Tackling the Tough Topics

Featured Article, Parenting Styles

Children aren’t the only ones who experience countless “firsts.” At least the initial time around, parents confront their own list of uncharted landmarks, which seem more like landmines. The first time children ask to wear makeup, date or insist they’re ready for something Mom and Dad aren’t so sure about, parents realize the stakes — and their blood pressures — have risen. Searching for elusive absolutes, parents try to decipher needs from wants, consider a child’s desire to “fit in,” stay true to their values and, whenever possible, bypass the immediate judgment of (m)others.

Here parents tackle six anxiety-producing firsts and get some expert guidance along the way.

So let’s ask the question:


… give into a CELL PHONE?

Fort Lauderdale mom Debra Kauffman surrendered earlier the third time around. “Juliet got an iPhone last year for her 10th birthday,” says Kauffman, though admits her older kids waited till 14. “The timing was relative to cell phone popularity. Juliet was among the first of her friends, but within weeks of getting one, her friends got phones. Other parents said they felt pressure when Juliet got hers, so they gave in, too.”

When to hand children cell phones depends upon the parents’ needs and the child’s maturity; trustworthy 10-year-olds may be better candidates than impulsive 12-year-olds. “Give your child a cell phone no earlier than 9, and that’s only if necessary for safety reasons,” says Houston psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, co-author of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex or Whatever.

Yet, as technology improves so can misuse, and Kauffman worries about cyber-bullying and other potential risks. Juliet recently came across expletives using an app that captures song lyrics despite Kauffman’s phone rules: “No social media accounts, Facebook, Instagram, and both parents maintain 24/7 access to their phones.”

Accordingly, Rapini cautions parents to purchase phones with minimal functions. “Less is more in regards to child safety.”

… say yes to MAKEUP?

It’s not unusual for grade school girls to show interest in makeup, so Rapini suggests parents be proactive with a set age, yet flexible on special occasions. She also recommends taking daughters at age 12 for makeup instruction.“Makeup artists are great at helping your daughter feel pretty with less makeup … enhance rather than distract from her appearance,” says Rapini, who counsels girls about body image.

Though one was more interested than the other, Victoria Locknar’s daughters got approval to wear “subtle” makeup at 12. “If you can see it, it’s too much,” says the New York mom. Though her oldest attends high school now, she says, “If I think it’s too much for school, she’ll blot it.” That’s why, says Locknar, she’s never sensed attitude from other parents who didn’t permit makeup at 12. “Because my girls never look ‘made up,’” she explains.

… allow DATING?

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that kids are dating earlier than ever: 12-and-a-half for girls and 13-and-a-half for boys. Although most preteens and teens attend co-ed group functions, they’re not necessarily ready for coupling. Nashville’s Stacy Forster consulted with other parents before granting her son permission to “date” at 14. “I believed my son was ready,” she says. Moreover, she remained in the driver’s seat — literally. “He still depended on me for transportation, so I drove them and picked them up,” Forster says.

There’s no magic age, but at 16, “children have a better understanding of themselves and are more aware of possible consequences for their actions,” says Rapini, who encourages girls to become strong women at www.maryjorapini.com. Also, being able to drive provides them an exit strategy if necessary, she offers.

… have the “SEX TALK?”

“The sex talk should begin early,” says Rapini. “A visit to the zoo by age 4 allows children to see mommy and daddy animals mate.” Then parents can respond simply but honestly to only questions asked. “Short, frequent talks are less embarrassing and more meaningful,” she says.

Ann Strode of Murfreesboro, Tenn., says the talks with her four daughters were ongoing throughout their development. “I let them decide when and how much information they were ready for by the questions they asked.” The onset of puberty, says Strode, is when she shared her personal values and “the physiological aspects of fertility, sexual urges and the consequences, and responsibilities that come with sexual activity.”

… leave the kids HOME ALONE?

“State law in Texas says a child must be 10 to be left alone,” says Rapini. “If they’re caring for other children they must be 12.”Still, she advises against leaving children alone at any age until they’re “comfortable with what to do if something unexpected happens.”

Divorced dad Dan Lyster’s three daughters lived with him in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., during summers. “Katelyn at 13 watched her sisters, 8 and 6, whenever I ran a 30-minute errand. They were pretty reliable and obeyed the rules,” like not opening the door for anyone, says Lyster.

Rapini suggests parents wait until kids are 14 to deposit them at the movies or mall with friends, and stick to a prearranged pick-up time that’s not longer than two hours. Unquestionably, children who consistently behave irresponsibly shouldn’t be granted this independence before proving themselves dependable.

… permit PIERCING?

Piercing envy occurs early among girls. Regardless, parents shouldn’t cave until kids can handle the maintenance, around ages 10-12, says Rapini while acknowledging that babies with pierced ears come from a tradition of piercing and parents committed to the upkeep.

Allison Teague of Nolensville, Tenn., mom of two children younger than 3 years, reflects preemptively on the future. “I won’t get Evie’s ears pierced until she’s old enough to ask for it,” says Teague. As for piercings elsewhere, for son or daughter? “Sixteen if it can be hidden, so it doesn’t affect future career opportunities. Otherwise, 18. I’d like to protect their futures and minimize regret,” she says.

When it comes to males and piercings, Rapini says her son would have to wait till 18. Boys may change their minds when they change peer groups.

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