Is your kid in control of their body?

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Tween Parents discuss teaching kids that they are in control of their body
One Tween Parents asks:

“Interesting story of how to help teach kids that they control their body….

Willow, 12, cut off all her hair and her mom, Jada Pinkett Smith had this to say (via a FaceBook post)….
‘This subject is old but I have never answered it in its entirety. And even with this post it will remain incomplete. The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self-determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.’

More here:
http://www.thefrisky.com/2012-11-26/jada-pinkett-smith-defends-daughter-willows-right-to-do-her-hair-however-shed-like/
Also her dad had something to say as well:
http://www.thefrisky.com/2012-05-25/why-will-and-jada-pinkett-smith-let-daughter-willow-cut-her-hair/
My youngest, 8, wanted me to cut her gorgeous blonde hair above her shoulders and I really didn't want it that short-- I did (somewhat begrudgingly) and in the end it has been a good lesson for ME to remember it's HER body.
THOUGHTS?”

Responses:

“I love everything about this story and as the parent of a boy who - at one of his first haircuts - specifically asked the barber to go shorter -- which was then followed by the barber looking at me and checking in on my consent - and I said - it's his hair.... I agree wholeheartedly. Now at 11,he can't wait to get his hair cut - when he starts seeing curls - which, of course, breaks my heart a little every time - who doesn't love a little boy with curls?”
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“My assertive almost 3 yr old has beautiful long curly hair which she does not like to have brushed. Every morning I'm pleading, negotiating and most days her hair is a mess. Finally I threatened to CUT her hair very short (a threat I endured as a child) to which she immediately replied. YES! Cut!
I was stunned. And realized it was I who had a hair issue. So we are going for a very short cut so she does not have to deal with too much fussing over her hair. And i admit still it hurts me just a little.”
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“I think the deeper issue here is are children mature enough to always know/understand what is best for them. I mean sure you want to honor their "body spirit", but where is the line drawn? I have raised four girls and I remember when my eldest came to me and asked if she could have a tattoo. She was about 13 years old. I said no and I told her that until she was 18, she had to consult with me regarding all issues that would leave permanent marks on any part of her body. By the time she was 17, she had already changed her mind about the tattoo idea and was grateful I hadn't let her do it. Sooo, I would say that I don't believe children should have full control over their bodies, but some things are negotiable - like hair.”

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I very much agree. There is also an even deeper issue: this discussion seems to me to conflate the question of feminine empowerment with the question of parental control. The two issues are often intertwined, but they needn't be. If a girl is raised in a non-feminist or even anti-feminist environment, if her parents' mores reflect that-- and worse, if they are overly repressive in general (granting that what constitutes "overly repressive" is so contingent as to sap the term of much of its meaning), then such a girl will tend to have a poor sense of her own empowerment and the question of hairwill become fraught accordingly.

But I don't think the real issue is control: I agree with [the previous post] that control per se is not bad. The issue is feminism. If one raises a child with the ethic that the sexes are completely equal, that women and men are equal partners with equal rights and responsibilities, and exemplifies that ethic, then permitting or not permitting a particular hair style ceases to have feminist ramifications. If I had a 12 year-old daughter I might or might not let her shave her head, but if I decided it would have a sufficiently adverse impact I would have no qualms about forbidding it, and I use that term deliberately and with no qualms.

Now just to make things interesting: what if I had 12 year-old fraternal twins, one boy and one girl? It might seem to me that a boy with a shaved head might seem a bit offbeat, but a girl with a shaved head might seem outlandish. Totally separate from questions of parental control or feminism, just a matter of fashion. Had I agreed to allow my son to shave his head, I might be more tempted to permit my daughter to do what I permitted my son, but I would still quite possibly forbid it. I would in that case make my daughter understand that while the sexes are absolutely equal, fashion mores are not, and just as I would not allow a non-transgendered son to wear a skirt (and would be very concerned if such a boy wanted to), I would have more qualms about a girl shaving her head than I might have for a boy. Just a recognition that ethical and social considerations are not always congruent.”

