Children need to find own path

By Anita Tedaldi: PNT Columnist

My oldest daughter, age eight, is beginning to show concerns about what other people think of her. She asks me if a skirt looks nice or if her hair resembles the other girls’ in her swimming class. I see her eyes furtively checking out her friends’ attires and shoes before getting out of the car, to make sure that she’s ‘cool’. When I drop her off at practice, she even instructs me not to say good-bye too loudly from the car, in case her friends see that she’s waiving to me and her sisters – something that is appropriate for younger children, not for her group of eight- and nine-year-old girls.

I don’t really mind. I try not to smile, and take her instructions seriously because I know that to her this is of the utmost importance. I understand that she’s becoming aware of the world around her, and that she’s seeking her friends’ approval, wanting to fit in with the cool crowd.

I’m not too worried. I think many kids go through this process – I suspect that some adults are still trying to fit in with the cool crowd – and I have no illusions that my daughters will have to embark on their own journeys to find out their identities. I hope I can help them learn who they are and what they like before they get completely caught up in seeking the approval of others.

I remember being tangled in others’ opinions and can re-live that awkward time that my daughters will eventually experience all too well.

I vividly recall that as a 14 year old girl I was very concerned about what my friends thought of my scooter, one that was different from the popular model the cool kids drove around. I tried to park it far from the school parking lot, so that my ‘friends’ didn’t have a chance to make fun of me and my little Honda, in hindsight a fine specimen. I feared getting to and from school on a daily basis.

Adolescence, what a fun time that was.

As an adult I know that it was silly, but I can still recall the sadness I experienced when I felt that I didn’t fit in, that I was different.

For as much as I wish my children didn’t have to experience the awkwardness of adolescence, I think it’s an inevitable part of growing up. My daughters will question their friend’s hairdos, their teachers and peers attires, the music their parents like, the food their mother eats (I won’t compromise on my consumption of pasta no matter what trend they cite) our values, beliefs and may even have a question or two about our military lifestyle. They’ll try to find out their individuality against societal and familial norms, making sense of who they are and how they fit in.

I’ll keep a watchful eye and a firm stance when needed, hopeful that their journeys, and consequently my own, won’t be too traumatic. And if things get really tough, I’ll tell my husband that the time has come for me to take a sabbatical from our home.

Anita Tedaldi is a freelance writer, mother of five and wife of an Air Force pilot. Contact her at:

anita@anitatedaldi.com