Edinburgh International Book Festival Adolescence Alison by maclaren1

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									  Edinburgh International Book Festival                          son‟s school. I thought, “That sounds interesting. I‟ll
                                                                 go along and watch.” I was just bowled over by Jill
  Adolescence:
                                                                 Hinds, who gave the presentation. Since then, I have
  Alison Baverstock & Nicola Morgan
                                                                 been asked several times what it was that struck me
  22 August 2005                                                 about this woman and, obviously, I‟ve thought about
                                                                 that a great deal. Diane mentioned that we have all
                                                                 been teenagers. The problem is that, as parents, we
 Diana Hope: Good evening and welcome to the                     often forget what it was like to be a teenager. We‟re
Edinburgh International Book Festival.                           so busy with our adult lives—making lists,
                                                                 prioritising, trying to get more out of the time—that
  Alison Baverstock is a former publisher and she                we forget what it is like to be a teenager.
has written 13 books, mostly on writing and
publishing. Her book Whatever!, which she will                      I‟d like to start with a little exercise for the adults.
speak about today, came out of a meeting with Jill               The young people can have a few moments off. I‟d
Hinds, who is an educator and trainer who works                  like everyone to close their eyes. Don‟t worry,
with parents, teachers and young people. Alison has              nothing awful is going to happen. I‟d like you to think
four children—two of them are teenagers and two                  back to when you were 14. I‟d like you to remember
are teenagers-in-waiting.                                        which school you went to and where you were living.
                                                                 Now, I‟d like you to remember the person that you
  Nicola Morgan writes novels for teenagers. She                 fancied when you were 14, and I‟d like you to
was an English teacher and later she specialised in              remember what happened when they looked at you.
working with dyslexic pupils. She has two teenage                Okay, you can open your eyes now. Did everyone
children—18 and 16-year-old girls. Her last novel,               feel that hormone rush? I‟ve tried this exercise with
Sleepwalking, won the Scottish Arts Council                      lots of people and most of us can remember vividly
children‟s book of the year award. She has also                  how they felt when they were that age. That is
written The Leaving Home Survival Guide, but today               something that we need to hang on to—the hormone
she is going to talk about her wonderful book Blame              rush, the adrenaline and the rollercoaster of what it
my Brain.                                                        is like to be a teenager. Teenagers get that every 10
  We have all been teenagers. Many of you have                   to 15 minutes—perhaps those of you who are that
teenagers and many of us work with teenagers. For                age can confirm that.
whatever reason, the focus on the teenage years                     It was the emphasis on remembering what it felt
and the problems that families of teenagers face—                like, rather than just concentrating on our adult likes,
and that teenagers face with their families—are                  that really struck me about Jill Hinds‟ presentation.
highlighted at the moment. It is fair to say that there          The second thing that impressed me was her
is enormous pressure on teenagers, their families                emphasis on encouragement. Parenting teenagers is
and their teachers to try to get it right. There is also a       a difficult occupation. Teenagers know us inside out;
fantastic amount of help—television programmes,                  they know our weak points and they know how to
articles and books—floating around. Not all of them              highlight them to maximum effect and usually for
are particularly intelligent or helpful. However, I read         maximum publicity. It is very exposing to be the
these two books and I found them absolutely                      parent of a teenager. I recommend that we
wonderful. I wish I‟d had them when my children                  encourage teenagers, but the parents of teenagers
were teenagers, although in a funny way they work                also need encouragement.
for relationships with all sorts of people. I
recommend them to you highly.                                      Another thing that struck me was Jill‟s emphasis
                                                                 on the positive side of being a teenager. I don‟t know
  Blame my Brain is about the science that lies                  how the younger people in the audience feel about it,
behind the things that happen in teenage                         but there is such a lot of negativity about teenagers.
development and Whatever! is an excellent,                       There seems to be a huge blame culture. People
straightforward, commonsense and very enlightening               think that anybody wearing a hoody is planning to
set of strategies. Alison will speak first, and then             knife you, but it seems to me that there are so many
Nicola. After that, we will have some time for                   good, positive things about being a teenager. I love
questions from the audience. Please join me in                   my teenagers‟ sense of humour and their acuity—the
giving Nicola Morgan and Alison Baverstock a very                way they can get to the essence of something. I also
warm welcome. [Applause.]                                        love the way they are honest. They haven‟t fudged
  Alison Baverstock: Thank you. It‟s lovely to be                their values in the way that a lot of adults have.
here. As Diane mentioned, my book came out of a                    We need to think about parenting teenagers in
chance meeting. I went along to a seminar about                  perspective. Teenagers need boundaries to kick
drugs awareness that was organised in my eldest

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against and it is very important that those boundaries              We need to change the method through which we
are there. A lot of the workshops that Jill has done             communicate. Sometimes that means changing the
with young people have shown that teenagers are                  time at which we communicate. I know that I don‟t
asking for boundaries and that boundaries equal                  respond terribly well if I have questions fired at me
love. If you are cared about enough for boundaries               first thing in the morning, but later in the day it can
to be set up, it shows that you are loved.                       be better. We can use the same model with teenage
                                                                 children. If you fire questions at them the moment
   Jill has done lots of workshops and we built the
                                                                 the door opens and they walk through the front
book around them. I provided the structure. We
                                                                 door—“How was your day? Have you done your
came up with a list of subjects that we thought
                                                                 coursework? Did you see so-and-so?”—it just
should be in the book, then we brainstormed. Each
                                                                 doesn‟t work. On the other hand, if you wait until
chapter is based on a discussion of an issue, then
                                                                 they‟ve had some toast or half an hour‟s television,
there is an empathy exercise like the one that I just
                                                                 you can sometimes get a much more sympathetic
tried out with you. At least half of each chapter is an
                                                                 response.
