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Be a safety-net parent, not a helicopter

Feeling stressed? What’s your solution? Mindfulness or double espresso? You can’t stop worrying? Do you bring wine o’clock forward or dip into downward dog? All of us experience stress, and it can be overwhelming. But if you’re a parent of a teenager, well, that’s a whole other barrel of bananas. Nicola Morgan is an expert in adolescence and teenage stress as well as being an award-winning teenage novelist. She’s going to be at the Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature on Weds 8 Feb, talking to families about The Teenage Guide to Stress and all her other work on the subject. I caught up with her earlier this week and asked her some questions.

Nicola Morgan

When we talk about teenage stress today, is it all bad?

Only if you think stress is all bad. But it isn’t. Stress is what saves our lives when we are being chased by a lion or there’s a snake in the raspberry canes. The trouble with modern life is that there aren’t that many lions or snakes but there are a gazillion small stresses and plenty of large ones too. The effects build up and can cause health and performance problems, whatever our age. I have a whole load of reasons to justify why I say that for most (but not all) teenagers, life is more stressful than it used to be and more stressful than for very many adults. BUT let’s also remember that lots of teenagers aren’t stressed. In fact, I often get parents saying to me after my talks, “Do you have any advice how to make my son more stressed?” 

Bishop’s Stortford College

What are the main stressors?

I have a not-very-little list! But the three main ones are exams, friendships – or enemyships – and a load of aspects of life online. I’ve just written Exam Attack to help with the first; The Teenage Guide to Friends comes out in May, tackling the second; and life online is what I’m writing about just now. And crikey, it’s fascinating.

Can we blame our digital culture for everything?

No, because there was teenage stress waaaay before there was a smartphone. But, as I say, I’m writing a book about it and I think it’s going to be a long book!  I am hoping to be able to announce the new title at the festival on Wednesday. But, first, be aware that I love the internet and am as addicted to my devices as any teenager. This is a human thing not a teenage thing. I’m not going to be telling teenagers to do one thing and adults to do another. Sorry, adults.

Memorial Hall, Bishop’s Stortford College

Do you think that one day, mindfulness could be as integrated into the school curriculum as maths and English?

Nope. That would drive me nuts. It doesn’t suit everyone.

Do boys deal with stress differently from girls?

Hmmm, interesting question! Whenever we say “girls this” or “boys that” we risk making unhelpful generalisations. BUT…. for whatever reason, there are some general differences. I think the main thing is that boys more often refuse to admit that they are stressed because they think it’s a weakness. That is SO wrong and also so unhealthy. I used to suffer from stress – loads of illness, time of school and work, loads of not coping – and if only I’d realised that I could have control over it I’d have saved so much heartache and lost achievement. What a waste of time and energy! Now, I do get stressed – I am what I’d call a “stressy” person and quite anxious – but I don’t suffer stress. I don’t get ill from it nowadays. I even thrive on it. That’s because I understand it, spot the signs early and respect it: that way, I can beat it. Boys and girls can do that equally well.

Pre-prep classroom, Bishop’s Stortford College

Have you got five easy tips for parents to help their children?  And perhaps to help themselves to help their children?

I would say “stop worrying” but that isn’t possible. So:

  1. Let them make mistakes; let them fail and fall sometimes – be a safety-net parent, not a helicopter parent 
  2. Be a fair and firm rule-maker but bend when you need to 
  3. Celebrate their reading, whatever it is. Never judge it.
  4. Never be looking at your phone when they are talking to you or wanting to talk to you. Always be ready to listen, now.
  5. Say sorry when you make a mistake  

Nicola says that she would welcome more questions, so please bring them with you if you can make her talk on Weds 8 Feb at 6.30pm.

Bishop’s Stortford College Festival of Literature Thurs 2 Feb – Sat 9 Feb Other speakers include Joanne Harris, Luke Harding, Jo Wheatley, Stuart Maconie, Roger McGough.

Here is the Muddy review of Bishop’s Stortford College

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