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“My 11 yo daughter's hair is a Big Topic. Although a short cut would suit her hair/face "better", she wants long hair, "like her friends". I'm fine with that. The problem is that she resists combing her hair and getting regular haircuts. My ex-husband doesn't "see" a problem with lack of combing or haircuts, either. After she has spent time in his home, she arrives at mine with a tangle the size of a robust guinea pig. It falls to me to schedule a haircut, buy special detanglers/conditioners/combs and engage the hair stylist in a conversation about "best practices" for my daughter's curly hair. She then returns to her Dad's where the conditioner rolls under her bed, never to be seen again! Aagh, any advice is appreciated. I've reacted calmly, in my daughter's presence, but can feel the frustration around this issue growing.”

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“my advice - stop. it may be hard to look at the rats nest atop her head but it's her rats nest and she will learn the consequences.”

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“It seems to me that there are pros and cons to letting daughters change their hair (and yes, I do think parents get to "let" them do it, or not). But it concerns me that these decisions are being conflated with control over one's body. So is the implication that if parents don't permit daughters to change their hair, that it's a slippery slope to these girls ceding control of their bodies to others? That's just lame!”

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“This is definitely a much more complex issue than just whether or not we want to let our daughters shave, dye or cut their hair. I personally disagree with the original argument made by the actress. Children go through developmental stages during which we allow them increasing levels of autonomy toward complete independence. We must use our judgment at all times to determine the amount of autonomy that is appropriate at each stage.

At childhood, It is not a matter of abdicating control of one's body to a parent. The human infant has no control. That is the basis of the parent/child relationship. We as parents have that initial control and are given the unique task of gradually teaching the child self-control and decision making. I see it as a privilege and a sacred trust and a huge responsibility. I believe it is irresponsible to let her make decisions she is not yet developmentally ready, or has not acquired the necessary experience and information, to make. In large part this is a safety issue. On the other hand, it is also our responsibility to prepare them gradually for eventual full independence, and part of that is teaching her that as an adult, responsibility and control of her body shifts fully onto her.”

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“I think it's important that the context of Jada P-S's words be remembered. As a Black parent of a Black daughter, she has received a TREMENDOUS amount of negative feedback & judgment for allowing her daughter to express herself through hair choices. She was responding through that cultural lens so trying to transfer it to other people's experience may or may not be valid or meaningful.

What is important is that Jada took a stand against cultural norms that DO dictate controlling children & most especially girls' bodies (generally speaking of course). I was really happy about her statement and her support of her daughter in the face of criticism from many and it has opened the door to a conversation within the black community that is sorely needed.” ---

“I agree about being aware of the cultural lens that the article is written with. My issues with hair as a white woman are not the same as Ms Pinkett-Smith's are. That said, the issue around hair cuts and my girls has always been a no-brainer for me.

When my 14 yr old was little and disliked having her thick, beautiful, curly auburn hair brushed, I always told her she had a choice, put up with brushing the tangles or get it cut. I was devastated the day she walked into the children's hair salon, announcing very strongly, I want my hair cut NOW! at the age of four. But I also had given her the choice, and let her follow through on it. When she was in second grade and wanted to have a pixie cut, I didn't argue. And it looked really, really cute on her. She had many lessons that year about hair and society views. I think the biggest lesson was when she was dressed up as the frilliest fairy you can imagine, with wings, and glitter and a wand and very short hair for Halloween, and a little boy walked past and yelled out "oh mommy, look at that boy dressed as a fairy!!"

We talk a lot about ownership of bodies, and cosmetic changes. When classmates of hers left school at lunch time in 7th grade and got their belly buttons pierced without parental permission, she came and told me about it right away (didn't tell me which classmates, just about the incident), I let her know that if she wanted to pierce anything, she needed to let me take her, and we would go to a piercer that I trusted. We soon after went to a piercing salon for her ears, she has a lot of issues with her pierced ears getting infected, the woman who pierced her ears had many holes herself, and the two of them talked about proper care. I feel that by having the constant dialogue with my daughter around her body and choices she makes with it, are leading her to both know that she can talk to me about it and to just be more aware of the decisions she makes.

With my younger daughter, we go through the same argument many mornings, I tell her she can decide when to get her hair cut, if she doesn't like it being brushed, and she will yell and scream when I brush her hair (as I tell her she is allowed to do), but she absolutely refuses to get her hair cut. Both my 14 year old and my 5 yr old have semi-permanent pink dye in their hair right now, although it shows in the 5 year old's hair much clearer as she has blonde hair.