agony aunt section with questions and answers. A
lot of the questions were asked at the workshop but                Again, the mechanism has to change. When my
we made some of them up ourselves. I hope that                   children were very little, bath time was a brilliant time
that means that the book is easy to read and easy to             for talking about what had gone on during the day.
pick up and put down. When I‟m looking through my                With a teenager, the door is firmly shut and that
daughter‟s teenage magazines I always turn to the                mechanism is no longer available to you, so you
question and answer pages first.                                 have to find a different time to communicate. Driving
                                                                 is a good time for talking because there‟s no eye
  We came up with a list of 10 top tips, which I will
                                                                 contact.
share with you now to give you a sense of what is in
the book. They work, no matter which section of the                The third point is that you should learn to
book you are reading. The first tip is “talk, don‟t tell”.       recognise and express your own feelings, and not
That is fundamental. The equipment that you need in              just anger. Teenagers often say, “My parents are
order to parent teenagers is very different from what            always angry”, whereas the parents are feeling a
you need when your children are little. The business             whole range of complicated emotions. It might be
of telling them what to do doesn‟t work any longer.              anger but it might be concern or it could be jealousy,
We are trying to guide them and produce young                    frankly—I don‟t know about other people here, but I‟d
people who are able to make decisions when we‟re                 quite like a gap year. We need to recognise which
not there, so we have to move on from the model of               emotion we are feeling and articulate it better. If we
me telling you what to do and you doing it. If you talk          articulate how we‟re feeling, it helps them to do the
to people in bullet points, they don‟t listen. It just           same thing.
sounds like you‟re nagging, and nagging doesn‟t
                                                                   The fourth tip is to wait before you speak. That‟s a
work. With my own kids, I found that discussing
                                                                 brilliant tip. If you wait before you speak, you show
things and maybe telling them an anecdote of things
                                                                 that you‟re listening. In developing a relationship,
that I did or didn‟t do as a child tended to stick in the
                                                                 there‟s nothing more seductive than showing that
memory. Anecdotes work. Talking rather than telling
                                                                 you‟re listening. That means sometimes allowing
is an important starting point.
                                                                 them to have the last word. I know that‟s infuriating,
  The second point is that you shouldn‟t expect                  but at the end of a passionate description of why
teenagers to get your viewpoint. We‟ve all been                  they think you‟re being totally unreasonable it is
teenagers but they haven‟t been parents—that is a                sometimes good to say, “Yes, okay, I hear you.”
fundamental point. We‟re vastly better at seeing
                                                                   The next point is negotiate and be flexible. I now
long-term outcomes, whereas most teenagers just
                                                                 write full time, but when I had a full-time job I found it
want to get on and watch The Simpsons. Often,
                                                                 much more difficult to accept things if people just
when we pick a particular time to discuss something,
                                                                 imposed solutions on me rather than asking me to
we give them far too much information. We say,
                                                                 take part in the discussion. It is important to show
“Have you done your coursework? Your coursework
                                                                 that you‟re listening and allowing them to help shape
is a fundamental part of your GCSEs. If you don‟t get
                                                                 the discussion, although the bottom line is that
your GCSEs, you won‟t get to do the A levels you
                                                                 you‟re their parent and not their best friend. That‟s
want to do. If you don‟t get your A levels, you won‟t
                                                                 an important distinction. We shouldn‟t allow the two
get to the university you want to go to. If you don‟t do
                                                                 roles to blur.
that, you won‟t get a decent job.” We can see this
spiral of life going out of control, but all they want to          Try to forget that you know best. I know that‟s
do is to watch The Simpsons.                                     difficult. It‟s such a shame that all the learning from
                                                                 awful experiences that we had in the past—maybe

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having too much to drink or accepting dodgy lifts—                 My final point is that you should empathise. Nicola
won‟t do for our children, but it really won‟t. The best         is going to talk about the brain structure and about
way to learn is by making mistakes, getting things               what happens, but empathy is something that we
wrong, understanding what choices you could have                 learn. It is not innate. We learn it through being
made in their place and thinking about how to do                 shown how to do it. One of the best ways to do that
things differently next time. You can learn some                 is perhaps to watch soap operas together. I have
things just by being told—that is probably how most              watched Neighbours with my various children over
of us learned the capital cities of Europe—but I don‟t           the years and we discussed what happened to the
think that the equipment you need for making good                characters: “How do think they feel about that? What
decisions in life is one of them.                                do you think they might do next? What are the
                                                                 strategies that they might choose?” That‟s a brilliant
  Your young person has a point of view and it can
                                                                 way of talking about what options are available and
be very different from yours. My parents‟ generation
                                                                 what might happen next. Empathy is not there
saw their function as being to pour all their
                                                                 automatically. You have to make it work.
