Life Health & Wellbeing

Thursday 17 January 2019

'I think it's astonishing how so few parents just say no' - five of Ireland's well-known parents on the minefield of raising children


Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and family
Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and family
Erin McGregor and Taylor
Lorraine Keane with daughters Emelia and Romy
Norah Casey and Dara
Rachel Allen and daughter Scarlett

Liaden Hynes

Liadan Hynes speaks to five well-known parents about their hopes and fears as they steer their children into adulthood.

Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh - Broadcaster; 4 children, Sile, Peadar, Comhghal and Darach

Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and family

I feel comfortable with my children's smartphone use today, but I have had panic reactions recently due to media coverage. I am making every effort to keep all phones downstairs at night, but I include my husband in that policy, no teenager will volunteer the phone and no parent likes to cause tension at bedtime. I recently heard from an adolescent therapist that we shouldn't use the phone to discipline our teenagers. I try to keep the phones downstairs but at a certain age, say 15, they have a right to privacy. But as I remind my son, for example, it's not him I need to monitor - but the world around him.

With regard to food and exercise I am very fortunate that all my children are physically active and we instilled this at a young age. GAA and rugby have been part of their lives since they were four years of age. I see the difference in the teenage years, the positive impact that sport has had on their mental health is astounding. They could slam the car door as they arrive on the sideline but I don't recognise the same teenager on pick-up - they're so much happier.

Good, open relationships with my teenagers are not always easy as they all have different personalities. I am the same person but I have to have a different tactic with each child. I guess the teenager that demands my attention gets it but I have noticed that the teenager who seems placid and easy needs more attention. One hard lesson I learnt (but parenting is learning): say you were wrong and don't try to be their friend, you can't be, you are their mum. Moods are tricky but don't discipline them when you are tired, you'll regret it. Always follow through on a disciplinary action, don't falsely threaten them, and every night say, 'ta me chomh i ngra leat' (I love you so much). You might be told where to go, but trust me it works. My main worry is that they would not have somebody to talk to. It does not have to be me, it could be a sibling, uncle, aunt, family friend or granny. Invest in a network for them until they make their own. Know their friends; show an interest in who they hang around with. It sounds silly but it's true, remind them that different is OK - they won't believe you but they will, with time, embrace that difference. After that hope for the best.


* Let them pick their radio station in the car when driving. As you are both looking forward, start the chat when they don't have to look at you.

* You might be tired but make the effort with a hot choc or flapjack when they are studying.

* Talk to them about the referendum/abortion/porn/sex/alcohol. It is so gross for them but you have to let them give an opinion.

* No matter what time they get in from being out, ask them to let you know they are home, even if they have to wake you.


Rachel Allen - Chef and restaurateur; 3 children, Lucca, Joshua and Scarlett

Rachel Allen and daughter Scarlett

It sounds like such a cliche but proper happiness concerns me. And depression in teens, in any age group really, is always a worry. In a way, when the children are toddlers it's easiest, because the worries are smaller to a degree. I worry about everything, from depression to drugs, and everything in between.

I was very lucky to be brought up in an environment where, as long as I was happy and safe, living within normal parameters, and being kind to people, my parents treated me with great trust. Not that I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. There were boundaries, but Mum and Dad trusted me and I didn't want to break their trust. Honesty was a huge thing, as was communication. So I'm really trying to instil that in my relationship with my own children. I know (I'm not stupid) that there's a lot they don't tell me, but I think if I can be there to listen, and not freak out, then I do believe they will tell me more. I always tell them 'you must always come to me if there's a problem'. I tell them, 'I won't go mad, and we'll try and deal with it', rather than them being afraid to come to us.

The technology thing does scare me. Will it scare me more when Scarlett is older? Perhaps. Maybe, that's because she's a girl. Not that eating disorders are exclusive to girls, but that side of things is a real worry - the pressure that everybody has to look fabulous, and perfect.

The boys have always been quite active, wanting to go out and kick a ball. When they were little it was more about Nintendo and Gameboys. But back then they weren't actively obsessive about it. You have to hope, at the end of the day, that something will go into them that they'll know what is right and what is wrong.

Joshua, pictured right, was going to a techno festival at the weekend and, of course, tablets were my worry. I was thinking 'oh God I really don't want to get a phone call in the middle of the night'. So there's always a bit of worry, isn't there? Mental health is a big worry. My mum always used to say to me 'Don't forget, communication, communication, communication. Always'. I am always mindful of the fact that they are teenagers and it's such an exciting time in their lives, that I have to trust their common sense. And that when you are a teenager anyone over 35 telling you what to do is just going to sound preachy. So I try not to make it sound like I'm just preaching. The art of being a teenager is that you have to work these things out.


