Has the atmosphere in your home been unbearable since your child became a teenager? Barely recognise your once adorable and well-behaved offpsring? Then it might be time to call in the experts. LAURA MURPHY reports on a new TV show aiming to do just that
MOST of us can recall, in some degree or another, that strange sort of period of our lives known as adolescence.
I certainly can. So too, can my poor mum and dad. In adulthood, I consider myself to be a fairly rational, level-headed individual, but as a teenager, I was moody, angry, lacking in confidence and constantly looking for someone to take this collective of horrible emotions out on, and my parents - particularly my mother - were the prime candidates.
We all look back on those times now and laugh, but in truth, my mirth stems partly from relief that I’ll never have to go through those confusing days again.
And that’s why I genuinely have sympathy for the ‘youth of today’, who probably have twice the number of pressures on their plates that I did - and for their anxious parents who sometimes wonder where that blue-eyed, bonny little child of theirs went to, having been seemingly replaced by a person they barely recognise.
Teenagers face a wealth of issues as they go through the transition from childhood to adulthood - so much so, that a new TV series specially made for Ulster audiences is to focus on trying to ‘fix’ the problems that arise in homes where relations between teens and their parents have severely broken down.
The show, entitled Fix My Teen, is being made by Northern Ireland independent production company Tern TV for BBC NI, and follows on from last year’s successful Slim Chance: Fix My Family, and those working behind the scenes have appealed for local families with teenagers struggling to keep the peace with each other to take part and have the chance to hopefully see their lives changed.
It will also see the return of the same panel of ‘mentors’ who took part in Fix My Family: nutritionist Amanda Hamilton, who is one of the UK’s most recognised and well-respected personalities in the health and wellbeing industry, and psychologists Dr Rachel Andrew and Belfast born Dr Raman Kapur MBE.
The trio will try to help families whose relationships with each other are far from harmonious.
“What I would hope that people watching the programme would see, are things they could take away with them, or that they would think to themselves, ‘I’ll try that with my teenager’,” says Dr Andrew, a chartered clinical psychologist who has worked with children, young people and their families for over nine years.
“I also just think that by watching a programme and knowing you’re not the only family going through it can help.”
Dr Andrew’s area of expertise is the emotional health of young people and adolescents, and some of the difficulties which she can help teenagers deal with include anxiety and phobias, stress, depression, eating problems, anger and aggression and self-harming behaviour.
She can also help young people cope with physical health problems, loss and bereavement, and parental separation and divorce.
“I had worked with Amanda (Hamilton) before on ‘Teen Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses’ (another Tern TV production),” says Dr Andrew, adding that her role in Fix My Teen will see her conduct family therapy sessions in which teens will be given “the chance to voice their opinions as to why they are having the difficulties they are.”
She says: “I’m hoping for a whole variety of issues (in the show), whether they are conduct difficulties i.e. behaviour from teenagers who are really angry and might lash out, or swear and shout.
“Or equally there might be teenagers who are low in mood, quite depressed or anxious about things, maybe struggling with their own parents’ difficulties - it might be that their parents have mental health difficulties, or issues with drinking or substance abuse that the teenagers are then struggling to cope with.
“There might be teenagers who have issues with their eating or self harm. There’s such an array of issues that teenagers can have, and that families have to deal with. What would be good would be to have the opportunity to work with some families who are really struggling, and for all of them to be able to see that there is hope.”
Dr Andrew says that seeing their child go through adolescence can be “quite a frightening time” for adults, and the reality is that there is no one ‘top tip’ for them in terms of maintaining some sort of happy relationship with their offspring.
“It’s often finding that balance between giving them enough space and opportunity so they can develop into an adult, whilst also protecting them from some of the world that they know about, but the young person doesn’t yet,” she says.
Dr Raman Kapur believes that this is a valid point.
“With adolescents, I think it’s all about boundaries, boundaries and boundaries,” says the highly regarded consultant clinical psychologist, who is also chief executive, and psychoanalytic psychotherapist with Threshold, a mental health charity, running therapeutic communities within Northern Ireland.
“The difficult judgement call is knowing when to impose restrictions on them and when to kind of lay off a bit. That’s really the essence of it.
“There are clear cut situations where no is no, and others where you can allow things to happen. It’s the grey area where the complexity is, and that’s where parents are tearing their hair out.
“You’re sitting there wondering about your judgement call - ‘should I say yes or should I not say no?’, and I hope that this kind of dilemma will come out in the programme.”
Dr Kapur is certainly well equipped to be able to advise parents on making such a judgement call. He has published nearly 30 papers in the areas of psychotherapy, mental health, trauma and psychotherapy research and a book on the ‘Troubled Mind of Northern Ireland’, relating to the troubles of the past 30 years, and as well as taking part in Fix My Family, was involved with a similar BBC show called The Last Resort Series, screened around four or five years ago, and which saw him work with people who had problems with addiction.
“My role will be to work with the parents, and maybe also a little with the teenagers,” he says of the upcoming series of Fix My Teen.
“I’ll be looking at how difficult it is for parents to deal with adolescent issues, the whole issue of managing authority, and the whole emotional mix of what gets stirred up in these kind of families.”
Dr Kapur says that “it’s a mixture of physiology and psychology” that is responsible for the onslaught of high drama that can suddenly explode in a normally serene family home when a child hits teenagehood.
“Their hormones are bursting through their system, but also it’s the whole movement from being a child to being an adult,” he says
And he encourages families in Northern Ireland not to hesitate in contacting the programme makers if they feel they could benefit from some expert advice on handling their teen.
“I would say go for it - the families on the other programmes have been helped.”
Filming for Fix My Teen will take place over Easter, and families who are interested in taking part in the series can speak to one of the Tern TV team members by calling 028 90326061 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.