We all know the nagging parental concerns: Is my child getting enough sleep, the right nutrition, turning her homework in, enjoying her friendships? As children get older, their friendships begin to matter even more and sometimes that influence can impact emotional health. That issue is explored in this excerpt from the book “Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance” (Seal Press, $16.95), published in October and written by Lake Norman Magazine freelance writer Rosie Molinary.
'Don’t listen to the one'
I was driving an eighth-grade girl I know home from lunch. We were passing by the university where I teach, and I pointed it out to her. “What do you teach?” she asked, and I explained what Women’s and Gender Studies was and then, more specifically, what body image was. “Like how I think I am fat?” I had just finished explaining that we spend the semester considering how individuals feel about their bodies and looks, what causes those feelings, and how they can be addressed. My heart stopped. “How long have you thought that you are fat?” I asked. “Since last year.”“Did something happen to make you think that?” “Yes. My friend, who is really skinny – and skinner than I would want to be – told me I was too heavy.” “And since she told you that, how many people have told you that you were beautiful?” She looked at me, confused as to what one had to do with the other. “I don’t know. A lot, I guess.” “Have you been told that probably at least a hundred times in the last year?” “I guess so. Yes.” “When that girl told you that you were too heavy, that statement was a lot more about her then it was about you. For whatever reason, she is insecure, and she deals with it by pointing out things to other people who maybe fuel her insecurity. Does that make sense?”She looked at me and nodded, and slowly began to relay things she had observed in her friend that might reveal the depth of her insecurities. “Why listen to this one person? Why let her opinion have so much weight, especially given what you’ve been told by so many other people and given what you thought about yourself - that you were just fine - up until the day this one friend said that to you?”“That’s a very good question,” she answered and looked out her window.
Advice for parentsNone of us wants our children to be so vulnerable that they are swayed by just one’s person opinion. Here, local experts share insight and ideas for parents who are dealing with peer influence as their children come of age. Realize it’s developmental. Parents often wonder, What happened to my child? as their son or daughter hits the teen years. While it feels like you’re dealing with an anomaly, the changes you are seeing are part of the developmental process. “There is a search for identity in adolescence. One of the ways that you explore your identity is through friendships and the feedback that you get,” says Carole Martin, an adjunct assistant professor in Psychology at Davidson College who teaches adolescent development. Have faith in your early work. You have been competently and compassionately parenting since the day you welcomed your child into your life. All of that adds up.“Anything you can do to build inner strength, reliance and positive self-concept can be a resilience factor for young people. The more that adolescents feel that their own opinions have been valued, that they have been able to make decisions on their own, that they have been able to participate in family decision making, the more inner strength there is and all of those things will be buffers,” says Martin.Actively engage your younger children in processing and decision making, building their confidence in themselves while building the relationship they have with you. Be authoritative. Martin calls it “love with limits parenting.” An authoritative parent is warm and develops a high-quality relationship with her child. Listening and openness are the cornerstones of the relationship, and, yet, the child understands there are limits and why those limits exist. With authoritative parenting, there are consequences, and they are enforced when appropriate. “Natural and logical consequences are sometimes tough to enforce, but they are important. Let’s say your child is texting like crazy and she goes over her cell phone minutes. You threaten to take it away, but then you decide not to because you want to know where she is and so you take away the television instead. That doesn’t get at the issue,” says Réa Wright, a Davidson therapist for individuals, couples and families.Indeed, the issue in the case of texting too much is often financial or an overdependence on friendships. Taking away the television doesn’t change the desire or habit. Taking away the phone is the logical step for changing the behavior. Listen and engage. “One of the mistakes parents make as their children get older is to withdraw, but adolescents still need very meaningful connections with mothers, fathers and other adults. The more they have that, the less likely this nipping away will influence them,” advises Martin.Rather than telling your child what to do, you should act as a consultant. Ask your child questions and help her develop her own thinking about the situation. “You really have to listen. We tend to talk instead. You’ve laid the foundation, now you have to let them practice, and you need to be more of a support and a guide,” says Wright. Don’t hover. Finally, Wright advises parents to back off a little and let lessons be learned. “What overprotection says to your child is, ‘You can’t take care of yourself. Let me take care of you.’ You want your child to know that, ‘I am here for you and I will take care of you,’ but you also want to say to her, ‘You are smart, capable, and you tell me what’s going on.’ You are still a teacher and role model as your child gets older, but it’s a shift in your duties. You have to trust that your parenting in the early years is going to come to fruition. We work so hard to protect our children that we prevent them from experiencing little hurts along the way that help them build character.More Information“Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance” was released Oct. 5. More info: www.rosiemolinary.com. More on Réa Wright’s work at www.reawright.com.