I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how challenging it can be.
Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. I hope that this will be helpful for other parents who may be experiencing the same issue.
Hi Dr. Meg,
I am writing to you about my eight-year-old daughter — my sweet, smart, strong-willed eight-year-old daughter. Being her father is the greatest gift (along with my son) I have ever been given. But it also scares the beejeezus out of me on a daily basis.
I could pick your brain for hours but this is a question about teaching modesty and trying to protect her from the greater forces of society, the forces that want her to grow up much faster than she should.
The current issue is my daughter wants two things: to get her ears pierced and to be able to wear a bikini.
I have thus far said no to both. My wife says I’m making a big deal about nothing. She makes the point that many of her friends have both and by saying no we are making something a “big deal” and “wrong” when it otherwise would have been an innocent thing in our daughter’s mind.
My point is that, first, there is no need for an eight-year-old to have her ears pierced and wear a bikini. She has plenty of time for those things. But, even more important, I believe it is critical for us to start now on the idea that just because she wants something and just because other kids are allowed to do something or wear something, in our house we have a certain set of standards and that’s that. I think it’s dangerous to wait until she is 16 to set that precedent.
So how do I explain this idea to my wife? And more importantly, how do I explain it to my daughter?
Tell your wife that she has married a very smart man. We are living in an obsessive, hyper-sexualized world and your job as parents is to keep your daughter strong, healthy, and to grow up with a strong sense of self. Caving to the trends of fashion when she is eight is an enormous mistake, as is parenting the way your friends are. Your wife wants to let your daughter wear a bikini because her friends do; that is not a good reason at all. In a few short years, those same girls may well be wearing tight skimpy clothes to school and you absolutely do not want your daughter doing that. Here’s why.
Modesty is a protective mechanism for kids and it makes them feel better about themselves, not worse. Tell your daughter that the reason that she needs to cover her midriff and not wear a bikini is because people protect and care for what is special and unique about themselves. She doesn’t cover her body in shame — quite the opposite. Refusing to let her wear a bikini is not making a big deal of fashion; it’s a great teaching tool.
Your job as a parent is to raise your daughter the way you believe is best — not the way other parents do. You’d better get used to it now because the pressure parents (especially mothers) feel about making sure their kids fit in with the other kids intensifies and many parents of teens that I see allow their kids to do dangerous things simply because “the other parents let their kids do them.”
I strongly encourage you to read my book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.” I go into this in more detail and discuss the pressures and dangers girls face when they hit puberty. And for your daughter, that may be right around the corner.
Finally, if I were you, I’d pick my battles. Stick to your guns on having your daughter dress modestly, but I’d let her get her ears pierced. There is wisdom in compromise, particularly with spouses.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.