There's a birthday card that makes me laugh out loud: rows and rows of owls sitting uniformly on tree branches. Each owl sits upright except one - it's hanging upside down. "I'm a teenager" is the caption.
like to be different. They like to push against their parents. Which is why Tom's mum thought that I, rather than she, might be able to persuade him to see sense and work for his A levels. She assumed that I could make him knuckle down. A few choice phrases, a 'buck your ideas up' conversation and he's sorted. Or is he?
What Tom's mum didn't appreciate was that neither she nor I can make an 18-year-old do something they don't want to. Tom may have to fail. For a parent there is nothing harder.
And what does Tom say? "I don't want to work if my mum nags me."
Teenagers are not always rational. If you suddenly sported the latest fashion in trainers, they'd ditch theirs. Part of growing up is finding out who you are; that usually means being as different from your parents as possible.
Tom understands this more than his mum; she complains that he is always in his room, but not always working. "But I'm a teenager!" he says, "It's what we do. My mum has her work, then when she comes home she puts all her energy into me and my work."
But Tom's mum cannot back off. Well-meaning friends – I have this particular T-shirt - have advised her. She nags Tom from the minute he comes home from school until he goes to bed. She can't bear the thought of him not securing that university place she thinks he should have.
It's about control. As parents we feel that we should be able to steer our children through life, and help them avoid mistakes - especially the same ones we made.
What is the worst that can happen to Tom? That he will fail his A levels. He doesn't need high grades for his chosen course, so the odds are he'll be all right. If not, he can re-take them. Tom is very circumspect: "I could go to college, or find a job or an apprenticeship. I'd do something."
Uni's Not For Me
is an online careers development resource providing independent advice for young people considering alternatives to university. It has a strong campaigning voice which seeks to erode the stigma associated with the decision to pursue a non-traditional route. Their website features some amazing success stories of teenagers who didn't go to university.
Will, aged 19, is a music scout for EMI. For many teens it's a dream job. Will explained: "I went into sixth form because it was the easy option. To be honest I just saw it as a new social platform that allowed me to connect with more people who were into music. When I found out all my friends were applying for uni, I panicked and thought I should be doing it as well. My mum went to Oxford and my Dad did a Masters at Sussex, so I was surprised when they actually backed me and said there was no point in me getting all that debt."
Will began working two days a week as an unpaid intern for a small music company and through his constant networking secured an interview with EMI. "They'd been looking for a scout for three years but most applicants were older. I was young - which is where the music scene is at - so I fitted the bill."
offers ideas for anyone not wanting to go down the traditional university route: they offer advice on apprenticeships, degrees by distance learning, developing a small business, networking opportunities and more. Above all, they convey a positive message about choosing a career path that does not include university.
And teenagers mature at different rates. As well as the 'summer babies' - those born at the end of August who can be a year younger than their peers- there are others who are still at that rebellious stage when they are doing A levels.
If teenagers are living with a step parent this can make matters worse. How many step parents have heard the line; "You can't make me do my homework: you aren't my real dad (or mum)."
Isn't your relationship the most important thing to preserve? It is, according to Liz whose only son is now at university. Liz and her ex-husband both have higher degrees. Their expectations were that their son would go to university. But Liz also realised the importance of her relationship with her son.
"I realised that my relationship with my son was the most important thing of all. Was it worth nagging him about his revision if all it did was drive us apart? Life was already hard for me as a single parent, often in conflict with his father. The moment I said he didn't have to go to university if he didn't want to was the moment he began to work."
So can you take your hands off the wheel and let your teenager take control? You should, according to Jeni Hooper
, a child educational psychologist. Her advice is this: "By the time your child is a teenager you should be aiming for a supporting role as a parent not a directing one. This doesn't mean you step aside, more that you ask what help your teen needs rather than tell them what is required. Finding the motivation to work at evenings and weekends is a tough call, as any harassed executive will tell you, so don't assume your teen will find this easy."
