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I'm in the Mood for Love
Are You Ready?
Earth's the right place for love;
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
Does your daughter seem boy crazy to you? Do you catch yourself thinking: Whatever happened to my little girl, my carefree, innocent eleven-year-old (or twelve-year-old, or thirteen-year-old)?
Overnight, your little girl has transformed. Yesterday's imp whiled away hours grooming her collection of Barbie dolls or rearranging her soccer patches. Her life was simple. Suddenly, she is complicated. She stares into the mirror or avoids her reflection altogether. Or she pouts seductively with lips so glossy their sheen is blinding. Her taste in clothing has changed. She picks out tighter tops and low-slung blue jeans. Maybe she catwalks across her bedroom dressed like Barbie--with big hair and a tiny outfit. Didn't you just see that same look in her Teen People magazine? Did her inspiration come from those girls on The O.C.?
When her girlfriends arrive, it's as if a Barbie convention convenes. Giggles harmonize with a chorus of cell phones. From her bedroom you catch waves of smells, strawberries and mangoes and perfumes that promise girls they can smell just like J-Lo or Britney or Beyonce. You overhear "He's so hot!" as if all these girls have taken elocution lessons from Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie. Is this the end of innocence?
You hear other mothers worrying about their daughters, too. There are those who think their girls care too much about getting noticed by the hotties of middle school. But not all mothers are trying to rein in little-girls-gone-wild. Others fret because their little girls aren't changing. Some are being left behind by a best friend who got her period and lusty hormones. These moms whisper about tweenage blues and read articles about adolescent depression more carefully.
The one sentiment that all of the parents seem to share is trepidation. They view puberty as an oncoming hurricane that inevitably will thrust many girls into emotional turbulence and romantic tornadoes. I'm in the mood for love may be the sound track for ten- to fifteen-year-old girls, but parents are not ready to face that music. Ready or not here it comes.
One cannot blame parents for worrying about whether their daughter seems obsessed with boys or too distressed with the search for romance. Parents are surrounded with boy-crazy warnings. Society and the media play and replay timeless headlines about kids growing up too fast and girls who are out of control and too much into sex. Adolescent love stories published for adult consumption often feature tragic themes, like young lovers who make suicide pacts or a school sniper who goes on a rampage because his heart has been stomped on. Experts offer little in the way of positive information. Every report either warns about the comeback of AIDS or how abstinence from intercourse foments oral sex and anal sex. Memoirs that become bestsellers always seem to retell a former adolescent's story of being promiscuous, smashed, or drugged.
Timeless Teenagers in Love
Suspend your anxiety for a moment. Think back to when you hovered around puberty. Chances are you can retrieve bittersweet sensations with a very mixed heart. Wasn't it a time when you spent most of your daydreams planning and imagining what would, what could happen if he knew how you really felt? Back then anything seemed possible, any happy ending between you and a certain boy was just around the corner. Can you remember how it felt to be naïve and hopeful? Wishing and hoping, and thinking and praying--can you recall the anticipation of romance that directly or indirectly affected everything?
Sweet, yes, but dark memories will come through, too. Who didn't feel lonely and confused much of the time? The face of teen angst had your name attached to it. And even if you had lots of girlfriends and kept busy with activities and schoolwork, what you probably recall as most poignant always revolved around matters of the heart, the sad, and the wistful.
A girl's tween years are tinged by the pursuit of true love. The sweetness and the earnestness of a young girl's quest is a timeless and universal story. The search for true love and the purity of early romantic feelings have spawned so many songs, plays, books, and movies because of their universality. A young girl--the one you once were, the one your daughter is becoming--still recognizes herself in Juliet's longing soliloquy on the balcony.
Can you see the face of your first crush? How old were you? If your experience reflects the majority, you were ten, probably an insecure, knobby-kneed fifth-grader, lusting after the cutest boy in her class. Think of the Peanuts cartoon heroine Lucy drooling over Schroeder as he plays his piano. One mother remembers:
His name was Toby. I couldn't stop thinking about him. He had blond hair and the most enormous blue eyes. He didn't know I existed, but that didn't stop me from mooning over him. I stared at him in math class, and spent every waking hour scheming to bump into him accidentally. At the end of the school year at a field day, he gave me a shotgun shell he found on the ball field. I brought it home, polished it, and put it in my keepsake box. Recently, cleaning out a closet, I ran across that box and the shell. Talk about perfect timing! My eleven-year-old is obsessed with a boy in her class. I was obsessed about her obsession! I forgot what that felt like until I discovered that forgotten token of love.
