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Nine-Year-Old Wants a Boyfriend
Q: I am the mother of a nine-year-old girl and a six-month-old son. Since the birth of my son, my daughter has asked relentlessly if she could have a boyfriend. I have said no a thousand times. I explained that she isn't old enough; she can have friends that are boys. Nothing seems to work. I'm aware that many of her friends' parents allow their children to have "boyfriends" and "girlfriends." My husband is not her biological father, but she thinks of him as her father. What can I do?
A: Given that many of your daughter's friends' parents allow them to have boyfriends and girlfriends, it's pure conjecture to say that her six-month-old brother's birth has been the driving force behind her demanding to have a boyfriend. She may have felt displaced by him in your family, regardless of how attentive and sensitive you have been to her emotions. She may be seeking affection and appreciation outside your family, as she may feel less important and less loved since the arrival of the baby who gets "all the attention."
Nine is far too young to be having a solitary, romantic boyfriend or girlfriend. Kids at this age and stage are not equipped to handle the complexities and intense emotions of an exclusive boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. I am sure that all her friends' parents are not allowing or encouraging their kids to have such exclusive relationships. Ask them--I think you'll discover that they have the same reservations as you do. Many parents believe it's "cute" at this age to encourage "puppy love." It's not.
Explain why you do not want her to have an exclusive boyfriend, while encouraging her to continue to socialize in groups with her friends. I'd like you to have some discussions with her about why she feels the need to have a boyfriend--is it to be popular, to keep up with her friends, to be noticed by boys, etc. While discussing this topic, work in some questions about how she's feeling about other aspects of her life--school, social life, extracurricular activities.
Also ask her how life has changed for her since her brother was born. Put yourself in her place and talk to her with empathy and understanding, not blame and disrespect. As you continue to make her feel special and stay in touch with what's important in her world, you'll learn better how to counsel and understand her.
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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.