information, values and opinions into me, as a willing
vessel, but children and young people inevitably look               I‟ll make two final points before I hand over to
for a way to differentiate themselves from their                 Nicola. First, parenting teenagers takes time, which
parents. That‟s absolutely fine—it‟s what they have              is the one thing that we‟re really short of in the
to do. That‟s why you get hippy parents who produce              modern world. Secondly, the business of talking to
young William Hague and incredibly straight-laced                people, learning to communicate better and
parents who produce hippies. It‟s just part of the               managing discussions better is time consuming, but
process of differentiation. If they can‟t separate               it is worth it. I want to read you a quotation from the
themselves from us, we‟re not doing our job                      final interview that John Peel gave just before he
properly.                                                        died. He was interviewed by a student newspaper,
                                                                 and this is what he said:
  The next point is that family life is no picnic. I think
that‟s very true. I expect that most of us have had                 “As for how John wanted to be remembered, he knew exactly
                                                                 the answer to that one. „As quite a good Dad,‟ he replied without
family photos taken at a key stage. We‟ve got lovely
                                                                 thinking. „Before you have children you think you know exactly
images of mother, father, assorted children and                  what to do and how they are going to be and how you are going to
maybe a dog as well. Sometimes we look at those                  be with them. But from the moment they emerge from the womb,
images as a sort of challenge to the teenage life,               you can forget all that.
where most of the experience is somebody                            „They simply aren't going to conform with your notions of what
slamming a door and disappearing. We‟ve grown up                 they should be. The fact is that our four children seem to like us
with images of the Oxo family and the people on the              and they also seem to like each other immensely, which is really
                                                                 nice.‟
side of the Persil box. Actually, family life is no picnic
for a lot of the time. It can be full of conflict and              When I asked if that was more important to him than any of the
difficulties, yet there is no safer place in which to try        media and broadcasting stuff he does, he said simply: „Oh yes.
                                                                 Absolutely.‟”
out strategies for how to live with people and
negotiate with them. The family is a great asset for a             Thank you very much. [Applause.]
young person to have.
                                                                   Nicola Morgan: Good evening, everybody. It‟s
  One of the most important strategies for keeping               lovely to see so many of you here, parents and
that sense of family is eating together. Psychologists           teenagers. Are there any parents here who didn‟t
have done lots of reports that show that families that           bring their teenagers with them and left them at
eat together communicate better and, in the long                 home? You took a big risk doing that. British
run, produce more adjusted children.                             teenagers cause £314 million worth of damage every
                                                                 year when their parents leave them at home.
  Showing them that you love them can‟t be
                                                                 [Laughter.]
overestimated. It‟s tremendously important, but it
doesn‟t just mean money. It also means time,                       Alison and I met this time last year. She read an
showing them that you value their company, taking                article that I had written for The Scotsman and for
them out for a coffee in town when you‟re shopping               some reason, which I don‟t really want to ask her
together to show that even though you will have to               about, she recognised me from my rather fearsome
pay for an extra hour‟s parking you want to talk to              photo in the paper. I‟m really not happy about that.
them. Over the years, I‟ve found that little, thoughtful         We got chatting and, as authors do, we mentioned
presents have far more impact than larger ones—                  that we were writing books. We discovered
remembering to buy my daughter tights when she‟s                 immediately that the two books that we were writing
gone through every pair of mine always seems to get              complement each other extraordinarily well.
a good response.                                                 Listening to Alison today, I realised that even more.

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She tells you what to do and I tell you why it                       because knowledge is power. If you have a teenager
happens. Those two things gel together very nicely                   who is giving you some grief and behaving badly, it
and they are pretty much all you need to know.                       is easy to assume that you have bred someone who
                                                                     is mad, bad or a monster or that they hate you, or
  Before I start, I give an apology and a caution. I am
                                                                     even that they are a mad, bad monster who hates
going to be using some generalisations. I have to
                                                                     you. But once you learn that much of their behaviour
apologise for that because generalisations can be
                                                                     can be explained by something that is physical,
very irritating, especially when you are the victim.
                                                                     temporary, inevitable and universal—something that
Some teenagers might be annoyed by the
                                                                     has positive reasons behind it and good evolutionary
generalisations that I am going to make. I was
                                                                     causes—that takes the pressure off. You lose some
reading a survey in the paper the other day—you
                                                                     of the emotional grief that you feel when your
might have read it too. It was a survey that is quite
                                                                     teenager is giving you a hard time and you find
often repeated, where people from various European
                                                                     yourself able to walk away from arguments. Since I
countries are asked to say what they think about
                                                                     did the research and wrote the book I have not had a
people from other European countries. Inevitably, as
                                                                     big argument with one of my daughters, even though
usual, the main thing that people from other
                                                                     I had been having arguments with her before. I don‟t
European countries said about the British was that
                                                                     think that that‟s because she just grew up; she‟s still
we are uptight and we do not like to show emotion.
                                                                     not quite 16 and she still does the same stuff, but
When I read that, I felt really angry. I was furious, but
                                                                     because I know what‟s going on in her brain I just
I managed to keep it in. [Laughter.]
                                                                     don‟t get so angry. It really does help.
  The second caution is that we often vilify and
                                                                        Some people think that the whole idea of
demonise teenagers. We almost expect them to do
                                                                     teenagers and the way they behave is quite modern
bad things—Alison mentioned that—but we must
                                                                     and that it is something that we invented for
remember that we behave badly sometimes as well.
