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Babysitters and Much Older Siblings As Role Models?

Dear Your Teen:

I have a second grade daughter who is my oldest child. She was playing with a friend and the friend suggested that they play “Prom”. My daughter told me the game because she felt uncomfortable. First they had to find sparkly underwear and a fancy dress. Then they went to a party after the prom where they had to play “drunk.” What should I do here? Do I talk to the other mom?

Answer:

It sounds like this was an eye-opening experience for both you and your daughter! As far as the other girl’s mom, it would be great if you have the opportunity to speak with her about this, she would probably like to know. Let her know what your daughter related to you without telling her what to do. The less judgmental you sound, the better she may be able to hear you! And hopefully your call will lead to a conversation with her older child (or her 7-year-old daughter’s babysitter). These teenagers may not have considered the messages they are sending to younger kids. Most elementary schoolers idolize older kids and teens—this gives a unique opportunity for teenagers to “use their powers for good!”

Talking to your kids about siblings and negative role models

Reminding our teens that they are role models can empower and inform decision-making. Even if they don’t always use excellent judgment, knowing that a young, impressionable person is watching them can act as an extra speed bump. Older kids don’t want to be a negative role model. The older sibling may even take ownership of a poor decision, in an effort to protect the younger sibling from a similar mistake. For you Mom, here are some ideas for how to handle this experience with your second grade daughter.

Thank her for sharing this story with you

As kids move through the elementary years towards middle and high school, they decide more and more what to tell their parents and what to keep to themselves. Make sure she knows that you appreciate the openness of your relationship.

Validate her feelings

Repeat back to her the words she used to describe her emotions. “I hear that this made you uncomfortable, and that makes sense to me.”

Ask about her actions.

Ask her what she did in the moment, if she wishes she’d handled it differently, or what she might do the next time a friend suggests a game that she doesn’t like.

Ask about her knowledge

Had she heard of “prom” before, and what does it mean to her? What does she think the rules of her friend’s game might mean?

Decide on your own “take home message”

  • What would you like your daughter to take away from this experience?
  • Maybe you want her to learn that she may feel pressure to behave according to other people’s “rules” (whether in a game or at a dance) but she should question these rules.
  • Perhaps you just want her to know that you are always a safe person to talk to when she’s uncomfortable.

Boil it down

Try to crystallize this message into one sentence that you can repeat a few different times.

Find teachable moments

Once you’ve decided what you’d like her to learn, mention it every once in a while over the next few weeks or months. Try not to preach, just drop this into conversation where it seems like it will fit. Repetition is a learning tool. I say—repetition is a learning tool.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa

Deborah Gilboa, M.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. G”), is a family physician and author of Get the Behavior Your Want  . . . Without Being the Parent You Hate. Follow her on Twitter @AskDocG or learn more at AskDoctorG.com.