“Bit big to be carried, isn’t she?” Thus spoke the wise old woman, glaring with undisguised disgust as I swung my 18-month old daughter onto my hip. Well, it was so much easier that way, not that I had much choice in the matter. From the day of her birth, practically, Georgina possessed an overriding quality I hope my books will have: Total unputdownability! Wherever we went, she’d insist on taking her rightful place, firmly clamped to my left flank like an over-possessive Siamese twin, and woe betide my eardrums if I attempted to dislodge her. Still, at least I knew where she was. (When in the mood and upright in her size-one Startrites, she could cover the ground faster than Roadrunner on speed, with barely a backward glance to see if Mummy was following.)
So it was difficult when this affectionate, loving little girl began to morph into a moody adolescent, a process which began at the tender age of 10 and lasted well into her 18th year.
Shopping was my biggest dread. Apparently, she found my presence so embarrassing, I had to walk an obligatory three paces behind her carrying The Purse while she browsed through endless racks of trainers (always trainers - why?) and interminable rails of jeans. Woe betide me were I to venture a comment: “Stop shouting!” she’d rasp. Woe betide me if I remained silent: “Why won’t you help me?!” only to shush me up again as I obligingly attempted (sotto voce) to compare the awful frayed denims with the unspeakable bell-bottoms. Eventually, my eye would rest upon a pair of serviceable strides. “What about these?” I’d ask, only to merit a withering “Ugggh!” in reply.
And woe betide me if I dared to glance at anything in my own size. “You’re so selfish!” the beloved would cry and then there’d be the all too familiar stomp back to the car and we’d drive home in stony silence. “Huh!” I’d think to myself, “Wait till after tea, my lady. There’ll be no chocolate for you tonight!” At the time, my only comfort was the certain knowledge that millions of other mums throughout the western world would be suffering exactly the same fate.
Fortunately for you parents currently living under the weight of teenage tyranny, there’s a welcome source of solace. It really isn’t your fault! Even the coolest, most loving and efficient ‘right-on’ upbringing won’t make a shred of difference, because all adolescents have a tremendous spurt of brain growth which increases their intellectual capacity but leaves their emotional facilities trailing.
According to the Society for Neuroscience, “Scientists once thought the brain's key development ended within the first few years of life. Now, thanks to advanced brain imaging technology and adolescent research, scientists are learning more about the teenage brain both in health and in disease. They know now that the brain continues to develop at least into a person's twenties.”*
A group of youths aged 12-18 taking part in a recent study was shown a series of photographs of faces showing different emotions – pain, fear, anger, sadness, joy....the whole gamut. Each youth was asked to assess what feelings were being portrayed. Amazingly, adolescents on the fringes of the teenage years were most accurate; whereas participants in the middle years (14-16) performed very badly indeed, proving their emotional perceptions and responses were extremely limited.
Another factor which comes into play is that children need to establish a sense of independence, so resent the fact that they still need guidance and emotional security from their parents.
These findings should be good news for anyone – parents and children – who are going through the terrible teens right now. And, if this is a treat you’re yet to experience, remember:
It’s not your fault
They don’t really hate you
They will grow out of it
Every other parent and child has exactly the same problems
As with the disapproving lady mentioned at the beginning of my blog, there will always be people from relatives to total strangers ready with unwarranted advice and even downright criticism so, by the time my daughter reached her teens, I did what everybody else seemed to do – blamed me!
What a relief then to learn that every parent, no matter how experienced, sensible or patient goes through the mill.
And this phase doesn’t last. Some time ago, on one of our mammoth walks together, not only did Georgina link my arm affectionately, but kept it there even when other people approached. It was then I realised that at last we’d reached a turning point. We were friends.