Note that I do NOT only suggest books/articles that I agree with. We should all read things that challenge what we think, to make us think more carefully about our opinions and sometimes if necessary adjust them. In fact, I am increasingly infuriated by people talking about something when they’ve read one book and three articles (usually by the person who wrote the book) and they haven’t considered the counter arguments. Reading one book does not an expert make.
Take a deep breath: it’s a long list…
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore‘s website where she posts her research into teenage brains. S-J focuses on the social brain and is a passionate expert on teenage brain differences. I talk to her if I need to ensure I’ve properly understood something.
(Excuse my mentioning two books of mine but they are relevant if you want to have a deep understanding of teenage psychology and neuroscience.) For concise yet detailed explanations of the most important teenage brain changes, mapped to their real life observed behaviours, see my Blame My Brain, while The Teenage Guide to Stress details all the various ‘external’ stresses that modern teenagers deal with. NB Both those books are written for teenagers but are eagerly snaffled by stressed-out parents, teachers, youth workers etc…
For positive news about teenager behaviour/trends/lifestyle:
- From The Economist, July 2014. We must stop assuming that it’s all bad news, as the newspapers would have us believe. Accepting that there are some positive trends does not undermine the argument for better CAMHS funding and focus. In fact, it highlights it.
- And the LSYPE2 study: a) about the studies b) Study 2 Wave 1 (That is the one with the comparisons between the first study and the first reporting of the second study, giving some measures to assess trends up or down over a 10- year period in England.)
My first 5-star recommended read: on digital distraction (a very detailed look at it) – The Organized Mind – by Daniel Levitin. On the same topic but less recent, iBrain by Gary Small. You’ll have heard of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr; I find it both more pessimistic and less interesting than the other two, but that’s my personal opinion.
Still on digital distraction, Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think? This book, edited by John Brockman, has essays by 150 scientists and thinkers, giving 150 separate answers to that question. Reading a few of these should stop you being too dogmatic.
And here, in an article with a similar title but preceding and unconnected to (I think) the book, is an article in the Economist, taking a largely optimistic view of the distraction question. (Which is NOT to suggest that I don’t think distraction is a big problem, but it’s important to understand it properly and not rant like some hair-tearing doom-monger who just skimmed one scary newspaper article that only confirms their existing bias.)
My second 5-star recommended read: On mental health funding and treatment in the UK – Thrive by Richard Layard and David M Clark. Richard Layard is a labour economist and I love his clear analysis; David Clark is a mental health expert and ditto. Thrive is a brilliant book, in my opinion, and outlines not only the economics of mental health funding but the humanity behind the call for it. Also see the Action for Happiness website for how you can join in their movement for wellbeing and take simple steps to improve your (and your children’s/teenagers’) own.
On wellbeing and positive psychology – Flourish by Martin Seligman. Also see his Authentic Happiness website, which includes questionnaires to asses your ‘character strengths’ and lots of practical information and suggestions for individuals and schools.
On online porn – here’s a link to Philip Zimbardo’s book (which I haven’t read) but also read this grounding review of it in the New Scientist and another counter argument in the Guardian by Ally Fogg: Don’t Treat Young Men Like Sex-Crazed Monsters.
On whether we can build our brains to be “better” – Smarter by Dan Hurley. We can, of course, in some vague general way, but there’s a lot of mythology and neurobabble around some of the popular (and commercial) methods, which he usefully unpicks. The book details his personal journey to test (on himself) a range of the more likely methods of brain boosting and, because a) it’s only one person and b) with no control group and c) because he’s trying them all at once, the results tell us nothing, but we do learn something of the tested validity of some of the methods along the way. It’s a good read.
On the dangers of fluffy positive thinking – Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich.
On the power of introversion and the need to value and cater better for introverts – Quiet by Susan Cain – and website is wonderful.
If you want to read a scientist who is very worried about the effect of the internet and digital technology on our brains – Mind Change by Susan Greenfield. SG has been pilloried for her message previously expressed and now defended in this book. I think it’s a hurried and sometimes muddled book and I don’t think legitimate concern is best served by veering into what often sounds like exaggeration and scare-mongering, but she is absolutely right to ask the questions. It is right to worry until we know that we don’t need to worry. One problem, however, is that if you overdo the worry, legitimate concerns become buried under a tsunami of unjustified and paralysing panic. Yes, the brain is plastic: that doesn’t only mean it is easily changed for the worse but, if we choose, for the better. We do need to know the risks, though, and I’m glad that SG has raised their spectres. I just don’t share her pessimism. Though I’m not unworried. That’s why I do the work I do.
Discussing the risk to empathy and socialising from social media – Alone Together by Sherry Turkle. In my opinion, this reads like a list of anecdotes to illustrate a single point and I don’t find it convincing, although, again, it’s really important to raise these concerns and to guard against them coming true. Susan Greenfield refers to it often in Mind Change.
Too many “friends” on social media? Here’s an article about “Dunbar’s number“, including useful links to other interviews with or pieces about evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar’s gossip as social grooming theory, but I do recommend his book Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language.
Parenting styles – ‘Choose your Parents Wisely’: class divides (in the US) and helicopter parenting – in The Economist, July 2014.
And from the same magazine, ‘Cancel That Violin Class‘, re helicopter parenting.
I mention the possibility that by mollycoddling young people and trying to protect them from every scary thought or offensive idea we may be reducing resilience (at the very time when psychologists are talking about how essential building resilience is) – there’s a good introduction to this concern here. I do think we need to keep an eye on this. Note that this is different from political correctness and that article points out that the concern is for mental wellbeing/resilience rather than anything else.
My posts about (and explanation of) READAXATION – the value of recreational reading for wellbeing and good mental health.
A post about (and direct link to) the Reading Agency’s review that I mentioned on the proven benefits of reading for pleasure.
On bibliotherapy – The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.
A truly uplifting and gorgeous article by a teenager (no age specified) called Orli, on the Guardian website, on why books need readers and why she reads.
FREEDOM TO THINK – a wonderful new campaign from writer Jonathan Stroud, who wants to get parents to give their children time to think/dream/be creative. It chimes very well with what I talk about. I would love schools toget on board, too.
Study Skills – I’ve co-authored a book for students of GCSE (England etc) and N5/Higher (Scotland) but equally useful for A-level and Advanced Highers. Only £4.99!
Some useful websites for parents, especially re internet use:
- www.blogs.lse.ac.uk/parenting4digitalfuture (see Prof Sonia Livingstone report on EU research)
All those are things I talk about in much more detail in my lectures and training on a) adolescence – brain and stress and b) the reading brain – readaxation; differences between fiction and non-fiction, digital and print, and simple and complex texts; dyslexia. Please consider asking me to come and speak at your school, conference, INSET day. I do everything from one-off talks to whole training days. (See my Events page.) I’m also available for consultancy work.
Schools – for an excellent value huge set of activities and resources for teaching about brain health and wellbeing, which you can copy and use over and over again, check out my Brain Sticks. You get a free copy of Know Your Brain and, till end Sept only, a free copy of Deathwatch.
Interested in all these topics? Sign up for my free quarterly (at most!) Brain Sane newsletter.
Keep reading books! Your brain (and heart, mind, soul) will thank you.
[Edited to add: I now have a new list of resources about smartphones, social media and life online and one about distraction and multi-tasking in relation to screen use.)