Claire Gould’s* seven-year-old son, Ronny, just can’t wait to grow up. “He really wishes he was a teenager,” she says. “He and his friends complain because they aren’t allowed to go to the movies they want to see or play the video games they want to play. They like to act cool but, in reality, they’re only seven.”
Kids have always wanted to be bigger and more grown-up, says parent educator Judy Arnall, author of Discipline Without Distress. Most of us can still remember longing to be old enough to achieve some goal — whether it was wearing makeup or crossing the road without an adult holding our hands. So is this really something parents should be concerned about?
Possibly yes, says Arnall: “The difference today is that kids are exposed so much to the media’s extreme version of what it means to be grown-up and it gets harder and harder for parents to filter that out.” So six-year-olds may see music videos with graphic sexual behaviour and violent lyrics or watch an R-rated DVD at a friend’s house. That’s a lot different than wanting to ride your bike to school alone.
*Names changed by request.
It’s important to understand the limitations of children this age, no matter how worldly they sometimes seem. Cognitively, children under eight have a difficult time truly understanding the difference between fantasy and reality, Arnall explains. Seeing movies or videos aimed at an older age group can create a lot of anxiety or lead to inappropriate imitation.
“Young girls also want to dress like teenagers,” adds Arnall. “When I was a child, you couldn’t buy clothes like that to fit a seven-year-old. Now, that’s what’s out there.”
The desire to be more grown-up can also be a symptom of peer pressure. “If the other kids are all talking about a certain TV show and yours is the only child not allowed to watch it, she can feel left out,” Arnall says.
Arnall’s tips for parents:
• Defuse the peer pressure by building close connections with your child and making sure she’s involved in plenty of family activities.
• Be aware. “It’s important to watch the shows or see the games your kids are interested in,” says Arnall.
• Decide on age-appropriate rules and be clear about what’s non-negotiable. Maybe it’s “no pierced ears until you’re 12.” But there may be other rules where you can show some flexibility.
• Talk to the parents of your child’s friends and see if you can agree on certain rules. “My son wanted to see a movie that I had concerns about,” says Arnall. “I talked to his friend’s mother and we agreed that it wasn’t appropriate. The fact that we were both saying no made it much easier.”
Arnall adds that this situation can be tougher if your six-year-old has older siblings. “They are just exposed to so much more. But kids can accept that there are privileges — and responsibilities — that come with age.”
It’s important to meet your child’s little-kid needs as well. Despite that cool attitude, kids can still have emotional meltdowns, and times when they are giggly and silly. And they need Mom and Dad’s special brand of hugs and kisses when it’s been a tough day.
As Gould says: “I find Ronny can play with his friends for hours, but at the end of the day, he really wants to cuddle in bed. I feel like it’s great for us to have snuggle time and reconnect after he’s been going out independently all day.”