What is happening to our little girls? When they were eight, they were devoted to their girlfriends, and boys were still ‘yucky’. At nine, they were still passionate about improving their dance steps or learning the secrets of the lay-up shot.
At ten, they started to notice the boys, but only for moments, and never before attending to all their other fascinating activities or exciting interests. Now, our 11 to 13-year-olds are being overcome by a strange and sudden transformation. ‘Boy craziness’ is rampant, and look out — it's catching!
Attraction to the opposite sex, interest and curiosity about sexuality — these are expected, normal, healthy developmental tasks of early adolescence. ‘Boy craziness’ rules a girl when these normal changes spiral out of control.
The ‘boy crazy’ girl becomes utterly obsessed with boys. She loses interest in school, her extra-curricular activities or hobbies. Hanging out at the mall (to meet boys) or talking for hours on the phone (about boys) demand all her time and attention. She may experiment with seductive clothing or excessive makeup. She may call many different boys on the phone or send e-mails that make her parents blush. She gets totally caught up in the belief that she is only worthy and valued if the boys like her. She loses confidence in herself, always wondering if she is perceived as attractive enough. That's a trap for any girl who falls prey, but especially dangerous for the very young girls today who are trying to grow up too quickly.
How can you manage such behavior in your tween or teen?
First, examine, then reinforce your daughter's self-esteem. Help her to discover her own uniqueness, her strengths and talents, her intrinsic value as a person. Teach her to question harmful social conditioning that states if she doesn't have a boyfriend, she has and is nothing. Encourage her to feel good about herself as an individual. She does not need her prince to come to be special.
Support her in rediscovering the things that used to be important to her and exploring new passions. Encourage her to keep up with her activities and schoolwork. She needs to have many varied opportunities and experiences to feel competent and valued.
Secondly, talk to your child early and often about sexuality. Emphasize that her sexual feelings about boys are normal and wonderful, but that feelings do not always have to be acted upon. She needs to know more than the mechanics of sex. Discuss values, how to make choices, and what the consequences of those choices might be. Talk about safe sex and that sexual aggressiveness or coercion are never acceptable.
Many girls believe that sexual availability, either real or implied is the only way to achieve the ultimate goal of having a boyfriend. While their bodies may be willing and able, socially and emotionally, they are not ready for the heartbreak that inevitably follows. Early teen relationships never last long, and those girls who depend upon boyfriends for self-esteem will be easily devastated.
Third, discourage early dating. Kids need lots of time to be with their same-sex friends to learn social and intimacy skills. They need to be confident in their interactions and abilities to connect with both girls and boys before they advance to one-on-one relationships. Girls who date before they are psychologically and socially ready may feel pressured to demonstrate their maturity with sexual behavior. They need to learn how to be assertive about what they want in a relationship, not to simply follow blindly.
Parents may need to provide fair but firm limits regarding their ‘boy crazy’ daughters' social lives: whom they go out with, where they go, and what they wear.
The tenuous balance between supportive guidance and over-control will be tricky to negotiate, but trust your instincts. You know your daughters deserve to feel confident and valuable whether or not the boys are lining up. However, you may have to do battle with ‘boy craziness’ to convince her of that truth.Sharon is a Chartered Psychologist and mother of three. She counsels children, teens, couples and families. She can be reached at 208-0886.
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