                                                                     ourselves. They think, “Maybe it‟s a marketing thing
I have been known, on occasion, to behave
                                                                     and something that we invented when we started to
emotionally or unreasonably. I cannot deny that,
                                                                     talk about teenagers in the 1960s. It‟s all our fault
since my husband is in the audience. I would like to
                                                                     that teenagers are like this. If we just told them to
deny it, but I can‟t. Of course, he behaves
                                                                     shut up and do what they were told, they wouldn‟t be
completely reasonably all the time.
                                                                     teenagers.” I fundamentally disagree with that. In
  Just to show you that I don‟t believe that teenagers               literature throughout all cultures, people have talked
behave badly all the time, I did a Google search on                  about the behaviour of teenagers. Aristotle talked
the words “teenage hero”. I came up with about                       about their boiled brains, and there‟s a wonderful
450,000 entries but most of them were about                          quote from Shakespeare‟s The Winter’s Tale. One of
teenage mutant ninja turtles. I refined it and I came                the characters says:
up with some positive role models for teenagers,                       “I would there were no age between ten and three-and-
such as:                                                             twenty”—
  Teenager saves cat.                                                  He actually has quite a long period of adolescence
  Teenage hero wins bravery award.                                   there—
  Teenage hero saves children.                                         “or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the
                                                                     between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry,
  I owe my life to a teenage hero.                                   stealing, fighting".
  Teenager saves pregnant boss.
                                                                     Shakespeare wrote that a few hundred years ago, so
I‟m not quite sure how that happened. My favourite                   I don‟t think that teenagers‟ behaviour is something
one, which I told my daughter just before she did her                that we created for ourselves. It is physical and
GCSE biology revision, is:                                           natural.
  Teenager saves father‟s life by using GCSE biology revision.         Also, interestingly, it is not just humans who have
As you can imagine, her response to that was,                        brain changes in adolescence. Other mammals have
“Whatever.”                                                          them too. Quite recently, scientists have investigated
                                                                     rats and monkeys and their brains go through many
   Writing my book Blame my Brain changed me.                        of the same physical changes. They display many of
That sounds like quite a dramatic statement. I would                 the same behaviours as adolescent humans, even to
like to be able to say that it changed me into a                     the extent of sleeping for different hours, hanging out
wonderful and calm person but my husband is in the                   with their friends and being aggressive to their
room so I won‟t get away with that. However, doing                   parents. Maybe they even swear—who knows?
the research did completely change me as a parent

                                                                 4
  So, what is a teenager? A teenager is not                   together—that is, how many connections there are
necessarily someone who is aged between 13 and                and how strong they are. For example, the jury is still
19. Physically, teenagers start at least 11 or 12 and         out, but Einstein‟s brain probably had fewer nerve
sometimes even 10, so Shakespeare got that right.             cells than the average and some parts were
Also, the brain has does finish its adolescent                probably smaller than the average brain.
development until the mid 20s so, extraordinarily,
                                                                The other thing you need to know about is called
Shakespeare got that right as well. However, in
                                                              the three-year myth. Until a few years ago, scientists
general terms, we as parents tend to think that a
                                                              thought that babies were born with pretty much all
teenage is someone from about 11 to about 17 or
                                                              the neurons they were ever going to have, that by
18, when they leave home. (You need The Leaving
                                                              the age of three people certainly had all the neurons
Home Survival Guide for that.)
                                                              they were ever going to have, that by the age of six
   I do not define teenagehood as a set of                    people had all the connections they would ever
behaviours, because teenagers behave in different             have, and that from then on it was downhill all the
ways. I define teenagehood as two things: a stage of          way. When scientists were able to look into healthy
life and a state of brain. I‟m not going to talk much         adolescent brains, the main thing that they were
about the stage of life, but that includes things like        surprised about is that there are other stages,
the exams that they have to go through. Alison                particularly adolescence, at which there is huge
mentioned the pressure of being told, “You‟ve got to          growth. During adolescence, billions of extra nerve
achieve in this exam. If you don‟t, you won‟t get into        cells and trillions of extra connections are produced.
university, and if you don‟t get into university your         Some scientists say that the upheaval in the brain
whole life is going to be ruined.” In addition to those       during the teenage years is the greatest since the
pressures, there are body changes, physical                   age of two—you know what we say about the terrible
changes, social pressures and pressures from                  twos—and the greatest that people will experience
advertising. All those things affect teenagers but they       until death.
do not affect younger children or adults in the same
                                                                The other thing that you need to know about is the
way.
                                                              prefrontal cortex, which is the bit at the front of your
  It is the state of brain that I mostly want to talk         head. It is dangerous to talk about one particular part
about today. Blame my Brain is based on the                   of the brain dealing with one particular function, but
scientific discoveries that have been made quite              in general the cortex is where the really clever stuff
recently on the nature of the adolescent brain                happens. Some people have described it as the part
through the use of a relatively new technique called          that makes us human. It is the part that allows us to
functional magnetic resonance imaging. That                   predict consequences, to make judgments and
technique is important because it is non-invasive and         decisions, to create moral and ethical judgments, to
non-harmful, unlike all the previous ways of looking          have a conscience and to control our emotions. In
at the human brain, which were both invasive and              thinking about the teenage brain, the important point
harmful. In fact, in some cases you had to be dead            is that that is the part of the brain that wires itself up
before they could examine your brain. With                    last and which goes through the greatest physical
functional magnetic resonance imaging scientists              upheaval.
can look at what a normal, healthy brain is doing
                                                                There are three stages to the development of the
while the person is conscious, fully awake and doing
                                                              brain in adolescence. At the beginning of puberty,
something. That means that scientists can see which
                                                              usually before you know that puberty is happening,
parts of the brain are being used at a particular time.
