Marguerite Stockman Dickson.

Vocational Guidance for Girls online

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that is to be.

Take the question of sex knowledge, so widely agitated of late. We
cannot guard our girls against contact with some who will exert a
harmful influence. We can only forearm them by natural, gradual
information on this subject as their young minds reach out for
knowledge, so that sex knowledge comes, as other knowledge comes,
without solemnity or sentimentality on the one hand or undue mystery
and a hint of shame on the other. No course in sex hygiene can take
the place of this early gradual teaching, answering each question as
it comes, in a perfectly natural way, and with due regard for the
child's wonder at all of nature's marvelous processes. The little girl
_who knows_ presents no possibilities to the perverted mind which
seeks to astonish and excite her. And if she knows because "my mother
told me," the guard is as nearly perfect as can be devised.

Upon this foundation the formal course in sex hygiene may be built.
Such a course will then be a scientific summing up, with application
to personal ideals and requirements. It can easily, safely, and wisely
be deferred until the adolescent period.

Teachers and mothers can find scarcely any field more worthy of their
thoughtful concentration than the cultivation of good temper in the
girls under their care. The number of marriages rendered failures, the
number of homes totally wrecked, by sulking or nagging or outbursts
of ill-temper, can probably not be estimated. Neither can we count the
number of innocent people in homes not apparently wrecked whose lives
are rendered more or less unhappy by association with the woman of
uncertain temper. Think of the families in which some undesirable
trait of this sort seems to pass from generation to generation,
accepted by each member calmly as an inheritance not to be thrown off.
"It's my disposition," one will tell you with a sigh. "Mother was just
the same." Surely the time to combat these undesirable traits is in
childhood, and probably the first step is for the mother, who looks
back to her mother as "being just the same," to stop talking or
thinking about inherited traits and at least to present an outward
show of good temper for the child to see.

Then there is the teacher, who is under a strain and who finds
annoyances in every hour which tend to destroy her equanimity. Her
serenity, if she can accomplish it, will prove an excellent example.
And little by little the mother and the teacher who have accomplished
self-control for themselves may teach self-control and the beauties of
good temper to the little girls who live in the atmosphere they
create.




CHAPTER IX

THE ADOLESCENT GIRL


Adolescence, the critical period of the training of the boy and girl,
presents a complexity of problems before which parents and teachers
alike are often at a loss.

The adolescent period, the growing-up stage of the girl's life, is
physically the time of rapid and important bodily changes. New cells,
new tissue, new glands, are forming. New functions are being
established. The whole nervous system is keyed to higher pitch than at
any previous time. Excessive drain upon body or nerve force at this
time must mean depletion either now or in the years of maturity.

But, on the other hand, the keynote of the girl's adolescent mental
life is _awakening_. Her whole nature calls out for a larger, fuller,
more intense life. Home, school, society, dress, all take on new
aspects under the transforming power of the new sex life stirring and
perfecting itself within. The world is beckoning to the emerging
woman, and her every instinct leads her to follow the beckoning hand.

Now, if ever, the girl needs the influence and guidance of some wise
and sympathetic woman friend. It may be - let us hope it is - her
mother; or, failing that, her teacher; or, better than either alone,
both mother and teacher working in sympathetic harmony.

[Illustration: Photograph by Brown Bros.
Camp Fire Girls. Outdoor life is one of the best means of
safeguarding the girl's health]

The first care demanded for the maturing girl is the safeguarding of
her health. School demands at this age are likely to be excessive
under existing systems of instruction. In many ways the secondary
school, in which we may assume our adolescent girl to be, merits the
criticism constantly made, that it works its pupils too hard or,
perhaps more accurately, that it works them too long. Nothing but the
closest co√ґperation between parents and teachers can afford either of
them the necessary data for working out this problem. It can never be
anything but an individual problem, since girls will always differ
whether school courses do so or not, and adjustment of one to the
other must be made every time the combination is effected. Some
schools content themselves with asking for a record of time spent on
school work at home. Many parents merely acquiesce in the girl's
statement that she does or doesn't have to study to-night, and the
matter rests. Other schools and other parents go into the question
with more or less detail, but usually quite independently of each
other in the investigation. It is only very recently that anything
like adequate knowledge of pupils has begun to be gathered and
recorded to throw light upon the home-study question.

