Mary Scharlieb.

Youth and Sex online

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Dangers and Safeguards for Girls and Boys



























Probably the most important years in anyone's life are those eight or
ten preceding the twenty-first birthday. During these years
_Heredity_, one of the two great developmental factors, bears its
crop, and the seeds sown before birth and during childhood come to
maturity. During these years also the other great developmental force
known as _Environment_ has full play, the still plastic nature is
moulded by circumstances, and the influence of these two forces is
seen in the manner of individual that results.

This time is generally alluded to under two heads: (1) Puberty, (2)

By Puberty we understand the period when the reproductive organs are
developed, the boy or girl ceasing to be the neutral child and
acquiring the distinctive characteristics of man or woman. The actual
season of puberty varies in different individuals from the eleventh to
the sixteenth year, and although the changes during this time are not
sudden, they are comparatively rapid.

By Adolescence we understand the time during which the individual is
approximating to the adult type, puberty having been already
accomplished. Adolescence corresponds to the latter half of the
developmental period, and may be prolonged even up to twenty-five



1. Changes in the Bodily Framework. - During this period the girl's
skeleton not only grows remarkably in size, but is also the subject of
well-marked alterations and development. Among the most evident
changes are those which occur in the shape and inclination of the
pelvis. During the years of childhood the female pelvis has a general
resemblance to that of the male, but with the advent of puberty the
vertical portion of the hip bones becomes expanded and altered in
shape, it becomes more curved, and its inner surface looks less
directly forward and more towards its fellow bone of the other side.
The brim of the pelvis, which in the child is more or less
heart-shaped, becomes a wide oval, and consequently the pelvic girdle
gains considerably in width. The heads of the thigh bones not only
actually, in consequence of growth, but also relatively, in
consequence of change of shape in the pelvis, become more widely
separated from each other than they are in childhood, and hence the
gait and the manner of running alters greatly in the adult woman. At
the same time the angle made by the junction of the spinal column with
the back of the pelvis, known as the sacro-vertebral angle, becomes
better marked, and this also contributes to the development of the
characteristic female type. No doubt the female type of pelvis can be
recognised in childhood, and even before birth, but the differences of
male and female pelves before puberty are so slight that it requires
the eye of an expert to distinguish them. The very remarkable
differences that are found between the adult male and the adult female
pelvis begin to appear with puberty and develop rapidly, so that no
one could mistake the pelvis of a properly developed girl of sixteen
or eighteen years of age for that of a boy. These differences are due
in part to the action of the muscles and ligaments on the growing
bones, in part to the weight of the body from above and the reaction
of the ground from beneath, but they are also largely due to the
growth and development of the internal organs peculiar to the woman.
All these organs exist in the normal infant at birth, but they are
relatively insignificant, and it is not until the great developmental
changes peculiar to puberty occur that they begin to exercise their
influence on the shape of the bones. This is proved by the fact that
in those rare cases in which the internal organs of generation are
absent, or fail to develop, there is a corresponding failure in the
pelvis to alter into the normal adult shape. The muscles of the
growing girl partake in the rapid growth and development of her bony
framework. Sometimes the muscles outgrow the bones, causing a peculiar
lankiness and slackness of figure, and in other girls the growth of
the bones appears to be too rapid for the muscles, to which fact a
certain class of "growing pain" has been attributed.

Another part of the body that develops rapidly during these momentous
years is the bust. The breasts become large, and not only add to the
beauty of the girl's person, but also manifestly prepare by increase
of their glandular elements for the maternal function of suckling

Of less importance so far as structure is concerned, but of great
importance to female loveliness and attractiveness, are the changes
that occur in the clearing and brightening of the complexion, the
luxuriant growth, glossiness, and improved colour of the hair, and the
beauty of the eyes, which during the years which succeed puberty
acquire a new and singularly attractive expression.

The young girl's hands and feet do not grow in proportion with her
legs and arms, and appear to be more beautifully shaped when
contrasted with the more fully developed limb.

With regard to the internal organs, the most important are those of
the pelvis. The uterus, or womb, destined to form a safe nest for the
protection of the child until it is sufficiently developed to maintain
an independent existence, increases greatly in all its dimensions and
undergoes certain changes in shape; and the ovaries, which are
intended to furnish the ovules, or eggs (the female contribution
towards future human beings), also develop both in size and in

Owing to rapid growth and to the want of stability of the young girl's
tissues, the years immediately succeeding puberty are not only those
of rapid physiological change, but they are those during which
irreparable damage may be done unless those who have the care of young
girls understand what these dangers are, how they are produced, and
how they may be averted.

