Dirty, temperamental, expensive to run (not your car - your teenager)

Last updated at 00:59 28 June 2007

Traditionally, Haynes manuals have helped men fathom the workings beneath the car bonnet.

Now, however, Haynes have turned their hand to helping parents with the perils of teenagers.

Here, novelist MAEVE HARAN and her 18-year-old daughter, Holly, put the book through its paces.

Ever since my first boyfriend spent longer under the bonnet tinkering with his sports car than he did with me, I have resented Haynes Car manuals.

For almost 50 years, anoraky blokes have delved into their dog-eared Haynes guide to sort out the sump on their Montego or Cortina, but in recent years men have tended to tinker less and buy a new model instead.

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teenage road test

So Haynes has moved on to pastures new with guides to Men, Babies, Cancer, Driving an HGV and now this - an Owners' Workshop manual on keeping your teenager in working order.

Obviously you can't take a spanner to a teenager, no matter how much you may want to, but the book sets out to give practical advice on every aspect of your teen's life.

Or indeed, pre-teen, because the author suggests you start applying her principles as young as ten or 11.

The guide is broken down into nine chapters, but instead of headings like Cleaning The Carburettor or Stripping Down The Engine, there is What Parents Can Expect, Teenagers' Emotions, Encouraging Good Behaviour and Damage-Limitation Strategies.

Each chapter is broken down into sub-sections. Under Damage-Limitation Strategies, for example, are sections on Drinking, Smoking, Drugs, Sex and Relationship Problems.

It gives advice like: "If you want to be a credible source of help and advice to your teen about drugs, get all the information, so that you know what you are talking about.

"Avoid discussing your own behaviour. Your experience is NOT what your child is doing now, no matter how up-to-date you think you are."

On the subject of arguments, the advice includes: "Don't feel you always have to be the winner. Sometimes you are right, but it's best not to say 'I told you so'.

"If, for instance, your teenager keeps their wallet in their back pocket and it's stolen, they will know it was a stupid thing to do and will appreciate the fact that you don't remind them."

The trouble is, although some of the sections - sex and relationships, education, staying out late, computer use, binge drinking - are perfectly sensible, there's much too much advice, and having raised three very different teenagers, I know it would be highly inappropriate with some of them.

For instance, leaving boxes of period pads in the loo for your teenage daughter to discreetly "discover" would have embarrassed the hell out of mine, and as for going to their primary school and telling the teacher your daughter was an early starter in the menstrual stakes - mine would have blasted me off the planet.

And what about leaving spot cream out for your adolescents - when I once tried that, the offending product was hastily hidden away at the back of the bathroom cabinet in case any friends caught sight of it and dubbed the unfortunate user "pizza face".

With all teen advice, there's a fine line between what suits one child and what suits another, and I think parents need less of the Handbook approach, which might well suit you if you're servicing a Cortina but needs to be much more subtle when applied to an actual teenager.

Understanding the way your teen's mind works is clearly important for any parent, but having detailed instructions on how to react to every crisis is often counterproductive.

I fought for what seemed like three solid years with one of my daughters and ended up going to a parents' group where the best advice - and advice that actually worked - was simple: criticise less.

After living with teenagers for ten years, I feel what the parent needs is less advice, not more.

Take eating together. The Haynes manual suggests that mealtime is not the moment for serious discussion, and that problems should never be discussed at the dinner table.

What planet is the writer from? Problems are going to be discussed at the dinner table because this is the only time when, for good or ill, families sit down and talk to each other.

My daughter Holly is a great one for arguing at the dinner table, but rather than avoid it, I think she would accept that her considerable powers of debate and reasoning have been sharpened by our boisterous dinner table arguments.

I do think a manual like this sometimes offers the wrong kind of advice. The sleep chart tells me my 13-year old needs nine-and-a-quarter hours of sleep per night.

Yet he's enjoying becoming an adult, watching more grown-up TV programmes and spending time on his computer.

If I seriously imposed this quota of sleep on him, he would feel unfairly treated. And I'd agree with him.

And Holly, who has steered her way through the pitfalls of adolescence with great panache and good sense, finally arriving at 18, would deeply resent the kind of intervention a book like this suggests into so many aspects of her individual freedom.

Teenagers are not like Vauxhall Astras. No two teenagers are the same and it's up to the parent to work out what strategies work for each child.

Of course, it's possible this book, given the nature of its publishers, is destined for men, and indeed, men who feel happiest with their hands dipped in oil and a Haynes guide at the ready.

In which case, God help their teenagers.


Expensive, complicated and with bodywork that is only going to deteriorate - at first glance, there are a lot of similarities between teenagers and cars.

Unfortunately for Haynes, that is where the similarities end - and the practical How To format which works so well for cars just doesn't transfer to adolescents.

The handbook claims to help parents deal with teenagers of "all models, shapes, sizes and moods".

But unlike the cars, teenagers can't, and shouldn't be, fixed. The reason we don't have an off switch, or in my case, a mute button, is because we're more complicated than a Ford Mondeo.

The manual simplifies teenagers, makes massive generalisations about how we behave and ends up just giving advice for parents on how to avoid confrontation.

Although it expects teenagers to change too - in my experience, an unrealistic hope - it is basically a guide on how to avoid coming to blows with your pre-menstrual, tired and/or grumpy teen.

What this overlooks is that confrontation is important; we want to test boundaries and question rules and that is why we behave like we do.

The attitude which this book would engender - of parents responding to rebellion, with comments like "I know why you're feeling like this" - would drive me insane.

If a teenager shouts at you, and you respond with "This is all part of the process of growing up" it will, almost without exception, result in more shouting.

The guide, it seemed to me, is both pessimistic about teenagers and their ability to be ideological, passionate young people, and unrealistic in its attitude towards their behaviour.

It warns parents that as teenagers "get to their mid-teens, they will ask to go out with their friends during the evening".

In fact, teenagers don't ask, they "do, and deal with the consequences later," rather than "ask politely and wait for a response".

One especially unrealistic bit of advice was not to "discuss problems or row at the dinner table".

When I read that, I almost choked at the idea of any family managing it.

In my family, the dinner table has always been the location of our "liveliest" rows.

Getting to pudding with all five members of the family around the table is still a rare feat.

Families operate differently - mine happens to resemble an Italian soap opera - and a "manual" can't make allowances for that.

The Teenager Manual does give some advice which I completely agree with. Filling up the fridge, giving your teenagers lifts and paying for taxis rather than forcing them to risk the dangers of the night bus are all pieces of practical advice which I can guarantee will not upset your teenager.

The book also lets parents know that having an 11-year old means that your child is as affectionate and docile as they are ever going to be - the next seven years are going to change all that and it is going to be difficult.

However, advising parents on how to "cope with" teenagers is a dangerous practice - adults should recognise that teenagers are just younger versions of their parents who are exploring their ideas.

Treat teenagers like adults, and, if they go too far, take away their money. That is the only thing that has ever stopped me.

The Haynes Teenager Manual: Keep Your Teenager in Perfect Running Order is published by Haynes at £14. To order a copy (p&p free), call 0870 161 0870.

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