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Struggling with a moody teen?

Lie's in, lemons and focussing on the glass half full will tap into the teen brain and help them feel happier, according to Queen Anne's head Julia Harrington.

Living with teenagers is like sharing your home with ET. You don’t speak the lingo, they think and look differently, you spend a lot of timing wishing they’d phone home and their index finger has been known to glow after too much Insta scrolling.

The leap from child to adolescent is biggie. So the neuroscience nerds have stepped in to study the teen brain – and some of the most exciting research has come from Queen Anne’s School in Caversham. BrainCanDo – a cognitive psychology and educational neuroscience research centre set up by Queen Anne’s head Julia Harrington and in partnership with top universities, is producing fascinating results that could help kids learn more effectively (and fingers crossed become more human).

So what do we know…



Girl sleeping on a tree branch

Musician Adele almost got excluded from school for continually turning up late. She told Rolling Stone Magazine: “I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t bunking, I just couldn’t wake up.” But research shows that a good night’s rest is essential for learning: students who consistently get a good night’s sleep get better grades. Believe it or not,

To prove the point, Queen Anne’s trialled a late start for Y12 students. Rather than dragging them out of bed at the crack of dawn, their school day started at 10am for a whole month. The experiment hit the headlines and has also been the subject of a parliamentary debate. But did it work? “We understand the importance of sleep hygiene, particularly for the developing adolescent brain and all that we have learned suggests that the way the school day is currently organised runs counter to the biological rhythms governing our teenagers,” explains Julia Harrington.

“The effects of the trial were very interesting – teachers found more focused students in class, girls reported improved wellbeing and parents described happier and more comfortable teenagers. We’re now looking at how we can implement a Sixth Form timetable that allows these benefits to be embedded into school life for Sixth Form students.”

Never wake sleeping babies or teenagers… According to The National Sleep Foundation your teen needs 8-10 hours sleep. So pack in the Zzzzz.



Woman lemon eyes

Whether you’re on the GCSE or A Level train or tests spark mass hysteria, BrainCanDo’s latest research could help ease the fear and loathing. How? By sniffing lemons (or massaging an earlobe). “When I was at school revision was all about numbing your brain into hours of boredom, hoping that something sticks before an exam,” says Julia Harrington. “We have done lot of work on self-affirmation and one trick is to associate a trigger object or sensation with positive mood.”

The upshot is, if you spend five minutes every day tapping into it, a message will be sent direct to your brain’s hippocampus, part of the limbic system which controls emotion and memory. On the day of the test, invoke the trigger and the good vibes will coming flooding back. Revising at the same time as your test also helps.

As Julia rightly points out, “It’s their world, they’ll be the ones who will solve global warming, who harness artificial intelligence, who literally reach for the stars as we explore the universe. So, let’s give them all we’ve got in our armoury of knowledge to help them, rather than expecting them to rely on the old methods of learning and revision.”

Yes you’ll have to sacrifice your G&T garnish, but when life gives your teenager lemons… let them have a sniff.



Risk taking young woman jump rock faces

Teenagers get a bad rap for being self-absorbed, reckless risk takers, who can find themselves in situations that have you reaching for the parental panic button and going into lockdown. Adolescents are programmed to gamble, not to be rebellious or selfish, but because they’re wired to do so.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s TED talk on the subject has been viewed nearly 3million times. Her research found that during teenagers’, pre-frontal cortex – the area of the brain associated with self-regulation, conscious decision-making, memory, judgment and insight (among other things) – is still developing and triggers a hyper-sensitive limbic system that controls the kick you get out of risk taking. Teenagers, therefore, do not have the self-control to not take risks, even if they know something is risky. The good news, it’s the perfect environment for learning and creativity.



A person’s sense of individuality is under pressure during puberty and fuels teenagers’ desire to look alike and conform. BrainCanDo research shows if you’re meeting lots of people, you’ll be cleverer and feel more connected. Sticking in small groups is soooo unhealthy. It comes from a primal bit of the brain that’s now becoming exacerbated by social media which encourages everyone to look alike. There’s nothing wrong with you and you can rewire your brain to do things differently. Your head’s telling you to be a carbon copy of each other, but why not be different and see if the world ends? Oh it didn’t. Success.



Woman black hat and jackets hearts on eyes

Not just kind to others, but kind to yourself. Keeping a Gratitude Journal can really help you focus on the positives even if you think there’s none to be found. Dr Fancourt, Head of Psychology at Queen Anne’s is responsible for introducing Nice November, encouraging students and adults to express gratitude and be more thankful everyday.

“We have been researching the effect of gratitude on wellbeing and community cohesion. What we have learned is that the act of expressing thanks is linked with higher ratings of subjective wellbeing and can impact upon the degree to which an individual feels connected.”

Not just for teens, but a lesson for us all. Glass half full trumps glass half empty – particularly if it is full of wine. Cheers. 


Queen Anne’s Sixth Form Open Evening on Thu 19 Sep

Queen Anne's Caversham Sixth Form Centre The Space writing on glass wall with Big Ben Mural

Queen Anne’s award-winning Sixth Form Centre is one of the coolest we’ve seen at Muddy. An incredibly grown-up space, that wouldn’t look out of place in Google’s new Kings Cross HQ – with the creative study spaces designed by the girls themselves. A Level results are impressive with 68% of last year’s cohort achieving A*-B – and one superstar got an A* in music… at the age of 15! Book up, have a nose and let me know what you think.


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