                                                              there is huge growth in the number of brain cells, as
  What they discovered when they looked at healthy            I mentioned before. All the growth happens at the
adolescent brains really surprised them. In order to          beginning of puberty, then in the middle of
explain that, I need to give you a brief biology              adolescence there is a massive pruning back of all
lesson. Those of you who are my age and did O                 the brain cells that are not being used. The brain
level biology but are worried that you might have             works on a use it or lose it basis. On the one hand,
forgotten it should not worry because it has all              that is good news because it means that during
changed since then anyway. We now know new                    adolescence you can become brilliant at the things
things about the brain. The basic things that you             you do. On the other hand, it‟s bad news, because
need to know are that your brain is made up of                you lose what you don‟t use. Although we now know
billions of nerve cells called neurons, which are             that you can grow new brain cells and develop skills
connected together. It is not the number of neurons           later on, adolescence is the best time to do it
or the size of your brain that makes the difference           because that‟s when it is happening anyway.
and determines whether you can do things or not.
The important thing is how well they are connected

                                                          5
  The final and most positive stage of brain                    at a talk it failed spectacularly, either because it‟s a
development in adolescence happens at 15, 16, 17                lousy experiment or because the group of people I
and onwards. Everything is starting to wire up and              was talking to, although they were supposed to be
teenagers become able to use their prefrontal cortex            adults, perhaps still had adolescent brains. They
really well. That‟s when they start to be able to make          were school librarians. What happens is that you‟re
strong moral and ethical judgments of their own.                asked to look at a photograph of a woman‟s face.
Previously, they might think they know whether                  She‟s showing a particular emotion. I won‟t say what
something is right or wrong but it is based on what             it is because that would spoil it when you come to do
somebody has told them or on whether they were                  it in the book. All you have to do is to say what
going to get a punishment for it. It is only in late            emotion the woman is feeling. To me, it‟s very
adolescence that they can start to discuss things and           obvious. When the photo was shown to a load of
make their own ethical judgments because that‟s                 adults and a load of adolescents, all the adults got it
when the prefrontal cortex is properly wired up.                right and a significant number of the adolescents got
                                                                it wrong. That is only slightly interesting. What is
  Blame my Brain has six chapters and each chapter
                                                                much more interesting is the fact that all the
tackles an area of behaviour. I said that being a
                                                                adolescents who got it wrong were using the wrong
teenager isn‟t defined by behaviour but it seemed to
                                                                part of their brain. They were only using the
me that there were six things I wanted to talk about.
                                                                amygdala—gut emotion and gut reaction—whereas
They are things that we think we know about
                                                                the adults and the adolescents who got it right, who
teenagers. I wanted to see how the brain can explain
                                                                tended to be the older ones, were using two parts of
them. The chapters start off with a physical scene. I
                                                                their brain, the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.
put my novelist‟s hat on and I write a little story.
They‟re all funny except for one which is sad,                     Alison mentioned that teenagers may not realise
because there‟s a chapter on depression, addiction              that what you are feeling is anger, sadness or
and the downside. They are meant to be funny                    whatever. Maybe those teenagers, like the
scenes where you see a teenager behaving in a                   adolescents in the experiment, are not using the
particular way and an adult behaving in a particular            right part of their brain. Now, it‟s not their fault. You
way towards them. I go on to explain what is going              can‟t control which part of the brain you use, but if
on in the brain.                                                we realise that their brain is not yet working in the
                                                                proper way—it‟s not that there‟s something wrong
  The book was written for teenagers. It talks about
                                                                with it, it‟s just that it‟s not wired up properly yet—it is
their brains more than it talks about the adolescent
                                                                hardly surprising that they sometimes make a
brain. I think that parents will be equally interested in
                                                                mistake and interpret our concern as anger, nagging
reading the book but it was written for teenagers to
                                                                or something like that.
help them to understand their own brains.
                                                                   Sleep is interesting. We all know that teenagers
  I won‟t be able to mention something from all the
                                                                like to get up late in the morning and go to bed late
chapters but I thought I‟d mention a few things that
                                                                at night. Some people might think that that‟s
are particularly interesting. The first chapter is on
                                                                because we let them stay up and that we shouldn‟t.
