The other day while volunteering at my Lila’s school, I had a most disturbing conversation with a friend of mine, a mom of an 11-year-old. Her older daughter, a sixth-grader, was under all kinds of stress because she was being bullied at school, for… wait on it… not wearing make-up, having only one hole in each ear and none in her lip, and not being allowed to go to PG-13 movies. With boys. Alone.
Um, lip piercings?
At age 11?
Where they do that at?
Apparently at a middle school a couple neighborhoods away. I can’t even begin to explain how disturbing this is to me, considering my Mari is the same age as the aggrieved little girl, a former classmate. And the girl’s poor mother—she was just at wit’s end with the teacher (who did nothing), the school counselor (who seemed to focus more on the bullied rather than the bullies), and the bad butt kids who were harassing her daughter (a few boys who made a point of reminding her that she was a “baby” compared to her “cooler” female classmates, presumably the ones with lip piercings and parents willing to drive them to solo movie dates). But the biggest culprits of all the madness, we both agreed, are the parents of a sixth-grade student body that seems hell-bent on letting their kids age way before it’s time. I mean, if there are parents willing to let their little girls do all of this at age 11, what on Earth will those kids be doing at 16?
And then I get called crazy and overprotective and a helicopter mom (like I was in my post, "(Not So) Social Butterflies") because I won’t let my daughters just up and hang out or spend the night at the homes of children whose parents I haven’t met and gotten to know. Uh huh. Okay. Be clear: It’s not the kids I’m worried about. It’s the parents.
No child, after all, can get a lip piercing without adult permission and supervision. I don’t know too many 11-year-olds with an allowance big enough to afford lipstick, eye shadow, blush, mascara, eye-liner and brushes to apply it all. And I’m guessing that the parents who chauffeured their little girls to dates weren’t forced by gunpoint to navigate their cars to the 8 p.m. show at the nearest theater so that their daughters could meet up with boys. Still, it’s happening—at an alarming clip.
I’m not really clear when our society adopted the “Eleven Year Olds Are Grown” philosophy or how I missed the memo, but come hell or high water, Nick and I are doing everything we can to help our girls stay, well, little girls while they're little girls. For as long as reasonably possible. I recognize, too, that this means I’ve kinda officially become my mother and father, who kept a vice-grip so tight around my neck that my social life as a teenager was virtually non-existent until I left for college. And even then, whenever I came back home from semesters full of independent living and, er, um, “socializing,” I still had to ask permission to go out, and coming back in whenever I pleased wasn’t ever an option.
Okay, so maybe I won’t be as strict with my girls. And I’d like to think that because my parents were so strict, I’m a bit more sensitive to the fact that neither Mari nor Lila can stay little girls for the rest of their lives—that eventually, they’re going to get curious about the opposite sex and want to dress more grown-up and slather something other than Chapstick on their lips. But isn’t there some kind of balance that needs to be struck? Some, oh, I don’t know, parenting that should be taking place? Like, yes, you can hang out with your friends, but no, you can’t go to the movies or anywhere else unsupervised with a gang of 11-year-olds? Or, yes, you can wear your hair in a different style and a trendy pair of earrings, but no, you can’t get a tattoo on the small of your back and wear a bunch of make-up to your 6th grade homeroom? Or, I don’t mind if you have supervised playtime on the internet or listen to the radio, but no, you can’t google “booties” on a computer in your bedroom and listen to Lil’ Wayne on your iPod?
All I’m saying is that perhaps it’s time we stopped shaking a finger at the kids who act more grown than they really are, and start questioning the parents who let them—maybe require they get a little act right in their households before they sic their too grown, hormonal, bully kids on the rest of our children.
(Oh—and if it sounds like I'm being judgmental, that's because I am. Just sayin'.)