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Head Viewpoint Schools Keep in Touch

“My teenage daughter is my best friend!” How often have you heard this proud parental comment?

Headmistress Vivienne Durham offers some sage advice to parents on managing teen school days

The greater equality between teenagers and adults in the last 50 years has much to recommend it, but the primary role for any father or mother of a teenage girl remains that of a parent, not only a friend. The expectations placed on parents are greater than ever

before. A strong link is essential between you as a parent and your daughter’s school. After the cosiness of prep school, parents may feel cut

adrift from their daughter’s school life once the security of meeting other mothers and fathers at the “school gate” diminishes. More than ever, during these teenage years, it is essential to know the parents of your daughter’s best friends. Look out for events organised by Parents’ Associations which often create valuable opportunities to meet parents in your daughter’s year group. As a parent you need to feel

that an email or phone call will be welcomed by your daughter’s teachers if you have concerns about any aspect of her behaviour. Many schools will host regular events exclusively for parents on issues such as “keeping your daughter safe online”, preventing alcohol and substance abuse and socialising guidelines. Schools, which are members of GSA, are experts in the education of girls. Parents of teenage girls will find free advice on a huge range of common concerns from professional experts on GSA’s excellent website : Parenting teenagers can demand negotiation skills that

“If teenage girls are to be fully

prepared for adult life, they need to get things wrong”

would not be out of place at a UN global summit. However, “no” should still be a seminal word in the parental repertoire. While teenagers may often not understand, like or agree with parental opinions, they do need to respect the right of adults to hold contrasting opinions. Parents are often worried about matters such as, how

often teenage girls should be allowed out socially during the week in term time. There are no hard and fast rules, but always trust your parental instincts. The most successful pupils usually prioritise school work and school extra-curricular activities during the week.

Communication is key when allowing teenagers to have greater freedom in their social life. Parents have to be able to trust that their daughter is where she says she will be and expect that negotiated home-times will be met. Teenagers should be encouraged to plan their time at weekends so that family commitments and homework are accommodated, as well as time for socialising with friends. Self-discipline usually increases with age, for most teenagers. Good organisation comes naturally to many young teenage girls – but not to all. By 16 or 17, some teenage girls can summon up impressive time-management skills. Parents can promote this level of motivation by establishing a clear routine for homework, well before their daughter enters her teenage years. Teenagers want guidelines and boundaries – if only to test them. They also need strong role models and teachers can play a crucial role in shaping the values and behaviour of teenagers. Even in an age of online education, an inspirational teacher will influence young lives far beyond the classroom. Many schools have a buddy system to ensure that younger teenagers are “mentored” by senior students. In boarding schools, the House system also provides invaluable opportunities for younger girls to learn from the example of older pupils in their House. Above all, if teenage girls are to be fully prepared for

adult life, they occasionally need to get things wrong, to have set-backs, or even to fail outright. The perfectionist teenage girl, who has known nothing but literal or metaphorical gold stars during her school career, is poorly equipped for “the slings and arrows” of 21st century adult life. Teenagers need to acquire the resilience to cope with disappointment or heartbreak, with parents and teachers on hand, willing to listen and to be of support. Guiding a teenage girl into becoming a happy adult can seem

an Olympic feat. Most parents and teachers would agree that no gold medal could equal the achievement.

Vivienne Durham is headmistress of Francis Holland Regent’s Park.

Autumn 2011 FirstEleven 13

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