Lorraine Keane - Broadcaster; 2 children, Emelia and Romy

Lorraine Keane with daughters Emelia and Romy

I always say to our girls 'I'm not concerned with other people. This is how we do it'. I don't have any problem saying no. I think it's astonishing how so few parents just say no. I always say to the girls: 'We are the boss of you, not the other way round.' They know they are very lucky girls and they are grateful for that so they accept the boundaries. I always say choose your battles. I know what things to give a little on.

Communication is key and we talk openly and honestly about our worries. I always say: 'It's because I love you SO much. I'm not just being a pain in the bum'.

We gave the girls a huge variety of foods from an early age. I always say to them to eat with your mouth not your eyes. What if you don't try it? It might be your favourite food of all time but you'll never know. Emelia and Romy have always been foodies like Peter and me as a result. Children's diets are definitely influenced by their parents. Our family's favourite food is sushi; they'd prefer it to a McDonald's meal, but we like our junk from time to time too - chipper chips, pizza, chocolate. I've told them everything in moderation and if you exercise at the same time you'll have no problem.

We regularly go on cycling, climbing and walking adventures with the family dogs in tow. Both girls play sports as they know the importance of exercise. Team sports are hugely important for their physical and mental health and for that sense of being part of something - belonging to a team or club. It also keeps them out of trouble.

If we are having difficulty agreeing on something I say: 'I wasn't born a parent so help me out here. This is my first time. I am just doing my best. I won't always get it right but let's chat about it.'

Our girls understand that we just want the best for them. I always say: 'We, your parents, your sister and the rest of your family are the only ones in the world who love you unconditionally and always have your best interests at heart. We are the only ones with no ulterior motive. We will always do what's best for you'.


Norah Casey - Businesswoman; 1 child, Dara

Norah Casey and Dara

Dara and I have a special relationship and we are probably closer than most parents are with teenage children. He's an amazing young man and the most important person in my life. His father died just before his 13th birthday and the transition from primary to secondary school. What is often a very difficult time became a lot harder for him. We talk openly and honestly about what matters and we agreed early on that talking and sharing was better than bottling things up. We have a fantastic extended family but there are just the two of us most of the time. Far more important than anything else to me in my relationship with Dara is to keep talking and always to try to focus on the things that are most important in life. Sometimes that is not school work, or exams, but emotions and feeling loved and valued. He often lacks confidence and is anxious about his future. These are feelings all teenagers have but sometimes, particularly boys, find it hard to talk openly about them. I don't stress about his phone use because it is a lifeline to me, his wider family and his friends. It's a communication device and Dara, like most teenagers, is very attached to his smartphone. It would be tempting to see that as a negative but there are huge positives about his access to information and knowledge. He learned to code when he was very young and had a one-to-one digital instructor for most of his teenage years. He's savvy about online abuse because I invested in him being well-educated in the online space.

Dara's view

I've been very lucky to have my mom; she is sweet and caring and has always believed in honesty and respect above all else. I've always been able to talk to her about my emotions and if ever I am in need of help she is the first person I look to.

My smartphone has become a limb in its own right, something I would feel naked without. I love my phone's ability to burn spare time; if I have 20 or so minutes while I'm waiting for my bus, I can just hop on my phone and the time flies by.

One of the worst things I've had to go through as a teenager is the ridiculous stress about things like how you look, or who you are friends with - all those problems that only come up when you're a teenager that really shouldn't matter but they become the most important thing in the world.

Erin McGregor - Dancer; 2 children, Taylor and Harry

Erin McGregor and Taylor

My main concern as a parent is if I am doing enough to help her to become the person that she can become. You want to help them, but sometimes you think 'am I pushing too hard, or am I not pushing enough?' There's no guidebook. As soon as you have children you get this guilt. Guilty if you're working, guilty if you're not working, guilty if you shout at them, guilty if you don't shout at them. You never know if you're doing it right, and you just hope that on any given day you're doing the right thing. I would always encourage them to work hard. But I'm also aware that if you push too much you can push them in the other direction. My mam used to try to force me to eat potatoes; to this day I still won't eat mashed potatoes. So I definitely think there's a balance. Sometimes you have to be aware that when you're giving advice and pushing them, it's really projection of your own issues, and your own stuff.

I think as parents we have responsibilities to learn how to safeguard our children with regard to online stuff. You want them to be treated kindly, but you also want them to treat others kindly. We need to come up with solutions for this new era of technology. Taylor is 17, nearly 18. At one stage when she was quite young, she was on Facebook, and I took her off for a few years, I only let her back on last year.

For keeping open the lines of communication, my partner Terry goes between both of us. He is very, very hands-on and there for her. He's probably less emotional than me at times, so I'm very lucky that I have him.

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