"What About Our Girls? Growing Up Too Fast." It definitely made me think, as Sarah's posts so often do. First of all, it made me grateful for a tween daughter who isn't attached to a cell phone, doesn't worry about having a boyfriend, and who looks the way I think a twelve year old should. Second of all, it made me pause to wonder about how much of what Sarah talked about when discussing the pressures surrounding her eighth grade daughter applied to my own little sixth grader.
It wasn't long before I found out. One of Endeavor's teachers invited me to help chaperone a sixth grade field trip. Three teachers and four mothers (including me) took a group of about 100 sixth graders to an outdoor challenge course. Designed to promote team-building and facilitate communication, the course was led by a group of experienced trainers. They divided the kids into groups of 10-12, and then put them through a variety of exercises that were more mentally than physically challenging.
Spending time with the sixth graders and observing the groups try to work through the challenges was educational. Here's some of what I learned:
- Kids--at least girls--are physically more developed than they were when I was in sixth grade. Many of the sixth grade girls looked more like the girls I went to high school with, than the girls I went to middle school with.
- Many parents think it's fine to let their sixth grade daughters shop at Victoria's Secret. In fact, they are happy to let their daughters provide free advertising for the brand.
- Sixth graders have horrible judgement skills. They have difficulty focusing. They tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. They follow the advice of their loudest peers, not their smartest or most emotionally mature peers. In short, they are typical children. Not young adults, children.
- In our fairly affluent school boundaries, roughly 60 percent of sixth grade students go without breakfast in the morning. (This was revealed during one of the games.)
- Any parent who thinks their sixth grader is capable of handling the ownership of an expensive electronic device, or of spending time with peers without adult supervision, or of safely navigating a trip to the mall or movies with friends, etc. IS CLUELESS!!! These parents need to observe their kids at a challenge course.
And my thoughts on what I learned:
- There has to be some validity to the concerns about girls physically maturing too early in recent years. Personally, I'm going to spend some time learning about what some of the potential causes may be, and read up on what can be done. I'm alarmed when I see 12 year old girls who appear to be more curvy and womanly than I--a 35 year old woman who has born and breastfed four children. That's not right. If there is something our society is allowing (hormones in milk, fast-food diets, whatever) that can be blamed for this, we need to fix it. I think it is incredibly sad to have so many young girls endowed with bodies that are far ahead of their mental and emotional development. Those bodies put them in the unfortunate situation of having the rest of the world think they are women, when really, they are still young girls.
- Before this field trip, I thought it was very odd, one day, when Endeavor came home from school and asked me where the store called "Pink" was. She said that a lot of girls at school wore clothes from a place called "Pink", and she wondered where they got them, because she'd never seen a store at the mall with that name. I should explain that I, myself, avoid the mall like the plague, and Endeavor only accompanies me to the mall about 25 percent of the times I go there. Which means the child goes inside our local mall about twice a year. It took me a minute to remember which store sold the "Pink" label. Victoria's Secret. I couldn't believe little sixth grade girls were shopping at Victoria's Secret.....enough that Endeavor would notice....until I went on the sixth grade field trip, and saw for myself how many girls had "Pink" plastered boldly across tight tee shirts and the curvy backsides of their yoga pants. It made me want to throw up. Why, why, WHY would any parent allow their sweet, young, daughter to provide free and provocative advertising for a women's lingerie brand?
- I'll tell you why! Because those parents have fogotten or have not been taught themselves that those little girls are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them. He has given them incredible gifts, valuable far beyond what is visible by appearances alone. If but nurtured, those little girls can grow into women who have incredible minds and talents and a beauty of spirit that far surpasses any physical beauty they've also been blessed with.
- And I'll tell you another reason why: being and adult--not to mention an adult who parents--is hard work! It's not fun nor is it easy to tell a child "no, you can't do what everyone else is doing" and bear the brunt of their short-term hostility towards you. Nor is is fun or easy to be the only parent who says "no" to things and gets questioned by other parents. Lazy parenting is to blame! Sarah said it so well back in March, "I see in my generation, a lack of maturity. I see so many mothers, grown gosh-darn grown women, wanting popularity for their daughters, more than they want to protect them....They allow the craziest things because I think, it somehow gives them a sense of being "in" themselves. They don't entertain the thought of what is best for their daughter, especially when it means taking a different path from the norm, not following the crowd. Reliving some imagined desired youth and stripping their own sweet child of hers."
