Online Counselling - not just for expats

Category: teens

Harry Enfield’s ‘Kevin’ is still relevant today

I have been doing some reflection on my own teens’ behaviour and how it seems to fluctuate with increased contact with their peers. I had a thoroughly self-indulgent re-visit to Kevin and Perry in Harry Enfield’s hilarious take on the teenage years. It was, at the time, described as preposterously exaggerated and extreme. I don’t think it is. I think it’s right on the money, which is why it resonated so strongly and is why they are still being watch on YouTube despite being very dated in some respects. Kevin never had the added hassles of social media to content with, for example, or had to be confined for long periods with his parents (although I would now pay good money to see those episodes!). If you’ve never seen these characters, then I’d recommend the first episode where we see Kevin morph, Jekyll and Hyde-like, into a teenager and the last, where we see him emerge into responsible adulthood (which is admittedly very, very exaggerated for comic effect). The links can be found below.

Looking up the research on teen behaviour and peer influence, I found a wonderful study from 2020 by Block and Heyes, entitled Sharing the load: Contagion and tolerance of mood in social networks.

The upshot of their research was that adolescents ‘became reciprocally more similar in mood to their interaction partners’. They adjust their moods to suit the prevailing mood of those around them. The authors also found that this contagion effect was stronger for negative than for positive moods – in other words, teens readily become more low and ‘stroppy’ when around those behaviours. It is probably part of the intricate dance of social acceptance. Interestingly, ‘although one may catch a friend’s bad mood, the friend may feel less negative in the process.’

It doesn’t help that misery is easier to catch than happiness. This is an actual a known fact from the human sciences, supported by numerous studies. At its most basic, this is a throwback to hunter-gatherer times when recognising bad mood meant survival – stay away from angry individuals, recognise the mood arriving etc – whereas good moods, whilst nice, weren’t as immediately threatening or rewarding. This – together with the hormonal turmoil of adolescence – can be a powerful influence on our teens. The WHO identify that half of all mental health issues have their origins by the age of 14. See here for details of that report.

So once again, we are perhaps forced to conclude ‘it’s not their fault’. And whilst we are dealing with a Kevin in the throws of an ‘it’s not BLOODY FAIR’ episode, we can look forward to the beauty and depth which emerges at the other end of the process. (Which may or may not include a willing shopping partner… watch the last episode if you don’t get the reference.)

Kevin becomes a teenager

Kevin grows up   (Bear in mind that this is comedy, as a psychologist I’m not suggesting that having sex helps teens to grow up, far from it!)

Block, P., & Burnett Heyes, S. (2020). Sharing the load: Contagion and tolerance of mood in social networks. Emotion. Advance online publication.

The new normal?

We may not know when, or how, but we do know that life will eventually return to normal. This doesn’t necessarily mean that things will continue as before, but routines will establish themselves, economies will recover and kids will go back to school, in some form or other. There will be a new ‘normal’.

This episode will never be forgotten, nor should it be. As with any trauma – and yes, this is a traumatic experience – people tend to rise to the occasion and ‘bear it out’. As with any trauma, the long-terms effects may well surface once the initial period of difficulty has passed.

With children returning to school, it is going to be vitally important that they get emotional support as they reflect on and assimilate this experience. Many schools have Counsellors, but some do not. Many School Counsellors have duties including timetabling, careers advice, curriculum delivery and day-to-day ‘putting out fires’ as incidents crop up in school. For students requiring a systematic, multi-session support programme, most school counsellors are simply unable to provide the support required.

With the rapid growth of online services precipitated by this crisis, there is a growing awareness that online support can work. It isn’t just a stop-gap whilst we are confined to our homes. It is something that can continue, not to replace what schools currently offer, but to complement it.

For more details about the support on offer from ExpatCounsellingNow for returning students, see here.

So you’re spending a lot more time with your teens?

We know that conversation is important, and sometimes it’s hard to find the time and the place. Mealtimes work, if that’s a thing in your home. Car drives work well too, but not so much under present conditions. So does walking the dog and washing up together (or loading the dishwasher!)…

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

A calm bedtime might the perfect time for you and your teen. Once you’ve found whatever works for you, what to talk about? Here’s a list of 15 questions which might lead to valuable, constructive conversation. They come from a 2018 article on the LifeHack website: for the full article, click on the heading below.

