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3Fs of growing up: fun, friends, frank

I recently checked a third-year class's homework diaries. Those belonging to some of our more troublesome girls had few notes of homework due but were liberally decorated with a recurring "mention": 3 Fs!!!=

I was dumb-foundered and frankly concerned. I guessed what one of the Fs would be and didn't know if I wanted to know the others. I took my courage in both hands. "OK, Nicola, what are the 3 Fs?"

"Fun, friends and fake tan, Mr Wood." Did I feel stupid or did I feel stupid? I should have guessed that while our mini-skirted and orange- complexioned third years did not put academic success or recording their homework tasks at the top of their agenda, their priorities had been shared by teenagers for many a year and were innocent, harmless and no cause for concern. Cyndi Lauper was right: "Girls just want to have fun!"

We sometimes attribute the worst of motives and intentions to the actions of our young people - indeed, to the actions of a generation. I'd a similar issue recently when our S6s proposed a day's activities to mark their last school day before the exams, essentially the really last day of school. It's an event which can make teachers quake with fears of ravaged common rooms, egg-splattered walls, alcohol and a few Fs of which flour is the least offensive.

The day was a joy. The S6s organised a barbeque, hired a bouncy castle, sprayed each other with water pistols and became careless kids for a last time. The Standard grade exams weren't disturbed. The worst that happened on a day they policed themselves was that we found one empty lager can and one beer bottle. There wasn't much fake tan but lots of fun and friends.

A few days later, I attended the prom of the school from which I'm seconded and to which I'll shortly return. Every one of the sixth years there arrived in the smartest of outfits. Several of the lads were wearing kilts: one never had done so before. A couple were in tuxedos.

As the meal started, two of the girls at my table whispered that they weren't sure about wine: they'd never tasted it before (they weren't tee- total, but wine was a new experience). For a goodly number, it was a first formal meal. The jokes flowed and staff and students were together in a way they would all remember for many years to come. Without exception, the young people rose to the occasion, socialised with skill, peeked into the adult world and seemed to like what they saw.

Perhaps the end of term is a good time to reflect and to realise that what sometimes appears shocking is quite innocent; that young people made to grow up too fast need, even more than we did, to revert occasionally to childhood; that growing up is not best achieved by learning harsh lessons but by being led there by adults who can see and share the fun in life.

Alex Wood is seconded headteacher of Tynecastle High, Edinburgh.

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