I was in a friend’s garden on a sunny day recently and, as I chatted with the other mums, I kept catching glimpses of my eight-year-old daughter and her friend. Both were in bikinis – my daughter’s borrowed from her friend’s collection – and both were delighted to be showing off so much bare flesh. I found myself repeating what’s become an all-too-familiar complaint – overnight, my daughter has gone from being a little girl to a teenager.
It seemed to start not long after her eighth birthday. From being, at most, mildly concerned with her appearance, this suddenly took on unparalleled importance. She wanted to decide on what to wear every day, even falling out with her Dad over her refusal to wear her school shoes, and if it wasn’t a skirt or a dress – well, she wasn’t having any of it.
This image consciousness, while, thankfully, kept at bay by school uniform, becomes a headache at weekends, when we can debate for half an hour the merits of one outfit over another. I try to be sympathetic – clearly I was a teenager once and remember falling out with my mum over clothes – but it’s hard to accommodate the desire to wear a summer dress when it’s snowing outside.
Also, my daughter isn’t a teenager – or even close to being one. She doesn’t have the relative maturity or, frankly, the common sense, that goes with being that little bit older. While, to her mind, she’s almost a woman, to me, she’s still, in many ways, a little girl – and despite her best efforts to act grown up, she can’t help giving this away.
Although it’s taken me by surprise, this premature adolescence is, to some extent, logical. Thanks to the internet, children now literally have the world at their fingertips and with all that information must inevitably come some loss of innocence.
My daughter also reads a lot – she favours teenage angst books like Dork Diaries – and she’s an avid fan of films, both of which introduce her to older language and ideas. I don’t object to this – as long as she doesn’t read or watch anything inappropriate, I’m not against her immersing herself in popular culture. At the same time, it is a bit odd to hear her starting a sentence with “like” or overusing the word “literally”.
On the whole, I don’t feel this fast-forwarding into adolescence is a major problem. It was bound to happen anyway – and this way, perhaps, the actual teenage years might not be so bad. At least I should be used to the attitude and mood swings by then. I can’t help wishing, though, that my daughter would stop to enjoy just being eight, without looking forward to 18. With another daughter due to turn 16 at the same time, I think I might decide to leave home about then.