Dear Dr. Meg,
Please help! I have an eleven-year-old daughter, who is the middle child of three girls. Recently, she has had odd requests. It started with these gages that kids are wearing today. I immediately said no, explaining that they would damage her ears permanently, then it went to wanting to cut her hair off, like Miley Cyrus. I was okay with that – kind of – but figured that it was the lesser of two evils.
Several days later she said that she wanted to tell me something, but decided against it. Fast forward to last night, I received a phone call from my ex-wife, explaining to me that my daughter wanted to tell me that she wanted to become a boy! I’m certain it stems from all this Bruce Jenner media and attention.
I am lost as to how to handle this. Please advise me on how to proceed with this. We have set up for a counselor, but I’m afraid this will work against us if not handled delicately.
Not Bruce Jenner’s Dad
Take a deep breath. Your daughter, like many prepubertal eleven-year-old girls, is terribly uncomfortable with her body. Look at the body language of 11-12 year old girls everywhere. They slump, hide their stomachs or refuse to make eye contact. Every part of them shouts, “I hate the way I look!” Even girls with healthy self-esteem go through this. The problem for your daughter is that she is living at a time when simple solutions are slapped on complex issues. In other words, if girls feels insecure, depressed, badly about her body and has the inkling to be male, the solution is simple- become a boy. But this isn’t your daughter’s problem.
Your daughter is a middle child and feels invisible (most middle children do). More significantly, she is hurting from your divorce. These two things alone will cause her to be vulnerable to feelings of low self worth, loneliness, and depression.
I know that this is tough to hear, but if you want to know how to really help your daughter, you need to know what’s going on in her mind and heart. Her issues are not about wanting to be a boy. That is simply a ruse that she is using because it’s popular and – sadly, promoted as a “solution” to many complex issues. Your daughter is simply screaming for attention.
She is trying to say to you and her mother, ‘Do you see me? Do you understand how much I hurt, dislike myself, and need some love and help?’ That’s it. In many ways she’s testing you – her Dad – to see if you believe she’s worth fighting for. Every daughter wants her father to rescue her from something, usually herself. She feels lonely, ugly, unwanted, unloved, and awkward and the best way she can call you to help her is to shock you. And it seems she has succeeded. Good for her.
Here’s what you need to do. Your little girl (yes, that’s what she is) wants you to step up to the plate. Roll up your sleeves and help her feel loved, adored and valuable. Let her know that you see that she hurts. Don’t talk about her becoming a boy. She wants that to be the issue, but don’t let it be. This isn’t about a sexual identity crisis. This is about her wanting you to spend time with her. So take her camping, on bike rides, out to dinner, or on errands. She simply wants you to pay attention to her and let her know that you will do whatever it takes for her to feel healthy and whole. Here’s a warning: as you reach out and spend more time with her, she will up the ante. Her behavior will get more obnoxious, mean, and she may reject you. Don’t let this get to you. This is normal. Keep after her. Her behavior isn’t about you; it’s about her. Always remember that. Girls who hurt, act mean and try to prove to themselves that they are worthless by pushing loved ones away as hard as they can, waiting to see that yes, everyone abandoned them after all. Show her that she can act as poorly as she wants but that nothing she can do will make you leave her.
Remember this, every daughter wants her father to be her hero. She wants her father to protect her, love her and not be afraid to fight for her because she can’t fight for herself. Your daughter has picked you out to be that man. Take her to counseling, but that should only serve to help you listen to her more attentively, talk to her more calmly and show her affection more freely.
The bottom line is this, she has tagged you IT. You are the one she has chosen to help her heal.