With regard to the bony skeleton, lateral curvature of the spine is,
in mild manifestation, very frequent, and is too common even in the
higher degrees. The chief causes of this deformity are:

(1) The natural softness and want of stability in the rapidly growing
bones and muscles;

(2) The rapid development of the bust, which throws a constantly
increasing burden on these weakened muscles and bones; and

(3) The general lassitude noticeable amongst girls at this time which
makes them yield to the temptation to stand on one leg, to cross one
leg over the other, and to write or read leaning on one elbow and
bending over the table, whereas they ought to be sitting upright.
Unless constant vigilance is exerted, deformity is pretty sure to
occur - a deformity which always has a bad influence over the girl's
health and strength, and which, in those cases where it is complicated
by the pathological softness of bones found in cases of rickets, may
cause serious alteration in shape and interfere with the functions of
the pelvis in later life.

2. Changes in the Mental Nature. - These are at least as remarkable
as the changes in the bodily framework. There is a slight diminution
in the power of memorising, but the faculties of attention, of
reasoning, and of imagination, develop rapidly. Probably the power of
appreciation of the beautiful appears about this time, a faculty which
is usually dormant during childhood. More especially is this true with
regard to the beauty of landscape; the child seldom enjoys a landscape
as such, although isolated beauties, such as that of flowers, may
sometimes be appreciated.

As might be anticipated, all things are changing with the child during
these momentous years: its outlook on life, its appreciation of other
people and of itself, alter greatly and continuously. The wonderfully
rapid growth and alterations in structure of the generative organs
have their counterpart in the mental and moral spheres; there are new
sensations which are scarcely recognised and are certainly not
understood by the subject: vague feelings of unrest, ill-comprehended
desires, and an intense self-consciousness take the place of the
unconscious egoism of childhood.

The processes of Nature as witnessed in the season of spring have
their counterpart in the changes that occur during the early years of
adolescence. The earth warmed by the more direct rays of the sun and
softened by recurring showers is transformed in a few weeks from its
bare and dry winter garb into the wonderful beauty of spring. This
yearly miracle fails to impress us as it should do because we have
witnessed it every year of our lives, and so, too, the great
transformation from child to budding woman fails to make its appeal to
our understanding and sympathy because it is of so common occurrence.
If it were possible for adults to really remember their own feelings
and aspirations in adolescent years, or if it were possible for us
with enlightened sympathy to gain access to the enchanted garden of
youth, we should be more adequate guides for the boys and girls around
us. As it is we entirely fail to appreciate the heights of their
ambitions, hopes, and joys, and we have no measure with which to plumb
the depths of their fears, their disappointments, and their doubts.
The transition between radiant joy and confident hope in the future to
a miserable misinterpretation of sensations both physical and
psychical are rapid. It is the unknown that is terrible to us all, and
to the child the changes in its body, the changes in its soul and
spirit, which we pass by as commonplace, are full of suggestions of
abnormality, of disaster, and of death. Young people suffer much from
the want of comprehension and intelligent sympathy of their elders,
much also from their own ignorance and too fervid imagination. The
instability of the bodily tissues and the variability of their
functions find a counterpart in the instability of the mental and
moral natures and in the variability of their phenomena. Adolescents
indeed "never continue in one stay;" left to themselves they will
begin many pursuits, but persevere with, and finish, nothing.

Youth is the time for rapidly-succeeding friends, lovers, and heroes.
The schoolfellow or teacher who is adored to-day may become the object
of indifference or even of dislike to-morrow. Ideas as to the calling
or profession to be adopted change rapidly, and opinions upon
religion, politics, &c., vary from day to day. It is little wonder
that there is a special type of adolescent insanity differing entirely
from that of later years, one in which, owing to the want of full
development of mental faculties, there are no systematised delusions,
but a rapid change from depression and melancholy to exaltation
bordering on mania. Those parents and guardians who know something of
the peculiar physical and mental conditions of adolescence will be
best prepared both to treat the troubles wisely, and by sympathy to
help the young people under their care to help themselves.

One of the phenomena of adolescence is the dawn of the sexual
instinct. This frequently develops without the child knowing or
understanding what it means. More especially is this true of young
girls whose home life has been completely sheltered, and who have not
had the advantage, or disadvantage, of that experience of life which
comes early to those who live in crowded tenements or amongst the
outspoken people of the countryside. The children of the poorer
classes have, in a way, too little to learn: they are brought up from
babyhood in the midst of all domestic concerns, and the love affairs
of their elders are intimately known to them, therefore quite early in
adolescence "ilka lassie has her laddie," and although the attraction
be short-lived and the affection very superficial, yet it is
sufficient to give an added interest to life, and generally leads to
an increased care in dress and an increased desire to make the most of
whatever good looks the girl may possess. The girl in richer homes is
probably much more bewildered by her unwonted sensations and by the
attraction she begins to feel towards the society of the opposite sex.

