I don't mind referring to my daughter as a "pre-teen" sometimes, now that she is eleven years old and four inches taller than I am. But until recently I held firmly on to "child" as a perfectly appropriate and reasonable descriptor for this developing person who had only been on the planet a decade and still had a whole lot of emotional, physical and psychological growing to do. Incidentally "tween" is neither a psychological or physical developmental term. Marketers may use it to describe a 6 year old or a 12 year old depending on what they are out to sell.
I think many girls in this age bracket are very much left in limbo and searching... but what they are searching for is not "style" but rather identity and a sense of safety in their own skin as they attempt to negotiate an increasingly sexualized world that depletes their self-esteem and confidence while distorting their body image long before they reach their teen years. As psychologists Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown discuss in their 2006 book, Packaging Girlhood, that "girls are being sold a version of girlhood that will feel satisfying to them when they conform to it but will limit their possibilities in the future." The script for North American girlhood is reinforced through TV shows, books, movies and clothing lines and now a special tween girl fashion magazine. The message to girls is that they must love to shop - especially for jewelry and accessories; they must yearn to be models, brides, princesses and fashionistas and they must work hard to be hot, sexy and cool. This cultural script for girlhood literally shapes the development of our daughters.
|healthy "tweens" having a real childhood|
What are we doing about that? I think it is increasingly challenging for parents to navigate the culture as well. When we go to the mall and see thongs and padded bras for 10 year olds, when the most frequently available choice for a little girl's swim suit is a string bikini and when we turn on the news and learn that the "latest trend" is for pre teen girls to get their brand new leg, underarm and pubic hair waxed off before summer camp... how are we as parents to know where to draw the line? It can be overwhelming and often it is parents who take the blame for poor choices.
I'd like to have a dialogue here -- please tell me how YOU navigate the cultural pitfalls while trying to raise healthy daughters.
And while we are talking - I'd like to know - how did you spend those important years? You know, that apparently empty wasteland that we used to call childhood? I remember that I wrote plays and stories. My best friend and I made up an endless game called "Bank" in which we took turns (for years, I might add) of creating new and diverse and sometimes completely crazy characters who came in to do their banking. I swam and played tag and played with my dog. I sunk a bazillion baskets with my brother behind the garage. I chatted with my grandma in the garden. I watched my grandpa fix stuff. My mom taught me to cook and my sister took me to a few protest marches while teaching me some critical thinking. I took skating lessons and went to camp and once I took square dancing lessons with my step dad after my mom broke her ankle. Sometimes I was coerced into practising the piano. I went to school and I tried to imagine who I would be when I grew up. And for sure there were times I did wish that I was prettier and wonder what it was like to be the girl in the magazine that Shaun Cassidy had his arm around... but mostly I just got to grow up and find my way without string bikinis and padded bras and body waxings... without the pressure to look cool and be hot. Wow. Does it get more complicated than THAT for an 9 year old?!
Life got hard for me too... adolescence was painfully complicated for a while but I made it to high school before I was faced with the onslaught of pressure that our girls are facing today, sometimes before they make it out of first grade. What are you doing with your girls to help mitigate the mental and emotional land mines that are around every corner and to help her enjoy a healthy childhood? Let's generate some positive ideas here so that we, as parents, can help each other to resist and create safer spaces in which our girls can grow.