Belfast Telegraph

How being a cool mum can create a lasting bond with your kids

By Jane Graham

My friend Martin takes great pride in hating the things his teenage children love. He says it's part of his job as a parent, along with embarrassing them by greeting them by baby nicknames like "Schnooglepuss" and "Little Chicken" when they're with their friends.

"They don't want me singing along to Taylor Swift, or sitting down to watch MTV with them," he assures me. His view is that they thank God for the generation gap which locks mums and dads out of adolescent subculture, glorying in a vocabulary and reference points unknown to anyone over 30.

As an added bonus, he boasts, he doesn't have to watch kids' movies, or find out how Instagram works. He only has to listen to enough One Direction to come up with a few withering put-downs - last week he told his nine-year-old daughter that Harry Styles looked like the kind of chap who only leaves his caravan to pee in a hedge.

I have some sympathy with his argument, though I suspect its motivations stem more from laziness than a bestowing of respectful independence for his kids.

But while I certainly don't want to be the "best friend mum" of my teenage daughter, and never stick around for more than a quick "hello" when her gang come round, I'm more and more persuaded that making an effort to share, and praise, the passions of my children has brought us closer, and will serve our relationship long into their adulthood.

Firstly, there's the simple fact of safety in the knowledge of teenage habits online. Parents must put the time in to get familiar with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook.

They have to keep an eye on who their kids are talking to, and what about, no matter how mind-numbing (prepare for long lines of hearts and grinning emojis; try not to despair for the future of the human race).

Among the quoted song lyrics and who-fancies-who gossip, you may, as another shell-shocked friend of mine did recently, discover your 13-year-old is planning to hook up with a boy she's been sending provocative photos of herself to, at his repeated insistence.

My friend, who felt she had a close relationship with her daughter, felt betrayed at the revelation of such secrecy, but the truth is, none of us divulge everything to anyone. It's not a betrayal, it's just human nature.

Equally important is the mutual understanding that can come from sharing love for a book, a song, or a film. As novelist and ex-teacher Sarah Pinborough wrote recently, there may be no better way of getting to the heart of how your teenager feels than reading The Fault in Our Stars and crying along with him/her when you talk about it.

There may be no happier times than when you're both curled up on the sofa laughing at the idiocy of evil choreographer Abby Lee Miller on the reality TV trailer trash that is Dance Moms, or pirouetting together to the video for Chandelier.

It's not about faking interest to look like a cool mum, it's about looking for places where you really do converge, rather than collide.

And while you might imagine your kids enjoy rolling their eyes when you give their heroes a verbal kicking, I'd guess, if they retain any respect for you at all, it actually hurts a little. And probably nudges you just a bit further apart.

The downside with this approach is that you are regularly invaded by tablet-waving teenagers keen to show you the new Twenty One Pilots video.

There will be times when you'd rather scrub out a prison toilet. But it's a small price to pay for a bond you can't buy.

Timothy flooded by water gripes

It's always heartening when politicians show they're listening to their constituents, so three cheers for TUV man Timothy Gaston, the deputy mayor of Mid and East Antrim Council, who has demanded the removal of water manhole covers in Ballymena which feature both the word water and its Irish equivalent, "uisce".

Gaston claims he's been contacted by concerned Ballymena folk who want public money spent on new covers which exclude Irish speakers in the area.

If there are any Ballymena residents who approve of the Irish addition, or who think there are more pressing issues in the town, I'd advise they write to Timothy. He's obviously a man who likes to listen.

Focus on maths doesn't add up

I've long argued the school curriculum is out of date, lacking in imagination, and far too hung up on maths, a subject which (unlike arithmetic) ceases to be important for the vast majority of students within weeks of learning it.

I've never met anyone who agreed with me - I'm usually told that, even if you master a calculator one day, memorising calculus "trains the brain" (though there is no evidence for this).

So, thank you, Simon Jenkins, for your "controversial" view - aired this week - that maths is generally pointless; "charge the maths lobby with the uselessness of its subject and the answer is a mix of chauvinism and vacuity". Bravo.

Belfast Telegraph

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