Teenage pressures - how to support your daughter
The Telegraph recently reported on a survey conducted by the global children’s charity Plan UK which found that one in five adults believe that the pressure to become sexually active is the biggest problem facing girls at secondary school.
Do you agree? If so, and if you are the parent of a teenage girl, what can you do to help her cope with this pressure and not to engage in sexual activity with the wrong person and at the wrong time?
During my years as the head of a girls’ school, girls’ developing sexuality and the need to prepare them for this, rather than attempting to protect them from it, was one of the issues to which we devoted some time and thought. Curricular input, such as that involved in the Personal, Social and Health Education programme, was one way in which we addressed the subject and helped girls to deal with their developing awareness and growing interest in the part that sex and relationships would play in their lives. Girls need emotional support here, and an understanding of the psychological aspects of the changes taking place in their bodies and in their minds – not simply factual information about the biological aspects of human reproduction.
We also, of course, talked to the girls in a range of contexts, and used contributions from speakers beyond the school, to encourage them to recognise pressure and to have sufficient strength and self respect to value themselves and to resist any action they felt fundamentally to be wrong. This is easy to say and much harder to do, of course – secondary age girls care immensely what their peers think, and often the desire to ‘fit in’ and to do what (they perceive) others are doing can override reason and good judgement.
In my view, this is a key area in which schools and parents need to work together to help girls feel good about themselves, to promote the message that self-worth is about being comfortable with yourself and not doing something you instinctively feel is wrong but which someone else is coercing you to do. Girls need to appreciate that a good friend will look out for you and support you in this; a friend who exerts pressure on you to do something you are patently NOT comfortable doing is no friend at all. They have to bear this in mind when being a friend to others, too.
Discussing such sensitive subjects can be hard, but clear and open communication is invaluable here. Sometimes you find literature or non-fiction which can help initiate a dialogue – I remember using extracts from Maya Angelou’s I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Elizabeth Laird’s Red Sky in the Morning and Dawn French’s autobiography Dear Fatty to communicate messages to girls in lessons.
If you do have concerns and are finding it hard to talk to your daughter about this, then talk to the school – they may well be able to help. We are all committed to doing what we can to guide and support these young people as they negotiate the challenges of growing up – and this is certainly one of the challenges.
Click here for related MyDaughter articles on Sexual Relationships.
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