emotion. It is a bit of a cliché that teenagers tend to
                                                                Those people might think that we should tell them,
be more emotional than people of other ages,
                                                                “Go to bed at half past 9 or 10 o‟clock, then you‟ll
although, as I said, I can occasionally be emotional
                                                                feel better in the morning and you‟ll be able to do
myself. What is going on in the teenage brain in
                                                                your schoolwork.” That is not the case. Research
relation to emotion? It‟s interesting. One of the parts
                                                                shows that 9 or 10-year-old children have the same
of the brain that we use when we process and feel
                                                                sleep needs as adults but that teenagers have
emotion is the amygdala. It is a small, very old part
                                                                different sleep needs. On average, they need nine
of the brain that is very deep inside. All other animals
                                                                and a quarter hours‟ sleep, whereas 9 or 10-year-old
have it—not only mammals but reptiles as well. It is
                                                                children and adults need about 8 hours‟ sleep. Also,
gut reaction, gut emotion, instinct, anger, fury and
                                                                adolescents‟ internal body clock—their circadian
fear. It is where your fight or flight response comes
                                                                rhythms—are different. That is the same in
from, so it is very raw emotion. The other part of the
                                                                mammals. Adolescent monkeys‟ sleep patterns
brain that we usually use when we process emotion
                                                                change. The body clock in their brain turns on and
is the prefrontal cortex. That‟s the bit that controls
                                                                off at different times compared with adults and
the emotion.
                                                                younger children. Again, it‟s a physical thing.
  An experiment was done, and I repeat it in the
                                                                  Risk-taking is another interesting thing. We know
brain book. I‟d like to be able to do it here, but I‟m
                                                                that some teenagers—not all, but some—take risks
not allowed to reproduce the photograph anywhere
                                                                and do silly things. They know they shouldn‟t do
except in the book. Also, on the one occasion I did it
                                                                them and that they might get into trouble but they‟re

                                                            6
not thinking about what might happen the next day.               Nicola Morgan: It was the same with me. My
They are thinking only about the fact that they want           teenagers are also not here so I can say what I like. I
to do it now. Again, research has shown that there is          didn‟t consult them. Obviously, you can‟t consult
different physical stuff going on in a teenager‟s brain        someone about their own brain anyway. One of my
when they are taking risks or thinking about that.             teenagers is what you might call a very stereotypical
                                                               teenager—lots of emotion and lots of risk taking—
  Taking risks is very important. We all need to do it.
                                                               and the other one isn‟t. I was trying to write
The human race would not be where it is today if we
                                                               something objective and scientific, so it would have
had not taken risks. We would still be in our trees or
                                                               been a mistake to use them too much anyway. As
caves. We need to take risks to be successful on an
                                                               with Alison, they‟re embarrassed having a mother
individual basis and as a society. Obviously,
                                                               who writes books anyway, so I wouldn‟t bother them
teenagers sometimes do it a bit too much and get
                                                               by asking.
into a bit more trouble. Again, scientific research has
shown that teenagers‟ brains sometimes respond                   Alison Baverstock: The one area in which I did
differently to risk. Teenagers sometimes require               use my children was the title. The publisher wanted
more risk stimulus in order to feel satisfaction. A part       a title that would make people in bookshops smile.
of the brain called the right ventral striatum has been        We went through and made a list of all the phrases
shown to be less active in some teenagers, which               that are used around the house: “This house is not a
may mean that it needs more of the thrill-seeking              hotel”, “Because I said so”, “You‟re not going out
chemical dopamine to achieve the sensation of thrill           dressed like that.” It was my son who came up with
that we all need if something is to be exciting and            Whatever!, so he was consulted on that.
interesting. Again, there is a possible physical cause.
                                                                 I am interested in what Alison said about having
  That‟s all I‟m going to say about the book, except           conversations in the car. They are obviously not
that each chapter has a little quiz at the end. I say to       heated conversations. If I understood correctly, you
the adults that the quizzes are not for you. They‟re           said that there is no eye contact in the car. That
for adolescents. I keep hearing about adults who               seems to go against the rules in adult
have picked up the book and gone straight to the               communication, where you must have eye contact.
quizzes, but they‟re not for you!
                                                                  Alison Baverstock: You‟ve drawn out a really
  The title Blame my Brain is tongue-in-cheek. You             important point. As adults, we think that people
can blame your brain for all sorts of things—I                 aren‟t listening to us if they don‟t look at us, but that‟s
frequently blame my brain for things like bad                  not how adolescents communicate. They like to text,
memory—but I don‟t think it‟s an excuse. It‟s an               with short messages and no eye contact at all. It
explanation, and that‟s as far as you can go. I am not         always seems to me that a longish car journey is a
saying to teenagers that the brain is an excuse for all        good time to talk, provided it isn‟t every time. If you
their behaviour and feelings, but it‟s an explanation          start heavy conversations every time you step in the
and I think that it helps. It helped me as a parent and        car they‟ll soon decide they‟d rather walk or take the
I hope that it will help you, as teenagers, as well.           bus, which is quite an unusual thing for teenagers to
Thank you. [Applause.]                                         do. A car journey is a good time to talk, particularly
                                                               on a long journey and particularly if you allow
                                                               silences in a conversation so that they can gaze out
  Questions from the audience.                                 of the window if they want to. Mind you, I have a very
                                                               good friend who has three sons and the facts of life
  How much did you consult your own children while
                                                               talk became known in this family as the M4 chat.
you were writing the books? How much influence did
they have on what you wrote?                                      Another good way of communicating is learning to
                                                               text. That‟s really important. My kids can receive a
   Alison Baverstock: That‟s an interesting
                                                               text from me and they don‟t have to say that it‟s their
question. My teenagers aren‟t here. They‟ve chosen
                                                               mother who is contacting them, whereas if I rang
to go off and watch some comedy. I think it‟s quite
                                                               them on their mobile phone while they‟re with their
embarrassing having your mother writing a book
                                                               friends it‟s embarrassing to be called by their mum.
about how to bring up teenagers. There are no
surprises in the book; it is very much about the way             Where do       you    get   your   information    about
I‟ve parented. I consulted them on some of the little          teenagers?
exercises and we talked through certain issues, but
                                                                 Nicola Morgan: All the research on the teenage
in general I did the writing and they read it
                                                               brain comes from America. At the moment, there is
afterwards.
