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Dealing with Puppy Love
Q: My ten-year-old girl has a boy that she likes. And this boy tells her she is ugly. He also told her if she looked the way he wants he will like her. So now my little girl looks like a metal head, talks on the phone too much, and her room is now black! And so is she! If you know what I mean! She goes to the mall by herself. Now you're wondering how she gets there. Right? By a Go-ped! And now this boy goes out with her. I try to talk to her. And even the boy's parents -- they don't listen! What can I do?
A: It seems like your daughter has fallen under the spell of puppy love. My guess is that this is the first time that she has received romantic attention from a peer -- that's a very intense experience that we can probably all relate to. It's unfortunate and rather sad that she became someone other than herself so that this boy would like her. At 10, hearing that someone thinks you're ugly is devastating. It's not surprising that she became whom he wanted her to be so she could be considered "cool" (cool like him of course) and "go out" with him.
I am not that concerned about the Gothic style dress, phone behavior and overall "metalhead" appearance that she has taken on. But I am concerned that she assumed this personality because a boy took away her self-worth with a comment that she was "ugly" and then gave it back to her when she became whom he wanted her to be. That's a very destructive message for any youngster.
At 10, she should not be "going out" with anyone. She also should not be going to the mall on her own. You need to set and enforce some rules and limits with her in these two areas. She is too young to be on her own like this. Make sure that you tell her why she cannot continue to go out with this boy and be at the mall on her own. Mention the concerns and values that shape your rules and limits in these areas. I would also recommend inviting this boy's parents over for a chat.
At 10 years old, kids are usually involved in best friend relationships, not in exclusive boyfriend-girlfriend relationships. Could she be imitating an older sibling or relative with this dating relationship? She has plenty of time before dating becomes healthy developmentally. For now, you need to hold your ground on these prohibitions and take the flak from her for "ruining her life." Expect an angry, possibly rebellious 10 year old on your hands but don't give in to the "but all the other kids do it" ploy.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.