What is Femininity?

What is Femininity?

What does the term “femininity” mean to you? The quality of being female is the concise definition but its interpretation is of course far from concise.

A femininity storm has erupted in our house on the back of an innocent comment to my youngest teen from a friend ahead of a joint shopping trip.  The crux of it was the suggestion that my daughter might benefit from introducing an element of ”feminity” to her wardrobe.

There was no ill intent meant of course but unfortunately as we all know it is often the most casual and throw away remarks that will strike a nerve and provoke the loudest response.

So how did my daughter interpret this comment? Well not favourably. In short she felt insulted and perhaps not surprisingly, suddenly very self-conscious of her appearance.

Of course, as we are all too aware, a woman’s feminity is defined by much more than simply her looks and how she presents herself externally.  It is about how she is as a person, how she interacts with others and what she brings to the world.

Ultimately, there is not a universal definition and as such we can’t stereotype so I am not going to either.  Neither in this instance am I going to pursue the well-trodden path of considering the relationship between feminity and feminism - that is a debate for another day.  This is a question born purely from a comment about looks and presentation and its impact upon the formative teenage brain.

So is it the case then that feminity from the perspective of external appearances is limited to such a simplistic view as the one my teenage daughter interpreted the comment to mean.  Namely that to demonstrate her own feminity she must wear a skirt (not a dress!), make-up and god forbid forego her beloved trainers!

The short answer is no.  My son was at pains to point out to my daughter that "clothes don't make the (wo)man"  and that her preference for individuality rather than conformity was something to be celebrated not concealed.

On the flip-side and at the risk of sounding "old-fashioned"  I confess to falling into the camp that says yes to a good pair of heels and some lippy as a sure fire way to make me feel good about myself.  Is that the same as feeling feminine?  On a superficial level yes, but then again I am 50+, menopausal and having spent the last few weeks since my op dressed down in loungers and comfortable shoes, I would give anything for a chance to boost my sense of feminity right now, however, irrelevant the means of achieving that might seem to others.

For our teenagers, however, the landscape is different. . That transition from awkward and doubtful, to confident and self-assured is a delicate one that needs to be navigated with care and at their own pace. As I have said before, appearance matters hugely to teenagers.  Nobody wants to be made to feel like the odd one out, but if my daughter is going to feel like that I would rather it was for something as simplistic as her refusal to wear an outfit favoured by her peers, than her inability to inquire and challenge perceptions about the true definition and values of feminity.

I have heard it said that the exact definition of words is actually set by the listener rather than the speaker and that is probably why comments are so easily misconstrued.   We all interpret situations and words differently and no doubt a straw poll of people’s opinions of “feminity” will elicit a range of responses rather than a universal one.  In fact Teen magazine posed this question to a group of celebrities back in 1965.  The answers were varied and illustrate not only a different mindset but a vastly removed society.

Jane Fonda: "Femininity is knowing how to listen — men love it!"

Sandra Dee: "You must be meticulous in your clothing, makeup, skin — to be clean, fresh, and nice all the time."

Connie Stevens: "You work at being a good homemaker, making it fun and romantic."

Is there any point in trying to define what feminity is or more importantly do we care?  There is no doubt it will alter and be defined by its time.  Fundamentally, however, it is a set of attributes and behaviour, which can take on many forms because it is unique to the individual and it is that sentiment we should be embracing more than any other when considering feminity.


What do you think?  What does feminity mean to you?  I would love to hear your views in the comments below. 








Absent Sibling Syndrome

Absent Sibling Syndrome

When a teenager leaves home for the first time the impact of their absence on a household is generally focussed on the emotions of the parents and particularly the mothers.  But what about the brothers and sisters left behind?  How does the sudden absence of a sibling affect them?

Some say that the departure of an eldest sibling can feel like the end of the world and I know some families who have really struggled to adapt.

In our case since our eldest left for university there is a noticeable change in the rhythm of our house.  The A’level years are a stressful time as anyone who has been through them will verify.  They are also - all consuming.  When you are in the middle of it all there is little room for anything or anyone else and although my husband and I were always conscious of the need for our youngest not to feel overlooked, it was hard for her to make her voice heard sometimes during the inevitable conversations about grades, university applications and back-up gap year plans.

