Posted tagged ‘teenagers’

It’s all about emotional resilience

May 7, 2015

How do you teach kids that failing and making mistakes are a key part of learning? Here’s an attempt to start this debate from Homemade Kids: how to raise children in a thrifty, creative and eco-friendly way author Nicola Baird. Feedback welcome!

Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems.

Happy: So many people in the UK used to be in contact with horses even one century ago. Being able to control a horse and enjoy riding tends to push away all other problems. And riding, however much you love it, doesn’t always give you a 10 out of 10 experience. This teaches you that some days are better than others (and that’s normal), especially as a good rider should never blame the horse.

Over the past two days when I haven’t been talking about politics, conversations have centred around how to build emotional resilience in our kids. There’s a lot of blame:

  • The teachers spoon feed the students…
  • Kids don’t have enough freedom…
  • Everyone uses their phones too much…
  • Parents do too much for their children (especially helicopter parenting advocates)…
  • Older teenagers aren’t tough enough…

May and June are exam seasons, so this can be a tense time. Anyone who is used to getting top marks, and doesn’t; or anyone who can no longer face the stress of trying to do their best but then getting a result that disappoints (maybe not them, but families or teachers) is under considerable strain.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of university students in January 2011.

A look-and-see trip to GQ magazine with my class of first year university students in January 2011 (so all graduated by now).This is a real treat part of the course and of course the attendance is invariably high. Recently I’ve noticed how some students only turn up to the treat events and simply don’t do the graft in class – is this because they are lazy or frightened of doing it wrong?

As for universities, they struggle with why their new intakes of students seem so unable to cope with independent learning. And many students struggle back: finding that “messy” learning where there are no set answers, creativity rules and research has to be found by you (not following a set list) is not for them. Many don’t like unlearning how to do “school” when they turn up at university. So for teenagers this is another high risk period of discontent culminating in a feeling of being let down, which may lead to the student dropping out.

Of course students now have to pay £9,000 for their tuition. And few get paid internships when they then try and get experience of the real world and work. It’s so hard, and the results are predictably unsettling – misery, drop outs, disengagement, even death. Even so the figures are shocking:

One in ten children between the ages of one and 15 has a mental health disorder. (The Office for National Statistics Mental health in children and young people in Great Britain, 2005)

In inner city areas, over 43% of children have considered suicide and one in six children under the age of 11 have attempted suicide. Common causes cited include bullying, abuse, poverty, homelessness, and alcohol abuse. (figures not from 2015, they are older)

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom - out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that's what I gave my own kids.

Kids used to enjoy so much more freedom – out all day learning how to occupy themselves, forage and cope with boredom/weather etc. Even this delightful picnic had three adults at it. Who covets a supervised life? Not me, but that’s what I gave my own kids.

I’ve always thought teens onwards need to have an extra interest – away from school – ideally something that can totally absorb you, such as supporting a football team, bird watching (how old fashioned that sounds) or some kind of “healthy” obsession (eg, music, art) which helps teenagers survive all the emotional and neurological changes they are having to deal with.

Some teens find their interests as they find themselves, the luckiest build on the passions they  began as primary school aged children. I’m not sure that taking selfies really counts as an obsession.

For me it’s always been horses.

I grew up in the countryside and was lucky to have my own pony from the age of eight years old. I don’t have one now – they are hideously expensive and I live in London – but I do still teach riding one day a week. Even if I didn’t occasionally ride during the hacks I take out to the woods, I would be content on the ground. I love the way horses are beautiful, and happy to sniff you. I like caring for them and I adore riding them. Even when I’m not riding a horse I enjoy watching other people doing it really well (it’s Badminton Horse Trials week at the moment) and I’m even extra content if I stop to watch a police horse clopping down the street.

Modern times means there are no milkmen’s horses to run out and treat with sugar lumps (or carrots sliced length wise). You can’t feed strangers’ dogs snacks either or buy sweets for little ones, or even yourself if you have braces on your teeth. All these nice things to do help your brain forget about the serial injustices of being you with the wrong parents/teachers/fill in the gap – but you can’t do them.

For those of us bringing up teenagers (especially the challenging, difficult and miserable ones) days can be incredibly hard. A lot of it seems to be about being more adult than we adults ever want to be. Sometimes this means turning blind eyes (to rudeness say – after all teens have had to be polite all day at school/college – and ideally producing enough food.  Rudeness is never nice, but when it comes to a hungry, over-tired, exam-stressed teen it’s fine to ignore. Pick your fights and give as much space as you can.

If you have friends or a partner find out what they think works and if it’s good advice try it out. An angry teen is at least communicating. It’s far more frightening when they are so shellshocked by choices, revision and the way things are that they retreat into silence and suffering.

What do you do that helps make the teenage years (for your child, for you, for your family) peaceful rather than a battleground?

Bur more importantly how do you build in emotional resilience so that teens can cope with mistakes, an unexpected mark and are able to adapt to the different ways colleges and universities teach? Life isn’t fair – that may be why you dropped out. Unfortunately bad things arrive without even scheduling so you need to be robust enough to cope. Having the emotional strength to cope is essential. The debate is out on how to teach this. I’m pretty certain that you need to let kids learn from their mistakes so they have the courage to try again, know that hard work pays off and are willing to put a lot of effort into Plan B, even Plan C and D if that’s necessary. As Russell Brand puts it no one grows up wanting be a barrista, though they may fancy their chances as a barrister. His latest film, The Emperor’s New Clothes, might be interesting to watch, here’s the trailer.

At least there are a growing number of emotional resilience type courses. I won’t be going to the event below – but it’s an example of what’s on offer. Maybe it’s something you’d be interested in going to?