15 Questions To Ask Your Kids To Help Them Have Good Mindsets

1. What five words do you think best describe you?

2. What do you love doing that makes you feel happiest?

3. What do you know how to do that you can teach others?

4. What is the most wonderful/worst thing that ever happened to you?

5. What did you learn from the best/worst thing that’s happened to you?

6. Of all the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?

7. If you could travel back in time three years and visit your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?

8. What are you most grateful for?

9. What do you think that person feels?

10. What do you think your life will be like in the future?

11. Which of your friends do you think I’d like the most? Why?

12. If you could grow up to be famous, what would you want to be famous for?

13. How would you change the world if you could?

14. How can you help someone today?

15. If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what rule would you make? Why?

Social Media

It can make expat life that bit easier. Staying in contact with friends back home – especially for kids – can be crucial to allowing themselves to settle to a new home. I heard a story – which I suspect might not be true – which made me stop and think. The story goes that Einstein’s daughter was moving to Europe to work and he was lamenting her departure. A friend said, ‘Hey, don’t worry. There’s the telephone now – you’ll be able to talk to her.’ He reportedly replied, ‘If it weren’t for the telephone, she wouldn’t be going.’

I suspect that’s true of email and Facebook and Instagram and Skype for many of us on the expat circuit. Social media allows us to think we’re staying in touch, staying connected. It may have been a deciding factor in your move. But it comes with risks for all of us, and children in particular…

“We know that a significant amount of children are being contacted via popular live-streaming apps, such as TikTok, by abusers who are using them as a hunting ground,” a spokesperson for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said this weekend.

The NSPCC said it surveyed 40,000 schoolchildren and discovered that 25 percent of the children had live-streamed with a stranger. One in 20 children were asked, while live-streaming or in the comments of a posted video, to take their clothes off, according to NSPCC. 

TikTok, livestreaming apps are ‘hunting ground’ for abusers, warn kids’ advocates

And also..

Why Teenage Girls Roll Their Eyes

Insights on Teenage Behavior

Photo by Obie Fernandez on Unsplash


  In this Edutopia article, Stephen Merrill says that recent research has given us important new information on the adolescent brain. 

            • The limbic system (the seat of primal instincts like fear, hunger, lust, and pleasure) is hyperactive during adolescence, while the prefrontal cortex (the seat of self-control, planning, and self-awareness) is still developing. “It’s not youthful irrationality or a flair for the dramatic at work,” says Merrill; “teenagers actually experience things like music, drugs, and the thrill of speed more powerfully than adults do.” 

            • The brain’s neuroplasticity at this stage of life makes kids sponges for learning. “The same emerging circuitry that makes teenagers vulnerable to risky behavior and mood swings also confers significant advantages on adolescent learners,” says Merrill. 

            • Being with peers increases risk-taking, most dangerously with automobiles and alcohol consumption. “It’s never been a question of feeling invulnerable,” says Merrill; “for teenagers, there’s just something about the presence of peers that is transfiguring. They understand the risks, and take them anyway.” 

            • Kids at this age respond well to direct explanations. “Talking to teenagers frankly about their brain development can provide useful context for their emotional worlds,” says Merrill, “and reset their expectations about their potential for continued intellectual growth.” This includes explaining the limbic system, the malleability of their brains, and the peer effect. 

            • Similarly, teens are receptive to learning about self-regulation, managing stress, and considering the feelings of others. Instruction in these areas is more effective than trying to scare kids about risky behaviors. 

            • Peer culture and teens’ keen sense of fairness and justice can be powerful levers. Preaching about smoking’s health consequences is usually ineffective, but talking about bad breath, peer disapproval, impact on younger children, and the way the tobacco industry hooks and exploits people can change teens’ attitudes and behavior. 

“Decoding the Teenage Brain (in 3 Charts)” by Stephen Merrill in Edutopia, January 31, 2019

Taken directly from The Marshall Memo 774