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Q&A with Nicola Morgan author of Blame My Brain about workings of teenage brain - ANSWERS BACK

(59 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 02-May-13 11:24:19

This week we have 50 copies of Nicola Morgan's Blame My brain up for grabs. Described as a 'carefully researched, accessible and humorous examination of the ups and downs of the teenage brain', it has chapters dealing with powerful emotions, the need for more sleep, the urge to take risks, the difference between genders and the reasons behind addiction or depression. Essential reading for parents of teens and pre-teens and for teenagers themselves.

If you're interested in reading, apply for a free copy. Come back to join the discussion and post a question to author Nicola Morgan.

TunipTheVegedude Thu 23-May-13 13:51:14

Thank you very much for my free copy.

Right, here goes.

I wanted to love everything about this book because I am a huge fan of Nicola Morgan - her creative writing books are the best in the business and I really enjoy her YA fiction.

I loved nearly everything about this book....

It is a totally fantastic concept for a book. Nicola Morgan is known for being willing to give the harsh truth in her books on how to get published and I was delighted to see some of the crabbit old bat persona sneaking in here as well - eg her being willing to inform her teenage readers that the evidence points to bedtime being a useful thing. I wish there were more books on parenting with nice solid science underlying them. It works really well. I like the way it uses science to promote intra-familial harmony. Definitely performs a service to humanity.

The writing is brilliant. It's breezy and accessible and I loved the way she makes it interactive with quizzes. The teenagers in my family would enjoy it and the grown-ups would find it useful. My kids are still pre-teen but I think it helped me understand them a little bit better, too.

The one thing that took me aback is that the chapter on gender didn't seem to contain the openness to different theories that the earlier chapters did. It reads as a bit Simon Baron-Cohen fangirl. She seemed readier to accept this stuff, uncritically, than she was in the previous sections (one of the strengths of the book is the way she lays out different theories side by side), and that bothered me rather a lot because I've read things that have criticised S B-C for overstating brain difference at birth. And the section on evolution and gender (pp 131-2) needed to be a little bit more critical, I think. I'd be a bit wary of giving this to my teenage nephews without a chat about the cultural context of science and the problems with some widely-quoted brain sex research (eg experiments with babies where the researcher doesn't know the sex of the child but the person holding the baby actually does, or the evolutionary psychology that is really little more than just-so stories).

Now I'm going to be awful and ask Nicola a question that has nothing to do with the book (because MNHQ didn't say I couldn't grin)

Nicola, you've written both contemporary and historical YA fiction. Is it harder to get teenagers to read historical fiction than contemporary? There's very little straight YA historical on the shelves of my local Waterstones (though a fair bit of historical with fantasy elements) and I wonder if that reflects non-magical historical fiction being hard to sell to teens?

purplemonstermum Fri 24-May-13 13:49:03

Hi - not quite finished reading book yet but seems a good one and my 14 year old DS1 has promised to at least look at it too...quizzes engage all family and DS2 (8) wants to beat DS1 (of course) e.g. at recognition of facial emotion picture - he was dead chuffed when he got it right and v disappointed when so did DS1!
thanks for sending me a copy.

sagfold Sat 25-May-13 08:59:41

Thanks for my copy. Have just finished it and loved it. Found it very useful in helping to understand my pre-teen and what we may find ahead of us. My question is my ds is 10.5 y/o and he has expressed an interest in reading the book. It deals with some pretty adult themes do you think a child of tgis age is ready to cope with them? Am I being too overprotective of him? He is fully aware of the facts of life etc but doesn't know anything about drugs for example.

mugglelady Sun 26-May-13 22:07:01

I found the bit on depression interesting and my second question would be if your child had been through a challenging time prior to their teens, eg divorce, bullying etc or other members of the family have suffered with depression - do you have any tips for monitoring changes in their behaviour/ discussing the triggers with them to help them discuss this openly/ ask for help should they need it?

tryingmyhardest1 Mon 27-May-13 15:55:38

Thanks for my copy - an interesting read. I've shown my teenage son the quizzes and I think they will inspire him to read the rest of the book once I finish it (shortly). It's a shame that the photographs aren't a bit clearer for the emotion recognition sections, but I know that would have made the book dearer.
Question for Nicola - I know that my teenager could do with a little help in English, but whenever I try to help he gets really angry (normally he has a very mild nature). Feel as though it's counter-productive to suggest help again, but also think I'm failing him by not helping. Any suggestions?

pithy Mon 27-May-13 16:22:45

A quick, easy and engaging read, once I got round to it! My DC are also looking forward to reading "Blame my Brain."

