Parenting During The Adventurous Years

I (Melissa) remember my tenth birthday. I really wanted a blue-eyed, curly headed doll. I also wanted a shiny silver pistol. My parents gave me both. I remember standing in front of my birthday cake holding one in each hand for the picture and feeling sad. Somehow, I knew it was probably my last year to receive a doll or a gun.

Six- to eleven-year-old girls believe they are cowboys and nurturing mothers at the same time. These are the years of adventure—of learning more about who they are as they enter the world of school, and who they would like to be as they grow in their awareness of others. They are years that are tender and hopeful and fun, both for girls and for you as a parent.

But they trade in their guns and dolls as they move into middle school. The guns become sassy back-talk and the dolls become their cell phones that are glued to their ears in the Narcissistic Years.

As parents, you have a unique opportunity in these years of adventure. Your daughter is asking questions and looking to you for the answers. In the next stage of her life, as a teenager, she will often look to outside influences such as peers and other adults for those answers. But for now, you are her homeroom teacher whom she looks up to and wants to please.

These years are adventurous, and her adventurousness may take her into a few areas you might not really like to see her go: lying ("I already did my homework"), stealing (such as a pack of gum from the grocery), and whining (manipulation in its earliest forms) are a few of the most common issues for parents of Adventurous-age girls.

But again, her thinking is concrete. As her homeroom teacher, you have an opportunity to give her responses that speak to that concrete thinking. Many adolescents who struggle with lying say that they started getting away with it in these six-to-eleven years. Consistent consequences for lying and stealing, helping her restate what she wants in a way other than whining —all help to stop these typical Adventurous-age issues.

You also have the delightful job of teaching her things that will foster her growth in life and in relationships. She learns manners from you, which ultimately serve to help her love and encourage others. She learns responsibilities, which help her learn to be considerate and not take advantage of those around her. This is also the time most parents choose to talk to their daughters about sex, which can be a rich time to teach your child about the miracle of new life.

In these six-to-eleven years, your daughter is much like a com-ing-of-age movie. She is out riding her bike through puddles and stirring up all kinds of adventures with her buddies, but as soon as you open that screen door and call her home, she knows where she belongs.

Your Adventurous-age daughter has other voices in her life, but for now, yours is the loudest, and you have the fearfully delightful job of using that voice to call out in her truths about herself, about life, and about God that help her become more of who he is creating her to be.

CHAPTER 4

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Cherylanne is fourteen, and she is pretty. I am twelve and I am not, although Cherylanne said this is the awkward stage and I could just as likely get better. We watch.

Elizabeth Berg, Durable Goods

It is easy to picture this moment . . . maybe because it has happened in your own home. Two girls are sitting on a bed, holding up a mirror. The older girl, Cherylanne is trying to help the younger one, Katie, "look better" . . . fixing her makeup and hair, showing her what clothes she should and shouldn't wear.

Cherylanne is helping Katie out of what she believes is the kindness of her heart. In her narcissistic world, it is kind to tell a friend that she is awkward but will get better.

Katie feels shamefully appreciative. She doesn't know how to dress "cool" or wear her makeup "right." She doesn't like the way she looks. But Cherylanne knows how to do these things. Cherylanne can help, even if Katie feels a little hurt by the way she sometimes says things.

Recently a mom told us that she loves to drive her daughter and friends home from school. She has figured out how to turn the car stereo so it is louder in the back, causing the girls to have to speak up to hear each other over the music. This gives her the best eavesdropping capabilities. She said that conversations frequently begin with "I don't want to be mean but . . ." The statements that follow are similar to Cherylanne's — told out of the goodness of the speaker's narcissistic heart—focused on what other people think but unaware of how other people feel.

We recently asked a group of twelve- to fifteen-year-old girls what they were most worried about. These are their answers.

J Girls talking about me

J What other people think about whatever you're doing J If my friends are really going to be my friends around other people

J If I get in a fight with my friends, are we going to hate each other and become rivals? J Spiders J Grades J Boys

J Friend situation (who is being mean) J Rumors

J Succeeding in school and in general J Trying to be good at everything J Trying to make myself worth someone's time J Fighting with siblings J Loneliness

J Screwing up my life and not realizing it J That people will think I'm weird J Not making the right choices J Gaining weight

J If people judge me from my appearance J That I won't know how to get out of a bad situation J Getting in trouble

Almost every answer these girls gave has to do with two things: first, what other people think about me, and second, what I think about me. Notice that both sentences end in me.

Girls in the Narcissistic Years are preoccupied with themselves. Mark Twain said that children should be nailed into a pickle barrel at age twelve, fed through a knothole, and not let out until age twenty. He must have parented a girl in her Narcissistic Years or at least known the most obvious side of girls from twelve to fifteen.

As she approaches middle school, your daughter undergoes a significant transformation. Her looks don't change as drastically as in the previous two stages, but her behavior does. She comes home from school and goes directly to her room. Her two favorite possessions move quickly from the doll and gun of the Adventurous Years to a cell phone and the Internet. Friends become all-important—oh, and her hair. She spends an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom.

Remember in chapter 2 when we named the culprit for a majority of the problems that arise in the life of a girl? Development. These changes have everything to do with development for your daughter. Believe it or not, there are spiritual, emotional, and even physical reasons for these changes. God is still growing your daughter—even though, at times, it seems like someone much more diabolical has taken over. But these changes are necessary. She is becoming her own person. She is developing her own opinions and tastes, or at least transferring them away from you. In the process of finding her own voice, your daughter will often take up the voices of her peers first. But she will find her own and is moving in that direction during these Narcissistic Years.

That is the obvious side of girls from twelve to fifteen. But there are also changes that are not so obvious. The obvious changes feel hard, even painful as a parent. The Narcissistic Years are ones in which you feel rejected a great deal. We talk more about this later in the book as we look more closely at the relationships between girls and parents.

But there are also changes going on, a little past the surface, that are much more hopeful. A girl's brain changes significantly as new growth takes place and those dreaded hormones work their magic. Her emotions become like shifting sands as the hormones exert their control over your adolescent daughter. Thankfully, however, she is stirring spiritually in ways that are momentous. God is giving her the ability to seek and know him at deeper levels, and, sometimes, that is enough hope to hang on to through the more obvious, painful changes of these years.

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