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The teen guide to survival

Author Rosalind Wiseman has drawn on her youthful follies to feed a well-oiled self-help industry.

world Updated: Nov 20, 2010 21:29 IST

As a high school student in the 1980s, Rosalind Wiseman was "sort of a snit," she admits. She wore pearls, played competitive tennis and hung around with girls she might now categorise as mean.

"I was in a relationship with girls who were horrible to me much of the time," she says.

Today, Wiseman, 41, who lives in suburban Washington with her husband and two pre-teen sons, has devoted herself to counselling girls on, among other things, how to deal with people just like her former self.

"That sequence of constantly being put down has had long-lasting effects on me," she says.

Wiseman has turned her own youthful follies, and the self-help moxie she learned earning a black belt in karate, into a cottage industry.

She made a name for herself in 2002 with Queen Bees and Wannabees, the bestseller that was the basis for the film Mean Girls. (Some of the material for the book came from Wiseman's work teaching empowerment and life skills in schools).

Next, she hit a nerve with parents with Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads (2006). This year, she published a young-adult novel, Boys, Girls and Other Hazardous Materials.

These days, she spends about half of her time advising school systems on a curriculum she developed, called Owning Up, which teaches students to "take responsibility — as perpetrators, bystanders and targets — for unethical behaviour."

She writes a monthly advice column and answers a slew of questions by e-mail and on her Facebook page. She can be seen on YouTube and on a multi-city speaking tour where she offers guidance to girls on speaking up for themselves and tips on managing the consequences to their parents.

Wiseman has become something of an Oprah Winfrey for the teen set. Though she doesn't have a degree in psychology, she has a knack for delivering therapy-speak that appeals to a broad audience: She uses just enough sarcasm to appeal to teenagers and just enough gravitas to earn their parents' respect.

As one mother-daughter pair said after Wiseman's recent speech outside Baltimore, "It was so us."

Wiseman shared some insights about teen life in these edited interview excerpts:

Q: At what age should parents start becoming proactive about their children's social behaviour?
A: As soon as your child is involved in social groups. But it's important not to put your child in a box: This child is a queen bee, etc. It's not helpful.

Q: How do you communicate when your teen is particularly non-communicative?
A: You have to let your kid have some privacy, but if you see that the kid is isolating him or herself, you can take the child aside and say something like, "I'm not asking you to bond with me right now. I just want you to know that I care about what you're thinking and going through. If you just want to talk to me, I am interested and just want to hear about it." And then walk away.

Q: What advice can you give parents about realistically managing their children's use of technology?
A: We have to start with ourselves. We are addicted to it, too. I recognise this as a parent myself. Start with not texting in the car and not being on the cell when you pick them up at school and not texting them all during the day. Make it difficult, not impossible, for them to access their cellphone.

Q: What are the some of the best things you can do to make your child's teenage years easier, for yourself and for the kids themselves?
A: Recognise what pushes your buttons and how the experience you had as a child influences you as a parent. Remind yourself of this: I am not my kid. What might be good for me is not necessarily good for them.

Q: Who is harder to work with, teenagers or their parents?
A: Parents. Parents have a much, much harder time laughing about themselves. Kids will apologise; parents don't.

First Published: Nov 20, 2010 21:19 IST