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Mouthy monsters display true colours

If you can't say something nice, don't say it," my daughter admonishes me.

She's got that from a book, of course.

The days are long gone, when Daughter used to impress all who heard her infant lips lisp long words and intricate sentences, gleaned from books.

These days what we hear are the far less impressive "whatevers" of the United States, via Buffy and other inhabitants of the alternate reality of California phrases unlikely to impress anyone except Daughter's friends.

Which brings me to the object of Daughter's admonishment. Apparently I never have anything nice to say about anyone whom Daughter likes. I call her best friend X an airhead, who wastes hours of Daughter's time giggling on the phone about boys, other girls, and "reality tv" shows, hours which would be better spent in X doing some homework and Daughter getting in some extra violin practicestudyinghouseworksleepfamily time. I also have problems with Y, because she will cost Daughter her punctuality record at school, regularly reduces Daughter's room to a state resembling her own home-grown tip and encourages Daughter's resentment of housework. I have rejected Z as a suitable friend for Daughter because she never eats and seldom goes to school, smokes and wears little clothing and a lot of paint and jewellery.

I deny using the term "airhead", though I acknowledge there may be a grain of truth in Daughter's recollection of my views on her friends. Be that as it may, I have recently forsworn criticism of her friends, and of young people in general. Why? Because I have had a revelation that young people are not simply half-dressed, multi-punctured, unclean, lazy, mouthy, money-grabbing monsters. They are also caring, sharing human beings.

My revelation occurred during Daughter's recent, sudden, hospitalisation for a serious illness. Daughter found the onset of illness hard, not just because of the humiliation of complete helplessness nor the pain, but because of the prospect of missing her friends, first in hospital for weeks, then at home. I could see to all Daughter's personal needs. The hospital staff could see to all her medical needs. But after the stories had been read and the cassettes played and lame parenty jokes told, Daughter needed more than our love and attention. She needed her friends.

So, imagine our delight when they began to come. First there were flowers and cards. Then X came bearing gifts from school, from friends and acquaintances alike - even some from her "worst enemies". Y and Z soon followed, as did a stream of other young people, after school, at weekends, all of them careful to obey the rules. There were even days when X, I learnt afterwards to my horror, used her lunch money to buy magazines for Daughter. There were times when Y's parents had to come and prise her from Daughter's bedside to go home for supper.

Unable to use her mobile phone in hospital, Daughter had a phone wheeled to her bedside as soon as she could raise her head. I supplied piles of change, ecstatic that Daughter had friends on the other end of the line who were there for her, providing gossip, news, jokes, updates on everything that is important in her teenage life.

When doctors remarked with surprise on her rapid recovery, I attributed it to her excellent diet, plentiful exercise and strong immune system uncompromised by previous overuse of antibiotics, but also to her determination to get better fast. What broke my heart, as much as seeing Daughter's physical suffering, were her sobs that she just wanted her life back.

The young people who kept the cards, notes, visits and phone calls coming when she was in hospital, who crowded into Daughter's room when she got home, playing loud music and rendering her helpless with laughter instead of pain, those young people gave Daughter her life back as much as the hospital staff did. Doubtless in a month or two I'll be moaning about the same old things regarding X, Y and Z and all Daughter's other friends. Or maybe I'll just do that other thing Daughter says I do - try to reform them. What I hope I'll never do is forget that the surface teenage demons hide warm and sterling people.

Shereen Pandit is a short story writer and poet

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