Friday, 9 January 2009

Schools and Parents

The Girls' School Association [GSA] today launched a new website aimed at parents of girls, What is remarkable and interesting about this site is that it is not just a showcase and marketing portal for Independent Girls' schools, but it sets out to help parents with parenting.

The site has a section on Raising Your Daughter, which tackles issues such as sexual relationships, drugs and alcohol, food and diet, self-esteem and bullying. The section on Educating Your Daughter also includes "Tips for Parents" for each of the key stages of a girl's education. [I have quoted the tips for parents of 11-16 girls at the end of this piece for your further interest.]

I believe that it is a very encouraging sign that schools are willing to step forward and offer advice to parents. Whereas society once looked to the church to give a moral lead, it now looks to schools. We see this in media all of the time: heads of top independent schools get more coverage than the members of synod by a factor of ten to one. Note the success of Vicky Tuck's column in the Daily Telegraph or Martin Stephen or Anthony Seldon's various pronouncements. Heads, houseparents and teachers, especially those working in boarding schools which are responsible for young people 24/7, have accumulated considerable knowledge, experience and expertise in bringing up young people.

Parents increasingly need support and schools are well placed to give this. Heads and teachers have a professional distance - "it is always easier when it is someone else's child". They routinely deal with situations detached from the emotional involvement that can cloud judgement. Schools don't have all the answers, but schools do have an idea of what is a normative experience and are likely to have more experience of the exceptional. Parents should always know the child better than the school and, at the end of the day, parents don't have to take the advice being offered.

Teenagers are very adept at playing parents off against each other: "Everyone else is going to the party", "Everyone else's parents are letting them sleep over" etc. Schools can provide the structures and networks whereby parents can communicate effectively, they can set up forums whereby parents can discuss parenting issues with each other and with the school.

The MyDaughter website brings together the collective wisdom and experience of an important part of the Independent Schools sector and is an outstanding resource for parents of girls - let us hope that the boys don't miss out too much in the meantime!

  • By now she should be doing her homework away from distractions, in a space of her own. She will probably tell you that playing music helps her concentrate – and it might be true! Continue to encourage her to discuss her work with you; give plenty of praise and ask loads of questions

  • Make sure you know her friends’ names, they are very important to her and to her happiness. Don’t offer opinions on them unless asked. She will learn about herself by sampling a range of friends, some of whom you may not be comfortable with. The most important thing is to keep your lines of communication open and if you try to direct or control her friendships she may start to shut you out.

  • Don’t try to be your daughter’s best friend. She should have lots of friends but she only has one mother. Aim to be the best mother you can be. This includes setting and holding boundaries. Children feel secure when they know there are limits. No matter how hard she pushes she won’t stop loving you just because you say “No”. In fact she will feel safer and better loved, however much she huffs and slams doors!

  • When she is choosing her GCSE subjects listen to her, get her to talk to her teachers, offer your opinion but remember that she is the one who will be studying these subjects, not you.

  • Form realistic expectations of her academic potential by talking to her teachers. Remember that academic success is only one way of succeeding. Many “successful” members of society did not shine at school. Resourcefulness, creativity and perseverance, for example, are key qualities that are not directly measured by our academic system.

  • The best way of protecting your daughter against the perils of eating disorders and substance abuse is to build her self esteem. Value her for who she is rather than what she does. Help her see that there are more important things than appearance, possessions and clothes. Give her values that will sustain her through difficult times.
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