Advice on (female) adolescence

Land's End to John O'Groats summer 2015 with my own female adolescent!

Having been reminded in a post by Nick Dennis of the letter that John McConnell, an Eton housemaster, imagines being written to all mothers on their sons' 15th birthdays, I thought it would be fun to have a go at my own version.

I have used John McConnell's structure heavily - because I think it's so wonderful - and doctored his letter to apply instead to the parents of 14-year-old girls. My own daughter is 16 now, so as you can imagine I rather enjoyed writing this. I started with 14 as the age of the fictional girl because that's the age (or possibly earlier) that I think girls start to wrestle hardest with the demon adolescence.

Dear Mr and Mrs X,

Today is Jemima's 14th birthday. You will be pleased to hear that she has been receiving a large and varied assortment of Amazon parcels all week in the lead-up to this momentous occasion. This morning, throughout breakfast, her phone was buzzing ceaselessly with notification updates - a testament to her popularity within the school. I'm afraid I had to remove the device from her temporarily to allow her to finish her cornflakes in peace.

The cake you ordered arrived safely and we took it upon ourselves to adorn it with 14 candles before presenting it to her. Sadly Jemima tripped and dropped the cake on the floor as she took it across to her friends. To add insult to injury, our dog got to it before we could effect a salvage operation. Judging by the giggles that followed this little accident, though, both she and her friends remain in very good spirits.

Anyway, this is by the by. The real purpose of this letter is to try and prepare you for an imminent change in the relationship between yourself and your daughter. The well-behaved, doe-eyed little creature you remember so affectionately is on the verge of becoming a woman. You may have already noticed the tell-tale raised eyebrow when you reply to a request for factual information. This will be followed by your daughter's swift recourse to Wikipedia to inform you - hands on hips in angry defiance - that you are a 'bit out of date'.

Where once you had to bend down to help her attend to her hair, now you must ask her to sit, or else face the ignominy of standing on tip-toe. She will rail at you for not listening and then, when you take a passing interest in something she regards as none of your business, castigate you for being nosey. Be very wary too of taking her pronouncements at face value: 'I'm fine' usually means quite the opposite, and you will be punished severely for not recognising this. You, who have offered her unconditional affection, will be the target of her most withering remarks. When the mood takes her, she will dismiss you as old, irrelevant and irredeemably embarrassing. Clothes - her lack of them, and your own 'tragic' collection - will be a frequent source of friction. Added to which, other children's parents will always be immeasurably wealthier, more generous and less obnoxious than you are.

But do not despair. Ride out the storm. Be firm but affectionate. At this moment when she seems to need you least, she needs you the most. Make a stand about the principles you regard as fundamental. Give her the freedom she needs in most of life's trivial, day-to-day details. Do not worry too much about how she decides to adorn herself, but make sure she knows that you find her beautiful whatever she wears. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that her present mood is transitory. Before too long she will be looking at you as one adult to another, so cherish her last bursts of childishness. If you do this and stand firm as a rock in the midst of this tempestuous phase of life, the little girl whom you thought you had lost will return as a delightful young woman. She will have been worth waiting for.

Meanwhile, we are both of us in for one hell of a time.

Yours sincerely,




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