Age of Un-Innocence

Confronting difficult topics with kids

The Cost of Cool

Is being the "cool" parent sending the wrong message to your children?

“My 11-year-old daughter came home from school all excited because she was now old enough to attend the Friday Night Live Middle School Dance. I was glad that she felt confident enough to join socially with seventh and eighth graders, and I volunteered to be a chaperone to support this new venture.

While most of her friends say that I’m ‘as cool as moms get,’ I wasn’t quite ready for what unfolded: the blaring music is taken for granted, but the lyrics of the songs and the attire (or lack thereof) of the kids parading to the beat of the drums threw me for a loop! Girls spinning off the floor, shaking their partially exposed bottoms, thrusting their chests in and out . . . oblivious to the song lyrics they uttered, as if in a trance: ‘Oh, I’m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated . . .,’ as the boys look on.

As I tried to pick up my jaw and turn to someone to suggest that something was very wrong with this scene, a nearby group of parents applauded and whistled. One mother yelled out, ‘You’re so cool!’ to a young girl who had barely entered puberty yet was passionately shaking her body.

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I froze. This was a school-sponsored dance with parents, administrators, and teachers all nodding approvingly at this hypersexual display of kids. We know this behavior happens in college nightclub, but here I was in a middle school and I felt like I was participating in delivering my precious child to the slaughter.” 

As a parent, it’s important to be aware of what your kids are listening to, what they’re watching on TV and the Internet, and what exactly goes on at their middle school dances. More important, we need to talk about our values and help our kids draw the line about appropriate behavior. Like this concerned mother, don’t be afraid to express your views and talk positively about the role of peers and healthy sexual choices. How can we expect our kids to take a confident stance if we don’t guide them?

As soon as our kids begin developing friendships, they view their peers as a source of information as well as a measure for approval. Peers contribute to our sense of belonging and our feelings of self worth. At the same time, peer groups create strong expectations for appearance and behavior that can taint their positive rewards. Kids often find themselves conforming to the group’s norms, behaviors, attitudes, speech patterns, and dress code to earn acceptance and approval. If you conform, you’re considered “cool.” If you don’t, you may be ridiculed and expelled from the group. Peer challenges are tough on many levels and parents must come through to help their kids make wise choices.

 

John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex (Thomas Nelson, 2012) that explains what kids need from parents at each stage of their sexual development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to dr.chirban.com and sexual problems.com. 

John Chirban, Ph.D, Th.D., is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School.

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