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Growing pains; Lisa Salmon meets an author who has written a series of guidebooks about living with teenagers and other surly aliens LIFESTYLE.

Byline: Lisa Salmon

W hen a previously sweet natured, happy child hits their teens, it's quite normal for them to turn into an alien their parents don't understand.

As well as the physical changes of puberty, the way they think, act, dress and even speak can alter dramatically, leaving bemused parents struggling to deal with the 'new' person living in their midst.

It can be hard to keeping smiling during these years, but a new series of guides on living with these alien teen beings hopes to help.

While the adolescent changes can take many forms, writer Charlie Mills has identified four particularly noticeable categories.

Each type has its own guidebook in Mills' new Living With... series - there's Living With a Gangsta, an Emo Kid, a Gamer, and the Next Big Thing.

"I've seen themstarting to change into these types as young as six or seven, but once they get to the teenage years they get totally carried away with it, and it's a lost cause," Mills says.

"I think all teenagers do it to some degree - some get carried away, and others join in because their friends are doing it."

The tongue-in-cheek books include what not to say to the various types - for example, don't say to a Gamer: "Can I have a go, which one am I?", and there are also chapters looking at what's going on inside their heads - inside Emo Kid's head, it's "Is that rain cloud following me?".

And then there's how to cope with their moods - after a fight with The Next Big Thing, for example, tell her she'll be able to write about it in her autobiography and her fans will love it because "every great artist suffers".

There's also vital advice on how to spot what type your child has become.

In a nutshell, a Gamer is obsessed with computer games, and locks him/ herself in a darkened room to play them incessantly.

A Gangsta wears designer clothes two sizes too big and enough jewellery to compete with Mr T from the A-Team, plays very loud rap music and seems to talk in a different language, with stock phrases including "da laydeez", and "respec"'.

The Next Big Thing is obsessed with fashion, TV and celebrities, and just knows that she's destined for massive fame herself.

"The Next Big Thing is all about wanting attention and wanting to grow up really quickly," Mills says.

"Because of The X-Factor, Pop Idol and so on, they can see a route to being famous - it's laid out in front of them every Saturday night."

And then there's Emo Kid. Emo is short for emotional hardcore, and members of its tribe are deeply in tune with their feelings, are often gloomyand wear lots of black and very tight jeans. Emos are close relatives of Goths or grunge types, although they won't necessarily admit it.

"Emo Kids get such a bad press," says Mills.

"Parents think they'll be into all these scary things and be totally out of control, really depressed and unhappy.

"But the book shows that Emo isn't like that."

Mills stresses that the books are a light-hearted attempt at getting parents to see the funny side of what their children are trying to be.

"It doesn't need to be scary - the idea of the books is that it canbe pretty funny that these kids get so keen on something and their parents just think 'Who's hijacked my son? How has this happened?"' She insists all four types of teenager identified in her books have plus points - although some are perhaps more positive than others.

"The Next Big Thing wants to chat to her parents and tell them everything - like a big sell on her life," she explains.

"Emo Kid tries to be much more in tune with his feelings, to understand and reach a higher intellectual plane.

They're pretty clever and they're not totally shirking their homework.

"The Gangsta can look at his parents and see how to wind them up, but also how to have a laugh with them.

"And the Gamer - he's got very powerful thumbs.

"But if they're playing with otherGamers, then it's massively sociable."

One important part of being a parent is having the ability to embarrass your children - a skill to which Mills devotes a chapter per book.

Her tips include setting your mobile phone ring as a loud, soppy James Blunt song in the hope it'll ring when you're in public with your Gangsta, and setting up a Bebo profile so you become friends with everyone in The Next Big Thing's class.

But aside fromhaving a bit of fun with teenagers if youcan, it's important to try and grasp what they're trying to be.

"Every kid wants to be understood, but they also want to give their parents a bit of a challenge," says Mills.

"The books can help parents understand a bitmore about their kidsand see the funny side.

"It's definitely a phase they go through - but that phase can last for years, and be a formative influence on them for life, so it's worth getting to grips with.

"It will definitely improve family relations."

And she warns that it's not wise to pretend the metamorphosis hasn't happened.

"When your child is behaving completely differently and talking about things that you don't understand, you can't ignore it.

"You can't just pretend they're still into collecting conkers.

"What kids today need is a way for their parents to access information about themwithout them having to spell it out to them in a painful, adolescent way.

"Parents of these types of teenagers need to keep their sense of humour.

They can get really uptight about these things sometimes, but they're your children - it's okay to laugh at them."

The LivingWith... series is published by New Holland, priced pounds 4.99 per book.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 30, 2008
Words:981
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