In his absence the focus has inevitably switched to be all on our daughter.  No longer does she need to wait her turn to pitch into the dinner table conversations and interestingly those conversations have shifted gear a bit.  Hers is a more inquisitive mind than her brother’s.  Whilst he thrives in a world of black and white fact, she  consistently questions and challenges, never content to take something purely at face value.

It was interesting therefore over the Christmas holiday to see how they adapted to sharing the same physical and emotional space again after months apart.

From the offset there was a different dynamic.  She was excited to see him and hear his tales of university life.  He was nonchalant, basking in her semi-adoration but equally keen to hear her news since his departure, asking for updates on her end of year tests and the latest “beef” at her school. There was a level of mutual respect that hadn’t existed before.  They had both grown up and moved on a stage and were now flourishing in their increased independence.  Their relationship was noticeably more adult.

There were arguments too of course, but they were generally about the shift in physical boundaries that inevitably come from living apart.

Our daughter had become used to using his room as a separate study area, as well as having complete control of the TV room and no longer having to negotiate a slot.  He on the other hand having spent 12 weeks confined to one small room in which to eat, sleep, study and shower, relished having space and very quickly resumed control not only of the teen zones but the entire house.

In addition our daughter had enjoyed her privacy, something her brother is not very good at respecting. He is more of a people person than her and thinks nothing of just barging in and plonking himself down for a chat, whether convenient or not, which led to a few lively exchanges.

At the end of the day, however, the sibling relationship is an enduring one. My children are half brother and sister but there is a connection between the two, a secret pact of sorts.  We are an open family, discussing more than most perhaps, but there are some areas where only the advice and emotional support of a sibling will suffice.

Now that he has gone again we are all once more mindful of looking out for each other, recognising those moments in the day when we all might feel his absence more acutely.  For my daughter that is when she returns home from school, which was always their time to chat, share social media gossip, watch some rubbish TV before heading up to their rooms to do their homework.  My job now is to fill that void and put her needs firmly in the spotlight again.  The absence of an eldest sibling is if nothing else an opportunity to redress the balance.


If you have experienced the absence of a sibling either with your own children or as a child yourself, how did you find it?  I would love to hear from you in the comments below.    


Top Must-Read Books For Teens This Christmas

Top Must-Read Books For Teens This Christmas

The blogosphere is awash with Christmas gift ideas and as a family of prolific readers we are always on the look out for a good book.  I have picked my daughter's brains to put together a few recommendations (in no particular order) for the tween or teenage book lover in your house, each with a personal comment from my daughter.

  • Bitter Sixteen : Stefan Mohamed

A story about a sixteen year old boy Stanly Bird from Wales whose best friend is a talking beagle named Daryl.  On his sixteenth birthday, Stanly gains superhero powers of flight and telekinesis and after a series of extraordinary events decides to move to London, only to experience events even more traumatic and terrifying than those he left behind in Wales.  "The perfect combination of funny and supernatural elements with just the right amount of weird horror to keep you on your toes.  A real page turner." 

  • Burn After Writing : Rhiannon Shove

An interactive book that invites the teen reader to face life's big questions "Who are you now? How did you get here? Where are you going?" and to record them as a personal journal.  Divided into three sections The Past, The Present and The Future, the author encourages her readers to have fun with it as there are no right answers and then once they are finished to burn after writing.  "A book for people who like to think and ask questions of themselves and the world they live in.  I loved exploring myself through this book.  It is full of interesting activities and I want to keep it as a reminder of myself as I am now and refer back to it later in life."

  • FanGirl : RainbowPowell

Cath and her sister Wren had always bonded over their love and obsession with Simon Snow, but this all changes when they go to university.  An aspiring writer, with a social anxiety disorder, Cath is abandoned by her sister in favour of a high octane social life and left to her own devices.  The book charts Cath's struggle to branch out alone, a romantic dalliance, a clash with her fiction-writing professor, the betrayal of her writing partner, the psychological break down of her father and her determination to publish her own fan fiction Carry On, Simon.  "Writing is a passion of mine and I loved this story of Cath's pursuit of her dream against all the odds.  A really uplifting novel."

