Lots of the characteristics that we associate with maturity are related to the brain’s frontal lobes. This part of the brain governs our higher executive functions such as being able to switch between tasks, weighing things up and planning ahead. The frontal lobes are not fully developed until early adulthood (around 25 years old) – which goes some way to explaining why teenagers can look so mature on the outside but make such bad decisions.
There is quite a bit of evidence that girls’ frontal lobes tend to develop faster than boys’. This might explain the truism that girls mature earlier and might also be one factor in why teenage girls do better at GCSEs than boys. Being better at task planning, time management and self-organisation is a real advantage when it comes to studying.
But, while we are waiting for our teens’ brains to catch up and get with the programme, there is a lot parents can do to provide external structures and tools for teaching teens self-organisation skills (regardless of whether they are girls or boys).
A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.
This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!) Continue reading →
In terms of child development, the differences between boys and girls are far outweighed by their similarities. All children basically have the same needs regardless of their gender. And yet “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” is almost always the first piece of information we give (or ask for) about a newborn baby. Socially, gender is a very important fact.
There are different schools of thought as to whether gender differences are hardwired into babies’ brains or are a product of social conditioning. In reality, it’s almost impossible to disentangle whether differences between boys and girls are biological or social because, right from birth, adults treat boys and girls differently. Continue reading →
Sometimes, if you want to tear teens away from their tech and grab some quality family time, the best plan is to get them out of the house for the whole weekend and as far away as possible from the temptations of that Xbox. Occasionally, I have managed to convince my two to leave all their gadgets behind, but usually I opt for a strategy of booking relatively low-tech accommodation and keeping them as busy as possible once we are there.
Camping is the ultimate option for reducing tech (though I realise not everyone shares my passion for a weekend without a warm shower or a good night’s sleep). The lack of Wi-Fi and electricity means there is simply no arguing about who is watching what or playing which device – it’s a game of cards or read a book or have a conversation!
My mission to find new ways to entice my teenagers to make more time for family activities (and less time for tech) continues. Now that the weather is warming up, the options are widening – and our early successes with indoor caving and climbing and bouldering have predisposed the teens (just a little) to come along for the ride.
The trickiest bit is finding family activities that all of us will enjoy. Two of us like running: two don’t. I love high ropes: my husband thinks they are hell on earth. We all enjoy bowling – but I’m not convinced that bowling really counts as a high-energy family activity?
Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of reward charts. They help children to focus on the behaviour that is expected from them and they remind parents to catch their children being good and pay attention to it.
But when it comes to teenagers, a sticker chart is not going to do the trick. A slightly more grown up approach is required. One version of this is a ‘behaviour contract’.
The idea of a behaviour contract is that, just like a reward chart for younger children, it sets out clearly what behaviour is expected, what rewards or privileges will be earned by doing that behaviour but also what the consequences will be for misbehaviour.
A behaviour contract works best when the target (good) behaviour is clearly defined, when the rewards are achievable and when your teenager cares about the rewards and the consequences. Breaking habits takes effort – from both you and your teen – and behaviour contracts only succeed when both of you are on board. Continue reading →
Like many people, I worry about my teens spending too much time staring at a screen. As a family, we are all pretty active but we tend to do our sports separately rather than together. We usually have active holidays (such as trekking in Nepal) and we can be quite adventurous with fun family activities in warmer weather.
But in the winter our family time tends to be indoors and/or sedentary (Sunday lunches, lots of cinema, a bit of theatre and the occasional museum trip).
Keeping teenage boys engaged with reading isn’t always easy. At a time in their lives when instant gratification thrill-seeking instincts are in the driving seat, books for teenage boys have to compete with the higher adrenalin kicks and quicker pay-offs of sport and computer games, the social approval of hanging out with peer groups and the no-brain-input-required of easy watching TV box sets. The odds aren’t good.
To compete with those alternatives, books for teenage boys need to offer thrills, excitement and the kind of page-turning compulsion that keeps them reading even when the technology is calling. Not to mention, stretching them to new emotional levels and providing insight into themselves and the world they are about to inherit.
