Category Archives: Parenting tips

Ectastic, relieved, proud – son no. 2 has uni offers

It has been a momentous week. 17 year-old Ethan became Scottish Schools High Jump champion for the third year in a row and left school – for good – on Friday.

He had applied to do either marine biology or sports science at Glasgow or Stirling universities and has unconditional offers for both at both institutions.

It has been a rollercoaster of emotions these past few months, with free-spirited Ethan showing signs of restlessness within months of starting sixth year.

With 3As and 2 Bs at Higher he had a good clutch of qualifications, but wasn’t sure if it was enough to go on to study the subjects he wanted to.

Thankfully the news he had been hoping for came 10 days ago. So he put in motion withdrawal from school, submitting his Advanced Higher Biology assignment as a kind of a swan song and saying goodbye to teachers and pupils.

The UCAS application process was undoubtedly as stressful as I remember with Lyle with all sorts of dilemmas and doubts creeping into Ethan’s personal statement. It’s approximately 600 words that represent a watershed in a young person’s life.

Ethan was actually really honest about his dilemma in the application describing a fascination for the workings of both marine life and the human body and alluding to time he is going to spend deciding on which final course to take.

I dare say the next few weeks will be unsettling as he adjusts to life beyond school, but he seems really content with his next steps with a holiday in Portugal with some friends to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I am studying part-time, online for a Masters in Strategic Public Relations and finding the pull back to formal education tough.



The pain of UCAS personal statements


It’s 4,000 characters guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of the average 17 year-old.

Crafting a personal statement to accompany your UCAS university application is one of life’s early milestones, demanding that the young person is sufficiently familiar with their strengths, interests and career aspirations to jot them down in coherent sentences for the perusal of university admissions teams.

The trouble is that so many of them aren’t. When you think about it, it’s such a tender age to make such a momentous decision hence, Ethan, my 16 year-old, is wrestling with not only how to convince admissions that he is passionate about marine biology, but how to convince himself.

He is interested in marine biology, but also in sports science and just recently has taken more than a passing interest in neuroscience.

Arguably you could say that each involves studying the workings of the body – both human and animal – and the brain, so he has landed on this theme to tie his statement together. And is now turning his attention to hobbies, interests and achievements.

Fortunately his sporting abilities demonstrate the sort of dedication, determination and team work that universities – not to mention employers – are looking for. But, again, he is dubious when faced with friends who seem to have known from an early age that they want to be a doctor or a vet.

Where does that unshakeable belief come from? Have these young people felt a calling, or, more likely, been inspired to follow in their parents footsteps.

To all the other kids I say do as much research as you can to broaden your horizons by, for example, completing the My Strengths and About me questionnaires on and then checking out the ‘Meet the Industries’ section to see which industries employ people with which skills and qualifications, and which industries are growing.

That’s boring is likely to be the lament, but not nearly as boring as working for 40 years in a job you’re not cut out for.

Does social media show teenagers 2 worlds they can’t possibly reconcile?

Just back from a long walk with my good friend, Suzanne.

As usual we try to put the world to rights, or, more likely these days, accept there’s not much we can do to change things.

We both have teenage sons and frequently share the highs and lows including some hilarious moments not fit for print.

Today, though, we were comparing our own teenage years to those of our kids.

We went through the same search for identity and independence, but somehow it didn’t seem as complicated.

We concluded that the big difference for young people today is social media.

On the one hand it presents the impossibly perfect world of celebrities (accessible to young people in a way it never was 30 years ago). But on the other teenage angst with all its experimentation and heart-rending failures writ large.

Is it any wonder, then, that some overthinking, sensitive teenagers feel inadequate and see themselves in the numerous scare stories reflected back at them on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram?

We look to our peers to help us make sense of the world, but that world can seem ugly and uncaring on social media. The classic teen problems of parental pressure, relentless homework and unrequited love can be magnified a million times over.

More worrying is the solution some kids come up with, whether it’s drink, drugs, self-harm and in the saddest of cases, suicide.

How can we help our children adapt to the relentless onslaught of information, which academics already say is having a detrimental effect on their mental health

I don’t have the answers, but think the way kids cope very much depends on their personalities.

Myers Briggs have made millions out of their type indicator tool, and I would never for a minute suggest which personality types are more prone to overthinking than others, but it’s something to consider.

Take a personality test based on the MB approach here



Six things you should never say to your teenager

Act your age, grow up… Phrases that trip off the tongue in the heat of the moment that may only make the situation worse.

I love squirreling away snippets of information that might prove useful in the future, and that goes for my professional life as well as my personal one.

I’ve read ‘Raising Boys’ by Steve Biddulph and ‘Confident Teens’ by Gael Lindenfield and have a well-thumbed article by Dr. Richard Woolfson on the subject of teenagers from The Herald from years ago.

Apparently, the teenage years are characterised by an angst about becoming independent and making your own decisions. Angst on the other side of the coin – by parents – perhaps comes from failing to acknowledge this fundamental point.

Here are six things that you might be tempted to say to your teenager and the reasons why you shouldn’t. With thanks to Dr. Woolfson, Gael Lindenfield et al.

This is my house and while you’re under my roof you will follow my rules

This is right up there and I remember my own Mum saying this. Parents do this to let teenagers know who’s in charge and to lay down some boundaries – as, to be quite honest, what else do we have in our armory!

The temptation for the teenager will be to actually go somewhere else and that’s not ideal for anyone (I remember frantically searching for Ethan one Christmas morning. Can’t remember what we argued about now). What you might want to try instead is “I know you’re upset. Can we not just sit down over a cup of cocoa and talk this through?”

Young people have got it so good. It was different when I was your age…

The teenage world of today is light years away from what it was like even 20 years ago. Parents say this to try to put trivial complaints in perspective. If at all possible, you don’t want to highlight the generation gap. Something like “The world has changed since I was a teenager, but I understand why this is important to you…” is worth a shot.

Count yourself lucky that this is all you have to worry about

We say this in an attempt to put things in perspective whether our kids are having a moan about spots, or not having the latest designer gear/tech.

“Small” problems like these can be magnified in the mind of a confused and tentative teenager. Paying the mortgage, running a house and work problems are all beyond a teenager’s experience. Dr. Woolfson recommends: “I can see why you are worried. Maybe you and I can work together to find a solution.”

When you are older you’ll understand why I am saying this

A classic appeal to their better self, highlighting our greater life experience and maturity. Trouble is teenagers think they know it all, or want it to appear that way. A comment like this is patronising and belittling. “Because you are older and more mature now, I think you’re smart enough to understand what I’m saying.” might earn you some grudging respect.

Your brother didn’t behave this way when he was your age

We say this to make a sibling understand that their behaviour is unreasonable, and to use their older brother/sister as a benchmark. It’s never a good idea to draw unfavourable comparisons between siblings. It just increases resentment and makes the younger think you prefer the older. I’ve tried “You’re really upsetting me. Can we talk about what we could do differently so we can get along?” with some success.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Nothing strikes fear into a teenager like this question. Trying to find a career path can be hugely daunting and asking this only hammers that home. I’m going to cover this in other posts, but I used to work at Skills Development Scotland and is a fantastic resource to help young people explore their strengths, skills and interests and how they relate to the world of work.