School girls naturally divide into fairly well-defined classes: the
girl who is overanxious or overconscientious about her work, the girl
who intends to comply with rules but has no special anxiety about
results, and the girl who habitually takes chances in evading the
preparation of lessons. How many parents know at all definitely to
which class their girl belongs?

The same girls may be classified again with regard to activities
outside the school. They may help at home much or little or not at
all. They may have absorbing social interests or practically none.
They may be in normal health or may already be nervous wrecks from
causes over which the school has no control.

There is no question about the value of definite information on all of
these points gathered by home and school acting together for the best
understanding of the child. The modern physician keeps a carefully
tabulated record of his patient's history and condition. The school
should do the same thing and should prescribe with due reference to
such record.

It frequently happens, however, that the schoolgirl's health is
menaced less by her hours of school work than by misuse of the
remaining portion of the twenty-four hours. No mother has a right to
accuse the school of breaking down her daughter's health unless she is
duly careful that the girl has a proper amount of sleep, exercise in
the open air, and hygienic clothing, and that her life outside the
school is not of the sort that we describe in these days as
"strenuous."

It is this strenuous life which our girls must be taught to avoid. Any
daily or weekly program which is crowded with activities is a
dangerous program for developing girlhood. The very atmosphere of many
modern homes is charged with the spirit of haste, and parents scarcely
realize that the daughter's time is too full, because their own is too
full also. They have no time to stop and realize anything. A quiet
home is an essential help in preserving a girl's health and
well-being.

[Illustration: Copyright by Underwood & Underwood
A mountain camp. Good health is conserved by outdoor games and
exercise]

It need scarcely be said that the children of a family should be
troubled as little as possible with the worries of their elders.
Parents are often unaware how much of the family burden their sons and
daughters are secretly bearing, or how long sometimes they continue to
struggle under the burden after it has mercifully slipped from
father's or mother's shoulders.

Good health means buoyancy, a springing to meet the future with a
tingle of joy in facing the unknown. The adolescent period is
essentially an unfolding time, in which probably for the first time
choice seems to present itself in a large way in ordering the girl's
life. In school she is confronted with a choice of studies or of
courses. To make these choices she must look farther ahead and ask
herself many questions as to the future. What is she to be? Nor is she
loath to face this question. Some of the very happiest of the girl's
dreams at this time are concerned with that problematical future.
There was a day when girls dreamed only of husbands, children, and
homes. Then, as the pendulum swung, they dreamed of careers, a hand in
the "world's work." Now they dream of either or both, or they halt
confused by the wide outlook. But of one thing we may be sure - our
girl is dreaming, and she seldom tells her dreams.

It is during this period in a girl's life that she is most likely to
chafe at restraint, to picture a wonderful life outside her home
environment, and to demand the opportunity to make her own choice. As
she goes on through high school, she longs more and more for
"freedom," quite unconscious of the fact that what seems freedom in
her elders is, in reality, often farthest removed from that elusive
condition. Her imagination is taking wild flights in these days.
Sometimes we catch fleeting glimpses of its often disordered fancies,
although oftener we see only the most docile of exteriors standing
guard over an inner self of which we do not dream.

The wise mother and the wise teacher are they whose adolescent
memories, longings, misapprehensions, and mistakes are not forgotten,
but are being sympathetically and understandingly searched for light
in guiding the girls whose guardians they are. They recognize once
and for all that normal girls are filled with what seem abnormal
notions, desires, and ideals. They recall how little they used to know
of life, and the pitfalls they barely escaped, if they did escape.
Thus only can they keep close to the girl in spirit and help her as
they once needed help. They respect her longing for freedom of choice
and they teach her how to choose. It is of little use to attempt to
clip the wings of the girl's imagination, however riotous. The wings
are safely hidden from our profaning touch. Instead we must teach her
to dream true dreams and to choose real things rather than shams.

