Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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My girls are 12 and 13 years old, bang on the kid target demographic discussed in this book about puberty and adolescence by Robert Winston. As can be expected, my oldest’ mood swings sometimes baffle me, at least until I remember that I too was that age once–and I too was not very nice to my parents. My youngest still teeters on the verge of childhood and like Peter Pan, refuses to grow up into adulthood, definitely appreciating the comforts of being an almost worriless child. That’s not saying that she’s not conflicted about stuff or ready to accept whatever adults say at face value, but she sees an advantage to delaying puberty and adolescence as long as possible. Whether your kids are already hitting puberty or just about to, this book offers an insight into the life of tweens and teens for overwhelmed and/or clueless parents. Let’s face it, we are all a bit clueless to some extent when it comes to our kids.
When I was given this book to review, I had the opportunity to ask a couple of questions to the author. Being an outdoors writer, I focused my two questions on the relationship between teens and the outdoors. My review will start with these two questions and will follow with the more classical part of the book.
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Q: I take my family outdoors a lot. Recently, I took my 2 girls (11 and 13) and my husband wild camping (i.e. backpacking) in Cornwall. I offered my girls a choice – camping out under the stars in bivvy sacks (literally, a sleeping bag outside) or camping out under the stars in a tent. They chose the tent option, I’m guessing for 2 reasons–privacy/body issues and possibly, fear of the dark/unknown. Any words of advice on how to make camping trips more accessible for teens? How can they overcome body issues when in a nature environment where privacy is different from the home environment?
A: What strikes me about this question at all is that really if this is all we have got to worry about in our society, then we are doing pretty well… I think 50 years ago you would have had much more serious issues in a way, I don’t say this is not serious but if you think about it is perfectly natural for most people to rather be inside the confines of a tent than lying outside in the open air looking at the stars, as beautiful as that might be…
There is a sense of security inside of a space and humans by their very hardwire nature going back to the beginning of evolution would feel safer inside the cave than outside the cave and I think that therefore this is quite a natural response. I don’t know really if it’s anything to do with body issues or privacy, or even fear of the dark, but I think all of these things would play a part in it. I think we should be completely accepting that teenagers may feel somewhat exposed outside and it’s quite reasonable to enjoy a camping holiday inside the camp, which after would be the norm.
Q: My 13-year-old is currently an emotional yo-yo and sometimes, she wakes up with absolutely no inclination to go outside, even though we’ve planned a family day out. As she already spends a lot of time indoors (school, home, activities), we always persuade her to come. Though she’s grumpy initially, she always comes around and has a great time once we’re out in nature. What would you do and is there a better way to spend quality time outside as a family without the grumpiness?
A: Well if you have a teenager who is not grumpy please show me, because I have not met that… To feel these mood swings is completely natural, and that’s something that we need to adjust to as much as they do. I think they need to be explained to that their mood swings are perfectly acceptable and quite normal and we need to be able to compensate and cope with these sorts of issues. Puberty and adolescence are like a rollercoaster, it is an emotional yoyo it is massively up and down and people often do feel completely irrational, and they suddenly have some sudden fears or sudden wants and desires and that is part of growing up and that’s part of the way a brain develops…
Now if somebody is grumpy initially and then comes around and has a great time while they are out in the natural environment what better way is there to spend time outside? I think let’s try and accept the grumpiness, and deal with it without being too judgemental and just acknowledge the fact that this is quite normal for a 13 year olds behaviour.
The book discusses body health at length, openly showing body changes and what to expect in terms of body odour, body hair, sex or acne. Though I suspect teens discuss the topic between themselves, this book is a solid and scientifically-accurate resource on such topics and it could help either start a conversation on a given topic or, if it’s too uncomfortable for the child, confirm or contradict what they’ve heard. At worst, tweens and teens will learn something new, as the book is well researched. As a mother, I appreciate that the book covers tricky topics such as safer sex, masturbation, virginity or intimacy. If my daughters don’t ask me or if they refuse to discuss these with me or their father, at least they know where the book is.
What do you want to do in life? What are good at? Such issues are usually discussed in families and my husband and I are willing to discuss our experience with our girls, but sometimes it’s good to have a third party lay out all the options. It’s also possible that specific family situations make life goals seem unachievable or non existent. Over-achieving parents have become the norm in upper-middle class urban families and internet makes every small misstep seem bigger than it really is.
As a result, kids are subject to intense pressure at school, both from their peers and from the system (us adults). If you don’t fit, you’re seen as a failure and whatever progress has been made in terms of helping kids who don’t “conform”, it’s still not an easy life. It’s good that this book mentions that there are alternatives to university because not everybody wants to or can attend university. It’s healthy to see that there’s no “one size fits all” path in life and that you can be happy doing something else (volunteering, traveling, working or learning a job).
Screens are probably the one unifying object in the life of tweens and teens. That’s how they communicate, how they consume entertainment and how they learn about the world. It’s also the source of fake news, cyberbullying and online predators and trolls. What can you do as an adult and how much can you realistically control? The chapter in this book about netiquette and staying safe online is good, but even with parental controls on your home networks, there’s very little you can do about how your kids use internet.
The best thing you can do is make them aware of the risks and pray that they listen. It also helps if you can sort of follow up on the social media channels they use, but that’s an investment in time and effort. That part of the book, to me as a mother, is unrealistic as most kids are more tech-savvy than their parents and can easily circumvent any types of controls or restrictions.
How do you deal with a lying adolescent? One of my daughters has an eating disorder and hides food in her bedroom. I’ve found candy wrappers and empty junk food bags under her mattress, under her desk and in her afterschool bags. She is very crafty at discarding food remnants outside of a bin. Why is that? It’s not like she cannot eat in the kitchen at home, but she has sudden cravings outside of home and uses her pocket money to buy cheap junk food. I’ve taken her shopping for healthy snacks but sooner or later, she returns to junk food. Is it a problem?
Yes, for sure, but is it enough of a problem to be worried? Doctors we’ve seen consider her behavior to be normal for a teen and she is healthy otherwise. The book deals with family conflicts, building trust and eating disorders, providing pointers as to where you can find answers and solutions.
I don’t usually turn to books for parenting but this book is a very helpful resource and one that I can use to discuss situations with my husband and my family. I would recommend it if you have kids age 10 and over, as most of the topics covered will probably happen in your life.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.