  • Goodbye Stranger : Rebecca Stead

Three friends Bridge, Emily and Tabitha are best friends with just the one rule - no fighting, but seventh grade forces physical and emotional changes upon their friendship group via a series of new experiences.  "Secondary school is a game changer for many friendships.  This is a sensitive portrayal of growing up and raises a number of important questions about staying true to yourself."

  • Life In A Fishbowl : Len Vlahos

The world of fifteen year old Jackie Stone is turned upside down when she discovers her father Jared has been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Jared does not tell his family immediately and decides to auction off what remains of his life on eBay in an attempt to raise money and ease the financial burden of his loss upon his family.  Although the ad is removed, it is not before the highest bidder a reality TV producer, has arranged with Jared to film their lives 24/7.  In a quest to regain her family's privacy and dignity Jackie sets out to end the show.  "Humorous but sad.  A modern day tragicomedy reflecting on unpopularity, family life, reality television and the entertainment industry as a whole." 

  • Me Earl & The Dying Girl : Jesse Andrews

High schooler Greg and his one friend Earl spend all their time making films.  One day he is told by his mother to make friends with Rachel, a childhood friend diagnosed with Leukaemia. Andrews is a comic genius and manages to turn a commonly depressing subject matter into a hilarious story filled with teenage awkwardness, love and friendship at its centre.  "A bizarrely laugh out loud book which makes you have faith in the real power and value of teenage friendship."

  • Say Her Name : James Dawson

A Halloween dare at boarding school between Roberta "Bobbie" Rowe, her best friend Naya and local boy Caine to summon the legendary ghost of Bloody Mary by chanting her name five times in front of a candle-lit mirror at midnight, has unforeseen circumstances.  The words "five days" left on her bathroom mirror the next day start a sequence of events for Bobbie and her friends and a race against time before Bloody Mary comes for them.  "A chilling but witty horror story born out of a seemingly innocent teenage scenario."

  • The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time : Mark Haddon

The tale of a boy detective with autism, this book turned popular West End play, needs little introduction.  15 year old Christopher Boone lives in Swindon with his dad and his pet rat and has never been further than the end of the road until the murder of his neighbour's dog turns him into a detective.  Christopher knows a lot about maths but very little about interacting with people.  His world is logical and he turns to his favourite character Sherlock Holmes for inspiration to track down the dog's killer, which simultaneously brings him face to face with the breakdown of his parent's marriage. The book is funny and sad in equal measure and gives the reader an insight into the clinical world of an emotionally dissociated mind.  "I knew very little about autism before reading this and found the book both enlightening and incredibly moving.  The play is also definitely worth seeing!"  


Editor's Note: This is not a comprehensive list but if you have any books to add please do let me know in the comments below - I need new book ideas for Christmas too!  




Teaching Children to Take Academic Responsibility

Teaching  Children to Take Academic Responsibility

Guest Post

Claire Adams is a regular contributor in the blogosphere and I have always enjoyed her writing so was delighted when she asked if she could guest post for me.  For those of you who haven't come across her before, Claire is a personal and professional development expert who believes that a positive attitude is one of the keys to success. You can find her online writing and giving tips about lifestyle and development as a regular contributor at highstylife.com.

Teaching our children the value of an inquiring mind is a cause close to my heart.  It is a stepping stone to independent learning and here Claire pursues this and shows us how we as parents can teach our children to take academic responsibility. 

From a very early age, children have a tendency to identify with some segments of their lives and to completely disregard others that they don’t find appealing, or that don’t resonate with them. Education for the large part seems to children like a forced responsibility, as if they would rarely opt for going to school in the first place if it were up to them – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

It starts when you encourage them to think for themselves and question everything, not blindly accept what they’re presented with, thus helping them embrace the value of learning through thinking, as opposed to merely absorbing information. But in order to own up to their success, failures (of equal value) and choices, our role as parents can be a pivotal one.

