Sunday, July 04, 2010

Pierced Ears and Other Dilemmas (Or, the first real trial in helping my daughter grow up) - by Cyma

My daughter has been asking to have her ears pierced. She’s been asking for more than one year -- my prerequisite for considering it seriously. My daughter is seven. At what stage/age should this be done? Who has the right answers for all these types of potential dilemmas/mindfields? Consider this: If your child gets excellent grades; is polite, courteous and earns some money, should they be allowed to: dye their hair, have a scooter, wear makeup, wear nylons, show belly-skin, have a nose ring/belly ring, or get their ears pierced? What about my friend’s son, who was allowed to wear flip-flops year-round during his high school years. She thought that acquiescing his request was a small price to pay for his decent grades. At what age should they be given a cell phone?

If your child likes one particular color, should they be allowed to only wear that color? What about type of food? Should they be allowed to only eat the foods they like, if they also take supplemental vitamins?

Does it matter what age they are in response to any or all of the above?
Should the criteria consist of whether it creates bodily or mental harm? Or should it be allowed when your child comes ‘of age?’ At the risk of trying for healthy and continued autonomy and independence, where do we draw the line between holding the strings tightly and loosening the reins? And, where do we get the right or, more likely, best answers?

Will any or all of these decisions make for later traumas or adult discussions in therapist’s offices?

I decided to ask our children’s therapist, Jennifer Sanford. Here’s what she said: “Independence doesn’t magically arrive on day unannounced. It is cultivated throughout a child’s young life. As parents, we can become stuck on the issues of the right age for ear piercing, sleepovers, cell phone, dating, etc. There is no right age that can be generalized…I have found it important as a therapist and parent to keep in mind that the ultimate goal isn’t to have an obedient and compliant child; the ultimate goal is healthy independence which occurs by establishing a framework for maintaining a close relationship filled with open communication between child and parent. The framework should have the flexibility to grow and change as the child develops into an adult. (With) this, the practice would allow room for the bigger question: Is my child prepared to take care of the pierced ears, or the new puppy, etc. It is key for parents to understand the natural progression of a child’s life cycle. This knowledge helps inform that parent when it is appropriate to step in with supportive life skills, and when it is appropriate to allow space for the child to put into action the life skill previously taught.”

In my case, I polled my closest friends regarding the pierced ears. All of them said, ‘‘not at her age.” All of them also said that it shouldn’t be done in reaction to other kids doing the same thing. In this case, no other kids are doing this; a few have had pierced ears since infancy. Mommy has pierced ears.

This dilemma brought out more than I’d previously known about my friends’ philosophies. One friend said that things like dyed hair, and strange haircuts were fine; body piercing and tattoos were not. Another friend said that makeup, nylons, and high heels were ok during later childhood – she saw this as ‘playing’ rather than a foundation for later concessions. I don’t agree with either friend.

My own mother refused to let me: wear nylons, makeup, short skirts, high heels, etc. etc. until I was around 14 years old. At that point, she said she agreed only because she had tired of the ongoing, daily fights. I did get my ears pierced at age 12. That day was one of the happiest days of my childhood.

Should I put my questions to online support groups? Does safety/strength in numbers justify certain behaviors? If every kid is doing it (fill in the blank with anything you’d like), should my kid do it, too?

Having given myself a small time-out, I’ve decided to wait a little longer. While I am certain that my daughter is not old to take care of her ears and earrings, I am certain that she would enjoy having them. I would have been prepared to have helped her or to have taken care of them for a while, assuming that she’d eventually take over the responsibility. In this case, I’ll give her a little more time to grow up and give me a little more time to make a final decision.

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