[Illustration: A study room. The life of the adolescent girl is by no
means bounded by the schoolroom walls]

At this time the girl's life often seems to the casual observer to be
bounded by her schoolroom walls. As a matter of fact, however, school
work appeals to her much less than it has probably done earlier or
than it will do in her college days. Dress is becoming an absorbing
subject. "The boys," however little you may think it, are seldom far
from her thoughts. Intimate friendship with another adolescent girl
perhaps affords an outlet, beneficial or otherwise, for the crowding
life which is too precious to bear the unsympathetic touch of the
world of her elders. Or perhaps the girl becomes solitary in her
habits, living in a world of romance found in books or in her own
dreams, impatient with the world about her, feeling sure she is
"misunderstood."

What can home, school, and society in general do for the adolescent
girl, that her awakening may be sweet and sane, that her future
usefulness may not be impaired or her life embittered by wrong choice
at the brink of womanhood?

Any wise plan for the training of girls "in their teens" must include
provision for:

1. Outdoor play and exercise. In the country this is much more
easily accomplished. City problems bearing on this question
are among the most acute of all concerning boys and girls.

2. Systematic attention to the work of the schoolroom. Thus the
girl acquires habits of concentration and industry that she
will need all her life.

3. Some manual work in kitchen, garden, sewing room, or workshop.
Here the girl's natural tastes and inclination may be
discovered and trained.

4. Food for the imagination. Books, music, pictures, inspiring
plays. The Campfire Girls' movement is valuable in its
imaginative aspect.

5. Attention to dress. Laying the foundation for wise lifelong
habits.

6. Healthful social intercourse under the best conditions with
boys and with other girls, both at home and at school. Croquet,
tennis, skating, offer fine opportunities for such
intercourse. "Parties," dancing, present more difficulties, but
have their value under right conditions. Not all "fun" should
include the boys. Athletic contests between girls do much to
develop a neglected side of girl nature.

7. Companionship with her mother, or some other woman of
experience. Nothing can quite take the place of this. The girl
is sailing out upon an uncharted sea. She needs the help of
someone who has sailed that way before.

[Illustration: A botanical laboratory in Portland, Oregon. Through
systematic attention to the work of the schoolroom the girl acquires
habits of concentration and industry]

8. Preparation for marriage and motherhood. Much that the girl
should know can come to her through no other medium than that
indicated in the preceding paragraph - confidential intercourse
with the woman of mature years. For the sake of the girls who
fail to find this woman elsewhere every school for adolescent
girls should have on its faculty a woman who will "mother" its
girls.

9. Acquaintance with the lives of some of the great women of
history, as well as of some who have lived inspiring lives in
the girl's own country and time. A long list of such women
might be made.

10. Some unoccupied time. Our girl must not be permitted to
acquire the bad habit of rushing through life.

11. Study of vocations and avocations for women. Avocations - the
work which serves as play - should be wisely studied, and some
avocation adopted by every girl.

[Illustration: Photograph by Brown Bros.
A quiet retreat. Every girl needs some unoccupied time in order that
she may not acquire the habit of rushing]

Part of this training girls everywhere in this country may get if the
opportunities open to them are seized. The proportion of purely mental
work and of handwork will vary according to the locality in which the
girl finds herself. In general, however, such matters receive more
consideration than the more complex ones of direct social bearing.

How a girl shall dress, with whom and under what conditions she shall
find her social life, what she shall know of herself, of woman in
general, of the opposite sex, what her relations with her mother shall
be - these things are more often than not left to chance or to the
girl's untrained inclination.

