My webinar, Understanding Your Teenagers, was buzzing, with nearly 100 people signed up. The recording will be available soon on Vimeo. I will probably edit the Q&A part out of the recording but I am answering ALL the questions here on my website. It’s often hard to give a coherent answer live, especially as I usually need a bit more info from the questioner. Several people have kindly supplied that extra info by email – thank you!
In this post today, I’ll answer the questions I didn’t answer last night. Next week, I’ll answer the others.
As you may know, I have a webinar on SLEEP coming up on March 18th. I have so much to say on this fascinating and life-affecting topic that I’m excited about being able to devote a whole session to it instead of trying to squeeze the key points into a few minutes. Do book soon as it is likely to sell out. A very few “earlybird” tickets are still available.
Your questions in blue. Thank you!
Do you have any tips for a household with 3 daughters (aged 13, and 11 year old twins)? Generating cohesion rather than conflict between the daughters?
It is very difficult to alter substantially how one’s children get on with each other. There’s a lot of luck involved. You might be in for a rocky stage, whatever you do, because when your twins are 13/14, your older daughter is going to be 15/16 so they are all going to be mid-teens together. I think the best thing they will all need (and especially your older daughter) is space. Absence makes the heart grow fonder! During lockdown this must have been even harder and I don’t know what your home situation is like but your older daughter really does need somewhere she can be alone. That space needs to be protected and at times when she says she wants to be alone her sisters really must respect that. At the same time, can there be times – scheduled or spontaneous – when she does something with them, something they all agree on? Whether it’s playing a game or watching a programme or whatever. Sometimes the three girls together and other times the whole family, perhaps with her bringing a friend of hers for balance.
So, a combination of protected space/peace and quality time together. Boundaries of respect and certain things they will not be allowed to do or say to each other. Let your older daughter know that you respect her privacy, too, that you know that it’s hard being the older sister of adolescent (they are!) twins. Twins often get a lot of attention and your 13yo needs that, too – I don’t mean just from her parents, as I’m sure you’re already giving her that, but also from other relatives and family friends. So make sure your older daughter gets her fair share and the twins don’t steal the limelight.
How can I build my son’s confidence? He holds back from friendship groups and doesn’t want to go to parties, feels he is not cool enough. He is 12 years old and has always been very anxious.
There were several questions about building confidence. It’s so hard for us as parents or teachers to feel that we’re having any effect when we keeping praising and supporting and yet our young people still feel anxious or unconfident, whether socially or in any other field. I think we have to recognise a human truth: for many, many people of all ages it’s hard to feel confident. It’s hard to walk into a room of people. It’s hard to be that extrovert, life-and-soul, cool person when that’s not how you feel. As an introvert myself (though a high-functioning one because I’ve learnt the tricks) when I think about it carefully, I realise I actually don’t want to be that “extrovert, life-and-soul, cool” person because they annoy me quite a lot!
So what I’d say to your son is some things like this:
- It’s natural to feel anxious when surrounded by people at a party – most people feel like this a lot of the time
- It’s natural not to feel you’re cool enough, especially when you’re changing and trying to find the person you want to be
- It’s natural to feel uncomfortable with how you look, when how you look is changing all the time
- It’s natural to feel really self-conscious, because a) many people do and b) it’s even more common for teenagers, as their brains make them feel that way
- Whatever your definition of what’s cool, some people in your year group are and others aren’t – it doesn’t define them as people and it won’t affect their success or happiness later
- Many of those “cool” people are really insecure
- You don’t need to be part of a group, as long as you have people you like and feel comfortable with – even if that’s one person
- Parties are scary things to think about but they can be fun, too – and you’ll never have that fun if you don’t go
- Each time you go to a party, it will be easier the next time – you’re learning social skills which will really help you feel better and do better in life
And I would definitely suggest he teams up with a friend who might also be feeling wobbly about it and arrange to arrive together.
Should you push him to go? (You didn’t ask this…) Yes, to be honest, some gentle, supportive pushing.
You say he’s always been anxious: he will probably always tend towards anxiety, an incredibly common and very natural trait. All this means is that he will need to a) be aware of this and b) learn the crucial and relatively simple skills to manage it so that he can enjoy his life and succeed brilliantly, using his personality to help rather than hinder. I’m an anxious type, too, and I regard it as a key to my success.
