You might think that worrying about my seven year old’s future teenage years might be a bit premature but when it seems like only yesterday that she was just starting nursery, it seems only logical that it’ll only feel like another week until she’s starting secondary school and let’s face it, adolescence pretty much starts there. In fact, if she follows in my footsteps, puberty is due to hit in about three years.
Already, she’s dealing with loads of drama at school. She complains every day that many of the girls at school lie, make up stories about each other and gossip constantly. In a sense, I’m glad she’s complaining because hopefully that means she’s not taking part.
So far, being a strong willed, confident girl means she wears what she likes (I only intervene if she, for example, tries to wear a summer dress outside in winter), she plays the games she likes and she picks the TV and music she likes (again, minor and occasional intervention from parents). However, I think even the most confident girls are affected to some extent by the peer pressure and self esteem issues of the teenage years. As a side note, I’m pretty sure boys suffer with this stuff too – it’s just that they’re expected to be strong and unemotional so the suffering is done in silence.
My own adolescence ended almost a decade ago but I remember it pretty clearly. I remember being mocked for being a virgin at 15 and then mocked even more when I pointed out that sex wouldn’t even be legal at that age. I remember being complimented on my jacket by one of the popular girls, who told me that if I bought the right trousers and shoes too, I’d be allowed to hang around with them. Seriously. The film Mean Girls is truer to life than you might think.
I remember someone shoving a cigarette in my mouth when I refused to take one myself. I remember a boy threatening to sexually assault me in my sleep if I didn’t have sex with him. I remember my first boyfriend thinking it was actually acceptable to cheat on me because we’d been dating for a month and I hadn’t slept with him yet.
How on earth am I meant to help my daughter navigate this kind of stuff when she reaches this stage?
I could tell my daughter my own experiences I suppose. I could try to tell her that I went through it too and you’ve just got to stick to your own principles and not allow yourself to be pressured into anything. But the truth is, I didn’t always make the best decisions. Ok, I said no to drugs, I said no to sex until I felt happy with it. But I did sneak into a park after closing to drink vodka with a bunch of people I didn’t really know that well. And it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve started to wonder if I was more affected by peer pressure than I thought at the time.
During parties, it was seen as quite normal by the group I was in to kiss people of the same sex. There was a strong message from everyone involved that it meant nothing, it was all good fun and it meant nothing about your sexuality. We might have been the ‘alternative’ crowd but being gay was still a big deal. Not a bad thing but not something you’d want because your friends might be ok with it but pretty much nobody else would. I had gay friends who’d come out to their parents and it had been a nightmare for them. One even got kicked out of their house. I once asked my Mum how she’d feel if I were a lesbian. She said she’d absolutely fine with it, of course, but followed this by very firmly stating that I was 100% straight, no doubt about it. So when I was kissing girls at parties, it never quite occurred to me that I might be bisexual. I definitely wasn’t gay and I didn’t really know about a third option. I’d heard the term bisexual but it was so synonymous with promiscuity (still an issue today) that I didn’t identify with at all. So it turns out that I was so affected by what everyone around me was saying that I couldn’t even work out who I was!
I suppose the scary thing about all of this is that, for the first time, her safety will be her responsibility. As parents, we can talk to her about the tricky issues, we can make sure she’s educated on sex and drugs and we can set boundaries and rules. But in the end, it’ll be her choice. All I can do at that point is hope she makes the right one.