OUR DUTIES TOWARDS ADOLESCENT GIRLS.
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 apt to lay the foundation of a constant craving for something which is only too likely to take the form of alcoholic craving in later years. It is impossible for the stomach to perform its duty satisfactorily if it is never allowed rest, and the introduction of stray morsels of food at irregular times prevents this, and introduces confusion into the digestive work, because there will be in the stomach at the same time food in various stages of digestion.
Warmth.—Warmth is one of the influences essential to health and to sound development, and although artificial warmth is more urgently required by little children and by old people than it is by young adults, still, if their bodies are to come to their utmost possible perfection, they require suitable conditions of temperature. This is provided in the winter partly by artificial heating of houses and partly by the wearing of suitable clothing. Ideal clothing is loose of texture and woven of wool, although a fairly good substitute can be obtained in materials that are made from cotton treated specially.
This is not the time or place in which to insist on the very grave dangers that accompany the use of ordinary flannelette, but a caution must be addressed in passing to those who provide clothing for others. In providing clothes it is necessary to remember the two reasons for their existence: (1) to cover the body, and (2) as far as possible to protect a large area of its surface against undue damp and cold.
Adolescents, as a rule, begin early to take a great interest in their clothes. From the time that the appreciation of the opposite sex commences, the child who has hitherto been indifferent or even slovenly in the matter of clothing takes a very living interest in it; indeed the adornment of person and the minute care devoted to details of the toilet by young people of both sexes remind one irresistibly of the preening of the feathers, the strutting and other antics of birds before their mates.
Girls especially are apt to forget the primary object of clothing, and to think of it too much as a means of adornment. This leads to excesses and follies such as tight waists, high-heeled shoes, to the ungainly crinoline or to indecent scantiness of skirts. Direct interference in these matters is badly tolerated, but much may be accomplished both by example and by cultivating a refined and artistic taste in sumptuary matters.
Sleep.—Amongst the most important of the factors that conduce to well-being both of body and mind must be reckoned an adequate amount of sleep. This has been made the subject of careful inquiry by Dr. Dukes of Rugby and Miss Alice Ravenhill. Both these trained and careful observers agree that the majority of young people get far too little rest and sleep. We have to remember that although fully-grown adults will take rest when they can get it in the daytime, young people are too active, and sometimes too restless, to give any repose to brain or muscle except during sleep. In the early years of adolescence ten hours sleep is none too much; even an adult in full work ought to have eight hours, and still more is necessary for the rapidly-growing, continually-developing, and never-resting adolescent. It is unfortunately a fact that even in the boarding schools of the well-to-do the provision of sleep is too limited, and for the children of the poor, whose homes are far from comfortable and who are accustomed to doing pretty nearly as their elders do, the night seldom begins before eleven or even twelve o'clock. It is one of the saddest sights of London to see small children dancing on the pavement in front of the public-houses up to a very late hour, while groups of loafing boys and hoydenish girls stand about at the street corners half the night. There is little wonder that the morning finds them heavy and unrefreshed, and that schoolwork suffers severely from want of the alert and vigorous attention that might be secured by a proper night's sleep.
Great harm is done by allowing children to take work home with them from school; if possible, the day's work should finish with school hours, and the scanty leisure should be spent in healthy exercise or in sleep.
Overcrowding.—In considering the question of adequate sleep it would be well to think of the conditions of healthy sleep.
For sleep to be refreshing and health-giving, the sleeper ought to have a comfortable bed and an abundant supply of fresh air. Unfortunately the great majority of our people both in town and country do not enjoy these advantages. In both town and country there is a great deficiency of suitable dwellings at rents that can be paid with the usual rate of wages. In consequence families are crowded into one, two, or three rooms, and even in the case of people far above the status of day labourers and artisans it is the exception and not the rule for each individual to have a separate bed. The question of ventilation is certainly better understood than it was a few years ago, but still leaves much to be desired, and there is still an urgent necessity for preaching the gospel of the open window.
