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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.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:52:03


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?

What’s on the shelves of Waterstones is a tiny fraction of the great books published and eagerly devoured, in school libraries, for example. Bookshops have limited space and need to focus on what’s easiest to sell. Historical fiction is not the absolute easiest to sell but it’s not hard. And there’s masses of it! And of my books, you’re more likely to find the historical YA than the contemporary YA on the bookshelves, because my historical YA has done better than my other stuff in terms of sales.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:54:12


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.

It’s great that you are thinking about this. I believe it’s entirely up to you whether your son is ready for the book but I’d ask you to think about what your worries actually are (especially as he already knows the facts of life!) Regarding drugs, for example, I would think that the information I give is more likely to put him off drugs for life and arm him with reasons to say no, for whatever time when he first comes across the situation, rather than to give him any kind of dangerous knowledge.

My personal belief is that children should read books when they feel ready for them and that if they start reading one and find they aren’t ready, they will soon put it down. I also think that if he’s curious abut these things, he will probably go looking for information somewhere, and a book by a responsible adult and mediated by editors etc is likely to be the safest way of learning. And since you will be on hand to discuss things with him, I don’t believe there’s a danger.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:56:12


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?

I suspect that the very fact that you are thinking about this means that you are almost certainly tuned in very well and will notice any warning signs that your teenager might be showing. On the other hand, I think it would be wrong to be over-cautious or to attribute all negative or worrying behaviour to the bad experiences of a child’s past. I think that the best thing for you to do (which I’m sure you will be doing anyway) is to make sure that your teenager is always very aware that he or she can talk to you about any emotions or stresses – or can talk to someone else (because in some circumstances it’s hard for even a loving teenager to talk to even a loving parent). And you may need to remind your teenager of your openness and availability quite often – don’t assume that because you’ve said it once or twice that it is remembered.

I think it’s also worth thinking about the fact that anger is a very common reaction to or expression of sadness, stress, fear or lack of control. So, the symptoms may look like anger but the emotions underlying it may be more complex. Obviously, I’ve no idea if that’s relevant in this situation but I’m just making a wider point that we need to remember that anger often disguises other things. So, I reckon you are as well equipped as you can be and have the right attitude of concern.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 12:59:30


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?

I think sometimes another adult has an easier ride than a parent when trying to teach anything! But I’m also wondering whether you mean that English isn’t his first language or whether you mean that his reading and writing show signs of struggle? If the latter (which is I think what you mean) then I’d strongly recommend you check (if you haven’t already) for dyslexia or one of the other specific learning difficulties that affect reading or writing. Some schools are less observant about this and less willing to “diagnose” a problem. Diagnosis should come first from the school but may also involve an outside expert.

If your son is feeling vulnerable about his reading and writing, it’s scary and disconcerting for him, threatening his self-esteem. That fear is going to translate to anger. He may feel cross with himself, and believe that he’s “stupid”. It’s absolutely essential that the school helps with this situation. You are not failing him by not helping! And he is not failing, although he may feel that he is. It’s worth learning about dyslexia yourself so that you can realise (and then help your son realise – if this is relevant, and I’m still making assumptions!) that problems with reading and writing are not a sign of lack of intelligence. In fact, many, many highly successful and brilliant people have or had difficulties with aspects of literacy.

It’s also crucial to keep praising him for the things he’s good at.

I don’t think this is something that you can tackle on your own, given what you’ve said in your comment. But it’s also something that can’t be left, as such problems do not go away of their own accord. So, don’t blame yourself one bit, but do get the school on board and see what they say, and read up about dyslexic-type difficulties yourself.

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 13:00:24


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.

Interesting idea. I’m currently writing a book (for Walker Books) which is a teenage guide to stress, which will include those issues as well as many others. But you’re right to suggest that there is a need for detailed single-issue books, too. However, whether there’s a “market” (in the sense of something within which a publisher can earn back the substantial cost of producing a book for what would be a restricted number of readers) is another question. I suspect that there are already some titles out there which cover these areas and there may not be room, commercially, for others. But many thanks for your comment about my prose style!

NicolaMorgan Tue 04-Jun-13 13:02:07


have read the book and found it helpful. Does Nicola have any insight on dealing with those whose brain does not seem to develop beyond the teenage level?

Unfortunately not! But you are quite right to make the point that it’s not a case of teenage=undeveloped and adult=developed. Many teenagers are a lot more mature and dynamic than many adults.

I think it’s worth remembering the way that all brains learn, whatever their age: by imitation and by trying, even if failing at first. We build our neural networks by effort and practice. So, an adult who seems not to have developed (assuming there is no general learning difficulty) would benefit from modelling behaviour on developed adults around him (if they are!) and from help towards practising the skills that he seems to lack – for example, delaying gratification or improving emotional control.

I also think it’s worth thinking about metacognition: the benefit of understanding why we are trying to learn or do the particular thing we are learning. In other words, if the person can fully understand what the purpose of the skill is and what the benefit will be, that is a good incentive and a powerful tool in itself. For children, too.

MissStrawberry Thu 06-Jun-13 12:54:13

I have only just seen this but coincidentally have the book. Can anyone advise me what age your child should be allowed to read the book? I bought it with my 12 year old in mind but my 9 year old daughter loves to read and wants to read it as she hasn't read it yet "and I have read every book in the house about a million times Mummy."

Rajie Fri 07-Jun-13 12:00:10

How do I find a common ground to deal with teenagers ? My son is only 6 now but, it does seem quite difficult and quite exasperating trying to involve him in other activities rather than focus on outdoor activities all the time?

Finbar Tue 18-Jun-13 20:52:49

HI and sorry - I am late to the thread - just finished the book.

I enjoyed this book - it struck an interesting balance between two different audiences. One minute I thought it was directed at me, the parent, the next it was for my teenager, but it worked.

We enjoyed the quizzes - which helped to break up the theoretical parts and also provided some 'fun' and understanding of the concepts raised.

I particularly found the chapter on the 'dark side' interesting.. it helps give a view on whether your child is just a sad, or if something else is going on. There are some gender differences in the things that make teenagers sad I think - these wretched 'friendship groups' that girls have are a prime example and it would have be helpful to have more around this aspect - although I was reassured to know that the need to bond with a set group is driven by hormones ( of course!).

The whole book is written in a style that is not patronising and in a way I do believe teenagers would engage with.

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