This is my list of books for teenage boys that simply cannot be dismissed as boring! As long as you can get him to start one of these books, he won’t want to put it down! (Got younger boys? See these recommendations!) Continue reading →
One of my teenagers is a bit of a grump at the moment. Put it down to hormones or identity struggles, whatever the cause the result isn’t always pleasant. After dragging him to a barbecue this summer and being rewarded with appalling rudeness (in the presence of my Dad, even worse!), I came to the conclusion that spending family time with a teenager was a doomed project. But after a trip to the Victoria & Albert Museum less than a week later, I changed my mind. Having fun family time with a teenager is possible, but there is definitely a Right Way and a Wrong Way to go about it.
For parents, knowing how our children are getting on at school is very important. Especially if they have just started a new phase or if there have been problems with schoolwork, behaviour or friendships. But what are the best questions to get children to talk about school? Keeping in touch with what’s going on isn’t easy when your key source of information won’t open up…
[Parent] “How was school today?”
[Parent] “What did you do?”
It’s very frustrating and not very illuminating! So if you are stuck in a rut and want to find out something more meaningful about your child’s day, it’s probably time to take a different tack. Continue reading →
There’s no doubt that if you want to boost children’s reading skills the best thing you can do is to encourage them to read. Lots and lots. But not all children are quick to discover a love of books and many children (especially boys) go through periods when reading books just doesn’t float their boat (see Books to make boys love reading!).
When pushing your child to read books is more painful than pulling teeth, it’s time to find some new ideas to engage them in reading! Books are not the only way to boost children’s reading skills and inspire them with a love of words and stories.
Here’s 20 ways parents can help boost children’s reading skills that don’t involve them actually reading books: Continue reading →
Talking to children about bodies and bits and how they fit together isn’t always easy. The earlier you start and the more relaxed you are about it, the easier it will be (see Talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships). The hardest bit is getting started. Luckily, there are some great books for teaching children about sex, bodies and families, which can make launching into those conversations much easier. There’s no need to buy them – your local library will have lots of books for teaching children about sex (and that way you can check them out and find exactly the right one for your family).
To help you along, here’s my top ten list of the best books for teaching children about sex, puberty and relationships (and other things we don’t like talking about). Continue reading →
Last week, one of the mums I was working with repeatedly burst into tears as she described her 8-year-old’s low self-esteem. He was reluctant to try anything new, gave up easily in the face of failure and struggled with friendships. She could already see him falling behind his potential and was scared for his future. As a mum, she felt utterly powerless in the face of his relentless negative thinking and no amount of praise or encouragement (or anything else) seemed to make any difference. It is an all too common story.
The Optimistic Child is a book which will give hope to parents of children with poor self-esteem.
Right from the start it makes crystal clear the links between pessimistic thinking and low self-esteem and it is packed with practical exercises for parents to use to recognise and tackle their child’s negative habits of mind. It is immensely readable, cogent, inspiring and practical. And most importantly, because it views pessimistic thinking as a ‘learned helplessness’ it offers the possibility that new ways of thinking can be taught. Continue reading →
David Baddiel’s new children’s book The Parent Agency is the perfect gift for a temperamental pre-teen who you suspect of wishing for cooler, richer, or simply more interesting parents than you. It’s a gift that will keep on giving for many reasons:
1. It’s a jolly good read – boy or girl – and is funny without assuming the reader is an idiot. Your pre-teen is therefore likely to enjoy it and might experience a fleeting moment of gratitude in the sea of entitlement and/or resentment that characterises much of pre-teen existence.
2. It’s about a kid who gets to choose some new parents and along the way gains a bit of insight into what being a parent really means. So there is some chance your pre-teen might appreciate you a smidgen more by the end of the book. (Of course, this could backfire and it might confirm the belief that you are bottom of the food chain on their ideal parent wish-fulfilment list). Continue reading →