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Growing Concerns (07/23/2006)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

A parenting column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the

University of Minnesota

Question: The shopping mall in a nearby suburb recently added a new group of shops aimed at young adolescents, and this has become the "in" hangout for 11 to 12-year-olds. We've heard our 11-year-old daughter and her friends talking about all the time they plan to spend there this summer. We've told our daughter we won't allow her to spend a lot of time there because the shops sell overly sexy clothes and feed into the kids' materialism, not to mention the fact that hanging out at the mall is just not a constructive use of time. She just stomps into her room, slams the door and yells that we're "living on another planet." Are we being unreasonable? And, if not, how can we handle this without having her mad all the time?

Answer: Your concerns are well founded and quite reasonable, especially considering the age of your daughter. The bottom line is that you are the parents; your job is to keep your daughter safe and help her develop strong character. Your job is not to make her happy all the time -- and that is a good thing, because that would be impossible! Although you're bound to hear some grumbles for now, here are some guidelines for setting reasonable limits balanced with a clear respect for your daughter's need to have opportunities to hang out with friends.

" Decide on the specific limits you will set about your daughter's time at the mall. For example, will your daughter never be allowed to go? Or might she go occasionally for a brief time with a friend? If and when she does go, what will be the rules and guidelines about how much time she can spend and what kinds of things she can buy (e.g. no low-low hip-hugger pants and no suggestive slogans on T-shirts)?

" Explain your limits simply and clearly, then stick to them even when she groans, "Oh Mom!" Keep in mind, however, that you will need to adjust the rules as your daughter matures and gains more independence. Being clear and firm does not mean that you have to be rigid.

" Talk with other parents and, if possible, unite with them in setting shared guidelines and limits about not only the mall, but also other situations that arise. This is the best line of defense against the classic "everybody's doing it" argument, which you're bound to hear many times in the next few years. For the kids, a united community of parents helps to relieve the stress of peer pressure. In fact, many young people say they sometimes secretly feel relieved when their parents tell them no.

" Brainstorm with your daughter (and perhaps with her friends and their parents) about other ways to spend free time. Sometimes "hanging at the mall" is the fallback when there's a lack of opportunity for other activities with peers. Consider bowling, skating, volleyball or gathering each week at a different home to make pizza, bake cookies, or play games. Or coach the kids in planning a service project, such as monthly visits to a nursing home or collecting outgrown clothing, books and toys for a shelter.

" Because young people do need unstructured time to socialize, think about alternatives to the mall. Too often, communities lack safe places for kids to hang out, so consider taking the initiative to get something started in your community. Perhaps if parents volunteered to help, a local church, school or park building could offer a drop-in center during specified hours. Such a center at a church in our neighborhood was a great asset for our kids when they were younger.

Your daughter is at an age at which she may give you "get out of my life" messages (the slammed door, for instance). But know that love, steady guidance, and clear, reasonable limits are exactly what she needs from you. Although you're not likely to hear a "thank you" right now, you are sure to see benefits in the long run. 


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