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Science
LIFE AS A TEENAGER
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Continuing the series about the seven ages of humanity

Tuesday 9.00-9.30pm rpt Wednesday 4.30-5.00pm from 25 June

Connie St Louis returns to Radio 4 with another four programmes in her series about the health and wellbeing of the seven ages of humanity. This summer she reaches the turbulent teenage years.

Teenage Life

New research says that teenagers' brains are different and this is thought to account for the rages that they get into. Then there's surging hormones, changing bodies, experiments in social and sexual relationships. And what are all those unsuitable clothes and experiments with makeup and body piercing about? Let alone drugs… and most parents hope teenagers do let them alone, which makes drugs all the more enticing to young people. This is also the time of huge exam pressures. From GCSEs, through A levels to degree, then hopefully the first job, it feels like there'll never be a summer without high anxiety. Physiology, psychology and pharmacology: can medical science help to make this rite of passage any easier?

The first programme looks at the hormonal changes that are the hallmark of the teenage years. Reports have suggested that children are reaching puberty earlier - Connie finds out if this is true. She meets an agony aunt who tells her what concerns bring teenagers to her, and she talks to teenagers themselves about what it's like for them going through great hormonal changes.

Listen again to programme 1 Listen again to Programme 1

Adolescence is a turbulent time. Teenagers' behaviour can seem bizarre to adults, with their need to sleep till the afternoon, their obsessions about music or sport, and of course their mood swings. One minute your teenager is being sensible and you're having an ordinary conversation; the next moment he or she is storming out of the room and saying how unfair their life is. Research is now suggesting that some of this erratic behaviour can be put down to the reorganisation that goes on in the brain at this age.

This is the time of life when psychiatric conditions can emerge. The first signs of schizophrenia are often apparent during the teenage years, as are eating disorders. More and more girls are, it seems, harming themselves, and some teenagers go on to commit suicide. It's a time when we're particularly conscious of our appearance and easily lose self esteem and become depressed.

In the second programme, Connie asks what teenage behaviour is normal and what should make parents and teachers worry. She discovers what's being done to help teenagers with mental health problems - from virtual reality therapy for those with anorexia, to groups which try to reduce the chances of girls cutting themselves. And she looks at the role of teenage magazines in the well-being of their target market.

Listen again to programme 2 Listen again to Programme 2

In the third programme exploring teenage life, Connie St Louis looks at how adolescents relate to those around them. Many children hit puberty just as their parents are starting to ponder their own mid-life crises. It is a recipe for sulking and attrition on both sides. Can family conflicts really be avoided in such an explosive atmosphere? Or does a culture of healthy argument benefit all those involved? What should you do when your pliant co-operative child turns into a monosyllabic teenage grump?

And as teenagers begin to discover their sexuality, Connie explores how teenage romance can lead to teenage motherhood. She visits a teenage mothering help centre in Cornwall to ask the young parents how they are coping and find out why they opted for motherhood. Teen mums are often portrayed as feckless and scheming. They are accused of ruining their lives and sponging off the state. How accurate are these stereotypes? And are we doing enough to support young mums?

Listen again to programme 3 Listen again to Programme 3

In the final programme of the series, Connie St Louis looks at the later stages of adolescence. This is a time when teenagers are searching hard for their own identity - and yet they spend time trying hard to fit in with their group of friends. There is evidence that teenagers who aren't part of a group can have problems in later life. But group membership can come at a price. The pressure to conform can put pressure of young people to dress alike, listen to the same music and even do things like drink or take drugs. Yet recent studies have shown that tolerance of different behaviours within the group is wider than many parents think, so blaming the group for your teenager's problems is not a good way of dealing with adolescent difficulties.

And there are exams. Teenage girls, in particular, feel the pressure to succeed and can take any slip very hard indeed. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to fail, and their problems are often compounded by the disdain of high achieving girls. Sexual stereotypes appear to have been reversed, girls compete, boys retreat - but both feel insecure.

And then there's sex. Much of learning to be yourself can be learning how to cope with your burgeoning sexuality - and that can be the scariest thing of all.

Listen again to programme 4 Listen again to Programme 4


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