Probably in these days, when there is more intermingling of the sexes,
the girl's outlook is franker, and, so far as this is concerned,
healthier, than it was forty or fifty years ago. It is very amusing to
elders to hear a boy scarcely in his teens talking of "his best girl,"
or to see the little lass wearing the colour or ornament that her
chosen lad admires. It is true that the "best girl" varies from week
to week if not from day to day, but this special regard for a member
of the opposite sex announces the dawn of a simple sentiment that
will, a few years later, blossom out into the real passion which may
fix a life's destiny.

The mental and moral changes that occur during the early years of
adolescence call for help and sympathy of an even higher order than do
the changes in physical structure and function. Some of these changes,
such as shyness and reticence, may be the cause of considerable
suffering to the girl and a perplexity to her elders, but on the whole
they are comparatively easy of comprehension, and are more likely to
elicit sympathy and kindness than blame. It is far otherwise with such
changes as unseemly laughter, rough manners, and a nameless difference
in the girl's manner when in the presence of the other sex. A girl who
is usually quiet, modest, and sensible in her behaviour may suddenly
become boisterous and self-asserting, there is a great deal of
giggling, and altogether a disagreeable transformation which too
frequently involves the girl in trouble with her mother or other
guardian, and is very frequently harshly judged by the child herself.
In proportion as self-discipline has been taught and self-control
acquired, these outward manifestations are less marked, but in the
case of the great majority of girls there are, at any rate, impulses
having their origin in the yet immature and misunderstood sex impulse
which cause the young woman herself annoyance and worry although she
is as far from understanding their origin as her elders may be. The
remedies for these troubles are various. First in order of time and in
importance comes a habit of self-control and self-discipline that
ought to be coeval with conscious life. Fathers and mothers are
themselves to blame if their girl lapses from good behaviour when they
have not inculcated ideals of obedience, duty, and self-discipline
from babyhood. It seems such a little thing to let the child have its
run of the cake-basket and the sweet-box; it is in the eyes of many
parents so unimportant whether the little one goes to bed at the
appointed time or ten minutes later; they argue that it can make no
difference to her welfare in life or to her eternal destiny whether
her obedience is prompt and cheerful or grudging and imperfect. One
might as well argue that the proper planting of a seed, its regular
watering, and the influences of sun and wind make no difference to the
life of a tree. We have to bear carefully in mind that those who sow
an act reap a habit, who sow a habit reap a character, who sow a
character reap a destiny both in this world and in that which is
eternal. It is mere selfishness, unconscious, no doubt, but none the
less fatal, when parents to suit their own convenience omit to
inculcate obedience, self-restraint, habits of order and unselfishness
in their children. Youth is the time when the soul is apt to be shaken
by sorrow's power and when stormy passions rage. The tiny rill
starting from the mountainside can be readily deflected east or west,
but the majestic river hastening to the sea is beyond all such
arbitrary directions. So it is with the human being: the character and
habit are directed easily in infancy, with difficulty during
childhood, but they are well-nigh impossible of direction by the time
adolescence is established. Those fathers and mothers who desire to
have happiness and peace in connection with their adolescent boys and
girls must take the trouble to direct them aright during the plastic
years of infancy and childhood. All natural instincts implanted in us
by Him who knew what was in the heart of man are in themselves right
and good, but the exercise of these instincts may be entirely wrong in
time or in degree. The sexual instinct, the affinity of boy to girl,
the love of adult man and woman, are right and holy when exercised
aright, and it is the result of "spoiling" when these good and noble
instincts are wrongly exercised. All who love their country, all who
love their fellow men, and all who desire that the kingdom of God
should come, must surely do everything that is in their power to
awaken the fathers and mothers of the land to a sense of their heavy
responsibility and of their high privilege. In this we are entirely
separated from and higher than the rest of the animal creation, in
that on us lies the duty not only of calling into life a new
generation of human beings, but also the still higher duty, the still
greater privilege and the wider responsibility of bringing up those
children to be themselves the worthy parents of the future, the
supporters of their country's dignity, and joyful citizens of the
household of God.

