Help, My 11-Year-Old’s a Teenager!


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Q. Please give me some advice. I’m tired of fighting and arguing with my 11-year-old daughter about what to wear, what music she can listen to and her choice of friends. We’ve always had a pretty good relationship, but she’s really determined to “do her own thing.” I’m trying to be reasonable, but she wants to wear clothes that are too mature and revealing, and she and her friends want to listen to music that’s just not appropriate.

A. Although it may seem too early to think about this, your daughter is beginning her own unique journey to adulthood. The word adolescence means “to grow into adulthood.” In our culture, adolescence generally refers to the ages between 10 and 20. Your daughter is now a young adolescent, a “tween” in today’s jargon.

Think toddlerhood, with better vocabulary and more attitude. Toddlers and young adolescents are developmentally alike. They both are developing a sense of “self” and an identity separate from their parents, which is essential to becoming a mentally healthy adult. As a small child, your daughter looked to you to provide everything she needed. And, most of your ideas were usually well received. To say that has changed would probably be an understatement.

Most young adolescents consider establishing that sense of “self” a full-time job. As a child grows, his or her world expands outside the family and home. While a child is busy trying to take control of life choices, most parents fear losing control. Pretty soon, if you aren’t careful, everything will become a power struggle.

So what’s a well-meaning parent to do?

It’s that “C” word here — control. They want it, and for now, you have it. The important thing to remember is that this is about your daughter growing up and that, ultimately, she will be in control of her own life. This is about her learning how to do that. Now is the time to introduce the other “C’ word — compromise. Some parents think compromise might mean compromising family values. It doesn’t. It means compromising on your differences in opinion. While pink or green hair might not be your idea of good looks, it is only temporary and could be fun for her.

Because this may be new for you and your family, explain the ground rules for all discussions. Use respectful language and a calm tone of voice. You will have to take turns talking and listening. This is about your daughter learning to make responsible choices, with your input. She also needs to know that sometimes your “no” will mean “no,” and she will have to accept that answer. You love her and are making a decision based on that, and on your experience and desire to keep her safe.

Watch what everyone else is wearing when they get on or off the school bus or any time you’re out. Explain why you think some clothes are just not appropriate. Tell her you love her and care what others think of her. Agree to let her wear the clothes she has in whatever “stylish” ways she likes and applaud her creativity, even if you’d never wear the outfit in a million years! And maybe, let her wear a low-cut top if that is her choice, with a lace top underneath that covers the low neckline (that’s your choice).

Check out the latest music — you might be surprised and find you like some of it. If you don’t, just listen, and talk about it. It might not be your taste, but it is hers, for now. If it is vulgar, or sounds sexually suggestive to you, ask her what she hears. And listen to her answer. She may be listening to this music because that’s what everyone else listens to, not because she likes it. If it really is not in line with your values, talk about why.

Try to have her friends over. Keep them in view or at least in hearing range. If you can’t have all the friends over at once, involve them one at a time. Talk to her later about positive things you see in her friends. If you are feeling brave, talk about negatives. She won’t admit this, but your impressions and opinions do matter to her.

As she sees that you will agree to some things, she may argue less for others. Remember, this is about her learning how to make appropriate decisions as she grows. When you have to make an unpopular decision, and sometimes you will, remember the earlier rules and remind her if needed. It’s easy to shout when tempers flare. Try to remember your own journey through adolescence and be empathetic. This is a wonderful opportunity for the two of you to grow together.

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Sandi Knisley, RN, is the interim assistant director of the child and adolescent unit at Moses Cone Health System Behavioral Health Center. Please submit your questions to “Is My Kid OK?” by e-mailing sherri.mcmillen@mosescone.com.
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