It's not easy to step back and allow your teen to fail - if you count poor exam results as failure, but maybe by standing back your teenager will possibly find the self motivation they need.
More on Parentdish: No, my child is not going to university - so what next?
Our weekly column Surviving Teenagers
- 16-year-old wins award for his innovative baby sleep product
Schoolboy Joseph Weaver, from Winterbourne International Academy, Bristol, won <a href="http://thedreamlab.co.uk/finalists.htm" target="_blank">The Dream Lab competition</a> with his invention The Snug Hug back in November 2011. Joseph's invention has been given the thumbs up by inventor Sir Trevor Baylis who wants to give the youngster a week's work experience and perhaps snap him up as an apprentice! Joseph said winning was the <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/11/15/how-to-get-babies-to-sleep-invention-by-16-year-old-boy-wins-award/" target="_blank">“best day ever!"</a> Congrats!</p>
- Teenager writes to judge to defend her mum
Schoolgirl Sammy Booth, 14, got her mum a suspended jail sentence rather than time inside after she <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2012/02/22/drunken-mum-spared-jail-after-daughter-wrote-to-judge-begging-him-show-mercy/" target="_blank">wrote to the judge defending her dunk mum.</a> Sammy insisted her mum Julie could turn her life around if given the chance following an arrest for drink driving, and wrote a letter saying: “I'm scared for my mum and for myself. I worry what will happen if she's sent to prison. Where will I stay? What will happen to my pets? Will I be able to see my mum? Where will I get money from?" Julie has recently completed a detox programme, and has nothing but thanks for her devoted daughter.</p>
- Bullied 14-year-old wins modeling contract
Ellie Burton well and truly beat the bullies after she <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/07/28/bullied-14-year-old-girl-wins-modelling-contract/" target="_blank">bagged herself a modelling contract with Marks and Spencer,</a> modelling its Back to School range. Gorgeous Ellie was tormented about her appearance by bitchy classmates, leaving her with low esteem and no confidence. She now says: “What the bullies said was really hurtful. I had no self-esteem. People told me I was pretty enough to be a model with my corkscrew curls but I had no confidence and didn't believe them. I realise that only amazing models can make it big but I am going to try. I want to do really well at school too as I need a back up career.”</p>
- Entrepreneurial 15-year-old makes some serious cash!
Forget a Saturday job, teenager Toby Smith cashed in on his online gaming prowess by <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2012/01/10/entrepreneur-schoolboy-paid-5-pounds-for-every-30-minutes-as-a-personal-online-protector/" target="_blank">acting as a virtual bodyguard for gamers!</a> Toby, from Hythe in Hampshire, is offering his services on the <a href="http://www.fivesquids.co.uk/" target="_blank">fivesquids.co.uk</a> website (where people advertise tasks they are willing to undertake for a fiver) as an online protector for players of various Xbox 360 shooting games. His mum and dad Peter and Sam, both 47, say they are impressed with their son's 'can do' spirit - and pleased to see him making some money of course!</p>
- 15-year-old fashion guru launches own magazine
Not content with having a popular online blog aged just 12, 15-year-old Tavi Gevinson has <a href="http:// http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/09/08/15-year-old-fashion-guru-launches-her-own-magazine/" target="_blank">recently launched her own online magazine, </a><a href="http://rookiemag.com/" target="_blank">Rookie</a>. Tavi is editor-in-chief of the title, and oversees a staff of around 40, who are, unsurprisingly, mainly much older than her. We bet she keeps them on their toes...</p>
- Teenager rides horse after risky operation to straighten her spine
16-year-old Laura Fitzwalter had the worst case of spine curvature doctors had ever seen. But the brave teenager <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/teen/riding-high-the-teenager-with-worst-case-of-spine-curvature-docs-ever-seen-cured/" target="_blank">stayed positive and is now happily riding her beloved horse, Sparky, </a>following a risky operation to straighten her spine. Her spine was bent so severely at 180 degrees that if she didn't have an operation to straight it, it would have killed her. Her mum, Tracy says: “We were shocked when we saw how curved Laura's spine was. The surgeon said it was the biggest curve he had ever seen. It was devastating to hear it would have killed her as it was crushing her heart and lungs. Now she has had the operation and luckily she has made a full recovery.”</p>
