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Related Topics
Bringing Up ParentsReview - Bringing Up Parents
The Teenager's Handbook
by Alex J. Packer Ph.D.
Free Spirit Publishing, 1992
Review by Lizzie Perring
Jul 30th 2004 (Volume 8, Issue 31)

Well..Hum..Er..What can I say? I have tried to imagine the kind of teenager who will really engage with this text. To do so I have to imagine a teenager who would find the book very funny; like the pictures; understand the arse on its head concept it is preaching; get the jokes; and feel able to work with it's advice. I tried and tried to imagine this child. I currently work with about 40 children aged 7-15 with a wide range of ability, from all manner of backgrounds and I can't locate that child. I sifted through my family and friends and can't locate it. So I thought back to my own childhood and tried to imagine myself finding this book in my garden one day. In this time traveling exploration I open the book, feeling quite puzzled and get to the Contents Page. There I find the exciting phrase: "Parents: Can't live with 'Em. Can't live Without 'Em." This, I think, sounds interesting. Yet it is followed by a list of jokey phrases and I instantly feel out of that club. My eyes fall on the mention of "Ear Wax" and "Nose Hairs "and I look for those in the book: Page 31 and I can't locate the "Ear Wax " section, instead I notice that lots of the text is in rhymes like "tell, yell, preach, teach," and I consider yelling that back to my parents one day. I then start rambling through the book. I see some wacky illustrations and look through all of those. Occasionally I stop at a catchy phrase "Don't call your father a Butthead" and I realize (cleverly I think) that this is an American book from the future and can't be any use to me in my garden with my dressing up clothes and imaginary friend.

I'm sorry to be so dismissive of this utterly well intentioned epistle, but really! It is so full of what an adult thinks teenagers will find funny that it swiftly becomes very patronizing. I leant this book to a friend, mother of two boys, hoping for a more positive spin and she said the same. I despair when adults don't take the time to actually listen to what children say. Please, Mr. Packer, please just be quiet and sit in a corner sometime or invite some teenagers to tell you how it really is, without interrupting. If you want to help them, please find ideas that open them up to find their own possibilities and solutions. Even the most suffering of teenager has this potential. These may not be your or my ideas of progress, but if we always invent crafty strategies for them, how will they mature? What teenagers say more than often say is that life is boring and things are unfair. They want their privacy and freedom. Unhappy teenagers are often the victims of some form of bullying and some teenagers can be very self-harming by amongst other things, provoking the bullies. They often hold school and home in completely separate domains. Ambivalent adult behavior confuses them deeply. What is needed is to help them make sense of these feelings by understanding themselves. Then they may make the next step in understanding others.

I think this book may have been written for the author and his own inner child. I hope it helped him, but I don't know any teenager I would give it to. If this it is true that this is a document about an adult reflecting back then reframe the whole book in a more honest way. Trendy language becomes obsolete so quickly. Why not just address things in a direct way? I think teenagers would like to read a first hand account of someone making sense of life through these strategies, but as a fiction, not a handbook. If however, you want to create a useful handbook for teenagers then drop the trendy language cut the jokes and strip the text out to its basics. Then employ a group of teenagers to re-write it, adding in their own illustrations, jokes and catch phrases. Be prepared to re-write it with this process every two or three years, or publish it on the Internet instead with a chat room to catch new ideas.


2004 Lizzie Perring


Lizzie Perring, Cert Ed., Dip Mus., MA, Dip Counselling and Psychotherapy is now working as a Behavior Support Teacher in Coventry, UK.


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