She is also interested in the decision some countries have made to ban young drivers from carrying passengers. Over the age of 25, people drive more carefully when carrying passengers, whereas dangerous driving in young people is most likely to happen when they have got their friends with them. She mentions, too, a London secondary school that has altered its hours to accommodate its pupils sleep patterns. Which is interesting. We should probably pay attention to that.
Blakemore is reluctant, however, to stray too far from science into polemic, even at a personal let alone policy level. Parents are forever asking her for advice. But Im not a parenting expert! she protests. Im really not, so I just cant do it. My eldest son is now a teenager, but he wasnt when I wrote the book, so really I have no idea.
She will concede, though, that her work does inform the parenting of her two sons. When her eldest has a classically adolescent outburst, for example, instead of reacting to it, she tries to picture the inside of his brain. And I find that useful. A bit like the way you read those parenting manuals when you have toddlers, and theyre all like: Toddlers are just testing boundaries, and their thoughts are more sophisticated than their ability to articulate. That does help a bit, doesnt it, when youre dealing with a toddler on the floor of Boots. When she recently made a visit to her eldests school, he asked her to pretend not to know him. I could have been so offended by that; I could have felt really disowned by him. But I didnt. I thought: Thats absolutely normal, and thats exactly right.
Teenagers limitless propensity for embarrassment may sometimes seem bizarre, she acknowledges, but it makes perfect sense. Like most adults thrust on to a stage, teenagers who believe in their imaginary audience want nothing more than to blend into the wings and Blakemores work has helped her make sense of her own blushing teenage self.
She is the daughter of Colin Blakemore, an Oxford university neurobiologist famously targeted by violent animal rights activists in the 80s for his experimentation on animals. They were hanging around outside our house, threatening to kidnap us, sending us bombs. The terrifying onslaught against the family and their home endured for more than a decade and yet, smiles Blakemore ruefully, The biggest emotion I had was, I was so embarrassed. At school there would be bomb scares Everybody would know it was possibly targeted towards us, and that was just devastatingly embarrassing. And with other teenagers at the time, I was like: Oh God, maybe theyre animal rights, and thats so embarrassing, because they might be judging me because of this. It was just a whole litany of mortification and embarrassment. That was my main feeling about it all.
What makes Blakemores affection and admiration for teenagers so striking, I realise, is its rarity. Im a champion of them, I totally am, yes, she agrees. Im a real advocate for teenagers. Why does she think so many other adults feel differently? She looks suddenly pensive.
I do often think about why it is that we find it hilarious to mock teenagers, and why there are whole comedy shows laughing at teenage behaviour. I wonder whether its because, as a society, we find it really hard that our little children stop wanting to be with us all the time, and wanting to hold our hand in public, and doing more or less what we say.
Thats not what teenagers do. And its really important that they dont, because they have to become independent from us so there has to be a lot of rebellion, and embarrassment in front of us, and its all part of whats important for teenagers to do. But thats really hard for parents to take. And I think thats reflected in society this sneering we do about teenagers.
It is our way of coping with their rejection? Yes. She smiles sadly. Its a way to deal with it, isnt it? By taking the piss out of them.