How to help my 15 year old daughter to not to give up too easily with difficult tasks. She is so overly critical with herself that it often stops her even trying in the first place.
Incredibly common, horribly frustrating and very, very difficult to deal with. If possible, you need to dial down the pressure while encouraging a growth mindset. (The belief – which needs to be deep, so you can’t create it instantly – that we get better at things by trying, not by waiting for them to be given to us.
- When Be Resilient comes out in August, do let her read it. It contains useful stuff about growth mindset and confidence.
- Tell her (and let her investigate online) that the only way we learn to do anything is by trying and persevering. We are not born with any voluntary abilities at all: we develop them by trying and doing.
- If there’s an area which she finds particularly difficult, is there someone who could help? For example, if she struggles with maths, do you have a family friend, or does she have a friend herself, who could help?
- Keep reiterating the things she’s good at. Give her lots of opportunity to do those things but remind her that she’s good at those things because she spends time on them.
- Let her know that the stage of brain development she’s at mewans she’s just approaching that step-change I talked about last night, where she’s going to have new insights and cognitive skills.
- Don’t forget the so-called “soft” skills she might have: kindness, empathy, teamwork, organisation, leadership, details-orientation and more.
Boosting her confidence in the things she’s good at will help her keep trying at the things she finds hard. It’s so easy at that age to focus on what you can’t do and to spend too much brain space looking at people around you who can do the things you (think you) can’t (yet). Those people also have their weak areas. No one is good at everything!
How to help my 2 teenagers (13 and 15) with their changing needs of sleep and their desire to sleep all day during weekends. Currently they would sleep all day and probably stay up all night. I don’t seem to be able to want to get up and have life during the day too.
I hope you are coming to the sleep webinar, as I will be talking about all the detail of this. During lockdown it has been extra difficult, because routines are blown out of the window. Once school starts again, they won’t be able to sleep all day and stay up all night, but it might take a while to adjust.
Your problem is that you could learn every technique about healthy sleep and you could even tell your teenagers but you can’t make someone follow the rules. They have to want to. And very often they do want to, for the simple reason that they feel dreadful during the day.
I will have some suggestions about how you encourage teenagers to follow the guidelines in the sleep webinar. (But I’m afraid I can’t wave a magic wand, only tell the truth!) Meanwhile, I’ve put the sleep handouts in your rather large folder that came in your post-webinar email.
We were quite troubled watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix recently, notably the impact this can have on young adults. Can you advise your views on social media, and any tips on how to get the right balance for teenagers engaging in this?
As you know, I’ve written the book The Teenage Guide to Life Online, which covers this. Unfortunately, teenagers don’t want to read it! They read and enjoy all my other books and tell me so but this one they don’t want to pick up because they believe I’m going to preach at them. I don’t preach at them. I talk about the benefits and problems with social media – and the first step for you is to acknowledge that there are immense benefits. Once teenagers understand that we genuinely are on their side and don’t want to spoil their fun and that we do agree that social media brain great benefits, then we can talk properly about it. The problem with so many media headlines and coverage of social media is that it’s all so negative. That makes parents too worried and teenagers too annoyed – and then they’ll try to hide what they’re doing.
It’s crucially important to allow young people to do what their friends do. When you stop them, they will find a way. And then the problem is that if something goes wrong they won’t be able to tell you because they’ll be worried you’ll tell them off.
So, talk, be open, be flexible, want to learn from them. In your handouts link this morning you’ll find a whole folder on Life Online, including the Life Online Parent Pack. Hope it helps!
What would you advise to deal with a swearing teenager? It has grown worse over lockdown whilst playing PS4 with friends. When we tell him to stop he then swears at us and it becomes quite aggressive and can escalate quickly into a fight. We give warnings about it and tell him it’s not language we use to communicate in life and that he’ll have to come off the PS4 if it continues but it’s a daily occurrence and wearing us down. I don’t want to remove the PS4 as it’s all he has in lockdown to enjoy gaming and communicate with friends. It’s not a violent game he is playing (FIFA).
