Information management

Information management

A parent recently asked me why her daughter was willing to tell her certain things, but clammed up when asked about other topics.  I replied by telling her the story of one young woman who said to me:  “I do tell my Mum things, but not at the time they happen.  I have to get them sorted in my mind first”.   This response underscores a topic that has been the subject of research in social psychology recently, a topic that is known as “information management”. This refers to the fact that young people take an active role in managing the flow of information between themselves and the adults around them.

A young person may not disclose because they think the information will be hurtful, or will worry the adult. They may hold back because they think it is none of the adults’ business! Topics to do with sex and romance probably come into this category.  Or, as indicated above, they may wish to wait till they are clear about the consequences of talking about a particular topic.

The conclusions of this are clear.

  • Young people think carefully about how to manage information;
  • They make decisions on what to talk about based on all sorts of reasons, some of which may be to do with protecting their parents, or not wanting to worry them;
  • Teenagers have clear and well-thought out views about what parents ought to know, and what they do not need to know;
  • This topic – information management – illustrates clearly that communication is a two-way process. Simply giving instructions, or asking questions (thought of as “interrogation” by young people) is unlikely to lead to good conversations!
  • Good communication between parent and teenager depends on the adult being willing to listen and well as talk. Most importantly it is worth remembering that young people take an active role in deciding what to communicate, and when to do so.





Knife Crime

Knife Crime

The deaths and injuries to young people in our city centres as a result of knife crime are both a disgrace and a terrible tragedy. Yet the response of politicians and policy makers has been to lay the blame almost entirely on falling police numbers. As a result of this claim the suggested solution almost always comes down to increasing stop and search and putting more police on the streets.

This is clearly ridiculous. Even if the current number of police were to be doubled, there would be relatively little impact on knife crime. The reason for this is clear. Knife crime has many determinants, and is affected by a wide range of social, psychological and economic factors.

Firstly consider the impact of austerity. Youth work has been decimated, and leisure opportunities for the less academic teenagers in inner city areas have largely disappeared. Add to that the fact that all types of support for social and emotional problems, both in school and in the community, have been drastically reduced.  This has meant that any early intervention work is now extremely difficult. In addition when a young person is identified as having a problem there is little chance that very much help will be available.

We cannot ignore the fact that almost all knife crime involves boys and young men.  So we need to give some thought to adolescent development for the more vulnerable males in our society.  These young people get their support from the peer group. Their identity is tied up with the experiences of others, either older siblings or friends, who have poor experiences of school. It is hardly surprising that they turn to alternative activities, those that are based on the street and neighbourhood.

What routes to adulthood are available for vulnerable young men in inner cities?  Politicians would do better to consider this question rather than arguing over stop and search and the number of police on the streets.




Teenagers and sleep

Teenagers and sleep

It has been really exciting to see the development of sleep lessons for young people, developed by Dr Michael Farquar in association with the PSHE Association.  I have long believed that good sleep is a key element contributing to the health of teenagers.  It is hugely encouraging to see that schools and the general public are at last taking this seriously.

As part of the wider range of research on brain development in adolescence, we have learnt that the hormone melatonin is released later at night in young people than in adults.  Melatonin is the hormone which signals that it is time to go to sleep.  This finding, that melatonin is released later in teenagers, is critical as it highlights a key reason why many teenagers find it hard to go to sleep at night.

This has big implications.  Sleep is important for teenagers, probably more important that it is for younger children.  If young people have to get up early for school, they may be missing some hours of much needed sleep.  Research tells us that sleep deficit (less than seven hours a night) can have a negative influence on both learning and behaviour.

Why is sleep so important?  Firstly it is the time when growth hormones are released.  Adolescence, particularly early adolescence, is of course a time of significant growth and development.  Secondly we have learnt that something very important happens to memory during sleep.  It is a time when memories collected during the day are consolidated.  The brain is really busy during sleep, so learning is affected if the individual is not getting enough sleep.  A good book on this is “Why we sleep” by Matthew Walker (2018).

The idea of providing sleep lessons in school is so that the problem of sleep loss can be overcome.  It seems unlikely that schools will agree to what is known as “ delayed starts”, i.e. starting the school day at 10.00 or 11.00.  Trials with this plan have not been popular with teachers or with parents.

However if schools can include lessons on the importance of sleep, and offer advice to young people on how to overcome the melatonin problem, this can only have a positive influence on school performance and on the emotional health of students.

Here are some ideas about developing good sleep patterns for teenagers:

  • Turn off all digital devices at least a half hour before bedtime;
  • Turn lights down, put on soothing music;
  • Have a hot drink of some sort (without caffeine);
  • Most important of all, get into a good sleep routine. Routines make all the difference;
  • Lastly, many teenagers may find these suggestions hard to carry out. This is where adults come in.  Parents and carers can play a key role in helping in the development of these routines.