Provide perspective early on

While they are still in primary school, children have a tendency to view everything through creativity and play – which opens up wonderful opportunities for creative thinking, problem solving and independent thought development. However, as they step into their tween and teen years, context becomes all the more relevant for them to understand why they are making an effort in the first place.

Not to impress others (us, their parents included), or to get a satisfactory number on a piece of paper, but to enrich their lives, broaden their horizons and, most importantly, equip them for their life ahead.

This is a time when their childhood dreams of becoming astronauts or vets can be brought to life with the right choices. So, talk to them, tell them your own experience, and ask them if they see value in what they are taught at school, how those skills and knowledge can help them succeed later in life.

Know when to step aside or in

Mothers know all too well, how tempting it is to bring out our Wonder Woman self and bring hell to anyone or anything who tries to harm our kids. But they often need us to do something else, they need us not to bail them out, and not to solve their problems for them. Facing responsibility, consequences as well as achievements is essential for their future choices. Ultimately, they need to learn we should all clean up our own mess.

Then again, certain warning signs may indicate that it’s time for an honest one-on-one, if you see they’re frustrated, slipping with their work, showing no sign of positive engagement, or that their behaviour has changed. Help them by teaching them to view this as an opportunity to grow, a positive challenge to learn or improve their time-management skills and overcome their limitations.

Teach them to ask for help

Teens are relentless independence-seekers, and they might find the school work difficult, but they will often avoid admitting they need help. Fostering this independence is commendable, as long as it results in them taking action and developing problem-solving and proper coping techniques, but if they are truly stuck, they need to understand the value of asking for help or guidance, whether that is from their parents or their teachers. Not everything is everyone’s strong suit.

Once they realize that temporary help is another way towards greater independence, they will be more inclined to seek help to overcome learning obstacles. They need a stimulating learning environment that cultivates critical thinking, and offers the tools to handle academic challenges properly, and we all know that’s not easy to come by.

Focus on commitment

I’ll never forget our neighbours daughter’s violin recitals and the hours she would spend playing and perfecting her skills in the days and months before the performance. She was a hard worker and a gifted child, but her stage-fright was so severe she would often freeze on stage or play poorly despite all her practice. Her mother would always praise her, not falsely for the poor performance, but for all the effort she had previously invested in her playing.

Our childrens' grades, teachers’ comments and results often won’t correspond to the amount of work they invest in their studies – they will sometimes do brilliantly well despite poor studying, but they will sometimes fail despite doing their absolute best. Commend them for their dedication, discipline and effort, not merely the end result. This way they will learn how to value their effort above other people’s judgement and they will learn not to give up at the first sign of trouble in their later academic years.

Claire Adams:




Fear Of Crime is Making Our Teenagers Unhappy

Fear Of Crime is Making Our Teenagers Unhappy

Growing up as a teenager in the 1980's in the idyllic English countryside I had very few worries and certainly none that kept me awake at night. Our teenagers today, however, are not so lucky.  Young people's happiness in the UK is at its lowest point for seven years according to The Children's Society, Good Childhood Report 2017.

What is making our teenagers unhappy? Families struggling to pay bills and lack of emotional support at home were among the pressures mentioned, but according to the report's findings, fear of crime is the biggest concern.  A total 2.2 million of those interviewed cited this as the thing that worries them the most.

One in three girls surveyed said they were concerned about being followed by a stranger and one in four boys were worried about being assaulted.

As a parent of both sexes and living in London, these figures and statements don't surprise me.  Stranger danger is omnipresent.  As for being assaulted, sadly there is rarely a week goes by without reports of an attack somewhere in our capital.

One of my worst fears during my parenting journey to date has been that I won't be able to protect my children from danger.  Now as they grow up and become increasingly more independent I fear they won't be able to protect themselves.  My teenagers have become  used to me frequently asking them to "be careful" every time they venture out.  There is, however, more to it than just being careful.

