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“You don’t understand!”

Edrys Barkham, International Admissions Consultant and former tutor and housemistress at Bryanston School shares her insights into teenage girls and the joys, trials and tribulations that can come with it!

As a housemistress for 13 years and a tutor for 27 years, the trials and tribulations of teenagers have been both my challenge and my personal fulfilment throughout my teaching career. I offer the following insights to anyone who is wondering what their delightful 12-year-old girl has turned into as she enters her teens. It is not a complete guide to adolescent girls, but insights from a life lived with teenagers.

I start, as all the girls do, in Year 9. At 13 the girls are well into puberty and there have already been significant changes to the body and the brain. On arrival at senior school, there is an overwhelming need for the girls to conform. It can take many forms, but you may be asked for clothes she has never worn before in order to comply with the self-imposed uniform of the peer group. This conformity allows the individual to start testing out their own identity in the safety of looking like everyone else. It is a time when friendships are quickly made and just as quickly changed. It’s painful for everyone but hold your nerve and listen with empathy to the regaling of stories, just don’t believe it all.

In Year 10, the girls become increasingly self-aware and want to discover their sense of self; so don’t be surprised if they try out different characters – kind and friendly one day, too cool for school the next. It can be an emotional rollercoaster and experience tells us that it is not always helpful to tell them what to do at this stage. If you do proffer advice, and you should as a parent, openings such as ‘You may like to consider…’ or ‘I am sure you have probably already thought of this …’ work best, but don’t be surprised if these approaches are also spurned.

GCSE is about as close as we get in Western society to a rite of passage. It is an ordeal and requires perseverance and persistence from 16-year-olds. It requires her managing fear of failure and self-doubt, and understanding that supporting others helps to support herself.

For Year 12 returning to the sixth form armed with a string of numbers from GCSE results that they recognise as part of their adult identity, but that don’t totally define them as a person, improves teenagers’ self-esteem and confidence. School now is more about personal achievement than doing what everyone else is doing. During Year 12 they are more secure to do things on their own and there is often less antagonism with parents, but disagreements can be vigorous as they feel more independent and adult.

During the final year, there tends to be better and more adult communication with parents; girls feel more established as individuals and begin to enjoy taking more responsibility in looking after others. Our girls leave us as young adults, generally comfortable in their own skins, confident in their strengths, but not arrogant about their talents and ready to contribute positively to their society.

The five-year journey can be calm and gentle, or it can be tumultuous and chaotic, or it can be a mixture. The relationship between the parent and child changes and develops throughout this time, but the skilled and highly experienced housemistresses and tutors will help you and your daughter find a route through adolescence, so that you can enjoy a well-deserved and long-lasting adult relationship.

Also read ‘I wanted to see what would happen!’ – a full insight into what’s happening to our teenage boys through the eyes of a Bryanston housemaster!


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