Exercise.—In considering the question of the exercise of adolescents, one's thoughts immediately turn to athletics, games, and dancing. As a nation the English have always been fond of athletics, and have attributed to the influence of such team games as cricket and football not only their success in various competitions but also their success in the sterner warfare of life. This success has been obtained on the tented field and in the work of exploring, mountaineering, and other pursuits that make great demand not only on nerve and muscle but also on strength of character and powers of endurance.
Team games appear to be the especial property of adolescents, for young children are more or less individualistic and solitary in many of their games, but boys and girls alike prefer team games from the pre-adolescent age up to adult life. It is certain that no form of exercise is superior to these games: they call into play every muscle of the body, they make great demands on accuracy of eye and coordination, they also stimulate and develop habits of command, obedience, loyalty, and esprit de corps. In the great public schools of England, and in the private schools which look up to them as their models, team games are played, as one might say, in a religious spirit. The boy or girl who attempts to take an unfair advantage, or who habitually plays for his or her own hand, is quickly made to feel a pariah and an outcast. Among the greatest blessings that are conveyed to the children of the poorer classes is the instruction not only in the technique of team games but also in the inoculation of the spirit in which they ought to be played. It is absolutely necessary that the highest ideals connected with games should be handed down, for thus the children who perhaps do not always have the highest ideals before them in real life may learn through this mimic warfare how the battle of life must be fought and what are the characters of mind and body that deserve and ensure success. It has been well said that those who make the songs of a nation help largely to make its character, and equally surely those who teach and control the games of the adolescents are making or marring a national destiny.
Among the means of physical and moral advancement may be claimed gymnastics. And here, alas, this nation can by no means claim to be facile princeps. Not only have we been relatively slow in adopting properly systematised exercises, but even to the present day the majority of elementary schools are without properly fitted gymnasia and duly qualified teachers. The small and relatively poor Scandinavian nations have admirably fitted gymnasia in connection with their Folkschule, which correspond to our elementary schools. The exercises are based on those systematised by Ling; each series is varied, and is therefore the more interesting, and each lesson commences with simple, easily performed movements, leading on to those that are more elaborate and fatiguing, and finally passing through a descending series to the condition of repose.
The gymnasia where such exercises are taught in England are relatively few and far between, and it is lamentable to find that many excellent and well-appointed schools for children, whose parents pay large sums of money for their education, have no properly equipped gymnasia nor adequately trained teachers. When the question is put, "How often do you have gymnastics at your school?" the answer is frequently, "We have none," or, "Half an hour once a week." Exercises such as Ling's not only exercise every muscle in the body in a scientific and well-regulated fashion, but being performed by a number of pupils at once in obedience to words of command, discipline, co-operation, obedience to teachers, and loyalty to comrades, are taught at the same time. The deepest interest attaches to many of the more complex exercises, while some of them make large demands on the courage and endurance of the young people.
In Scandinavia the State provides knickerbockers, tunics, and gymnasium shoes for those children whose parents are too poor to provide them; and again, in Scandinavia there is very frequently the provision of bathrooms in which the pupils can have a shower bath and rub-down after the exercises. These bathrooms in connection with the gymnasia need not necessarily be costly; indeed many of them in Stockholm and Denmark merely consist of troughs in the cement floor, on the edge of which the children sit in a row while they receive a shower bath over their heads and bodies. The feet get well washed in the trough, and the smart douche of water on head and shoulders acts as an admirable tonic.
Another exercise which ought to be specially dear to a nation of islanders is swimming, and this, again, is a relatively cheap luxury too much neglected amongst us. Certainly there are public baths, but there are not enough to permit of all the elementary school children bathing even once a week, and still less have they the opportunity of learning to swim. There is much to be done yet before we can be justly proud of our national system of education. We must not lose sight of the ideal with which we started—viz. that we should endeavour to do the best that is possible for our young people in body, soul, and spirit. The three parts of our nature are intertwined, and a duty performed to one part has an effect on the whole.