                                                               nothing coming out from the UK, or nothing that I
                                                               have found. Three eminent UK scientists helped me

                                                           7
with the book by reading it and they liked the idea           as I said. It does not help children to understand
behind it but they are not researching the teenage            their parents because it is about the teenage brain. If
brain. They are neuroscientists and psychologists.            you went to a publisher and suggested a book to
All the research is coming out of the American                help teenagers to understand their parents, you‟d get
universities and you get it from them on the internet.        a very short answer with two letters in it rather than
                                                              three.
  Alison Baverstock: My information on teenagers
came from the many workshops that Jill Hinds runs               Alison Baverstock: It is not true that there are lots
with teenagers. She fed in information about what             of books about how to get on with your teenager.
teenagers of all sorts of backgrounds and ages think.         There are hundreds of books on how to bring up a
The book is very well researched.                             baby—lots of people buy books at that stage. I
                                                              struggled to find a publisher who would take the
 You said that he brain develops at different ages.
                                                              book on. It‟s not true that there is lots of advice. A lot
Does it change between genders?
                                                              of people think that you can carry on parenting in the
  Nicola Morgan: That‟s an interesting question. In           same way, but if you parent a teenager in the same
the book, there‟s a whole chapter on gender                   way as a toddler it just doesn‟t work.
differences. There are differences between boys and
                                                                Diana Hope: Recently, in The Independent or The
girls from birth and we sometimes increase them by
                                                              Observer—I think it was The Observer—a group of
behaving differently towards them. The differences
                                                              teenagers had a weekly column. They took
certainly become more pronounced during
                                                              questions and reached a consensus about how they
adolescence because of extra differences between
                                                              would deal with things. They gave advice to other
the genders in the things that the brain does. For
                                                              teenagers and to parents. When I read it I thought
example, the cerebellum is a part of the brain that is
                                                              that a lot of the advice was spectacularly bad, but of
largely involved in activity and movement and it
                                                              course that‟s the way it would be.
grows faster in adolescent boys than in girls. That
may mean nothing or it may mean something, but                  Alison Baverstock: There are also books aimed
the fact is that is grows faster.                             at children, like Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal
                                                              Snogging, which is a sort of Bridget Jones’ Diary for
  The differences are not huge but they are
                                                              teenagers. When you read that, you understand that
significant and they may contribute to the fact that
                                                              teenagers know rather more about their parents than
girls and boys turn out differently, although we also
                                                              we think they do.
treat them differently, as do the press, adverts and
so on. I‟m not condemning that because I don‟t think             The gender issue gets complicated. I’ve got two
we can help it. It is natural that we treat boys and          teenage boys and it’s fine accepting their moving
girls differently. There are differences between              away and not wanting to identify particularly with the
males and females in all animals and it would be              mother and if they have a good father figure that’s
extraordinary if there was no difference in humans.           fine, but as a parent it’s difficult to understand the
The difference is brain-based but we increase it by           differences between general growing up, moving into
the things that we do.                                        depression or general teenage hormonal changes. I
                                                              was a bit frightened by the comment about how we
  Alison Baverstock: When I read Nicola‟s book, it
                                                              show them that we love them and that we can’t just
really rang a bell, given the things that had been
                                                              leave it down to giving them extra money. If it’s come
going on in my family and the ages at which my
                                                              to that, it’s quite frightening that we can express
children shot ahead and there had been particular
                                                              ourselves only through giving more to buy more
developments.
                                                              things. They certainly don’t want any physical
  The books seem to be written for parents to                 contact—that’s well and truly behind us. I hope that
approach children. In a way, that is a bit defensive.         your books will offer the lifeline and show the way
Is there anything in the books to tell children how           that allows parents to show teenagers that they love
they can understand their parents? I’m not sure I’m           them without being too invasive and for them to
making myself understood. You are developing                  understand what their parents are trying to get at in
theories about how to approach children, but what             the way they bring them up. Do you think that the
should children do to understand why their parents            two books almost have to be read together?
are the way they are?
                                                                Alison Baverstock: They complement each other
  Nicola Morgan: Do you think they want to?                   very well. I agree with you entirely. If love comes
                                                              down to being expressed purely through money, that
  Well, it’s a bit one-sided, to me.