Practitioners Seminar: Relational Ways of Working with Teenagers – 18th May 13.30-16.30

Adolescence is a time of significant neurological, emotional, social and intellectual change. Join The Centre on 18th May to understand how professionals can help adolescents through this volatile and complex key developmental period.

Bert Powell will look at how the Circle of Security© Parenting approach works with teenagers. He will focus on how we can enable parents to support and nurture their teenagers in ways that strengthen both their relationship and the child’s emotional well-being 

Dr Gates and Dr Hohnen will draw from their clinical experience of teenagers and families and up to date research on brain development. They will consider how we can foster emotional resilience in adolescents. It is designed to help and inform the practice of anyone working closely with this exciting and challenging age group.

To book click here or to reserve a place email 

There's such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

There’s such a small difference between being on a roll or rolling out of control.

Over to you
How we all wish we could pin down what’s wrong, or what’s got to change. But until then (!) please do share this post or comment. I know loads of you have experience of both being a teen and raising a teen. And it would be good to hear from anyone who teaches  or employs teens too. Wherever you are in this story, good luck.

Useful contacts

British Horse Society – to find affiliated riding schools which treat horses and riders well.

Can you cope with teenagers?

October 20, 2014

The age most British women give birth keeps getting older. That might make looking after a baby easier, but are older mums then able to cope with all the changes they’ll face in their late 40s onwards whilst also having to deal with teenagers? This is a book review of the parenting part of new book, In Your Prime by India Knight (Penguin, £16.99). See more work by Nicola Baird at

Any xxxx

India Knight: “The great, stupid, insulting lie about parenting is that the first years are tough, and that if you somehow power through those, you’re on the home run: that it all gets easier. This is a load of absolute steaming horseshit…”

In Your Prime: older, wiser, happier has lots of good points – the best being that unembarrassed lifestyle writer India Knight explains the menopause. Written with relentless positivity – and I like her jolly lacrosse sticks tone – you begin to think that the menopause is a slightly exotic signpost flagging up the work you’ll need to do on your body (yoga, heel creams, dental whitening, etc) to keep looking good for the next third of your life. Not the last third of your life.

The downside of In Your Prime is it seems to be written for an urban foxy lady – who might have accidentally moved to the countryside – with seemingly no interest in anything outside her mirror. She certainly doesn’t seem to notice world politics, poverty or climate change, or if she does wants to look her best for the apocalypse… Of course this is a manual and perhaps writer rules mean you need to stick to the point – the “me” in In Your Prime. That said, there are plenty of gems in this book for anyone with kids, or parents.


It’s a fun book if you can cope with sentences that start: “Deep breath – *sticks head between legs* – right, here we go.” Don’t worry this sentence starts the section about family relationships, not, say, how to dye greying pubic hair.

This too will pass
The chapter that fascinates me is about parenting and step-parenting teens. This is written with wisdom, kindness and a certain amount of liberalness: not much is taboo in India Knight’s home. The fears mums have parenting older children is that our boys may be attacked and our girls may be raped (“deal with unwelcome male attention”). Recognising this India prefers that the kids misbehave (with same-aged friends) in earshot – where she hopes they can learn from experience what drinking too many vodka shots does to you. She is extremely forceful in her view that parents must “not give up” on tricky offspring.

Don’t think that if you have a good child you are doing it right either.

She knows why kids are good – because they are people pleasers or desperate to get their rightful share of parental love. Either tendancy will store up such endless long term problems for your child that  you might prefer them to be a painfully annoying teenager for just a few years.

Teens are such a mix of joy, misery and ouchy feelings that it is amazing how few guides there are to living with them successfully.

I have a shelf full of books about baby and toddler care, including the one I wrote, Homemade Kids, but only Stephen Biddulph on getting it right as your family grows. If your how-to-cope-with-a-teen resources are similarly slender then the chapter on family relationships is excellent. India Knight gives you permission to use your wiles to parent and set boundaries. She gives you metaphorical tea and cake when you lose the plot from worry or exasperation and behave badly to your teen, and when you are feeling better explains that you need to talk to these young adults just as you would a colleague.

So if you’ve been rude, or worse a bitch then go and apologise. Instead of grounding a child (preventing them from going out), work out what’s gone wrong and tackle that.  For example if their phone battery went dead before their curfew and they were late home without telling you, sort out a better system for keeping their phone powered up.

There is also an excellent section on dealing with ailing parents – at the same time as worrying about the teenagers.

Who’s it for?
India (she writes in a way where you want to call her by her first name) is a very generous person. She reckons that most problems can be solved by a lovely big meal to which everyone is welcome.

But her sense of what is norm – spending on a super comfy bed, boxtox, eye lasering or a nice weekend in the country – peppered with the suggestion that it’s nice to give yourself treats such as a girls’ lunch with friends or practice a bit of “drunken flirting” really confused me. I absolutely don’t know anyone like this.

My friends always seem to be short of time and money, even while conscious of being some of the lucky ones. For me a girls’ lunch would be sitting on a bench in the park munching from a Tupperware container of sandwiches. I fear India would laugh at this pathetic vision if she swirled past. For this reason I would be cautious about who to give the book to – it’s for a moneyed middle class lady who doesn’t think of herself as middle aged. Readers who enjoy it will need to find the tone fun and not wince at being given a how-to-grow-old book, or take offence that they are – possibly – being told to sort out their teeth and children before it’s too late.

On the plus side those readers will quite probably be the ones who may luck out by unexpectedly learning how to be older, wiser and happier. And have as good teeth as their teens.

Useful: 8/10
A good gift: Possibly.

To buy: In Your Prime by India Knight (Penguin, £16.99)

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