Another characteristic of adolescence is to be found in
gregariousness, or what has been sometimes called the _gang spirit_.
Boys, and to almost as great a degree girls, form themselves into
companies or gangs, which frequently possess a high degree of
organisation. They elaborate special languages, they have their own
form of shorthand, their passwords, their rites and ceremonies. The
gang has its elected leader, its officers, its members; and although
it is liable to sudden disruption and seldom outlasts a few terms of
school-life, each succeeding club or company is for the time being of
paramount importance in the estimation of its members. The gang spirit
may at times cause trouble and lead to anxiety, but if rightly
directed it may be turned to good account. It is the germ of the
future capacity to organise men and women into corporate life - the
very method by which much public and national work is readily
accomplished, but which is impossible to accomplish by individual

3. Changes in the Religion of the Adolescent. - The religion of the
adolescent is apt to be marked by fervour and earnest conviction, the
phenomenon of "conversion" almost constantly occurring during
adolescence. The girl looks upon eternal truths from a completely new
standpoint, or at any rate with eyes that have been purged and
illuminated by the throes of conversion. From a period of great
anxiety and doubt she emerges to a time of intense love and devotion,
to an eager desire to prove herself worthy, and to offer a sacrifice
of the best powers she possesses. Unfortunately for peace of mind, the
happy epoch succeeding conversion not unfrequently ends in a dismal
time of intellectual doubt and spiritual darkness. Just as the
embryonic love of the youthful adolescent leads to a time when the
opposite sex is rather an object of dislike than of attraction, so the
fervour of early conversion is apt to lead to a time of desolation;
but just as the incomplete sex love of early adolescence finds its
antitype and fine flower in the later fully developed love of
honourable man and woman, so does the too rapturous and uncalculating
religious devotion of these early years revive after the period of
doubt, transfigured and glorified into the religious conviction and
devotion which makes the strength, the joy, and the guiding principle
of adult life.

Much depends on the circumstances and people surrounding the
adolescent. Her unbounded capacity for hero-worship leads in many
instances to a conscious or unconscious copying of parent, guardian,
or teacher; and although the ideals of the young are apt to far
outpace those of the adult whose days of illusion are over, yet they
are probably formed on the same type. One sees this illustrated by
generations in the same family holding much the same religious or
political opinions and showing the same aptitude for certain
professions, games, and pursuits. Much there is in heredity, but
probably there is still more in environment.



These may be briefly summed up by saying that we have to provide
adolescent girls with all things that are necessary for their souls
and their bodies, but any such bald and wholesale enunciation of our
duty helps but little in clearing one's ideas and in pointing out the
actual manner in which we are to perform it.

First, with regard to the bodies of adolescent girls; Their primary
needs, just like the primary needs of all living beings, are food,
warmth, shelter, exercise and rest, with special care in sickness.

Food. - In spite of the great advance of knowledge in the present day,
it is doubtful whether much practical advance has been made in the
dietetics of children and adolescents, and it is to be feared that our
great schools are especially deficient in this most important respect.
Even when the age of childhood is past, young people require a much
larger amount of milk than is usually included in their diet sheet. It
would be well for them to begin the day with porridge and milk or some
such cereal preparation. Coffee or cocoa made with milk should
certainly have the preference over tea for breakfast, and in addition
to the porridge or other such dish, fish, egg, or bacon, with plenty
of bread and butter, should form the morning repast. The midday meal
should consist of fresh meat, fish, or poultry, with an abundance of
green vegetables and a liberal helping of sweet pudding. The articles
of diet which are most deficient in our lists are milk, butter, and
sugar. There is an old prejudice against sugar which is quite
unfounded so far as the healthy individual is concerned. Cane sugar
has recently been proved to be a most valuable muscle food, and when
taken in the proper way for sweetening beverages, fruit, and puddings,
it is entirely good. The afternoon meal should consist chiefly of
bread and butter and milk or cocoa, with a fair proportion of simple,
well-made cake, and in the case where animal food has been taken both
at breakfast and dinner, the evening meal might well be bread and
butter, bread and milk, or milk pudding with stewed or fresh fruit.
But it is different in the case of those adolescents whose midday meal
is necessarily slight, and who ought to have a thoroughly good dinner
or supper early in the evening;

One would have thought it unnecessary to mention alcohol in speaking
of the dietary of young people were it not that, strange to say, beer
is still given at some of our public schools. It is extraordinary that
wise and intelligent people should still give beer to young boys and
girls at the very time when what they want is strength and not
stimulus, food for the growing frame and nothing to stimulate the
already exuberant passions.

An invariable rule with regard to the food of children should be that
their meals should be regular, that they should consist of good,
varied, nourishing food taken at regular hours, and that nothing
should be eaten between meals. The practice of eating biscuits, fruit,
and sweets between meals during childhood and adolescence not only
spoils the digestion and impairs the nutrition at the time, but it is

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Online LibraryMary ScharliebYouth and Sex → online text (page 1 of 7)