                                                              is a real problem. Love is probably best expressed
  Nicola Morgan: Alison‟s book is a parenting book            through time, isn‟t it? There is a lot of concern in
so inevitably it is for parents. Mine is for teenagers,       schools about the number of parents who work all

                                                          8
the time and the caring is delegated to others or not             Nicola Morgan: No. When you write novels for
done at all.                                                    teenagers and children the main aim is normally to
                                                                get the teenagers or children away from their parents
  We worry about who will look after the children
                                                                so that they can do something exciting enough to be
when they‟re tiny, but teenagers need time too. They
                                                                written about in a novel. I haven‟t tackled family
need to be talked to and listened to. Just because
                                                                relationships at all; all my novels involve a young
they‟re beyond the age at which, legally, there must
                                                                person who is on their own for some reason.
be somebody at home with them, that does not
absolve us of the responsibility to make sure that                The main conflict in my family at the moment is to
there is somebody there to listen.                              do with curfews. It is always me and my older sister
                                                                versus my parents. Do you have any views on
  Nicola Morgan: It‟s a question of being there for
                                                                curfews?
them, even if they won‟t allow you to show love at
the time and they don‟t want the physical contact.                Alison Baverstock: I think it‟s a good idea to
They know things deeply that they may not show                  achieve them through negotiation, but having heard
that they know. If you have shown them that you                 about the impact of sleep on the brain perhaps they
love them they will know that even if they do not               should be based on negotiation plus the information
seem to know it. At the end of it all, when they come           in the chapter about how much sleep teenagers
out and their prefrontal cortex is all wired in properly,       need.
they will remember.
                                                                   Nicola Morgan: Curfews are important and
  Diana Hope: As Alison says in the excellent                   negotiating them is important. It is important for the
introduction to her book, eating together is very               young person to know that the reason the parent is
important. That is true of teenagers in schools and in          setting a curfew is because they care about the
the home. Making time for something as solid and                young person‟s physical safety and mental health,
good as that is essential. Do any of the teenagers              the things that might happen to them and whether
here want to say something about that? How do you               they are going to be too tired in the morning. I‟m
feel about family meals? Do you hate them or do you             smiling because I‟ve had those arguments with my
look forward to them? Would you rather take your                older teenager and I‟m having them with my younger
food up to your room? It‟s very embarrassing being              one, who argues that the older one is going out until
asked—I‟m sorry.                                                a certain time so why can‟t she, as there‟s only two
                                                                years difference. Then they challenge me to
  Personally, I don’t get to eat with my family very
                                                                remember the curfew for the older one. They tell me
much because I dance competitively five days a
                                                                it was a certain time but I don‟t remember because
week. For me, it is a big, exciting thing to eat with my
                                                                I‟ve got a middle-aged brain and my memory is
family. I like to spend time with them and find out
                                                                rubbish.
what’s going on. I like to eat dinner with my family
but I know other teenagers who don’t.                             The bottom line is that we negotiate the curfew.
                                                                They say a time; I say a different time; they say my
  Diana Hope: Thank you.
                                                                time is rubbish; I say their time is rubbish, and we
  Did you look at the impact of non-conventional or             meet somewhere in the middle. But I always knew
single parent families on teenage development,                  we were going to meet in the middle, so when I set
perhaps where there is an absent father or he is                my rubbish time it was a very early time because I
working away and commuting weekly? Did you                      knew it wouldn‟t be agreed. We negotiate it. It is
discover anything about that?                                   always a bit earlier than I said and a bit later than I
                                                                said. If she breaks it, it will be earlier the next week.
  Alison Baverstock: We looked at strategies for
                                                                We have a bit of an argument about it each time, but
plugging gaps. If a single mother is bringing up                she knows that the negotiation has taken place in
children on her own, how can she bring in help and
                                                                her best interests and that that‟s the way it is.
other voices? If a child is getting one single
perspective all the time it‟s a good idea to bring in             I also give it to her from my side. I say, “Look, if
other perspectives too, so we looked at a lot of                you come in at two or three in the morning, you‟re
strategies to do that.                                          going to wake me up. I‟ve got to work in the morning
                                                                as well. We are a family, so we‟ve got to work
  Nicola Morgan: I don‟t think there is anything
                                                                together.” Tough love—that‟s what it‟s called.
about the teenage brain that I can help with there.
                                                                  Diana Hope: The other issue that always comes
  Diana Hope: Are you conscious of including solid,
                                                                up is how unreasonable one‟s parents are in
good practice in your novels for teenagers?
                                                                comparison with everybody else‟s parents. I‟ve often
                                                                found that a bit of comparison is a good strategy. My

                                                            9
daughter will discuss with her friends at school how
unreasonable I am, but I sometimes chat with her
friends‟ mothers and there is usually a working
through. But the very act of setting up boundaries
gives teenagers something to kick against, and that
is part of the process of growing up that teenagers
need to do. I think teenagers are all advocates in the
making.
  Nicola Morgan: Some parents may set
unreasonable boundaries. I hope that you get
reasonable ones and I hope that you argue a bit,
because that‟s what you‟re meant to do. Parents are
meant to nag and teenagers are meant to fight—
that‟s the way of it.
  The book Whatever! suggests a swear box, but
that wouldn’t work in my family because my mum
swears all the time. She tells me off when I swear
but then she swears.
  Alison Baverstock: A swear box can work, but it
is very important that the money isn‟t redistributed
for a trip to the cinema or a takeaway, otherwise
there is an incentive to swear.
  Diana Hope: It has been an excellent session.
Alison and Nicola will be signing copies of their
books in the book tent next door after the event.
Alison is also doing two events at the Book Festival
tomorrow. One is on whether you have a book in you
and the other is about how to market yourself as a
writer. Nicola is doing two workshops tomorrow but
they are fully booked so you will have to wait until
next year.
  Please join me in thanking Alison and Nicola for an
informative and interesting session. [Applause.]




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