SOMETHING cataclysmic has happened. Your children have reached .
. . adolescence.
Tabitha, who used to hang on your every word, sought your
advice, and regarded you as the fount of all wisdom, now sees you
as a never-ending source of embarrassment. The dreadful thought
that you might give her a hug in front of her friends is enough to
make her recoil with horror.
Where once she was prone to a trembling bottom lip, she has
moved on to raising her eyebrows, rolling her eyes with disdain,
and the Incredible Sulk. The visits to museums, the fact-finding
trips to the library, and board games are over. Tabitha announces
she is having "a duvet day". She spends enough time in the bathroom
to decorate it twice over. Inseparable from her mobile, she moves
expertly through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Forget the
anxious search for the right birthday present. Hard cash will do
nicely, thank you.
At school, Tabitha's skirt has shrunk alarmingly. There is a
perpetual argument over which bits of her can have metalwork
piercings. Such is her make-up, she might as well be wearing a
Is it any easier with boys? Not really. Danny's trousers have
speeded in the opposite direction to Tabitha's skirt. It is
apparently a fashion statement to allow us a glimpse of his Jack
Wills undergarments. He communicates in a mixture of monosyllables
and grunts. His bedroom is a no-go area. What is he doing in
Danny evinces no interest in the mechanical genius of the vacuum
cleaner, the dishwasher, or the lawnmower, but is animated beyond
belief by the car. He hates French. Your credibility was shot when
you suggested he should join the school choir.
Imagine 30 of them together in a class. Truth be told, teachers
love them, really. True, eliciting any kind of response in class is
like an auctioneer vainly looking for a twitch or eyebrow movement
that may indicate the vague possibility of an answer.
Experienced teachers have seen it all before. They are also wise
enough to know that being an adolescent today is not the same as it
was just a few short years ago. The pressure on them now is wholly
different. Nevertheless, they remain partly children, and, in one
sense, the most important part of growing up has not changed.
Adolescents never did like themselves very much. Self-esteem is
invariably fragile at this age.
Social media, so wonderful in so many respects, but so very
dangerous when insidious bullying takes over, have made life nigh
on impossible for schools and parents. Having to deal with
self-harming children has been a horrible consequence for too many
So, what to do? Easier to say what not to do. Danny's mum has
sent him for private tuition in French. It's beyond hopeless.
Arriving for his first lesson, he asks, "Will it be long?" Halfway
through the lesson, he expresses a need to use the facilities. He
is in there so long, his digestive system is clearly in chaos. It's
not fair to Danny, and, once you've heard his French, you'll
conclude it's not fair to the French, either.
Above all, try to avoid nagging and conveying the idea that
nothing is ever good enough. Children can pass a piano exam with
Merit, only to be told that if they had practised a bit harder they
could have had a distinction.
Do attend those sixth-form information evenings. Teachers are
skilled professionals. The prospects for sixth-formers are now very
different. Tuition fees have seen to that. Wise heads and wise
counsel are needed to make the right subject choices for the right
outcome. Tabitha will also have a question that is causing her more
stress than anything else. What is she supposed to wear?
And remember that adolescence is nature's way of preparing
parents to welcome an empty nest.
Dennis Richards is a former head teacher of St Aidan's C of
E High School, Harrogate.