The dress question rests fundamentally upon the personal question,
What do clothes mean to the girl? Behind that we usually find what
clothes mean to her mother, to her teachers, to the women who have a
part in her social life. Instinct teaches the girl to adorn her
person. Environment is largely responsible for the sort of adornment
she will choose. To bring the matter at once to a practical basis,
what standards shall we set up for our girls to see, to admire, and to
adopt as their own?

"Well dressed" may be interpreted to mean simply, or serviceably, or
conspicuously, or becomingly, or fashionably, or cheaply, or
appropriately, according to the standard of the person who uses the
term. It would necessarily be impossible to establish a common
standard for any considerable group of women, since individual
conditions must govern individual choice. A wise standard for girls
and their mothers, however, will conform to certain principles, even
though the application of the principles be widely different.

These principles may be expressed somewhat as follows:

1. Beauty in dress is expressed in line, color, and adaptation to
personal appearance, not in expense.

2. Fitness depends upon the occasion and upon the relation of cost
to the wearer's income.

3. Simplicity conduces to beauty, fitness, and to ease of upkeep.

4. Upkeep, including durability and cleansing possibilities, is as
important a consideration in selecting clothes as in selecting
buildings and automobiles. Freshness outranks elegance.

5. Individuality should be the keynote of expression in dress.

Conformity to the foregoing principles in establishing a personal
standard will of necessity prevent slavish imitation and the striving
to reach some other woman's standard which bears again and again such
bitter fruit. The erroneous notion fostered by thousands of American
women, that if you can only look like the women of some social set to
which you aspire you are like them for all social purposes, is a
fallacy, in spite of its general acceptance. We might as well expect
blue eyes, straight noses, or number three shoes to form the basis of
a social group.

The mother or the teacher who bases her instruction in this matter on
the assumption that pretty clothes of necessity breed vanity and all
its attendant evils is merely sowing the seed of her influence upon
stony ground when once the girl discovers her belief. Nature is
telling the girl to make herself beautiful. It is not only useless but
wrong to set ourselves against this instinct. Instead we must show her
what beauty in clothes means, and how to attain it without paying for
it more than she can afford, in money, in time, or in sacrifice of her
spiritual self. The school does its share when it teaches the general
theory of beauty, with practical illustration in study of line and
color schemes. The individual teacher and the mother have to impart
the far more delicate lessons concerning influence and cost - mental,
moral, and spiritual - in other words, the psychology of clothes.

Our girl must grow up fully cognizant of what her clothes cost. When
she desires, as she doubtless will desire, silk petticoats, and an
"up-to-date" hat, and high-heeled shoes, and an absurdly beruffled
dress, and a wonderful array of ribbons, she must discover what each
and every one of these things costs and whether it is worth the price.
The high heels sometimes cost health; the conspicuous dress may cost
the good opinion or the admiration of those who value modesty above
style; the silk petticoat may be bought at the cost of mother's or
father's sacrifice of something needed far more; the trimming on the
hat may have cost the life of a beautiful mother bird and the slow
starvation of her nestlings. Nothing the girl wears costs money only.

She must also learn that fine clothes are out of place on a girl whose
body is not finely cared for; that money is better expended for
quality than for show; and, most of all, that clothes are secondary
matters, when all is said.

Wisdom and sympathy and tact are never more needed than in this sort
of teaching. The principles of good dressing cannot be laid down
baldly and coldly, like mathematical rules, for the guidance of a girl
palpitating with youthful and beauty-loving instincts. The mother who
says, merely, "Certainly not. You don't need them. I never had silk
stockings when I was a girl," is failing to meet her obligations quite
as much as the mother who allows her daughter to appear at school in a
costume suited only to some formal evening function. There are mothers
of each of these sorts.

The wise mother whose daughter has developed a sudden scorn for the
stockings she has worn contentedly enough hitherto does not dismiss
the subject in the "certainly not" way, however kindly spoken. She
treats her daughter's request seriously, asks a few questions, in the
answers to which "the other girls" will probably figure largely, and
talks it over.