I would guess he’s swearing for several reasons:
- He’s angry and frustrated, which is not something you can prevent
- He’s using it has his example of the conflict/rebellion that I talked about last night – and if swearing is how he’s doing it, I’d venture to say that it’s a relatively safe battle ground
- His friends are doing it – again, not something you can prevent
- His prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that he’d need to resist the temptation to swear and, as you know, it’s not fully developed
I think it’s right to tell him, calmly, that this is not acceptable language in the house (assuming you don’t use bad language either.) But you don’t want it escalating to aggression because that’s even more acceptable. So I think the key is in how you respond when he swears: I would say don’t ignore but don’t rise to it. Don’t engage with him when he swears. Just remove eye contact and say, calmly, “I’m sorry but I won’t engage when you use that language.” Resist the temptation to show anger, even if you are angry – and I don’t blame you, because being sworn at is very unpleasant.
Also I do suggest you resist the temptation to threaten removing the PS4, partly for the reason you’ve identified but also because, unless you’re going to follow through, it becomes an empty threat. Then it not only loses its power but also you lose some power because he learns that what you threaten you don’t carry out.
Your power is in the ability to remove your attention from him. So, when he’s swearing, he doesn’t get what he wants. When he’s stopped swearing, he gets your attention. Later, when you’re not in the heat of the situation, you could find a moment to discuss the language. Let him know that swearing is a habit which might be fine with his friends but which will hold him back in life and doesn’t reflect well on him and therefore is a habit you’d love him not to get into. But try to do this without making him feel bad. Most adults (I think) swear sometimes, and in the right company it’s not a problem at all. It’s a problem when it offends someone or/and when it’s uncontrollable. But using swear words is a very common part of growing up and should be allowed to be one of those safe battles to fight with parents – like untidy bedrooms: not the end of the world but unacceptable if it becomes aggressive.
I have a 12 year old son. How should I deal with lying? I don’t think he has told me big lies – it is little lies (brushing teeth/homework/chores etc). It drives me mad and I want to show him how important trust is. Should I have a zero-tolerance approach or let the small lies slide?
This is a very interesting question. I think I could answer it in two opposite ways as I think there’s a case for both: a) let the small ones slide and b) fight the small ones as safe battle grounds to show him that trust comes from being trustworthy.
I think what I’d do is neither, or a combination. I think I’d do this:
- At any opportunity (not only when you know he’s lied but when honesty comes up in conversation, even about politicians etc!) reinforce the message that trust is something you earn. It is not your duty to trust him (or him to trust you or him to trust a friend) unless that trust is earned.
- Let him know when you know he’s told a lie, but don’t make an issue of it – just use it as an example for him to note, that this makes it hard for you to trust him.
- HOWEVER, I do not think a zero-approach to lying is realistic or fair. I think sometimes we have the right (if it doesn’t hurt anyone else) to tell a small lie for a quiet life. So I do think you can let some slide. If you believe he hasn’t done his teeth but he says he has, “OK, well I’m glad to hear you have because if you haven’t then you risk tooth decay and bad breath and you wouldn’t want that.”
- And you need a way to be able to trust him for the big things so you could do what I used to do with my daughters which was a sacrosanct promise for the really Big Things. It had to be taken really seriously by both sides and not misused by the parent trying to get information on something that wasn’t genuinely dangerous and very serious.
- So, in a way, there is a 3-level approach:
- The least important things – you kind of let them go but with a “I know what’s going on here” sense.
- The quite important things – you expect him to tell the truth and if you discover he’s not, there are consequences, including loss of your trust (but he has to be allowed to build that trust back again)
- The most serious things – he absolutely must tell the truth because his safety or someone else’s is at stake
Thanks so much for your questions and for signing up to the webinar. If you know someone who would have enjoyed it but missed the chance, let them know that the recording will be available (for a small fee – I can’t make it free as it wouldn’t be fair for all you people who paid to attend!) on Vimeo soon. If they subscribe to my website they won’t miss the announcement.
More questions answered next week. Lucky my typing fingers are strong!
Have a good weekend. I think it’s going to be a tough one as you all prepare for school to start again. Go easy on them: they’re anxious for a raft of varied reasons. And you will be, too, so go easy on yourselves!