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Preteen Wants to Dress Like Britney Spears

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 12-year-old daughter wants to shave her legs, wear makeup, and dress provocatively. I don't like that she's in such a hurry to look and behave older than she is. I've restricted what she wears, but she complains that she's the only sixth-grader who's still treated like a baby. She's been very moody lately and I'm not sure how to help. What can I do to keep my daughter from dressing like Britney Spears?

A: Your 12-year-old daughter's attempts to look older by shaving her legs and wearing make-up and provacative clothing is prompted by her not wanting to be looked upon as a "little girl." Also, our mass-media culture gives girls her age the idea that they should look, dress, and act like sexy women if they want to be considered cool and popular.

Unless her legs are so hairy that they cause understandable embarrassment to her, I certainly don't think that shaving should be encouraged. It's also inappropriate for a 12-year-old girl to be wearing make-up or clothing that mimics an entertainer like Ms. Spears. Trying to control your daughter in these realms is a delicate and difficult task because she is convinced that she must do these things in order to be thought of as desirable. No doubt her hormones are also kicking in and this accentuates -- and causes -- many of her extreme mood swings.

Letting her know that you understand why she feels pulled toward looking and behaving older is very important. Even though she will loudly disagree with you and call you unfair, she will understand why you're imposing limits and that you do know what's driving her to behave this way. Every adolescent tries to guilt her parents into granting her requests by invoking the "but everyone in my grade does this" plea. I guarantee you that the majority of sixth-grade girls are not wearing make-up and sexy attire to school or shaving their legs. Ask a few moms of girls your daughter's age how they're handling these problems. You'll also benefit from reading Parent/Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach, by Kirshenbaum and Foster.

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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.


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