It’s every parent’s nightmare; the little girl who came to you with a torn teddy bear to mend now wants to wear skirts smaller than her pencil case and sneak off to meet her boyfriend. I might not be her birth parent, but I do love M and she’s firmly part of my family. When M came to me a few years ago, she didn’t care about what clothes she wore and having a brand logo on her T-shirt would not have crossed her mind. Her hair went up in a ponytail every day and it was a bonus if I could get her to brush it that morning.
This Saturday morning, she slammed the door to her bedroom upstairs so hard that it shook the TV down in the living room. Why? I wouldn’t allow her to dye her hair neon blue. I did feel a bit of a fraud and I was being unfair because, as a teenager I had hair in every colour for a 3 year period and I’m still thankful it didn’t fall out in revolt. However, my hands are tied as M’s school have a strict dress code which includes acceptable skirt length (on or below the knee), acceptable hair styles (no extreme cuts, styles or colours) and no piercings other than in the ears. M has been sent home or I’ve been asked to talk to her about all three in the past and she has faced sanctions from the school which have included a Saturday detention for coming in with spray on hair colour.
M is very good at arguing as are most teenagers and the door banging has become less frequent and is being substituted by debates and counter arguments. Personally, the door being slammed is less draining! This week she has argued ‘I’m a teenager, it’s my job to push boundaries’ or ‘I’m learning to express myself’ and most recently ‘it’s my body/hair/face and I can do what I like with it’. M is not wrong; as a teenager, she is learning what boundaries she can butt against and this is where the door slamming came back into our lives. I tried to explain calmly that it wasn’t that I was opposed to her potential choice of hair colour but her school had rules she had to abide by. I then tried to appeal to her sense of responsibility and said that now she is in Year 11, the younger children would be looking at her to set an example and that didn’t go down well. Finally she screamed at me that it’s not fair and you can’t remember what it’s like to be young. With that, she stormed upstairs and bang on cue, slammed the door shut.
I didn’t take her comments personally, but I did pass by the hallway mirror and check I hadn’t morphed into my mother. I wasn’t out of date was I? Were teenagers facing different issues than I faced? Of course, times have moved on and young people of both sexes do have to deal with different pressures of social media, sexting and online bullying, alongside media pressure to look a certain way. At 15, I’m aware that the coming year will be a time of immense potential change and stress for M, as well as for hubby and I. M has started being much more secretive about who she is talking to, and I can tell by the flirty laughing and change in her voice when she is talking to a boy.
M is not the first teenager I’ve had and I know what could be in store for us. In the past we’ve had concerns about girls and boys being oversexualised (due to their past experiences), stealing, taking and dealing drugs, running away and gang involvement. So when M slams upstairs angry that she can’t dye her hair, Hubby and I look at each other and are grateful we aren’t picking her up from a police station or thinking up ways to extract her from a gang. I have friends who have birth teenagers and my concerns are not exclusive to Looked After Children.
Claire knocked on the back door and after saying hello to me, she went upstairs and they both came down 10 minutes later asking for a lift to the local shopping mall. M may be a typical teenager in many ways and Claire’s mum reassures me that she has the same issues in her house, but she doesn’t hold grudges or sulk for days. That evening, we sat in the lounge eating Chinese takeaway as a treat (J’s choice, this week) with M and J laughing and debating over which was better; ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ or ‘The X Factor’. I was grateful M was happy spending her Saturday evening with us and realised it could have been very different.