We have a 12-year-old daughter who wants to wear a Halloween costume that we think is too sexy for her age. She says everyone else is dressing up like this, and from what we can see she is right. We are probably not going to allow it, but are really worried about her and other girls her age.
How can we help her see that all this focus on sex at a really young age is not good? How can we help her make good decisions for herself?
The issues you raise are alarmingly familiar to families today. Our culture seems intent on sexualizing younger and younger children. At the same time the technology available to young people makes keeping an eye on their communication and relationships very difficult.
I think you are correct in, and in fact responsible for, setting appropriate limits for your daughter. The age-old cry “but everyone else is doing it” has never been a good reason for any behaviour.
It is important that parents make their expectations for their children very clear. In a confusing world our kids need something solid to hang onto. Even though they may sometimes try to get around our rules they are secure in knowing that there are walls.
The questions you ask have to do with helping your daughter move through her adolescence, a time when she will be questioning your expectations and rules and eventually creating her own. You are wondering how to help her think for herself about the pressures of the culture she lives in, particularly those that relate to sexual behaviour.
The best thing that you can do for your daughter is to create an environment in which she can talk with you about the issues that she faces. Through conversation you can help her learn to gather accurate information, consider alternatives, and solve problems.
Having open conversations with your daughter gives her the opportunity to safely explore the reasons for the expectations you have for her, as well as express her own ideas and feelings.
There are a number of television and online programs that could be a starting place for conversations about the sexualization of young people. One example is Sext up KIDS, a documentary aired on CBC’s DocZone last year. This program can be accessed online.
Another approach to beginning a conversation might be playing a game such as “the ungame” produced by TALICOR Inc. The questions posed in the teen version of this game can stimulate thoughtful talks.
As well as talking with you it may be valuable for your daughter to listen to and talk with other people about the issues that confront her and other young people. Many secondary schools sponsor speakers and host groups that provide kids with opportunities for reflection and discussion.
Parenting has never been for the faint of heart, and the culture we live in today poses some new challenges. I think you are on the right track with your daughter and I wish you well.
If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at email@example.com. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara-Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Thursday in the Record.