Being streetwise is a good skill to have and a prerequisite to keeping safe whether you live in London or any other major city.  Our teenagers need to know how to be observant and aware of their surroundings and not to put themselves at risk.

We have a duty of care to our teens to guide them on that, but of course it does not provide a cast iron guarantee of avoiding danger.  Despite everything my eldest has fallen victim to crime twice this year, but in both scenarios knew compliance was better than resistance and thankfully escaped shaken and not physically harmed - albeit poorer.

The report's findings reflect the trend illustrated by the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which showed police recorded crime had risen by 13% in the 12 months to June.

Crime is of course nothing new, but what is disturbing nowadays is that it is so prevalent and so violent.  The use of weapons and now acid to cause serious injury is commonplace with no thought given to the consequences. In fact the ONS figures revealed a 20% rise in gun, knife and other serious violence.

News At Ten featured a series of reports earlier this month on violent crime which made for frightening viewing.  Aside from the staggering increase in the total number of offences committed, it was the frequency at which they occurred that struck me.

Every 14 minutes, there is a knife crime committed across England and Wales.  In London the number of incidents where shots are fired has doubled to two a day and one-in-six gun crime victims last year were aged 17 or under.

It is shocking and upsetting in equal measure that this is the cultural landscape our teens are growing up in.  Add to this the fact that as a result of living in fear of crime in their neighbourhood some teenagers are resorting to carrying weapons to protect themselves and thereby driving this increase, then the reality is even more horrific.

The teenage years are such an exciting time, it is a shame that for so many it is a period dominated by problems and fear with an inevitable long term impact upon their well-being.

What can be done to help? First and foremost these unhappy teenagers need support but if it is not available at home where do they turn?  For many the children's services provided by their local authority are a valuable resource, providing a much needed safety net not only in times of crisis but in a preventative scenario too.  As a rule those adolescents lacking the support of a stable emotional and financial family environment are the most vulnerable and arguably more susceptible to turning to crime themselves.

Youth centers give teenagers a place to meet and make friends, as well as a chance to take part in workshops, recreational activities and short courses. Youth workers operate outside of the centers, getting to know young people in schools, on the streets and in parks.  They also work alongside specialist teams responsible for youth crime prevention and issues connected to serious youth violence including gangs.

Unfortunately funding is being cut for these valuable local services that help our country's children.  This situation has various permutations and far-reaching consequences,all with potentially devastating results for the next generation.  As parents we owe it to all our country's teenagers to speak up on their behalf in a bid to help make life a little easier and our teenagers' world a safer and happier place.

How?  Well charity begins at home and in a week when the focus is very much on the needs of children, we can lend our support to the efforts of the Children's Society and sign their petition to ask for more funding to maintain local youth services.

It is not a time to turn the other cheek.  We can all make a difference to the society we live in.  Our teenagers today are tomorrow's adults and at the moment they need our help to reverse the decline in their well-being before it hits crisis point.

Disclosure: The Children's Society invited me to review their report.  No payment was received. All views and opinions are my own.



Editor's Note: The Children's Society is a national charity that runs local services and campaigns to change the law to help this country's most vulnerable children and young people.  The Good Childhood Report 2017 is the sixth in a series of annual reports about how children in the UK feel about their lives produced in collaboration with the University of York.  It is the most extensive national programme of research on children's subjective well-being in the world.





31st State – Skincare For Teenage Boys – Review

31st State – Skincare For Teenage Boys – Review

Skincare for teenage boys is not something you see marketed very often, but why not?  Male grooming is on the increase after all and the 21st century teenage boy is just as conscious of his appearance and looking good as the teenage girl - if not more so in fact, if my household is anything to go by!

Unfortunately, many teenagers also have to contend with acne in their bid to look good, with NHS statistics showing that around 80% of teenagers will suffer at some point.  Skin hygiene and developing a good daily cleansing regime have vital roles to play in keeping the pimples at bay during the teenage years and in my experience the sooner they start the better.

