Review - Books - Girl power: get some over yours

18th March 2011 at 00:00

Your Daughter: A Guide for Raising Girls

By the Girls' Schools Association

Friday Books


This would be an easy book to mock. Middle and upper-middle class to its roots, there is a certain air of unreality about its calm, measured tones when they are applied to the emotional and social bonfires that are the norm of many teenage homes and classrooms.

Discussing all the usual conflagration points of tattoos, alcohol, piercings and sexual conduct can seem a bizarrely sedate affair on the page but is rarely so in practice. And that is why the authors of this book, despite its slightly old-fashioned air, are essentially right and why this is a useful book for them to have written - for it is precisely on the most controversial and explosive of subjects that a cool, calm and, dare one say it, wise head is needed.

Teenagers provide sufficient emotional traumas, and parents stoke them with enough of their own raw-edged fears and concerns, that the last thing anyone needs is more hysteria. So step in the Girls' Schools Association to douse the flames.

Your Daughter is not just concerned with teenagers as it aims to provide advice on all stages of development and schooling. Indeed, the point is clearly made that parenting is a lifelong commitment and responsibility. But if the teenage years dominate, that is hardly surprising as these are the years that most parents fear and experience most anxiety about. The book is a development of the association's website, which is a question-and-answer forum, among other things, and some of the best parts of the book have been reproduced directly from there. In almost all cases, the responses to the parental concerns are intelligent, considered and informative.

Two points are made over and over again. The first is that negotiating a successful, secure and happy childhood is about "communication, communication, communication". The moment the opportunity for dialogue is lost, so is the opportunity to effect change.

One of the traits of the teenage years that the authors correctly identify is an inability to connect cause with effect and to predict consequences. The motivation for much teenage behaviour is being "cool" and "having a laugh" but the results are frequently nothing like so cavalier.

If that is a given, open channels of communication are the sine qua non of linking cause, effect and responsibility.

The second point is made more subtly but consistently and insistently: parenting is an active process. Parents have responsibilities that they cannot and must not shirk. This may seem obvious but every teacher reading this will have had conversations with parents who have simply given up in the face of adversity. A strong message here is that parents need to take control and manage the things they are concerned about.

Computers, for instance, should not be allowed in bedrooms, they should be in a "public" area of the house where their use can be supervised, however subtly. Parents should be members of their children's Facebook accounts. Mobile phones are valuable tools but if the parents pay the bill they will have greater control topping up a pay-as-you-go account than if they simply fund a contract. There is, in short, plenty of good, practical advice here. Individual parents in individual households may have qualms about the feasibility of some of it but it is for them to work out how far they are prepared to move from the ideal; much of the advice holds good.

Alongside this, however, come welcome doses of realism about things parents may not be able to control. You cannot choose your daughter's friends. You will not stop her and her boyfriend having sex if they decide to, but you can make her think about the emotional commitment and the possible consequences and encourage her not to be one of the estimated 80 per cent who has her first sexual experience under the influence of alcohol and regrets it.

You will not stop her drinking but you can encourage responsible drinking and warn her that alcopops are not as innocent as they seem, and so on.

As might be expected, given its authorship, the book includes a lot of sound information on schooling, including homework, exams and post-16 choices, although, somewhat surprisingly, there is little about the qualities that parents might look for initially in choosing a school.

There are also good sections on eating disorders and why self-image is so important, on bullying and internet safety. Inevitably, in trying to be a "catch-all" there are superficialities but, taken as a whole, Your Daughter covers a lot of ground with insight and good sense.

The verdict 810

About the authors The Girls' Schools Association

My Daughter is the product of a collaboration by the heads and staff of about 200 schools belonging to the Girls' Schools Association. It includes advice from the website and aims to offer insights on everything about educating and raising girls.

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