According to University of Michigan's Martha McClintock, professor and chair of the committee on biopsychology, men and women (whether they are heterosexual or homosexual) remember their first love at age ten with the most clarity. Professor McClintock believes that brains imprint those early encounters and make them forever accessible and memorable due to the timing of development along with the power of its hormones. So those longings in middle school remain eternally sharp compared to earlier crushes from sandbox days or later infatuations that are apt to be fuzzy.
As you watch your daughter sucked into the magnetic field of boys and romance, let your own vivid memories wash over you. Recapturing your youth and discovering empathy can make you a more sensitive parent. (You'll see more about how to use memory lane for your daughter's benefit in chapter 3.)
As Time Goes By
That desire to find love, to fall in love, and to be loved in return remains the same from generation to generation. What has changed is the landscape of young love and the current circumstances that young girls encounter.
At thirteen you may have been swooning in your living room over droopy-eyed Ricky Nelson from the TV show Ozzie and Harriet. Or you may have had your ear close to the stereo speakers letting John Lennon's raspy vocals make your loins twist and shout. Or perhaps you longed to jump into the TV so you could be closer to the Partridges (namely Keith) or a Brady Bunch hunk. Compared to those points of reference, it's scary to see your thirteen-year-old watching reruns of Ozzy Osbourne and his clan. TV land and reality TV and movies like Thirteen have characters juggling love in tandem with self-mutilation, steroid use, and casual sex without parental supervision anywhere.
You may encounter too many permissive and clueless parents who allow their provocatively clad fashionistas to plot unsupervised rendezvous. Situations arise that your experience has not equipped you to handle confidently. Take this mother's quandary for example: "My daughter's been invited to a coed sleepover birthday party. I don't approve, but apparently I am a minority. The hosting mother says 'don't worry' because the boys and girls will have separate sleeping bags. I ask myself: Have these parents lost their minds? Their kid just turned thirteen!"
As we march into the twenty-first century, what's normal social behavior for a tweenager and what's not? Parents alarmed by the sexually charged culture in which we live have lost sight of absolute rules and answers. Many work themselves up into a fever pitch over a child's first kiss or even the thought of a one-on-one encounter. One mom from Washington, DC, says, "The idea of my fourteen-year-old daughter having a first date turned me upside down. It terrified me. I felt out of control. I called the boy's mother and father. I could hear the mother thinking: 'This woman's insane!' I sounded freaked out, even to myself."
Even though the culture is different, edgier and coarser, and even though you and your daughters have different experiences, you need to focus on the fact that you have a great deal in common. You both want her to blossom into a warm, loving young woman fully capable of a satisfying romantic life. You both want her to become independent and yet remain safe along the way. You both want her to find true love. These goals are shared by moms who wish their daughters would rein in boy-crazy behavior, as well as those parents who pray that their daughters will get a party invitation one of these days.
The Gift of Romantic Intelligence
We aim to show you how to put your little girl's romantic behavior into the proper context. Out there in the world, it seems all everyone talks about is s-e-x. But there are many other ancillary conversations and accompanying issues that merit your time and attention. As you see us explore various aspects of the social tweenage landscape, you will be better able to help your children cope and enjoy. Your girl's romantic adventures and misadventures, as well as the longings that don't materialize, provide you both with a wealth of opportunities. Your child's "social wish list" is the canvas upon which you can--together--weave insights and restraints. Her wistful, wonderful, heartbreaking, and heavenly experiences provide you with a fertile plain upon which to imprint your values, not a futile wasteland of teenage debauchery and doom.
To be sure, girls are vulnerable to poor choices, Casanovas and creeps, unrequited love, intrigues and betrayals, and bashed reputations. As Molly Ringwald's father says in Sixteen Candles, "That's why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they'd call them something else."