I wonder, Nicola, if you could also find a market in single issue, abnormal psychology books for teenagers? Anorexia and self harm, spring to mind. I don't know what's already out there on the bookshelves, but you've certainly hit on a winning formula with your prose style.

LaraMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 28-May-13 09:51:57

TunipTheVegedude

Entered. I do love Nicola Morgan.

Can we ask her creative writing questions as well?

Yes you can.

Punkatheart Tue 28-May-13 14:49:16

Very clearly laid out and engaging. I read it first - as my daughter is very lazy. Then I told her it was a little far-fetched. Her ears pricked up. 'Well, there is a teenager here who burns incense, wants their mother out of the room and sits looking at pictures of Kurt Cobain.' She laughed - because that is HER. In fact, all of it read very very true and we read bits of it out to one another. It helped her to feel not so alien and for me to relax in some ways.

I was very impressed.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 29-May-13 11:27:08

The Q&A is now closed and we've sent the questions over to Nicola. We'll post up her answers on 3rd June.

membershipcard Thu 30-May-13 08:53:58

I'm nearly finished and found the chapter on risk taking very good.
I have read bits out to DS but he wants to read it when I'm finished.

Was a little taken aback by this bit...

The main sex hormones are testosterone (mostly in males) and oestrogen (mostly in females). Normal males will have a small amount of female hormones, and vice versa.

So if they have more than a little they aren't normal??? This is not the message teenagers want to hear.

NulliusInBlurba Thu 30-May-13 09:03:13

Oh bugger, I've missed the entry date now (due partly to teenage crisis last week). So a comment rather than a question - your emphasis on the teenage psychological need to take risks, combined with an inability to perceive risks for what they really are, really changed my attitude to my older children. I now encourage the DDs to do lots of adrenalin-type (supervised) activities such as climbing, canyoning, high ropes courses, etc, so they can learn to associate the adrenalin rush with sport and healthy activity rather than drinking/smoking/stealing/playing chicken on railway lines. So far it's working well! Thanks so much for that insight.

Punkatheart Thu 30-May-13 21:57:35

You are distorting what the author is saying, membership. It is simply stating that everyone - not matter what gender - has a small amount of 'other' gender hormones.

momofgirls Fri 31-May-13 09:42:57

Thanks for the opportunity to read this book. Im now half way through and Nicola has captured the teenage world and moods succinctly. Hoping that by the end of the book I will have greater understanding of my two teenage girls behaviours and moods. This book will have increased my knowledge on how to help them through these years.
Thanks Nicola enjoyable book with good explanation of brain development.

membershipcard Fri 31-May-13 11:05:08

Punkstheart, yes, but do you not think that teenagers reading this will think they can't be normal as they feel they have more than a little bit of the other gender hormone.
It's the use of 'normal' that hit me, 'typically' may have been a better choice.

I'm up to the depression, addiction and self harm chapter which I am finding very interesting.

Punkatheart Fri 31-May-13 13:08:03

I do understand what you mean but I don't think anyone would interprete it that way, membership. What do other people think?

Sadly that chapter is now the most relevant to me - as my daughter recently tried to throw herself in front of a car. Such a fragile age this can be. sad

LaraMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 04-Jun-13 12:09:06

We now have the answers back from Nicola, which I will be posting up shortly. Nicola has asked us to please thank the mumsnetters for all their lovely remarks, which didn't appear in the questions but which she did notice and appreciate.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:18:52

Punkatheart

As Spock might say - fascinating.

So question - when did the idea for the book pop into your own brain? Or had it been brewing for a while? Or was it suggested to you?

Well, I’d been writing fiction and in 2003 one of my publishers, Walker books, asked if I fancied writing non-fiction. I said I’d love to and they asked what I was interested in. I had just recently read some new research on the teenage brain (because I’d been reading about the brain for years) and no one had written about it for teenagers so I suggested that, and my publisher jumped at the idea. Hooray!

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:24:45

Rosy

Really happy to have won as my daughter loves this book and has borrowed it from the library several times. I will be reading it when it arrives!

My question to Nicola: My dd is 13 and has been suffering from depression for about 9 months (we've got a CAMHS referral, but it's taking ages of course). Both my MIL and BIL have had quite serious depression throughout their adult lives. Could there be a genetic component to my dd's depression, and does this make it more likely that she's going to be suffering for the rest of her life too? Also, do girls sometimes benefit mood-wise from taking a contraceptive pill (though understand that this may be something that you can't comment on)?
Thank you, Rx

Hi Rosy and I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. That’s very distressing for you and her and is unfortunately very common.