Finding the right products for teenagers, however, is a battle in itself.  There is not a one size fits all solution to skincare and certainly when it comes to teenage boys it stands to reason that their needs will differ to those of teenage girls.  Add to this the fact that there is not a great deal available in the UK and what is, can contain chemical ingredients which are just too harsh for young skin and the options available to our teenage boys are very limited.

With this in mind, Stephanie Capuano, a native Californian and a mother faced with this challenge herself worked with UK product developers whilst living here to create 31st State, a line dedicated specifically to the needs of teenage boys and derived completely from natural ingredients.

Knowing that her own boys would recoil at using products that looked too feminine Stephanie set out to create a brand that reflected the outdoor cleanness and freshness of the Californian lifestyle with products that were simple and "cool" to use.

With an 18 year old of my own who bucks the trend for wanting to look good and who has until now used a combination of high street as well as expensive male skincare products that put a strain on his university budget, my son was delighted to be offered the chance to trial the skincare products in the 31st State range.  These included the Foaming Face Wash, Overnight Clearing Pads and the all important Spot Control Gel.

As anyone with a teenage boy will know, the simpler the better.  They don't like fuss and they certainly don't like to waste time faffing about - oh no that is the preserve of the female species!  You won't be surprised, therefore, to hear that when I asked my son what he liked the most about the products his response was "The ease of use and the clear instructions."  His words not mine, I promise.  Teenage boys may want to look good but they don't want to look like they have tried too hard and this effortless vibe is central to Stephanie's mission.  As for the look of the products well in his own words again "I like the design, it is stylish, not too in your face."  No pun intended of course - just the usual teen speak.

All the products use gentle, natural but effective ingredients that work wonders not only on cleansing the skin thoroughly and removing all the dirt, oil and bacteria that can lead to blemishes and spots if left untouched, but also on calming and rebalancing the skin. Their motto is keeping it natural is what it is all about.  Anything that strips, irritates, bothers and otherwise annoys the skin is off-limits.

Tea tree renowned for its healing qualities releases into the skin slowly over a 12 hour period, reducing the likelihood of irritation and redness.  Manuka is antibacterial and works to target spots by helping to get rid of oil.  Witch hazel is widely used in acne products and is a natural antiseptic renowned for its anti-irritant, anti-bacterial and potent anti-inflammatory properties.  Magnesium, Copper and Zinc prevent breakouts and restore healthier looking skin.

Of all the products, my son's hands down favourite is the Overnight Clearing Pads.  The Foaming Face Wash he says is perfect for use in the shower in the morning, but at night and no doubt particularly if he has been out and just wants to go to bed, he likes the option of having something quick and easy to use and the pads tick that box.

He has learnt the hard way the result of not cleaning his skin properly so whilst he very rarely suffers from spots now, he likes the reassurance of having a topical treatment that will quickly sort them out if he does. His verdict on the Spot Control Gel is that it is great for use day and night.  It quickly reduces the redness and inflammation associated with spots and unlike many other over the counter lotions he has used it is not drying.

As with all skincare products the real test is the opinion of others.  It is all very well using a product yourself and thinking it is making a difference but if no-one else notices what is the point?  Now that he is away at University the first time I saw my son since he has been using the products was last week when he returned home for a study break.  As an over critical mother who can spot a dirty face at a hundred paces, I can honestly say his skin looked a lot clearer and brighter, which is not something you would naturally tend to say about a teenager's skin and certainly not one that is away from home for the first time.   Thus, based on his feedback and the overall improvement in my son's appearance that I noticed, if you are looking for a straightforward natural skincare range for your teenage son or know someone who is, I would say you can't go wrong with 31st State.  Take a look at the products here, they are good value and would make the perfect stocking filler - they are certainly on my son's list.

Disclosure: We received the 31st State products in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own and those of my son and unbiased.   

What is Responsible Drinking for Parents?

What is Responsible Drinking for Parents?

What are your views on drinking alcohol in front of your children?  Do you make a conscious decision to abstain when with your children or just not to drink to excess?  Have you ever been drunk in front of your children?

