Tuesday 25 June 2019

How to transform your grouchy teen

The author of a new book on how to make both teens and their families happier

Keep smiling: if parents smile first, teenagers are more likely to emulate them
Keep smiling: if parents smile first, teenagers are more likely to emulate them

Everyone is familiar with the cliché of the typical teenager who stays in their bedroom, communicates in grunts and monosyllables, and appears to hate just about everyone.

They don't appear to be happy, and their parents, family and teachers are definitely not happy.

But things don't have to be like that, and a new book, aimed at teens themselves is here to explain why they should cheer up and how to go about it.

The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager is packed with cartoons and scrawled writing, under chapter headings including Bouncebackability, Phone a Friend, You are You, and Being Real.

The book, written by three experts on happiness, psychology and being brilliant, claims to be "for ambitious teens who are ready to become proactive, determined, successful and most importantly: happy! And for parents and teachers desperate to turn a down-beat teenager into a ray of positivity and delight".

It sounds like an impossible transformation for most adolescents, and the truth is, says the book, that for it to be "Saturday morning every day in your head", teens need to be awesome, which apparently takes "a tad more effort".

That extra effort involves standing out from the crowd by 'doing stuff' - even though it's easier to do very little, choosing friends carefully, and making the most of your family because it's the only one you've got.

In a nutshell, the idea is for teens to strive to be the best they can, rather than taking the easy way out and fitting in with everyone else.

One of the authors, teacher Andy Cope, highlights a quote by the happiness expert Gretchen Rubin, who said: "Any family is only as happy as the least happy child."

"That's so true," Cope says. "It only takes one miserable teenager to ruin the whole balance of the household."

The book points out that people often say someone simply 'hasn't found themselves yet,' but it then stresses: "The 'self' isn't something you find, it's something you create. Create your best self and be it consistently."

One of the many ways of doing this is by simply smiling. "You can order them to smile till you're blue in the face," says Cope, "but if parents smile first it's the best way of getting teenagers to do it."

And as well as smiling, teenagers would do well to adopt the 'four-minute rule', as the authors, who also include Darrell Woodman and Andy Whittaker, say the first four minutes of any interaction are the most important.

So, being the best, positive and enthusiastic version of themselves for the first four minutes after meeting someone will have a significant positive impact.

Then there's also negative thoughts and behaviours. The authors point out that ingrained, negative thoughts like 'I'm rubbish at that', or 'I'm not confident enough or pretty enough' etc, and negative behaviours like watching too much TV, or eating too much junk food, stop teenagers being brilliant.

The way to get rid of negative thoughts and behaviours is firstly to identify them, and realise they're holding you back, says the book. Then instead of dwelling on such negativity, teens should list 10 things they already have and really appreciate, but take for granted.

Cope, who has just completed a doctorate thesis on the science of happiness and positivity, says: "It's not so much about happiness, it's more about confidence and positivity. Happiness isn't something you can deliberately will on yourselves, but positivity is. If you choose to be your best self, then you'll be happy almost by accident."

Choosing to be your best self means "getting off your backside and being bothered about yourself," as this creates opportunities. It can help teenagers find their passion, which the authors say is a key element to a happy and successful life.

"The biggest challenge," admits Cope, "is engaging them to read the thing in the first place - reading is not in the top 10 for most teenagers to do in the modern world.

"We're not claiming it's the best book in the world, but I think it might be the most needed book in the world."

Cope and his co-authors, who have five teenage children between them, advise teenagers: "Don't look at glossy mags and wish you were that person. Only compare yourself to yourself. Being yourself brilliantly is the key to happiness and success."

The Art of Being a Brilliant Teenager is published by Capstone, and is available now

Irish Independent

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