are banned at mealtimes as this is when we come together as a family.  Equally iPhones and iPads are left in our home office over night, but for an 18 year old sometimes the temptation can be too great to have it close by. Interestingly, however, my son has been strict with himself during the exam period and of his own volition has been switching off his devices an hour before going to bed.

The result? Well no teenager likes to admit their parents know best but he has delighted in the fact that he is sleeping better, waking earlier and is less lethargic.   Whether he continues it full-time beyond the exams remains to be seen but for now we are all enjoying reaping the benefits.

Are you worried about your tweens or teens and their smartphone usage?  Do you have any rules in your home regarding smartphone usage? Did you find Martin's piece helpful?  I would love to hear your views.

 

 

 

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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. 

 

 

 

 

 

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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." 

 

As featured on HuffPost

 

 

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It’s That Time Of Year – Muck Up Day

For many teenagers across the country, this week includes one of THE most important dates in the school calendar, Muck Up Day.  For those sitting their A'levels this is officially their time to let off some steam before the start of the exams, but also to celebrate the end of an era as they say a fond farewell to their school days and head off into the big wide world.

What constitutes Muck Up Day varies from school to school.  Some simply opt for a themed dress up day. For others, however, this is a little bit too "sensible" and instead involves weeks of planning and preparation akin to a Mission Impossible movie as the students seek to surprise and outwit their teachers with something a bit different - classrooms filled with balloons, sellotape over staircases, marbles strewn along hallways, teachers' cars wrapped in clingfilm - the stuff of logistical precision and creativity.

For those leaving school, Muck Up Day is the opportunity to leave a personal impression beyond the classroom or the sports field.  From the schools' perspective, however, the impression they leave has to be the right one.

They want their departing students to remember that not only are they setting an example to those pupils left behind but also representing the school in the local community.  They want them to do themselves and their school proud and leave with their heads held high.

There have been reports over the years of some Muck Up Days getting out of control and as a result some schools have put in rules limiting what can be done, which goes some way to defeating the whole point of the harmless fun and chaos that the day is supposed to create.

Harmless, however, is the operative word here. Everyone has to enjoy the joke and the fun needs to be conducted within certain parameters.  No one wants to be confronted by anarchy, but a little bit of chaos is to be expected.  

Of the parents I have spoken to about the guidelines from their teenagers' schools, the general rule of thumb seems to be that any pranks should not cause serious damage or endanger anyone - all of which seems perfectly reasonable, but may of course be open to misinterpretation by a bunch of lively teenagers.

There are some iconic Muck Up Day stories that do the rounds, the most popular being the three pigs that were brought into one school and numbered one, two and four resulting in the teachers wasting their whole day looking for the pig wearing the number three that of course didn't exist - pure genius some might say.

There is also the infamous story of the school whose leavers' put up a series of posters for several weeks prior to Muck Up Day saying simply "They Are Coming", until almost every noticeboard in the school was covered.  The night before Muck Up Day the signs suddenly disappeared and when the school opened the next morning every classroom, corridor, changing room and broom cupboard was full of hundreds of garden gnomes - a costly prank for sure but no doubt worth it for notoriety alone.

I have also heard of a story closer to home that involved a cow being left in a school hall which was on the second floor of a building.  Unfortunately whilst cows are quite happy to be led up stairs they are less keen on being led down, so it had to be airlifted out of the building at great expense to the school and presumably great distress to the cow.

Jokes and pranks aside, however, there is of course the more official aspect to Muck Up Day, it is actually Leaver's Day and a chance for the school to celebrate their pupils' journey from child to adult with awards for their achievements.

Pupils leave clutching medals, cups, a leaver's book full of pictures, personal anecdotes from friends and teachers as well as the obligatory "Year of..." hoodie!  Yes it would seem you are never too old!  Where would we be without a summer of spotting fellow school leavers at home and abroad?

With my own teenager leaving school this year the stress of exams has taken somewhat of a back seat as the excitement mounts in anticipation of Muck Up Day.   My son's school has arranged a full day of activities starting with a leaver's breakfast and including performances from bands, magicians and comedians before moving on to the formalities of prize giving and the leavers' photograph.

The school has issued the customary "plea for support" email to parents asking us to reiterate the need for exemplary behaviour along with a reminder from the local police that there should be no significant disruption by way of carnival style marches or parades in the immediate area.

In terms of specific plans, we like many other parents no doubt are in the dark.  There has been discussion of a need to meet with friends at 6am on Muck Up Day and lots of covert whispering but nothing that will risk any best laid plans being foiled.   Secrecy is paramount, so like everyone else we will have to wait and see.

One thing is sure though, it will be an emotional day for our country's school leavers in more ways than one and however they choose to celebrate and leave their mark, for them at least it will be worth it as to quote my teenager  "You Can't Put A Price On Memories".

 

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What Is The Real Value of Sport To Our Children?

With one teenager finishing last term with a hockey tour and one starting this term with a cricket tour, I am reminded of the value of sport in my teens' lives not only from the obvious perspective of benefiting from exercise, but also more universally in helping to prepare them for life beyond the playground.

Like many other parents I have stood on my fair share of pitches, but despite the sometimes untold agony of getting them up on time, the arguments about lost kit, the moaning about unfair referees and umpires plus the occasional tears at not being selected, I believe it has been worth every minute and equipped them with some valuable life lessons.