I’m not well-informed on medication for depression and you are right that I can’t comment on whether taking a contraceptive pill would help your daughter; obviously it would alter hormones and of course hormones hugely affect our mood – but as for depression specifically (which is more than mood), I just don’t know.

Regarding the genetic link: even if there is a genetic element, it’s really important not to view it as a certain predictor. Even if we inherit certain genes, they may not be activated, and there is likely to be a complex combination of genes involved, as well as environmental or experiential factors. There would be a danger in expecting depression on the basis of a possible genetic link.

On the other hand, an advantage of suspecting a heightened genetic risk is that we can be more vigilant about early signs, and deal with them early. So it provides a greater understanding and self-awareness. I think the best thing is to become as informed as possible but also not to second-guess what will happen. Many people have their only bout of depression as teenagers and never suffer again. Could your daughter use the skills and intuition she’ll learn through dealing with her current depression to prevent future episodes, I wonder? It’s entirely possible.

So, yes, there could be a genetic component but this should not be regarded as a sentence or a certainty. Regard it as an opportunity to avoid bad episodes later by being forewarned.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:26:42

Scottishbordersmum

So pleased to have won a copy. Not just an interesting read, but also I really liked the way it was written. It struck me that it must be hard to be able to write in a way to engage teens. So Nicola, have you always been able to talk/write to teens or did you learn the hard way?

Thanks for your comment! To be honest, I can’t claim any credit for this – I just found it very natural and easy. I suppose I do talk to a lot of teenagers and writing non-fiction is so like talking. So I didn’t “manufacture” a particular style, but just let myself write as if talking. (But editing a lot afterwards, obviously, because when I actually talk, I waffle!)

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:30:43

gazzalw

Thanks for the copy of Blame My Brain - got it at the weekend so it's still on my "to read" pile. However as we have a 12 year old son who is turning into Kevin/Perry before our eyes, I am hoping for some illumination and will pass it on for him to read.

DS has always been argumentative but since going to secondary school he's got loads worse. Everything is a battle. He is only really happy when he is communicating 'online' with his friends, playing Minecraft? We don't think this is acceptable but getting him to be interested in anything else meets with a "do I have to?" type attitude.

He has expressed an interest in cricket and was keen to get into the school team which he hasn't because he doesn't practise enough in an out-of-school-club. However, we made inquiries about a local(ish) club but of course he doesn't want to do it. AAARGH. But then expresses regret that he's not been selected for the school team! Talk about irrational!

Is this normal and how do we find some common ground for doing things other than spending all his time in his room playing Minecraft. It is quite exasperating trying to involve a 12 year old who only seems to want to beat to the sound of his own drum!

Very exasperating and very common! First, I think it’s important to recognise that some form of breaking away from parental control and moving towards a preference for being with and listening to peers is very natural. In essence, it’s a positive thing, as it allows him ultimately to become independent. But it’s always a shame when that has to involve lots of conflict. And it’s tough on you when he’s only 12 and you’ve not had time to get used to him being a teenager rather than a child.

If you view this as an area where he is naturally pushing against you, you can perhaps draw back and give him a little bit of victory, which will give him a slight sense of control – and I sometimes feel that it’s lack of control that can make teenagers so angsty. I think that a good tactic for parents is to choose those battles that are most important and which are winnable. Although playing computer games isn’t what you want him to do, it’s not as harmful as you might think – as long as the time spent on them is not excessive. It’s valid to limit his time, but that limit should be set with negotiation and reason.

The next issue is how to encourage him to do things that you know would be “better” for him, or at least more varied, such as cricket. Let’s think about that, specifically. You say he’s shown an interest but then rejected the opportunity to practice or join a club. There are good reasons for him to refuse: it’s harder work than playing Minecraft and also a little scary, because it involves making an effort to meet new people and to take the risk of failure or not being good enough. So, as well as a bit of natural laziness (we all suffer from this) I think there’s a larger dose of fear going on. And the only way to deal with fear is to face it. So, I’d suggest you use some clever psychology to create a situation whereby he does go and play cricket – ideally feeling that he has made the decision himself, a decision which you will then praise in a totally non-patronising way – and that when he enjoys himself (as he most likely will) you avoid any sense of “I told you so” and focus on the praise.