"Of course, there is the first cost to consider. The price of three or
four pairs of silk stockings would give you a dozen pairs of fine
cotton. Yes, I know there are cheaper silk ones to be had, but their
quality is poor. We should scarcely want you to wear coarse, poorly
made ones. And of course you know silk ones do not last so long. They
are pretty, and pleasant to wear, and cool, I know. How would it do to
have silk ones to wear with your new party dress, and keep on with the
cotton ones for school? We don't want to be overdressed in business
hours, you know. Then, it seems to me, it is a little hard on the
really poor girls at school if the rest of you are inclined to
overdress. They are so likely to get into the habit of spending their
money for cheap imitations of what you other girls wear - or if they
are too sensible for that they are probably unhappy because they have
to look different. Wouldn't it be kinder not to wear expensive things
to school at all?"

The object is not so much to keep the girl from having unsuitable
garments as to teach her to see all sides of the clothes question, to
realize her responsibilities, and to learn to choose wisely for
herself.

It is highly desirable that mothers keep up their own standards of
dress as they approach middle life and their daughters enter the
adolescent period. Some women even make the mistake of dressing
shabbily that they may gown their daughters resplendently. They are
educating their daughters to a false standard and to a selfish life.

Teachers also probably seldom realize how wide an influence they may
exercise upon their adolescent girl pupils in the matter of dress.
Many a girl forms her standard and her ideal from what her teacher
wears. Teachers must accept their responsibility and make good use of
the opportunities it gives them.

It is approximately at the time of her awakening to the beautifying
instinct that the girl begins to take a special interest in social
matters. Here again she needs wise guidance, and usually more
_guidance_ and less _direction_ than most girls get. The American
mother is prone in social questions to trust her daughter too much, or
not enough, and to train her very little.

[Illustration: Copyright by Underwood & Underwood
Skating offers fine opportunity for healthful social intercourse]

In many cases adolescent society centers about the school. There are
the everyday walks and talks of the boys and girls, the games and
meets and contests, with their attendant social features, the literary
societies and debating clubs, the school parties and dances. The
school thus comes to assume a considerable part in the boy's and
girl's social training, much more than was the case twenty or even ten
years ago; and the whole trend of educational movement in this matter
is toward doing more even than it now does.

In some cases schools have merely drifted into this social work,
without definite aims and without conspicuously good results, just as
some parents have drifted into acceptance of the situation, with
little oversight and a comfortable shifting of responsibility.

[Illustration: Games form an important part of the adolescent girl's
life]

When this sort of school and this sort of parent happen to be the
joint guardians of a girl's social training, it usually happens that
the girl discovers some things by a painful if not heartbreaking
trial-and-error method, and other things she quite fails to discover
at all. Most of all, she needs her mother at this time - a wise,
interested, companionable mother, who knows much about what goes on at
school parties and at school generally, but who never forces
confidences and, indeed, who never needs to; an elder sister sort of
mother, who helps. And she needs also teachers who supervise and
chaperon social affairs with a full realization that social training
is in progress and that lives are being made or marred.

There are schools and there are mothers who look upon every phase of
school life as contributing to the educative process, and these find
in the social affairs of the school their opportunities to teach some
vital lessons. Some schools are lengthening the free time between
periods, merely for the purpose of adding to the informal social
intercourse between pupils.

Wise teachers as well as wise mothers will see that the social phase
of school life, especially in the evening, is not overdone. Not only
health but future usefulness and happiness suffer if the girl "goes
out" so much that going out becomes the rule and staying at home the
exception. It is not usually, however, the social affairs of the
school alone which cause the girl to develop the habit of too many
evenings away from home. It is the school party plus the church
social, plus the moving pictures, plus the girls' club, plus the


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Online LibraryMarguerite Stockman DicksonVocational Guidance for Girls → online text (page 8 of 14)