Tweenagers - Are kids growing up too fast? If so, how do we slow the trend?
March 7th, 2013

 Dr Clare Bailey, GP and Parenting Expert

A recent survey of over 1000 parents of 7-13 year olds by netmums has highlighted what many, if not the majority of parents  have become increasingly alarmed about – that children are growing up too quickly, too young. It appears that where in the previous generation kids were perceived to remain ‘childlike’ until around 16, now a shocking 71% of parents say their child was no longer childlike at 12. 

How have we allowed childhood to be cut by four years? Our children may be missing out on a vital 25% of growing up time before they are introduced to many adult experiences previously encountered four years later in life.  According to their parents, 60% of young boys are reported to find the greatest pressure was to be ‘macho before they are ready’ and 28% felt they were being pushed into being interested in sex and girlfriends too soon.  Similarly over a quarter of parents(28%) said their daughter was being pushed into an interest in sex and boyfriends before she was mature enough to cope.

Peer power, partly driven by the media, music and fashion industry feeds the process. This is reflected in what parents tell me in my clinics. They are feeling pressurised by complaints such as “But ALL the girls in class have got an ipod” Oh yeh? And on cropped tops, sexy underwear and high shoes “Muuum! You’re SO out of touch, EVERYONE wears these!” or staying late at a party “It will be SO embarrassing to be the first to leave!!”.

Add to the mix the tendency of many parents to micromanage their children, inadvertantly denying them valuable learning opportunities to make their own mistakes and to develop the resilience to deal with adult life.  As a result primary school aged children are noted to be less prepared for independence ... a bit of a double whammy .  So kids now seem to go swiftly from not being allowed to walk to the shops alone to expecting to be treated as adults. 

Parents are understandably concerned that their ‘tweens’ are pushing at the boundaries and demanding to do more, go further and sample the independence and freedoms of the adult world when they are not emotionally mature enough to deal with it.  They are increasingly struggling to keep their children as children. As Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums, said, childhood was being "snatched away" and that "There needs to be a radical rethink in society to revalue childhood and protect it as a precious time,".

If self esteem is increasingly dependent looks, on valuing  ‘likes’ for pouting photos on facebook and idealised images rather than other characteristics such as sense of humour, kindness or even being smart, it is hardly surprising that we are seeing increasing levels of depression in young people in the UK.

Of the parents polled, as many as (89%) agreed that  modern children are under much more pressure and grow up far faster than previous generations.  Clearly it is a challenge to halt a trend driven extensively by huge interest groups over whom we have no control; the fashion industry, sexualised music videos, films, TV, magazines and advertising amongst many others.  Yet parents need to have confidence to listen to their inner voice saying “I’m not happy about this, even if ‘all’ the other parents apparently think it’s fine”. They need to pick up the phone and check with other parents.  They are probably just as worried.  This may help parents feel confident in setting clear expectations and boundaries so that kids can stay kids for longer.  And as long as parents are consistent, consequences don’t need to be severe to be effective. 

Probably the most effective protective factor is for parents is to invest in building a good relationship with their tweens and to keep lines of communication open. This may be a challenge, but if parents know what is going on in their child’s life they are more able to identify potential risky situations.  This gives them an opportunity to talk about their concerns and ask what their child  might do if things go wrong, if the taxi doesn’t arrive, if someone gets drunk... Parents can then listen and help their child to make wise choices. Hopefully they can buy time and give kids some of their childhood back.  

Are you concerned about your kids growing up too quickly? What can we do as parents AND as a society to protect them? And do tell us what works for you...

March 13th, 2013 9:33 pm
how wonderful to read an article so close to my heart I have 2 boys 15 & 16 and have managed to, some how, keep the lines of communication open. my boys dont tell me the ins and outs of their private life which I dont think they should but I am the one they call when adverse situations arise. I have always chosen my battles according to what is important to ME, always been constant, never judgemental and dealt with situations without fuss. I think most importantly though I have treated my boys as children and never equals and always done things according to what is important to me and not what other parents do and hopefully this will be an example to them to be themselves and not to always follow the crowd. my boys aren't angels but I like them and enjoy their company and they are very rarely rude, which I feel is quite an achievement for the age they are.
March 8th, 2013 2:10 pm
I've been having the same issues and the double whammy is so scary. We've got to work together on this - We should pick up the phone and check with other parents sooner. It sounds obvious but feels awkward. And why do we feel we need our kids permission to do this??!
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