Stressed teens take it out on their mums

16th May 2003 at 01:00
E were exhausted. The deadlines had been too many to cope with, the workload impossible and the extra-curricular activities had taken us over the edge. Technology had become an enemy as between us, we had lost a technology folder, an English essay and the conclusion to a maths project in just one week. It was no wonder we looked older than we should.

Typical teenage problems you might think - but we were middle-aged mums, whose AS-level daughters had just dragged us through a week from hell.

We were supposedly on a girls' night out, but in reality, we were too tired to talk about anything other than the previous week's terrifying catalogue of disasters. These had been brought on by unbelievable pressures that no adult, let alone two 16-year-old girls, should have to deal with. As caring mums, who work as well, we'd taken the brunt of the emotional turmoil, stress and, of course, the blame as the two girls desperately looked for scapegoats.

Take my daughter, Jayne, who is on the brink of turning 17. She is taking English, geography, art, and design and technology. She is also doing dance GCSE out of school, taking part in the school play, doing a Duke of Edinburgh award, trying to organise work experience and going for training so she can work as a face painter at Alton Towers through the summer.

A recent weekend is typical. On Friday night, she worked in the local pub as a waitress as usual. On Saturday morning, I took her for a day's training in face painting and scoured the shops for materials for her school play costume. Saturday evening was spent making the costume for a play rehearsal all day Sunday. Sunday evening was a manic rush to get homework done in between practising face painting on her parents.

Then on Monday, she discovered that her design and technology project - a two-term study - had gone missing at school and she was going to have to re-do it. That night she was trying to finish an English essay at 11.30pm when the box came up asking her if she wanted to save it. Exhausted, she pressed the "no" button. We spent an hour trying in vain to retrieve it.

On Tuesday, she told her naturally sceptical English teacher about the essay, and was asked to re-submit it, hand-written by Wednesday. She greeted me at 11.30pm, as I came in from an all-day meeting on the other side of the country, having rewritten the first essay, desperate for help with a second one on poetry.

On Wednesday, we were due to meet an old colleague of mine to see whether she would be able to do some work experience on a day-time television programme. They needed a CV at once.

On Thursday, as she grappled with more AS-levels deadlines, we got the okay from the television programme. But she will have to complete a safety video which will involve travelling to Birmingham. They also wanted to know when she would be available. Available? Help! We scanned the diary, looking past play dates, expedition dates, work-training dates. We decided she would probably be free by the age of 25.

My friend's daughter had experienced a similar week, exacerbated by a similar computer disaster with her maths project.

As professional women, we are ambitious for our daughters and want them to have the choices we had, but we are also women of the 1960s and 1970s - an era when taking time to pick the daisies was equally important, and rightly so.

We both feel we have managed to succeed in our careers but we have also had time to enjoy moments of complete non-achievement as well as moments of focused ambition.

Exams are important, we accept that. But in the end, we both know of graduates who are working in bars, unable to get jobs because they are only equipped for a theoretical world.

The exam system has never been perfect, but there has always been time for young people to take a few moments to grow up, to do other things apart from academic pursuits. The AS system leaves no time for anything.

It certainly leaves no time for a couple of middle-aged mums to have any fun!

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