- Teenager wakes sleeping bus driver to avoid crash
Emmanuel Williams, 17, leapt into action to wake his school bus’s dozing driver, adverting potential disaster. Emmanuel noticed the driver's head nodding strangely when the bus started swerving. He jumped from his seat and roused the sleeping man. "I was looking at him and his eyes would close, and when we'd get to a turn, he'd look both ways, start driving again, and they would close more and more," said Emmanuel, a pupil at Mount Tahoma High School, Washington, U.S. <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/12/08/dramatic-cctv-of-teenager-waking-sleeping-school-bus-driver-to-avoid-disaster/" target="_blank">You can watch Emmanuel’s heroic efforts in our video.</a></p>
- Teenager donates lottery win to charity
19-year-old Ryan Kitching only tidied his room to stop his mum nagging, but the teenager was thanking her after he <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2012/03/02/teenager-finds-53-000-lottery-ticket-after-mum-nags-him-to-clean-bedroom/" target="_blank">found a winning lottery ticket amongst his mess!</a> The lucky lad won £53,000, and while he’s set to treat his mates to a boys’ holiday in Majorca, he’s also going to donate a chunk to <a href="http://www.firstresponse.org.uk/" target="_blank">First Response,</a> the medical charity he volunteers for. “It's a great charity and I'm planning on donating some of the winnings to them,” says Ryan. Officially the definition of a Nice Young Man as my mum would say!</p>
- 16-year-old given standing ovation at Labour party conference
Rory Weal, a 16-year-old from Maidstone, stole the show at the Labour Party conference, winning a standing ovation from thousands of party activists for his speech. Rory impressed delegates with an impassioned speech that had Labour leader Ed Miliband jumping to his feet to shake his hand. Impressed? <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/09/26/16-year-old-given-standing-ovation-at-labour-party-conference/" target="_blank">You will be when you watch it.</a></p>
- Gastric bypass teenager sheds 10 stone
Britain's youngest <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/2011/12/12/jeniffer-hogarth-gastric-bypass-teenager-sheds-10-stone-23-stone/" target="_blank">gastric bypass patient,</a> 17-year-old Jeniffer Hogarth tipped the scales at 23 stone, and her family thought she was eating herself to death. But the teen is now celebrating her trim new figure after shedding a massive ten stone! “If I hadn't had a bypass, I dread to think how big I'd be,” says Jenifer. “I couldn't even think of pretty Christmas party outfits as I was the size of a house. Now I can't wait to go to shops like TopShop and New Look like all my friends. I've even found a gorgeous boyfriend. It's almost like I've been reborn.”</p>
- Teen sisters cope with rare skin condition
Teens Stacey and Emma Picken shed their skin every day after being <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/teen/snake-skin-sisters-rare-condition-means-girls-skin-grows-six-times-faster-than-normal" target="_blank">born with a rare condition</a>. They are the only sisters in the UK known to be born with rare condition called lamellar ichthyosis, which affects only one in 600,000 people, but they are certainly not letting it hold them back. Emma is a budding cartoonist and she is even talking to people in America who organise camps for children with this skin condition, and wants to start something up over here for fellow sufferers.</p>
- Teenager born with one arm to compete in javelin throwing 2012 Paralympics
Hollie Arnold was born with one arm. <a href="http://www.parentdish.co.uk/teen/teenager-holie-arnold-born-with-one-arm-to-compete-in-javelin-throwing-2012-paralympics/" target="_blank">She is now preparing to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games,</a> throwing the javelin for Great Britain. Hollie, 17, has spent years perfecting her javelin technique, but was held back by having no right arm to provide crucial balance. She has now been fitted with a specially weighted prosthetic arm by a company that provides limbs for injured soldiers, and is hoping to compete in the London Paralympics.</p>