Page last updated at 12:49 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Girls 'under too much pressure'

By Hannah Richardson
Education reporter, BBC News

Girls in class
Girls tend to achieve better results than boys

Parents fear they are putting too much pressure on their daughters to reach their academic potential, the president of a girls' schools body has said.

Incoming Girls School Association head Jill Berry said parents were worried about achieving a balance between school achievement and happiness.

Mrs Berry also said that girls could put themselves under a lot of pressure.

A poll of 1,000 parents surveyed for the association said their top concern was their daughter's education.

Girls tend to outperform boys in all stages of their education, and this can lead schools to assume all girls will do well.

Mrs Berry said: "There is no doubt that many mothers and fathers are worried about getting the balance right between their daughters realising their academic potential while at the same time being happy and safe."

Bright motivated high achieving girls with high expectations of themselves are more susceptible to eating disorders
Mrs Berry

Mrs Berry said in her experience girls had very high expectations of themselves.

"That's a positive thing and we want them to aim high.

"But sometimes we do find a girl is being unrealistic in her aspirations or putting herself under unreasonable pressure.

"It's not necessarily pushy parents - it can come from the girls themselves."

But parents, too, wanted support to get the balance right between caring and being involved in their children's lives and not being "helicopter parents", she added.

Women could be perfectionists and it was important to encourage girls to listen to their body, which could give warning signs of too much stress, she added.

The research revealed that parents wanted help and advice on how to deal with issues like eating disorders, body image and the impact of celebrity role models.

'Have it all'

"Bright motivated high achieving girls with high expectations of themselves are more susceptible to eating disorders," Mrs Berry said.

"But girls schools are usually very good at dealing with these things."

It was a teacher's job to help girls "to have it all", but to help them deal with inevitable disappointments as well, she said.

The research also found that parents believe celebrity magazines, Wags and It girls are having a negative impact on their daughters' lives.

In contrast, family, friends and teachers were seen as good influences.

Mrs Berry said: "It is not surprising that parents feel Wags and It girls are more likely to be a negative influence.

"It is the whole celebrity culture. Wags are famous because of their situation rather than their skills or talent."

It also found that fathers particularly were spending little time with their daughters, with over a third spending less than half an hour a day alone with them on a typical weekday.

The survey's findings are published as the association launches its new website, which offers advice on schooling and many of the issues raised by parents in the research.

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