The idea came from my talks to parents about adolescence. I was asked into a few London prep schools to talk to the parents of older pupils, aged 10-12/13, and I immediately sensed two over-riding emotions: fear and negativity. Overwhelmingly, parents were worried about their children becoming teenagers and were assuming that it would be a terrifying and negative experience. That’s very sad, because it’s not true!
Something has been happening since The Teenage Guide to Stress was published in 2014. Quite rightly, there has been a strong public focus on the devastating problem of teenage mental illness. While I’m very glad about this, there’s an unintended consequence: an impression that adolescence is a mental illness, that “teenage” is synonymous with “problem”, that bad things will happen in the teenage years, that it’s a time to be endured and survived, rather than lived well. We focus on the problems and forget the positives, the power.
Something else: normal negative human emotions are too often viewed as a problem, as if anger, anxiety, fear and sadness were demons; as though feeling those things means there’s something wrong with your mental state.
Those “negative” emotions are, in fact, entirely proper. It’s healthy to feel angry when someone treats us badly; to feel anxious or afraid when faced with frightening things; and miserable after sad times. Not to have those feelings would be unhealthy.
I started a section on my old website for Positively Teenage and its ideas. But a chance remark in an email to a publisher which had approached me about something quite different led to a contract for this book. Very exciting!
Positively Teenage will remember the following:
- That adolescence is a natural, positive, essential and temporary stage of development
- That parents and young people should welcome and be excited by the idea of a young person moving strongly and healthily towards adulthood and independence
- That there might be “downs” along the journey – in fact, there probably will be, because that’s life, whatever our age
- But that a positive, healthy and knowledgeable approach helps us live through the downs and enjoy the ups
- That, yes, mental illness may happen, that we must recognise the symptoms when it does, and that then medical intervention is important
- But that it’s wrong and unhelpful to approach the teenage years feeling negative or pathologising every downward emotion
- Because, although “bad things happen”, good things happen, too, and many teenagers go through these few years perfectly well, becoming strong, resilient and ambitious young adults.