- Yes, sixth graders are children. Even eighth graders aren't adults yet. Why do we expect them to be otherwise? We wouldn't drop our six year old off at the mall and say, "I'll meet you back here in three hours. Call if you need anything." The reality is that few sixth graders possess much higher judgement skills than six year olds, yet I know parents who have no problem with dropping them off to fend for themselves at the mall. Why the rush to push children into taking on responsibilities that they aren't ready for? Again, I think lazy parenting is to blame. The quicker a child accepts "adult responsibilities", the quicker the adults in their lives can return to the selfish lifestyle they lived before they were parents.
- Like I said a moment ago, I observed that sixth graders have horrible judgement skills. They have difficulty focusing. They tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. They follow the advice of their loudest peers, not their smartest or most emotionally mature peers. What does this mean? It means that no matter how grounded you feel your sixth grader is, chances are they aren't going to fare well in a group setting that is not adult supervised. When it comes to making decisions, they are going to be easily swayed by the group thinking of their peers. And that group thinking? Well, it's being led by the loudest members of the group, the seemingly most confident and admired of those peers. Guess what? Those kids aren't necessarily the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, at this point. Instead of "trusting" your child to do the right thing, remember the fact that they are a child, and don't knowingly put them in situations that require trust: i.e., group "dates" to the movies, hanging out with friends at a house where a parent isn't at home, etc. You're misguided trust is going to put your child in potentially dangerous situations, guaranteed.
- So, over 60 percent of the kids in an affluent school are going without breakfast? Call me naive, but I was shocked. It was a wake up call to me that that statistic is a reflection on the number of kids getting themselves off to school in the morning. I recognize that families are faced with a variety of circumstances, and many have to make some difficult choices. However, I'm disappointed that our society as a whole views the abandonment of children as a necessary evil in the pursuit of more and better.
- Back to the girls. Our culture has stripped these young women of the right to be children for as long as possible. You can blame it on bad parenting, the influence of the media, the breakdown of the family, or dozens of other things. The sad fact remains: rights are being lost. Shouldn't a twelve year old girl have the right to be viewed as the child with a bright future that she is, not as a sexually provocative vixen with a future in a dimly lit nightclub? Early feminists lamented the norms of society generations ago, in which there was more emphasis on preparing girls to marry well than to get an education. We shake our heads over the black and white pictures of 15 year old brides. Let's take a stand now for the rights of young women everywhere, the right to enjoy a long and innocent childhood, free from the eventual cares and concerns of adult life. I'm not saying keep them so sheltered they don't know how to deal with the nonsense that is out there--because it is out there, and they have to be given the strength, the savvy, and the skills to face it. I'm just saying, don't shove them into a Victoria's Secret with your credit card and tell them to get whatever they want. Don't expose them to TV and movies that promote sexuality as the most important trait a woman can possess. Be the grown up in their lives, not their best friend.
As you can tell, this is something that I feel very strongly about. I'd like to echo Sarah's stance, that "I think all of us mothers of daughters who care about preserving our daughter's innocence need to be angry. We need to speak up, and sure lead by example, but not always quietly....Maybe if more mothers feel like they aren't alone, if more mothers think "I'm not the only one" we can bolster each other up." Hear, hear!
Now, let me just tell you about something else I learned on the sixth grade field trip. I learned that my own sixth grader, Endeavor, is everything I hoped she would be, and more. She's a sweet, innocent girl. Probably a little less innocent about some things than I would like, judging by the peers who surround her during the school day, but she's holding her own. She's lovely, her pretty face not masked by makeup and her clothing colorful and age appropriate. She's chosen friends who are smart, nice, good girls who seem like they are trying just as hard as Endeavor is to make good choices. She's forging her own way, making style choices more modest than most of her peers, and learning to appreciate the fact that she's a little different from them in this.
It makes me so grateful for a mother who worked hard to give me a lengthy childhood, teaching me the parenting skills I would need someday by example. I'm also excited for Endeavor--newly 12-- that she gets to move on from our church's program for children into it's program for Young Women. She's going to have great leaders and a terrific program that will help her learn to set goals and become, in time, the woman she's meant to be. She's going to have resources to help her navigate the stormy years to come, like a standards book, For the Strength of Youth, that is going to help her set boundaries and see some of our society's foolish norms for the traps really are.
I just wish I could be as excited about the future for some of her peers. It is evident that they don't have those same resources. That they don't have mothers fighting for their right to be children. So, I have to say that I am also grateful for women, like Sarah, who let their voices be heard when it comes to preserving the rights of girls, and who encourage the rest of us to do the same.