We have spoken about tattoos, I had one before they became trendy, but just in time be interviewed for a Canadian newspaper about why young professional type people were starting to get tattoos. My husband hates tattoos, and thinks it is silly to get them. I was told that in Buddhist traditions, it is believed that whatever is tattooed on your body is tattooed on your soul, so that it lasts not just for this lifetime but for all lifetimes to follow. I tell my children that if they want a tattoo they need to think very carefully about what they want, and not make rash decision. My daughter knows that one sign of an abusive relationship can be having a man's name tattooed on your body because he wants to show ownership of you. I am open to talking about it with them, I don't tell them not to even think about it until they are 18, as I feel that they will think about it before then, and I would prefer to be in on the discussion.

My 11 year old son flippantly asked me a couple of weeks ago if he could get a tattoo. I didn't miss a beat in saying yes to him. It stopped him in his tracks right away because he was sure I would have said no. I talked to him about everything I mentioned above and told him I would have to approve of anything he chose. I also told him I really thought he should be older when he made a decision like that. He asked how old I was when I got my tattoo (26 yr old). I am banking on a bit of reverse psychology working on them. It they feel that they won't be pushing the limits by going out and getting a tattoo, hopefully they won't do it until they are really old enough! He has not mentioned tattoos since. (He also really, really dislikes needles, so I figured I would be pretty safe in him not taking it further at this point!)

And on another note, my 14 year old just took a 4 week self-defense course in the city that was really amazing. They had a "graduation ceremony" where friends and family are invited to come and watch a demonstration. I watched my daughter take down a large man who in the scenario they played had been stalking her for a week and blocked her path in a dark street. Talk about being able to control her body! In the course they cover all types of scenarios ranging from strangers to date rape. They do also provide classes for younger ages, I believe they start with six year olds. Making it age appropriate.

I grew up in a home watching my mother being beaten by my father. I was not given any control over my own body or any lessons in how to speak up for myself. I am really big on picking my battles with those in my life, my children especially and I feel very strongly that all people should have as much control as is safely possible. If my teens/tweens want to shave their heads, I will tell them to wear a hat when it is cold out.”

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“I grew up in a similar type home environment and can relate. I like that you are consciously and carefully teaching your kids about the control and safety of their bodies through education and discussion of consequences. We all control our children's bodies to some extent for safety reasons. For instance, I would not allow my children to wander around Prospect Park alone at 2 am or ingest a substance that is toxic or dangerous. That is a form of control.

Regarding the ongoing hair discussion, I am Puerto Rican and have raised four girls with all types of hair from straight to frizzy/curly, so I understand [previous posters]'s point as well. Popular society and media have always idealized the straight long flowing hair of white women and that has caused much pain to women of other ethnicities, and hair types. For this reason, I have always let my girls do whatever they want with their hair. Allowing them that freedom is a controlled and measured way toward allowing them eventual full independence over every aspect of their lives as women, but also as women of color.

However, these are two totally different conversations. When I first read Jada's comments I was not thinking about it from the perspective of cultural experience, I was looking at it from a feminist perspective - and control over the female body. I can now see that this is a much more complex and multi-dimensional discussion.”

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“Another layer of context that I think has been missing from this conversation--or at least makes the Pinkett-Smiths' situation different from most of ours--is that Willow has lived her entire life in the spotlight, particularly the past few years since she became a star in her own right. When our kids decide they want to do something like shave their heads, they're setting themselves up to be judged by their classmates, friends, teachers, coaches, relatives, etc., but when Willow Smith does it, she (and her parents) becomes fair game for the opinions of the entire world (or at least anyone who's interested in celebrities).

I didn't know Willow had shaved her head until this discussion, but one of the reasons I love that she did it (although I think she looked more attractive before) is that her big break-out song was all about her hair. The song was a big hit with kids, but it was mocked quite a bit by critics and other pop culture opinionators. I can imagine that suddenly this 10 or 11 year old girl felt totally defined by this song about shaking her hair back and forth…so she decided to chop it off. How cool is that? At the risk of disappointing some fans and opening herself up to more criticism, she's making a statement that she's about more than just her hair, or that one song, etc.