Your daughter needs you to guide her through. Where do you start? How do you begin? Embrace an open-minded, balanced, yet watchful attitude toward your daughter's actions and reactions. Throughout the pages that come, we will guide you in creating a pattern of talking and listening that allows you to deliver what we call "romantic intelligence."
In a nutshell, cultivating romantic intelligence in your daughter is the message and the gift within the pages of this book. What do we mean exactly by romantic intelligence? Let's back up for a minute. Have your heard of the phrase "emotional intelligence"? It is a term that has been widely promoted. Emotional intelligence means being able to recognize feelings in oneself and in others and to manage those emotions. Once children learn to identify anger, acknowledge confusion, or admit sadness, to name a few examples, they can react logically. Children with high emotional intelligence thrive.
Our concept of romantic intelligence takes a child one step further, to a place where emotions intersect with romantic attraction and actions. Romantic intelligence entails gaining insights, developing skills, seeing options, and heeding warning signs. Such knowledge will help young adolescent girls understand their feelings and desires in the arena of love. As you counsel and cultivate this romantic intelligence, your rapport becomes a process that will hardwire your child for the better. It is romantic equipment that will ensure she moves away from self-defeating romances and toward healthy relationships.
As you journey along with your child, spurred on by the information we present here, you will learn a romantic vocabulary and teach it to your daughter so she can identify her feelings and learn (and hopefully adopt) your values. In that way she creates her own ethics and standards of behavior. She will become fluent, able to express her longings and satisfaction, and cope with her losses and heartbreaks. You will be advised how to negotiate hands-on supervising and boundary setting, as well as hands-off restraint and when it's appropriate. When you know how to talk to your child, when she is alone, she will be more inclined to mull over what transpired. In private, she will weigh your words and make her own personal decisions about love and sex. You can't make those decisions for her.
With you as a confidante, she will learn to unravel some of the confusions that trip up tweenagers, and she will figure out how better to survive the loneliness, the lulls, the disappointments that scar every hopeful romantic in the game of love. And her odds for having some fun and finding true love will be enhanced.
In the chapters that follow--on the stages of love, the influence of Hollywood images, mean girls, dating, sex, and more--you will encounter a variety of issues and strategies, all of which are designed to become talking points. With your help, your daughter will have the equipment to make better decisions and bounce back from the decisions that went wrong. The intense feelings of adolescence won't be as overwhelming or as isolating for her. Nor will they be an endless source of contention between the two of you or within your family. Her crushes, jealousies, mistakes, and insecurities will become fathomable, no longer mysterious or beyond the reach of her understanding.
No one can abracadabra away teenage angst or loneliness. Nor can anyone magically program sound romantic judgment and sexual restraint. However, a parent can be instrumental. Your ears, your eyes, your shoulder, and your love are the keys. The romantic intelligence that you engender is priceless. Both you and your daughter can survive the boy-crazy times, the crushes and being crushed. The years of infatuation, melodramas, anticipation, and popularity plot lines are intense, yes, but they are intensely important, fascinating, and within your understanding. She's not out of control. Now, neither are you.
Oops You Did It Again:
Ten Mistakes Parents Make
Surely you agree that your daughter's world is a far cry from the social scene that you knew. You need an upgrade. In order to get you started on the road to retooling your parenting skills, here is a list. By reading what others have done wrong, you can profit from their mistakes. Whether these are all new or all too familiar, don't worry. If you want to know more, rest assured. All of these talking points will be more thoroughly explored in the pages to come.
1. Pooh-poohing intense romantic feelings. "You're too young to feel like that!" exclaims a parent whose ten-year-old confesses she feels like dying because a boy (the one she has a crush on) refused to sit next to her on the school bus.
Puppy love is as real to young adolescents as it is silly to adults. A fifth-grader, lovesick over the class heartthrob without a chance of his returning the sentiment, or a seventh-grader devastated after a two-week tryst, appears to be acting prematurely. Despite your opinion that a sixth-grader is too young to experience valid romantic sensations (a perfectly reasonable opinion we might add), many young adolescents think love makes their roller-coaster world go round.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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