The Girl Of Fifteen
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WINSOME and clever, or thoughtful and brooding, merry or quiet, according to her temperament, the girl of fifteen is in some phases a problem to her mother, and in many ways a puzzle to herself. She is no longer a child to play freely with her mates in the games which delighted her at ten, and she is not yet a young woman, though she may have womanly tastes and aspirations. On certain subjects, as for instance her dress, her amusements, her studies, she has very decided views, and she is daily gaining in breadth and independence, though still under her mother's wing, and accustomed to refer all questions at issue to her for settlement as the final authority. Just now she needs more than ever the mother's loving guardianship and the wise mother keeps her daughter very close to her side in confidential affection, in daily intercourse, in the purest and most intimate association. For the little woman is passing through a transitional period in her development, and she can nowhere else be as safe and as sheltered as in the sweet seclusion of home. Should the mother decide to send her away to school, then the choice should be a matter of careful thought, and personal investigation-the atmosphere of the institution, the character of the teachers, and the social plane of the pupils being all passed under review. The associations formed in school may be of lifelong tenure, and it is well that a young girl's friendships be made among those who are the product of refined homes.
At fifteen a young girl is full of enthusiasm. She adores her favorite teacher; she worships the classmate who seems to her ideally beautiful and faultless; she makes any sacrifice for her chum, and chameleon-like, unless she be of very strongly marked individuality, she takes on the color, absorbs the manner, and reflects the opinions of her companions.
She expresses herself in superlatives, and exaggerates both likes and dislikes. It is far more important that a girl at this formative stage of her being shall be thrown with high-minded and gracious-mannered persons, than that she shall be thoroughly drilled in Latin and mathematics, though this too is a worth-while thing.
She resents the curb, and must be taught by example rather than by dictation. Her physical life is subject to well-known alternations and perils, and if she is to become physically a strong, well-poised woman, with firm health and serene vigor, she must now have the good food, the sound, abundant sleep, and the wholesome outdoor exercise which build up the body, and make it a fit instrument of a noble mind.
Fifteen takes its perplexities very seriously and grieves without restraint over its sorrows. Never was there a greater mistake than to suppose that early girlhood is a season of unalloyed pleasure. To many girls it is a time of restlessness, of quicksands and reefs, of romantic dreams which bring only disappointments, and of poignant pain to sensitive natures which are wounded because misunderstood.
The reserves of girlhood are an unfathomed sea. For no reason which she can explain, the young girl often withholds her thoughts and fancies from her parents, and folds herself in secrecy, like a rosebud not yet ready to bloom. It may be that her mother, who is her natural confidante, has been so busy and so cumbered with outside service in the church and in society, that she has lost her hold upon her child, and when this occurs it is a deplorable misfortune. For a daughter's first refuge should be her mother, her next best shield her father. Now and then it happens that a much-occupied father under-stands his little girl in a subtle way, uncomprehended by her mother. Her inexperience needs a guide, and she must be piloted over and across the perils which lie between her and the happy days awaiting her further on. The two watchwords of her life are sympathy and freedom, and she needs both in equal measure.
Not every young girl can arrange her life as she desires. With severe endeavor and splendid self-denial, some daughters of the mountain farm and of the city tenement secure a college education; but others must early begin to assist their families by their own toil. In the great shops of our cities, and in every factory town, scores and hundreds of very young girls go to their daily avocations, and bring home their weekly stipend to help clothe and feed the younger children, and to ease the load which the hard-working parents carry. The accidents of circumstances do not materially affect the character of the girl of fifteen, except that outside life and hard work as a rule mature her early.
A room of her very own, as tastefully appointed and comfortably furnished as possible, should be every young girl's retreat. Here she may enjoy the half-hours for devotion which tend to the soul's growth, and may read and study and entertain a girl friend, and be as independent of the rest of the family as she pleases. In this, her den, her nook, her bower, her special fancies may be indulged in, and her individuality find fit expression.
If a girl admits me to her room, I need no other interpreter of her character. Her daintiness, her delicacy, her fondness for art, her little fads and caprices are here revealed. Does she care for athletics ?-her room tells the story. Her mandolin or banjo, her books on the swinging shelf, her desk, her dressing-table explain her, for wherever we live we set our seal, and this unconsciously. The untidy girl keeps her room in chaos and confusion: it looks as if swept by a small cyclone. The orderly and fastidious girl has a place for each belonging and puts it there without effort and without fuss. As for the room itself, it may be plain to bareness, or beautifully luxurious; a cell or a shrine, it owes its grace or lack of charm more to its occupant than to its paper and paint, its bed and bureau, its rug and chairs.
When a mother cannot give her young daughter a whole room for herself, she should at least contrive for her a little sanctuary, by means of screens and curtains. Some one spot where she may rest the sole of her foot should belong to the young girl, if only a corner under the stairs, or a good-sized closet with a window and door.
With its delicate papering of rose-pink or robin's-egg blue, its furnishings in white, its rocking-chair, its table, its sheer muslin draperies, its simple engravings on the wall, its cups and saucers that she may give her chum a cup of tea or chocolate, the girl's room need cost little in money. All the good things in this world do not depend on gold and silver, nor need we resign our right to beautiful surroundings because we must keep a strict rein upon expenditure, and have an eye to ways and means. Unless a young woman learns early to make the most of her little in hand, she will never be successful when she has a large sum in her stewardship.
And this leads me to plead for my little Jeanie, my Gladys, my May, my Rosamond, whatever dear and lovely name this maid of fifteen summers bears, that she may have an allowance of her own, as well as a room of her own. Her little purse should have its regularly bestowed sum, given her weekly, monthly, or quarterly, and from it she should pay her legitimate personal expenses. Mothers sometimes give young girls a sufficient amount to buy their own wardrobes, and to cover every item of their journeying to and fro, of their luxuries and their charities. Jeanie should keep accounts; she should not run in debt; she should have a little margin; she should learn judicious saving, as well as careful spending, and at fifteen it should be her custom to lay aside a portion of her means for the Lord's treasury.
One final word. A sensitive girl often suffers from the teasing proclivities of her brothers, and from the thoughtless despotism of her elder sisters. She has her rights and her privileges, and among them is immunity from needless jesting and careless tyranny. Nor ought a young girl to be reproved in public nor held up to ridicule, nor snubbed by any incivility. She is an unformed being to some extent, and to mar her in the making is exceedingly shortsighted and unkind. Exact from her the performance of her regular daily duties, in the taskwork of the school and in the routine of the home, but include her in the simple household pleasures, and surround her with the protection of considerate politeness. If she is brusque, be the more delicately urbane. If she is wilful, treat her with gentleness. If she is disturbed and disquieted, find out the cause. Be true to her, and expect from her the truth. Teach her to honor her body and to conserve her health. And above all things else love her, and let her feel herself beloved.