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Ask Rosalind 2008

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October 2008 Q. I heard my 15-year-old daughter calling her friend a bitch. She says she's just kidding. Is this a new thing for girls?

A. The reason teens believe words like "bitch" don't mean anything is because kids hear them so often they seem normal. But just because something's common doesn't make it right. So I'd say to your daughter, "I get that you think I'm overreacting, but there's something you need to know. Historically, that word is used to silence a woman who is perceived to be too adamant about her opinions and rights. I doubt that you believe women should be shut down for demanding respect. Now that you know, I'm asking you to be a strong woman by taking responsibility for the words you say. That is what powerful women of character do."

Q. My 9-year-old suddenly has very dark hair on her legs. Other girls have noticed, and she wants to shave. I think she's too young, but I don't want her to be teased either. What should we do?

A. This is a classic rite of passage for both of you. And I know it's tempting to say, "No way! Talk to me when you're 14!" But there are two things to keep in mind. One, most girls your daughter's age have absorbed cultural messages that tell them there are things "wrong" with their body that require fixing. Two, kids need all the help they can get navigating peer pressure. So explain to your daughter what's happening with her body because she's probably worried she's the only one going through it. Then discuss the pros and cons of shaving. Pro: She doesn't get teased. Con: She changes herself to please others. Your job is to help her realize when these decisions come at the price of her personal authenticity. If after all that, she still wants to, I'd compromise by letting her bleach her hair, and at 12 I'd let her shave. In the meantime, keep using body image issues like this one to teach her about making thoughtful choices.

Q. I hate group projects! My fifth-grader was assigned one but says the other two boys fool around during class and aren't doing their share. How can we handle this?

A. This is a great opportunity to teach a social competence lesson -- which your son will probably hate. If you're convinced the other two kids really aren't doing their part, then you need to help him prepare how and when he articulates the lay of the land (as my mom always said). These are his options: He can say nothing, do all the work, and let them get the grade he alone deserves. This will inevitably leave him resentful toward them and irritated at himself. Or, he can confront the slackers about what he doesn't like and what he wants to change, while there's still time for them to redeem themselves. If things don't improve, then he can go to the teacher and explain what's going on. Just make sure he doesn't wait until the project is over because the teacher can't do much after the fact.

Rosalind Recommends

I love Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope, by Olivia Gardner, and Emily and Sarah Buder (Harper Paperbacks). In 2007, teen sisters Emily and Sarah learned how Olivia had been mistreated at school, and they started a letter writing campaign to raise her spirits. The heartfelt messages from victims, bystanders, and ex-bullies make it clear that kids who are bullied aren't to blame, and that with the support of others, they can overcome the experience.

Originally published in the October 17, 2008, issue of Family Circle magazine.

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