While I don't know them personally, Will Smith & Jada Pinkett-Smith have always struck me as dedicated parents who understood the responsibilities of their position as celebrities with kids in the limelight. During my decade at Nickelodeon I worked several Kids' Choice Awards, which the family always attended. Will Smith in particular was (and maybe still is) a big advocate for kids in general and took his status as a role model seriously. I love that they're publicly supportive of their daughter about such an unconventional style choice--one that some could argue could hurt her career. Imagine how the moms on Toddlers & Tiaras would react to their daughters making the same choice in a few years.”

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“To me hair and clothes are soooo superficial I just don't see that parents should not let there kids do things (on the other hand tattoos and possibly piercings, (maybe because piercings are not that permanent I will come to that bridge when comes) are different). I got to say in my HS days I was friends with an arty crowd. My girlfriend with the shaved head wore crazy clothes that she would buy in thrift stores, totally mismatched kind of stuff. She bleached her hair white and short at one point, shaved it, a few things. I spiked and dyed my hair pink and dressed really colorful, kind of like a Cindy Lauper, a guy friend of ours through out all of HS dyed his hair bright red. I think adolescence is the time to do this stuff, experiment, see how it affects you as a person, how you are scene towards others. I think it is extremely important because that is the time to figure that out before adulthood.

I also had a massive style particularly in elementary school, I dressed like a massive hippie and wore Beatles shirts and wide bell bottom pants and jean jackets and was a tom boy and at this time all the kids were not dressing like that at all. I was made fun of for my clothes yet I thought they all were wearing extremely boring clothes that were like nothing and just were following the herd, not only in the clothes they were, but the music they all liked, which was another thing they made fun of me for, the music I liked.

I am also adamantly against school uniforms for daily classes. Just don't like the idea no matter how one tries to justify it. No matter how good a school is, the fact that they wear uniforms daily is a big negative in my eyes.

Anyway by the time we were in college (and the ones who didn't go to college), almost all of us changed to completely normal by our own choices. It is funny, but many of us took say a bit of how we were in HS and worked it in to our wardrobe. For instance I like kind of cool cat glasses. My friend who shaved her head, we are still friends now and she dresses awesome, she still shops at thrifts stores for her clothes but she picks very cool layered sophisticated kind of stuff with great colors and patterns. Her hair is long a natural to this day and she uses henna to make it red, but that is about it. So really our adolescence was an important time to do this stuff. How I look at it? in college, most of us got really serious about what we were doing and it wasn't as important to test ourselves and others about how we looked, and the ones that didn't go to college, same thing, they went to work and that was their most important consideration. We all kept a small part of our uniqueness in fashion but very tamed down.

When I say superficial, I know clothes and hair can mean a lot, but I just mean, so easily changed, so not permanent.”

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“When my daughter was 13, she wanted to dye her hair a bright red, a color not seen in nature. I told her she could do it if she paid for it herself (she was already babysitting and had gift money set aside) and if she realized that it might attract attention. Would she mind if people stared at her on the subway? What if it caused damage to her hair and she had to cut it very short?

When I was confident that she was willing to live with the consequences, I let her do it. Hair is just hair, you cut it off and it grows back. I grew up in the 60s, when kids got thrown out of their homes because they didn't want to cut their hair. Not for me!

Now, tattoos are a different story because they are permanent.”

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“I would let kid do anything with their hair, to me that is the time to experiment, I may give my opinion, but if they want to do something crazy, of all times, think adolescence is the time. I did some crazy stuff with my hair in high school, spiked it, died it pink,etc. My mom didn't care, she thought it was cute. My Dad didn't like it, he would say I looked like a clown. I have a nine year old son and compared to me when i was9 or most girls, I feel like he could care less about what he wears, I kind of get jealous hearing about daughters who care and also seeing them in school when I drop off my son, wearing clothes I can tell they chose. The only thing my son cares about is letting his hair grow long, which it is. I can't believe anyone would care about the actress daughter cutting her hair short and dying it. I think it is a bit annoying when I see babies and small toddlers with over "cool" hairstyles, mohawks and stuff just because it is all the parents and not the kids choice, but hey parents can have fun too playing dress up with their kids before the kids actually care.”