Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas

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Dear Virginia, My daughter, who's 14, has become infatuated with her art teacher. She emails him all the time and I know he replies, but I don't know what he says. She has a picture of him on her mobile, and has stored endless texts from him. She insists there's nothing in it, but I'm not so sure. The other day she came back very late from school and couldn't give a reason. I've tried to talk to the teacher, but he's broken the last two dates I made with him. Should I go to the head? But I know my daughter would never forgive me and it might be an innocent crush.

Yours sincerely, Emma

Crikey. You've got so many eggshells to step on here. First, you have to talk to your daughter without driving her into this man's arms. This is not easy. Because as any mother of a teenager knows, at the very hint of disapproval, far from saying: "Oh, mum doesn't like it. so I'll stop", a child's reaction is usually: "Ah, mum doesn't like it. That's a very good reason for going on doing it twice as much"

So when you speak to her, you must be careful. Say there's nothing wrong with a crush and, if you can, try to tell her stories of yourself at that age, when you lay in wait by a boyfriend's front door trying to "bump into" him when he emerged, or anything that makes you look a bit of an idiot. Emphasise, too, how easy it is to fall for anyone in authority.

Even when I was 40, I found myself rather swooning when my glamorous builder came round – not so much because he was so dishy, but because he could do all those brilliant things like fix the roof and stop the burst pipes.

Explain, too, that if it goes on and you're not properly satisfied with her explanation, you're going to have to go to the Head and that might involve a major inquiry, with the chance that the man could lose his job. Say that you don't want to do this, but if anything were to happen to her, you don't want the law to be involved. (As far as the law goes, it probably wouldn't be involved unless there was physical contact between them, but she's not to know this.) Then contact the parents of your daughter's best friend and see if they can find out anything. Your daughter's certain to have confided in someone at school and it shouldn't be that hard to find out more behind her back. Next, contact the teacher and say that unless he agrees to meet you, you will be obliged to talk to the head. That will get him scampering round, I can tell you. He's probably young himself and, who knows, quite possibly slightly infatuated, too. But explain that he just can't behave like this in his position. He's got to stop.

Finally, if nothing happens, then you'll have to talk to the head and risk your daughter's wrath.

Remember, when she's an adult, she'll be extremely glad you stepped in to stop her making what could be – were she to have sex with him now – a move that had the potential to have a real effect on her future life.







He must be stopped

There is no reason why any teacher should be emailing and texting a pupil on a personal basis. He is also jeopardising his career.

No wonder he is evading Emma's attempts to confront him.

However, I know from my own experience what Emma's daughter is thinking and feeling. She has made a special relationship with someone in authority. Not only does she not believe that this is harmful – she won't even imagine that it might be. It is a thrilling adventure, but she won't have looked ahead to where it might lead. Her protestations of innocence are heartfelt, but misguided. She doesn't want to imagine that the man she idolises is in any way at fault.

Emma could contact this man again, pointing out that she could go to the headteacher and expose him. The problem with that is that other girls will fall victim in the future.

I've seen abusive teachers who stop short of actual physical contact but who play with their young pupils' emotions, ruining their self-esteem and wounding their burgeoning sexual and social identities.

Sometime they genuinely don't realise what damage they are doing; sometimes they know exactly what they are doing and are getting off on the power it gives them.

He needs to be stopped. I would not hesitate to go to the headteacher – though I would let my daughter know I was going and I would request extreme sensitivity from the head in dealing with this problem.

Name and address supplied







He knows the rules

Unlike teachers in the distant past, who might just have been able to plead naiveté, this man will be fully aware of the rules, including the one about not developing "special relationships" with pupils. He's therefore a fool if he doesn't know he's jeopardising his career. You haven't mentioned his age; he may think of himself as quite close to her in age. But the rules (and the law) are simple – she's the child and he's the adult.

Even outside the school context he'd be on dodgy ground; within it, he's totally out of order.

If you feel generous towards him, you could explain all this to your daughter and make her responsible for what happens next. If she agrees to terminate the "special relationship" (and demonstrably does so) you should write to him telling him what you've done and, if he's got any wisdom at all, he'll learn his lesson.

But before you let him off that lightly, spend some time wondering what he's actually been doing and if she's the only one. Has he done something that in a common-sense world is just rather silly, or is he a menace?

If you have any doubts at all in this respect, you should report him and let the school deal with him formally.

Otherwise you will be quietly condoning everything he may have done and may do in future.

David

By email







She needs protecting

You do not say how old your daughter's art teacher is – he may be just qualified; young and inexperienced. Or he may be very experienced, know exactly what he is doing and enjoying teasing both your daughter and you. His having cancelled two appointments is worrying; contact him again, making it quite clear that if he cancels one more time you will go to the school's headteacher. All teenagers are embarrassed by their parents one way or another, so do not worry about this as your daughter needs your genuine concern and protection. One meeting with him should reassure you as to whether he is genuine or not. If he is, then just let this silly flirtation die a natural death, if he isn't – speak to his superior.

Diane Lystor

By email



Dear Virginia,

I'm newly married to a man I love dearly, but he's told me he doesn't want me to see my ex-husband any more. My ex and I have a great relationship – we were childhood sweethearts, and have two children together, so we have to be in touch. But my new husband's jealous, and wants to stop him having a cup of tea when he collects the children. After discussion, he's grudgingly said it's OK, but that he doesn't want to be around at these times. It makes life so awkward for us all. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Pam

What would you advise Pam to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent.co.uk, or go to www.independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Naked Wines ( www.nakedwines.com)

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