In a new report released by the Institute of Alcohol Studies (IAS) 29% of parents admitted to having been drunk in front of their children, whilst 51% said they had been tipsy.  Out of the parents that admitted to having been tipsy, 29% of their children said they had been embarrassed by their parents' behaviour as a result and 19% said they felt they had been given less attention.

Invited to take part in a discussion on the findings of the report I was asked whether I drank in front of my teens.  My response quite simply was yes I do.  Asked my opinion on drinking in front of children I expressed the view that it was all about moderation.  Yet the English language is a fickle beast.  Moderate drinking can of course mean different things to different people, one person's glass of wine can be another's bottle.  So parents where should we draw the line?

The differentiating factor for me is responsibility.  We are bombarded by "responsible" marketing messages every where we look but the pinnacle of responsibility is surely responsible parenting.

As adults we know what it is to overstep the mark.  Thus, when it comes to alcohol, it is important as parents we exercise self-control when with our children.  This is at its height when they are younger.  Whilst that early parenting phase for me is well and truly over I was always conscious of the need for a sound mind at all times in case of an emergency.  In fact my husband and I have clocked up quite a few A&E trips with our children over the years and aside from being able to drive, a clear mind was very much a necessity on every occasion.

As they grow and move through the tween phase, our children become more perceptive and aware of boundaries of acceptable behaviour.  Add to this the benefits of education.  Tweens soak up information like sponges .  There is nothing more enjoyable than your child returning from school and brain dumping everything they have learnt in a series of "Did you know?" statements.  Included in this is the introduction to PSHE lessons and its important messages on social media, bullying, puberty, drugs and alcohol.  Tweens are suddenly armed with facts as well as an inquisitive mind.

In the report 11-12 year olds described alcohol as "like sugar for adults".  Well that must be bad then.  After all we spend our lives telling our children to cut back on sugar.  Fizzy drinks are banned, juices and smoothies with their abundance of natural fructose must be limited, along with biscuits and cakes and sweets are forbidden.

Well to be honest in my house all of these things are allowed in moderation.  Yes there is that word again.  But it is a word which for me encompasses the necessary sentiment.  It is about the avoidance of extremes.  My children know the difference between what is acceptable and what will send their dentist or me into a tail spin and them out of control.  Isn't it the same with us as adults when it comes to alcohol? By all means enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer but just know when to stop when children are present.

Now as a mother of teens have my parameters changed?  Almost certainly.  That is not to say I lose control and dance on the table, but a lazy Sunday lunch with teens is one of midlife's pleasures and is more likely to end with a board game, a movie and an afternoon nap than a trip to A&E.

That said, it doesn't mean I have abandoned parenting responsibly.  Control is the defining point in all of this and is one that we emphasised to our eldest teen when he started on the teen house party circuit and more recently when he headed off to university to confront the first hurdle that is Freshers' Week and its inherent heavy drinking culture.

There is no right or wrong.  It all comes down to a matter of personal choice and everyone's choice will be different, even within families.  The only element to remember is that we are setting an example for our children at all times with food, exercise and alcohol.  Ultimately, however, our children will make their own decisions regardless of the example we have set, or what they have learnt and they will almost certainly make some mistakes along the way because that is life. . In the meantime, whilst flying the flag for responsible parenting, let's also remember life is for living - in moderation of course!


Did you see the report? What are your views on drinking in front of your children?  I look forward to hearing your views.


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How Do We Build Our Teenage Girls’ Self-Esteem?

How Do We Build Our Teenage Girls’ Self-Esteem?

Has your daughter ever called herself ugly?  If so how did you react?  Did you - like me - respond with a sharp intake of breath and a vehement "No you are not!"?

At the time of this shock announcement from my daughter I was in Paris on a girls trip, basking in the early evening sun, glass of wine in hand, overlooking the courtyard of the Louvre, after an afternoon touring the Dior Exhibition. My happiness boxes at the time were well and truly ticked.

The call started innocently enough with general chit chat about school, her mates, her test scores, hockey practice and then bam! Out of nowhere "Mum I'm so ugly.  It'not fair. Being a teenager really sucks!"

