In his book Build Yourself Better – for TeensMahra Ali Alali recounts how in December 2020 she started taking online classes from her bed and mindlessly browsing social media
Mahra Ali Alali went through a tough time, like many of her peers, during the Covid-19 pandemic. For an outdoor teenager like Mahra who loves horseback riding, staying home indefinitely has started to take its toll. “I was a very productive person first and foremost,” the 14-year-old explains in an interview via Zoom. “And then suddenly I slowed down a bit and started procrastinating.” In her book Build a Better You – For Teens, the Sharjah teenager writes about it in detail – about how in December 2020 she started taking online classes from her bed and mindlessly browsing media social. Today, however, she follows a schedule where every minute counts (9 p.m., for example, is time to “sit with the siblings”). “I realized that I needed help and I’m really proud that I’ve focused and developed myself. I started to feel satisfied with my day and I wanted to help other teenagers too,” she says. As someone who enjoys reading self-help books, the answer to the question was obvious: write a book for teens.
“Self-help books have helped me a lot and I know not many people enjoy reading them. So I decided to write one in simple English, so teenagers wouldn’t find it too complicated. understand,” continues Mahra, who started writing the book last March. She didn’t want it to read like a manual on how to succeed in life by working hard every day, with no room for improvement. “Instead, I wanted them to know that it’s okay to take a break once in a while. I know what teenagers go through and I wanted to tell them that everything they feel is okay and normal.
Understanding the mind of a teenager
The book is packed with important life lessons, inspiring stories, uplifting passages, and—perhaps, keeping its young audience in mind—high school politics, all told in a conversational tone. Mahra, for example, writes about those who once spread rumors about her and how she coped with the situation by remaining kind and respectful throughout. At the heart of the book is a list of seven steps to increase productivity and quality of life, which the young writer spent a lot of time shortlisting – it helped that “7” was her lucky number.
Adolescent mental health has emerged as a topic of concern and discussion during the Covid-19 pandemic – a UNICEF study, for example, identified “social isolation, disruptions in daily life and uncertainty about the future” as risk factors for depression in children and adolescents. In her book, Mahra suggests instilling healthy habits like journaling, meditation, and self-care to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. During the interview, she adds that the teenagers felt largely isolated because they couldn’t go out and meet their friends. “But in general, teenagers are so affected by their friendships – they get sad, sometimes depressed and they lock themselves in the room because of it,” she points out. “They try to fit in by pretending to be someone they’re not. So in the book I tried to tell them to embrace who they are.
“But I’m not saying I’m perfect,” she continues. “I too am affected. For example, when I changed schools, the environment around me changed a lot. I tried not to be the odd one out, but I ended up changing a lot I realized the effect it had on me, so I started to focus on myself. She also talks about the impact of doomscrolling on the fragile minds of teenagers. “It depresses them, even if they don’t feel depressed,” she says, adding that they also tend to believe what they see on social media and compare their lives to the carefully edited ones they see online. “We should remember that we only know what they want us to know.”
Of all her seven steps, Mahra finds letting go personally difficult to implement. “Teenagers usually have a lot of free time and spend most of their time on their phones. So, we think back to the past several times and it becomes very difficult to forget everything, ”she underlines.
Giving advice via a platform as public as a book is no mean feat for mature adults, let alone a teenager. But as the eldest of six children, Mahra thinks she just matured faster. “I also spend more time with older people, like my mother — although I have friends, I don’t spend as much time with them. I feel like my brain is a bit mature for my age,” she says.
But all that, she insists, doesn’t make her a very confident person. “I’m a very shy person,” she smiles. “I didn’t find the writing part difficult, but I kept thinking, ‘How are you going to get out there and speak in front of people after you publish the book?'”
With writers in the family, it’s no surprise that writing came so naturally to her. “I always wanted to do something with my life,” she adds. But it took him a while to make reading a serious hobby. “I used to flip through storybooks when I was too young to read and was determined to read them one day. But when I got older, I started picking up the most end of the library to read it,” she recalls. “Then three years ago my mother gave me the book The Four Chords and when I read it I saw everything differently and I’m fell in love with reading.
Mahra is already working on her second book, which will focus on happiness and fulfillment. “I’m looking to develop that further – maybe I’ll start an online course. But right now, I’m taking it easy,” she smiles.