Nine Going on Sixteen

My daughter is nine years old but thinks she's 16. She is already developing physically and is wearing a bra. She's very interested in makeup, but we've compromised with glitter body gels designed for kids for the moment. She hasn't started her period yet.

My problem is that lately she's become obsessed with boys and sex. This escalated at daycare today when she got in trouble for playing a game with a friend that they called "Let's go to my boyfriend's house and have sex." I monitor the movies and television shows she watches. I even read books before I allow her to read them. When we see something inappropriate on TV, we talk about why it's inappropriate. I've been very open and honest with her about her body and sex in an age-appropriate way.

When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she'll tell you that she wants to be "Janis Joplin, without the drugs and drinking." I feel like I'm doing everything right, so what am I doing wrong? I have to admit that I was very young and unprepared when she was born. I'm a single mom. I'm terrified that she'll take the hard road as I did. She's gone from Barney to Britney Spears overnight and I can't find the "pause" button. Help!

--A Parent Soup member

Your 9-year-old is typical of many young girls who, as you so deftly put it, "go from Barney to Britney overnight." Part of this is physical. Puberty is happening earlier. For some girls, the signs are appearing as early as seven years of age. This means that children are hormonally driven long before they're ready to practice good decision-making skills.

It sounds like you're already preparing her to question the sexual signals and come-ons in the media. The risk many parents run, though, is to be too negative and too guarded. Don't take the fun out of young love, first crushes, and playing dress-up. In both of our books we have written complete chapters on how to talk about sex and love, empowering preteens with ways they can express love and intimacy. We must do more than "just say no."

The fact that you had your daughter in your teens is fueling your concern. Actually, you are correct to make the correlation because teens parented by moms who became pregnant as teenagers are more at risk of repeating the pattern.

Keep your daughter's passions occupied. Get her involved in things she loves. Find good risks. Enroll her in an acting class if she is so inclined. Get her involved in volunteer work. Encourage her to play a sport. Help her develop a multi-faceted personality and self-image. Boys should only be one part of any female's world. Your daughter sounds exciting and full of life and creativity. Just keep guiding her and standing by.

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