Children do not enter this world "naturally" sporty, it requires effort from us as parents to introduce them to exercise and start shaping their attitude to physical activity.   This starts as early as the toddler years with the interminable games of "catch" and trips to the playground in all weathers - albeit as an underhand means of ensuring our children are completely exhausted in time for bed.

The primary school years, however, are when it starts in earnest.  School sports days sort the wheat from the chaff on the athletics track among the children and the parents, in a bid for the unspoken but cherished title of  "most sporty family".  It is also the first time that our children are chosen for teams based on their ability and start to understand the value of healthy competition, because let's face it competitive environments are everywhere in life.

Then there is the scrum for places at local sporting clubs, some of which can involve a wait of several years for a space to come free.

Once your child has their place and has been accepted into the inner sanctum of the local sporting elite, even if they absolutely hate it, throw regular hissy fits on the field or are just down right rubbish, you stay put, resolute in the belief that as well as getting them out of the house, it is a learning ground for those all important life skills of teamwork, leadership, responsibility, discipline, coping with failure and last but not least "strategic thinking".

Yes who would have thought sport could be credited with providing our offspring with such a vast array of cognitive functions?

Surely there was an age when sport's primary purpose was enjoyment at being active, but that is certainly not the case now.  Being sporty is a badge to be worn with pride and demonstrates a prowess unattainable to any other group theatrical or musical, despite all requiring many of the same skill sets of co-operation, stamina, flexibility and dedication.

Woe betide you if are one of those parents on the sports field that dares to say the immortal words to your child that it's not about the "winning" but the "taking part". This suggests a lack of resilience and commitment and will provoke an array of reactions from eye rolling and tutting to full on ostracization.

In what other extra curricular activity does your child get exposed to such open criticism?

Despite my glibness though, I confess to being one of those parents who champions the importance of sport and fall genuinely into the camp of mums who just want my children to "take part".

As a fair weather exerciser I am not a tiger mum by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years I have carefully cajoled and manipulated my teens from an early age into sporting positions they may not naturally have gravitated towards themselves.

I signed them up for local sporting clubs before I knew if they were interested or even capable.  I offered my services when needed to serve tea and bake cakes for tournaments (admittedly under duress) and have even flown the flag of loud supporter on occasions, if sometimes for the opposing team!

Equally though I have stood and cringed on the sidelines as my children made innumerable mistakes, let down the team and themselves and of course embarrassed me!  It is all part of life's rich parenting tapestry.

But regardless of all this I gritted my teeth, rose above it and reassured them that "at least they tried their best", only to go home, drink copious glasses of wine and rant to my husband.

My husband however is the true champion, investing true blood, sweat and tears into our children's sporting lives.  He has patiently taught Teen 1 how to handle a rugby ball and coached at his local club for years. He has also spent hours of his life he will never get back teaching him how to bowl and has regularly run training sessions for Teen 2's hockey club.  This is before we even count the hours of driving,  sometimes half way across the South of England to get them to matches or to pick them up, before returning home and doing a quick turnaround to catch a plane - all whilst I just prepare lunch!

From my view on the sideline though, I think that what sport does best for children is break down barriers and open up opportunities.

Our local sports clubs are full of children from different backgrounds and with a range of abilities and the same is true at my teens' schools.  Diversity is essential to all walks of life but a love of sport unifies people in a way that nothing else can.

Sport England has launched its own series of initiatives Towards An Active Nation to increase the number of people getting active in response to the Government's own Sporting Future strategy.

Its vision is that everyone in England regardless of age, background or ability feels able to take part in sport and a significant part of this is to increase the proportion of young people (11-18) who have a positive attitude to sport and being active.

At secondary school there is no doubt that it is all far more competitive as everyone jostles for a place in the 1st and 2nd team and the chance to represent their school and perhaps earn a much coveted place on a sports tour.  It is easy for children to drop out of exercise during this period.  The challenge at this stage as Sport England recognises is to keep our children doing sport and make exercise a natural part of their life to keep them active well into the future.

Watching my own children over the years I can resolutely say that they have grown from sports shy individuals to competent young players who genuinely get a buzz from being part of a team and being active. What sport does really well is give children a sense of worth, bring them together and give them a common purpose. Your prowess in the classroom or the playground is irrelevant to what happens on the sports field.

Sport encourages children to move outside their comfort zone and mix with others they would maybe not normally interact with.  In this ever changing and reactive world this is surely a good thing, irrespective of ability.

So as I drove my eldest and his mates to their first pre-season training cricket match and listened to their "bants" I was reminded of identical circumstances this time last year.  My husband away on business and a car full of jesting teenage boys with their "that's so jokes" comments,  looking forward to a season's cricket amidst the pressure of their exams.

It reminded me that actually the real value of sport to our children is not the cognitive strategic skills they come away with but the comaraderie, the genuine enjoyment, the escapism from the pressure of performing in the classroom and most importantly of all, the memories of when they got it wrong as well as right, which are truly irreplaceable.  After all life is built on memories, they stay with us forever and hold us all together.

What do you think about the role of sport for our children?  Does sport play a big part in your lives?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you enjoyed this article please give it a share. 

 

This post was featured on #Global Blogging

My favorite for the week is written by JoMother of TeenagersWhat Is The Real Value Of Sport To Our Children. We are definitely a sporting family! I love seeing kids outdoors and releasing energy. I also have a kid that is not too sporty but they love being on the sidelines rooting the rest of them on! It sure beats sitting inside!!

 

 

 

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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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