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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 1 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 2 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. 3 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.] 10
"Edinburgh International Book Festival Adolescence Alison "