Friday, 25 May 2018

Girls Grow Up Too Soon

Many years ago, I had the great pleasure to meet my first cousin once removed, Esther Palin Schofield.  She had opened her home and heart to my mother and myself.   I had asked her a gazillion questions about family history and she graciously answered them all to the best of her ability.  (When asked if she knew how my mother's father had died - she was not sure but she sort of remembered that it was a burst appendix and she was right!  She would only have been nine years of age when he died.  Amazing!)

I had even asked her how she met her husband and she told me that he had come for an interview after reading an article about her school and what she thought about the problem was with young Canadian girls.  What she did not tell me, or to be honest I may have forgotten,  is that she had written the article herself!

Imagine my delighted surprise when just this week I found that article that changed her life!  This was found in the The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, October 1, 1955.

    It is a well-worn but apt cliche that boys will be boys.  Thank goodness they still are.  I wish girls would be girls.  Unfortunately the Canadian teen-age girl is trying to be an adult long before her time.  She affects a maturity which she does not really possess.  I think this is bad and I feel we should try to do something about it.
   I came face to face with this country’s teenager three years ago when I, as a Canadian, returned to Canada after five years in England.  Suddenly I found myself at Rothesay, N.B., as the new headmistress is Netherwood Girls’ School.
   I was a little frightened at first of the sophisticated, teen-age Netherwood girl.  Looking around me at the girls who were to be my pupils and my charges, I experienced a few tremors.  They all looked so grown up!  I wondered for a moment if they would teach me.  There’s nothing like glamour and makeup to throw a teacher off balance.  The whole first year took quite a bit of adjustment.
   That first experience was rather a shock to me, the more so because I had become accustomed to the girls in England, who were not quite so sophisticated.  Frankly, I feel the trend in Canada is all wrong.
   I’m quite sure this isn’t any purely local problem.  The teenagers I have encountered came from many parts of Canada. So, I do not refer specifically to the girls at Netherwood, although they form a part of the general pattern.
   In reality, I have found that the Canadian teenager is not nearly as grown-up and confident as she appears.  It’s a veneer.  Wash off the makeup and put her is a school uniform and, once more she becomes quite young, very impressive, and very sensitive.
   The teenager’s immaturity was illustrated to me by a simple incident soon after my arrival.  I had been invited to a tea at which a number of these young girls had been asked to serve.  I was quite surprised to note that many of them were standing around and fidgeting.  They were apparently too timid to go up and ask the adults is they would like some tea.  They looked so poised to me, it had not even occurred to me that they would have to be told what to do.
   In various little ways the girls have given indications that they feel insecure.  This stems partly from the fact the society is pushing them beyond their years.  I usually go around at night and talk to my girls.  They seem disappointed if I don’t go.
   I think our society is largely to blame for expecting as much of the teenagers as we do.  Because for a girl to succeed in Canada she must get married, we have forced on her a competition for popularity.  Our girls must have attractive faces, good figures and, above all, a Saturday night date.  Our whole setup is geared for that, with our Miss Canadas and our calorie charts.
   The teenager has become caught in a “go with the crowd” whirl.  Her mind is constantly filled with thoughts of boys and clothes, which have become her main topic of conversation.  If she weren’t so busy talking and thinking of boys, maybe she would put on a good piece of music and enjoy it – or curl up with a book.  The child is missing something when she does not work to her capacity.  In the early years she could form tastes which would occupy and interest her in later life.  In a cultural way, she could do far more that she is doing and she would become a better citizen.  I don’t suggest for one moment that we turn our girls into “bluestockings,” that is, the ultra-studious types.  But we should encourage them to realize that there’s more in life than they ever dreamed.
   The average child will always follow.  For this reason, the “go with the crowd” habit is bad.  Now and then you will meet an individual who will strike out for herself.  But she is the exception.
    Of course, the teenagers love their way of life.  Or do they?  It is all right for the pert young miss who is naturally attractive.  But how about the average types whose hearts are broken before they begin, and certainly long before they have had a chance to learn that there are other standards in the world?  After all, we allow them only to date, not mate.  I think we would have better wives and mothers if they put half their energies into culture and study.
   What are the causes?
   Well, the power of the advertiser has something to do with it.  Our newspapers, magazines and the radio have opened the doors to show our teenager a glamorous new world.  Slick copy writers peddle umpteen shades and brands of lipstick and fill our little girl’s head with all sorts of alluring thoughts.  Beauty aids. Chic clothes.  Exquisite perfumes.  Our young lady receives the full treatment.  The pedestal is ready made for her.  No wonder she climbs upon it and dreams of her knight in shining armour.
   Advertising is much quieter in England.  There’s considerably less emphasis on cosmetics and clothes.  Without this distraction, the English teenager has a chance to be more natural and to develop her won individuality.  Consequently, although she may appear to be more of a little girl, the teen-age English girl is usually a more mature person than the Canadian girl of the same group.
   But the advertiser isn’t the real culprit.  Not by a long shot.   Much of the blame belongs in the home.  Father is apt to say, “She is only a little girl yet.”  But mother quite often has different ideas.  She’s really quite keen about daughter having her first date and her first high heels.  She’s so anxious for her daughter to be a success that she may aggravate the problem rather that help alleviate it.  In her desire for her daughter to be popular, Mother may push the child across the threshold of her youth.  The danger in this is that Daughter may not quite measure up to the popularity standards and may develop an inferiority complex.  It may take her a good many years to get rid of this and she may never completely succeed.
   I think we are quite easy on our teenagers.  We give them their head a little too much.  The authority of the home has gone down.  I don’t believe its right to force your will on the child.  She has got to learn to make her own decisions.  But she needs more guidance that she is getting.  I’m sure many teenagers feel that they know considerably more than their parents and teachers.
   There’s nothing particularly new about this business of pushing children into an adult world before they’re ready for it.  As an adolescent in Canada, I fought against it myself.  Then I had an opportunity to go to school in England.  It seemed to me that in Canada everyone wanted to be an adult.  In England it didn’t matter.  I felt more secure in England, where “going with the crowd” and the Saturday night date seemed unimportant.
   What we need more than anything else in this country is a new set of standards.  It is of course perfectly normal for a girl to think of boys and clothes. But not to the exclusion of everything else.  I think it’s time we all smartened up a little and gave the teenagers a chance to be themselves.
   Of course, I am asking for the moon and at present the best way to deal with the situation is to attempt to strike a happy medium.  Knowing how important it is to my girls I too help them to be as attractive as possible and to go to dances at a neighboring boys’ school.  At the same time, I try to keep them busy as possible in other ways.
   How many young woman today rush into marriage just to get married – that is, to keep up with their friends – and arrive all too soon in the divorce courts?
   Too many I’m afraid.  I believe that if parents and teachers worked together on this problem they could do much to stem this tide.

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