Is 10 the new teen?
MK: Absolutely. Our children are now older, younger. So those issues that we were confronting with our 13 year old only a couple of years ago, are now relevant to our 10 year old’s. That’s so hard on parents - but it’s also really hard on 10 year old’s!
What are some of the factors that have led to this?
The main issue is the content they are accessing on social media. They now see and hear things that we never did at that age, and that their big sisters didn’t a few years ago. And what’s scary here is they don’t always understand what they are seeing and hearing. They don’t know how to deal with it. And this is everything from how they should look to what their role should be on issues like Black Lives Matter. What makes this difficult for both parents and daughters, they don’t always come to us with it, either.
Another factor is peer group pressure. That determination to fit in, to have a ‘group’, to have a best friend is all encompassing and that is making girls act older than they are ready to. We see it in the fashion they want, the language they use, how they treat their siblings etc.
And one other factor I’d mention - although there are so many - is that this is also the time when our daughters might take a step back to us, to be a bit more independent. That means they are no longer confiding in us, often, the way they used to. They are seeking the views of their friends, and other. The challenge for us, as parents, is to allow more independence, but ensure they know we are there to listen, in a non-judgemental way.
Do you have an example of something in popular culture that is having a big impact on young girls and how they are maturing faster?
YES! So many things - but let me just mention appearance. Girls are looking at feeds on Insta or Youtube and thinking that is how they should look. They don’t see that photos have been doctored or photoshopped, and they want that perfect life. I found it so sad that so many girls thought they were too fat or too tall or had a nose that was out of shape or wobbly knees. One school counsellor said it was particularly sad because girls want to change those things they can’t. One big eye-opener to me is that being tall is now like being overweight. Girls blame their height on their inability to find friends, even. I have advice in the book on how to handle this - but we need our girls to believe they are enough as they are. And to critically look at those social media feeds and ask ‘is that real?’
How will this book help parents navigate these early teen years?
follows the advice of 500 10-year-old girls, 1600 mums, draws on the experience of 400 dads and 100 year 5 teachers. I then use the issues raised there to talk to school principals and school counsellors, teen psychologists and others to navigate how best to deal with it. Friendship is a HUGE issue. So is self-esteem and confidence. Anxiety is ruining days for many of our 10-year-olds. I look at a series of issues - raised by the girls - and then search for how best parents can deal with that.
I think it also raises, for public debate, some issues that surprised me. Here’s two: firstly, puberty is believed to start at the age of six or seven. While we don’t see menstruation until much later, those ‘under-the-bonnet’ changes can dictate how a girl copes in her teenage years. I speak to the researchers here and it is fascinating. The second surprise, and this saddened me, is the number of 10 year old’s who decide then that they are not ‘maths or science’ girls, or they give up netball because they’re not making the top team. Expert advice is that the brain is at such a stage of development at 10, that girls can’t possibly know what they are good at or not - but they are determining their trajectory then. We need to talk to them about that.
You have two teen girls; how much of this book came from learning by experiencing?
It would be a lovely narrative to say it did, but it didn’t really. Mine are now 16 and 17, and the world of a 10-year-old girl has changed immeasurably since then. The impetus for Ten-Ager
was the number of parents - and mothers mainly - who had read my book Being 14
and contacted me to ask could the issues their daughter was confronting be starting earlier. They were noticing attitude at 10 - from stepping away from their Dad to slamming their door etc. So I decided to look at that, and see whether adolescence was starting earlier. And I have no doubt - and experts say it to me in the book - 10 is the new teenager.
Ten-Ager by Madonna King is available in store and online now.