Only six months ago she had challenged the perception of pretty described by her classmates, dismissing it as no more than the stuff of barbie doll dreams and flying the flag for being an individual not a type; championing the value of personality over beauty.  Maybe as a result of this I had rested on my laurels too much, confident that she was well rounded and as such had missed some vital signs along the way.

My response was met with the retort "You are my mother, you have to say that!" As mothers we all want our children to be happy and that means shouldering their anxieties too when they come along.  I had spent 14 years trying to bring up a confident young lady, who I hoped would embark on this final stage of her journey to adulthood feeling good about herself.  Everyone praises her outward social confidence but if she felt like this inside had I failed?  UCL's recent Millenium Cohort Study revealed that a quarter of 14-year old girls are depressed.  Did this episode make my daughter one of them?

My maternal heart strings had been pulled and right then all I wanted was to see her beautiful face, her wide grin, give her a big hug and remove this "ugly" word from her list of personal adjectives.  But until I returned home, words were all I had at my disposal.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Ugly like hate is a strong word, reserved for extreme circumstances. There are those that argue if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then ugly must be too.  It is like a good bottle of wine, all a question of personal taste and what one person finds beautiful or ugly will be different to the next.

This is not, however, about defining what is ugly but rather pinpointing what we as mothers of teenage girls can do to boost their self-esteem.  A strong sense of self gives them the emotional scaffolding they need to handle these moments of self-doubt and criticism.  No-one had called my daughter ugly, just herself and even if it is just the once that is enough.

Beauty and appearance are thorny issues when raising girls.  Our girls are vulnerable.  All it takes is one throw away comment at the wrong time and their sense of self-worth can become quickly wrapped up in this  body image nightmare, which even if they don't come to it until later, is still an issue to be confronted, not trivialised or ignored.

Dove's Self-Esteem Project (DSEP) is committed to helping young girls as well as women have a healthy and positive relationship with the way they look.  Part of this is their Uniquely Me programme which gives parents heaps of practical advice and activities to help their daughters remove the emphasis on looks and focus on their inner "me" to boost their confidence.

So what can we do as parents?

  • Model a healthy self-image.  Therapist Michele Kambolis says “Our words and actions have a powerful impact on our children.”  If we as mothers adopt a self-critical approach we risk our daughters following suit.
  • Praise them not only about their looks but for their effort.  Saying “I really like the way you put your outfit together” instead of “You look gorgeous”, puts the focus on their effort being the most important element, not the end result.
  • Don't under-estimate the significance of fathers.  Daughters look to their fathers for assurance, guidance and approval.  In her book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters Meg Meeker argues that a father has a valuable role to play in in guiding his daughter through a potentially toxic culture.  I was glad my daughter had her father whilst I was away, they have a strong bond and he was quick to intervene.
  • Congratulate them on all their achievements and don't forget to praise their imperfections as well. Remind them that life is not perfect all of the time and mistakes and disappointments provide valuable life lessons too.

Alison Bean, a fellow mother of teenagers, counsellor and psychotherapist had this advice when I asked her:

"As a mother the most important thing to remember is to communicate with our children. Encourage them to talk about how they feel, and why they feel ugly or dislike themselves. Don't dismiss their negative thoughts. This may be hard to hear at first, and all you want to do is cry out " you're beautiful to me inside and out" but their feelings are real to them and need to be acknowledged. As parents we need to make a conscious effort to balance our own compliments to them and try to direct our praise away from just their appearance and focus on the things they are good at; sports they play, art or creative work they excel in, musical instruments they play. Furthermore encourage them to spend more time with people they feel happy with, family members or close friends who don't constantly judge. This will help them to feel better about themselves, which in turn increases their self esteem and self worth."

In our family, we advocate a philosophy of sharing which I hope allows our teenagers to express their concerns, but more importantly gives us the opportunity to step in and provide support before an issue manifests itself into something bigger.  Our teenagers need to know that we are on their side as parents and nothing is more valuable than unconditional love for those moments when their confidence takes a knock.


I would love to hear from you if you have had a similar experience or have some thoughts to share on building self-esteem.