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Teenagers: Things That Don’t Work

teenagersI’m becoming increasingly aware of things that really should work but don’t. Diets for example, or regularly checking your breasts for lumps, they’re things that don’t work and there’s lots of research and evidence to back that up. But they should work shouldn’t they? They should work so much that even though I know the research, my gut instinct is to disbelieve it. And the reason, I think, is that they are simple answers: solutions which empower us with certainty that we can control things if only we do x, y or z. Simple answers to complex issues – our gut instincts love those.

The real answers are much more subtle, like instead of checking for lumps, being breast-aware generally so that you’ll notice any changes. And if you’re not happy with your weight – well I’m not even going to go into that, it can be anything from making small lifestyle changes to learning how to say ‘Fuck it,’ and a million things in between, depending on who you are and what works for you.

Moving seamlessly on to parenting advice.

Helping, guiding, supporting and showing an interest in your teenagers’ lives. Should work shouldn’t it? That’ll stop them taking drugs, smoking, drinking and having sex. That will definitely ensure that they pass their exams and get proper jobs. What could possibly go wrong?

Well it’s just that teenagers’ brains are wired to want to impress their peer group, not you (that’s not them being easily influenced and weak, that’s just them having teenage brains). They may not actually welcome your involvement.

If we are continually fighting – sorry, helping – our teenagers and remaining ‘involved in their lives’ just at the very time that their brains are saying ‘back off’ to us and ‘well, hello!’ to their peer group, they may actually experience our care as an extra burden.

As well as being programmed to take risks, the teenage brain is also developing thinking and decision-making skills, and if we don’t back off a bit we’re not allowing that to happen. Taking risks and taking responsibility are bound up together, we need to make a bit of space for both. It’s not as simple as Caring versus Not Caring, there are ways of caring which just don’t look as caring to the outside world as other ways.

No matter how instinctively right it seems, the urge to interfere with – sorry, be involved in – every aspect of our teenagers’ lives should be resisted. It generally doesn’t work. Even though it really should.

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