I also recommend that these conversations take place at cleverly-chosen times – not when he’s in the middle of Minecraft! So, what I’m saying is that he’s being less irrational and more “normal” than you might think. He needs some gentle pushing at the right times and in the right direction, as well as somehow to feel that he has more control and that you are giving him more decision-making. And I believe it is good for him to realise that playing a computer game for many hours is not good for him – but playing it for a reasonable time IS good for him.
Hope that helps! It’s not easy.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:33:29

euwa

Thanks for the book. Great title which of course catches both attention and imagination, I have friends queuing up to borrow it! My first question is should I tell them to buy their own? grin

We loved doing the quizzes and I like the way no-one is "wrong". I also like the way it sparked the whole family into several discussions throughout. As I read the part in the book about helping yourself to make the most of your sleep patterns, I began to wonder what you thought about the idea of helping teenagers by having a curfew imposed which would dictate the time they have to get off the streets? A flexible curfew put forward as a way to help them unwind and settle down at night? Various counties/countries have tried it to prevent disruptive behaviour but from what you have written, do you think it would be a good idea if it were actually put forward as a way to help youngsters on school nights? Would it help with peer pressure and help parents who are struggling with rebellion - or do you think it is something everyone has to learn to work out for themselves when the brain is ready to take it on-board? (Just for the record, I would prefer another word to curfew, as it seems so strong a word, when trying to think of positive steps.)

Lots more to ask but will leave that for others. Agree with what has already been said - love the way you talk seamlessly to the teen, the parent, the teen, both etc.

Hi and thanks so much for your comments. Re the curfew – like you, I don’t like the word, and I think we don’t like the word probably for the same reason: that it feels too much like a military or police restriction. In theory, and in the ideal (impossible!) world, it would be great if there were a time by which every young person should be winding down in their bedroom and getting ready for a healthy night’s sleep. But that’s not going to happen. What would be great would be if all parents could set reasonable bedtimes (and we’d have to argue about what “reasonable” is!) because there’s research showing that “parent-led” bedtimes do seem to make a practical and positive difference – there’s a reference to the research at the end of Blame My Brain. I also think it’s better in the long-run if families negotiate their own rules about things like sleep and nutrition rather than have them imposed from outside. I think if schools could teach the value of getting as good a sleep as possible, and if schools could work with parents on this, both schools and parents could benefit from that mutual support. And if all teenagers knew that all their friends were also going to bed at reasonable times (and were therefore not online) then it might be easier for them to switch off, too. But it’s a bit idealistic, sadly!

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:44:32

Jenni2legs

Any plans on writing for different age groups?

I already write for all age groups. smile Well, I’ve stopped writing for really small children but I’m currently trying to write fiction for 8-11s. I write non-fiction for adults, and fiction and non-fiction for teenagers. I’ll write for anyone who will read it!

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:47:13

mugglelady

Thanks so much for the book - not finished yet, but a fascinating read so far. My daughter isn't quite a teen yet (I'm reading in preparation!) but has enjoyed the quizzes whilst having a nose over my shoulder and I'm sure she'll also read it when she's abit older (I think its great that both parents & their children can use this book). I know this book is aimed specifically for the teenage years but my question would be if there are any hints or tips we can consider before this period to help smooth the transition. Thanks

Thanks! I think if you’ve read Blame My Brain, you are well-prepared. My firm belief is that understanding is the greatest tool, and that it switches off a degree of the stress on both sides. It doesn’t make everything perfect, but it smoothes the rough edges of adolescent stress, I feel.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:49:45

sagfold

Only half way through the book, finding it really interesting. First question : what would your number one top tip to parents about parenting teens be?

To find a balance between setting good boundaries and not interfering too much, so that teenagers can make their own mistakes but know that in the background you are there to support them when things go wrong. It’s very very hard for us to let our teenagers makes their own mistakes but I do think modern parents tend to do too much, try too hard, worry too much and interfere too much. (I know, because I did! The modern world is very stressful and competitive and it’s hard to step off that treadmill.)

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:50:46

vickibanana

Thank you for my copy. Its very cleverly written, did you find it hard to find a writing style to suit both parents and teen readers?

Thanks! No, I didn’t find it hard because I don’t think there’s a huge different between teenagers and adults in terms of the way they like to be talked to. There is a difference in what they want to know (so, if I were writing about the subject for adults, I would have some different points to make) but in terms of style I think both adults and teenagers respond to the same.

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