Dear Dr Justin,
My child won’t grow up. She is ten but is obsessed with Disney and barbie and this has caused many fights between us. I simply don’t know what to do.
Please help me,
Dr Justin responds:
As parents we all want the very best for our children. When they are not achieving or developing in ways that we think are normal, or when they behave differently to other children, it is natural to worry.
My advice for you, however, is to stop worrying.
In the absence of anything in your email to suggest ‘abnormal’ behaviour in your daughter, I have to ask, “Why are you in such a rush for your daughter to grow up?”
Your daughter is just a little girl. Only ten years old. She sounds like she is still at an age where happiness is found in fantasy, friendships, and flower chains. She is at an age where her innocence is still untouched and the world is still safe, joyful, and wonderful.
As a ten year-old, she is still happy being who she is. And she wants nothing more than love and kindness from her parents so she can stay happy with who she is.
Change is coming
But your daughter is on the verge of significant change. She will grow up soon enough. The day will come when you will long for her to ‘only’ be obsessing over Barbie, Disney, and little girl things.
In the coming year or two you should expect that she will mature, not just physically, but emotionally. It is likely that she will experience mood swings and emotional roller-coasters, particularly in relation to friendships. If she develops a little later than some of her friends, they will move away from her. They won’t want to play the same games she does. They’ll be more interested in boys, or their appearance, or their smartphones. If she develops before them, friendships will rupture in different ways because boys will show more interest in her, she’ll become more popular, and her interest in Barbie and Disney will dissipate. (I know what I’d prefer to have my 10 year-old interested in.)
In the next two or three years your daughter will start seeking opportunities to be more independent. Your opinion will matter less. Her friends’ opinion will matter more. She will actively start to separate herself from you, and will start trying on a range of different identities as she begins to really think about who she is, what she values, and what direction her life might take.
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, societal expectations about what a girl should be will begin to permeate her thoughts over the next few years. Am I too fat? Is my hair ok? What is wrong with my skin? Why can’t I look like the girls in the music video? Should I dance like that? Maybe I should start skipping breakfast and dinner so I can lose weight and look like all the popular girls.
Within the next three or four years she will start to be influenced by peers. Should I go to that party? Will that alcohol make me popular? Should I send that cute boy a topless selfie because he promised he wouldn’t show it to anyone, and I really like him?
Within five to seven years your daughter will no longer be interested in anything resembling Barbie or Disney. If she follows a typical developmental path she will be focused on school, social media, boys, driving, social media, parties, clothes, makeup, social media, her job, and her friends. Family will barely get a look in.
And in about eight short years… well, she’ll be an adult.
Don’t get me wrong. The teen years can be amazing, and wonderful. I have two teens and a third about to be there. I love those kids and delight in seeing them grow.
But a part of me longs for the days when they would snuggle in bed with their mum and I. I miss their innocence and their childish challenges. I wish for the simplicity of those young years for them; when friends were almost always accepting; when coarseness and crassness was unexplored in boys’ minds and actions; when smiles were always easy, pure, and innocent; when hugs were the best thing in the world; and when the biggest issue they faced was a small squabble with a friend or a hurty finger.
Your daughter will grow up soon enough. Don’t rush it. Don’t fight with her about being a little girl. Just love her for it. Soon enough you will long for it – and it will be gone.