THE MUM: Barbara Scully
IT’S easy to find books of advice for parenting babies and toddlers. Bookshops are full of them. Books on parenting teenagers are thinner on the ground. There is probably good reason for that. Teenagers are tricky. Very tricky.
As mother to three daughters, two of whom are teenagers, when I found a book called Shine – A Girl’s Guide To Thriving (Not Just Surviving) in Real Life, I grabbed it with both hands and ransacked it greedily.
Shine is cleverly laid out in short sections with bullet points and philosophical quotes, and is liberally sprinkled with curly script and flowery symbols. I am girly enough to appreciate its feminine charm.
At first glance, the book, written by a teacher and a guidance counsellor, seems to be a healthy mix of the serious and frivolous.
It has sections on friendships, sex, bullying and anxiety, alongside chapters on ‘attitudes of gratitude’, mindfulness and ‘creative colouring’.
Creative colouring — could that have been the piece of the jigsaw I was missing, as I bumbled and crashed my way through my eldest daughter’s teenage years? You would think that second time around I would be better, and that by the third time I’d be a complete expert.
But, dear reader, I am not.
Teenagers are like toddlers — prone to tantrums and unreasonable demands. “I don’t want my juice in that cup” becomes “you can’t tell me what to do/wear/say” and, instead of flinging themselves on the floor bawling and roaring, they slam out of the room, banging doors as they go. Teenagers can press your buttons in a way that toddlers just can’t.
One of the things I did learn, first time around, was anger management. My own. Mantras helped, as I repeated to myself: ‘they don’t really mean that’ or ‘let them cool down’, or I simply remembered to breathe.
Shine has interesting things to say about relaxation, mindfulness and positive affirmations. A book that gives advice to teens is useful. However, with all due respect to the authors, their cute-looking book may not be enough to encourage teenagers to read it, let alone take on board any of its advice.
And that, right there, is possibly the most challenging part of being a parent to a teenager; communicating your advice, suggestions and concerns without triggering an emotional nuclear reaction.
You choose your moment carefully. They seem to be in a good humour and they are not hungry. Never, ever try to negotiate with a teenager who is hungry, not in my house anyway.
Then, you carefully and gently raise the issue that is concerning you. And, too late, you realise you have pushed the red button. You don’t get beyond your opening statement, because they have flounced out the door, shouting they hate you, before it bangs after them.
Car journeys can work for that difficult conversation, especially if you are driving on a motorway. You are looking ahead and so there is no threatening eye contact. And they are stuck in the passanger seat with no escape. Then again, they can sulk for Ireland and, so, you may end up just talking to yourself.
In the end, book or no book, you are on your own. You do your best and you hope and pray that all the work you put into their early years has been absorbed somewhere and that, eventually, they will return to themselves and turn out to be normal, productive members of society. I am glad to report that, as far as I can tell, my eldest is just that.
THE TEENAGER: Róisín Sherwood:
Adults paint social media platforms in an extremely negative light. They think only of online risk. Maybe because they did not grow up with it, they do not understand it. Yes, the internet does have its risks, but it’s much more than that. It’s a great place to communicate and learn. We get so much information online that it has become a vital part of our lives. I think teenagers are not given enough credit about how we conduct ourselves online and, unfortunately, this latest book for teenagers, Shine, also buys into this misconception.
The authors paint social media platforms in an extremely negative light. A whole chapter is focused on the dangers. To be fair, the lack of understanding in that chapter comes from the fact that a book giving advice to teenagers should be written by someone of an age closer to the target audience.
As the authors were that bit older, I thought some of their advice was dated and hard to relate to. There is a sentence in the book that reads “Look around you the next time you are out and about, sitting in a busy cafe enjoying a nice, strong Americano”. To me, this is an adult image.
The authors also talk about sending someone a letter to break up with them, if they are unable to do it in person? This would never happen and someone who has just come out of their teenage years would know that that is not something we could relate to. Also, the section on relationships is too serious. At our age, most relationships are not in the slightest bit serious and that chapter treated them as adult relationships. Though some good advice was given on how to manage your feelings, I felt it was a bit over-the-top.
To be honest, when I opened up Shine, I felt overwhelmed by the number of topics covered. The authors, who both work with teens, have write about so many issues, which is definitely a positive thing. However, it also made me feel that, as a teenager, I should or would be facing all of these problems, which, in my experience, has yet to be the case.
I really liked the concept of ‘thriving’, as opposed to ‘surviving’ the teenage years. Being a teenager does bring ups and downs, but, come on, it is enjoyable. Yet, as I read the book I thought it forgot about the idea of thriving and became all about surviving. There were quotes and uplifting phrases scattered throughout the book. Personally, I found that cringy.
I liked the chapter on body the most. Body image and self-confidence issues are some of the biggest problems teenage girls face. Almost everyone dislikes something about their appearance and it can be something that is really difficult to overcome. This chapter speaks about learning to love your body and your imperfections, regardless of what the media puts forth as ‘beautiful’. The authors tell you to pick something you like about your appearance and focus on that. That is great advice.
Advice for parents
Teenagers are like toddlers. But teenagers can press emotional buttons in a way that toddlers can’t. Think of the teenage years as more of the ‘terrible twos’ but a ‘terrible twos’ that can last for up to five years. Sorry.
The most important coping technique for a parent to master is anger management. As a parent, you must learn not to react. Just. Don’t. Take a deep breath and don’t verbalise your immediate reaction. Reacting can just make a bad situation worse and they won’t take in any of your concerns. Tell the teenager you will talk to them tomorrow.
If you need to talk to them about something, choose your moment wisely. Make sure they are fed and in good humour. That’s the best environment to engender anything like a positive response.
Car journeys and dog walks are often a great time to raise a subject as both parties can avoid looking in each other’s eyes. Research backs this up, I kid you not.