My Beautiful Wickedness

Raising a girl
December 6, 2007, 9:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Various issues about raising a girl heading into adolescence are beginning to weigh on us as parents. We’re trying to walk the fine line between teaching her to be confident about what she knows and teaching her to not beat people over the head with how smart she is. She’s a whippersnapper. For example, she’s in third grade and she’s doing the algebra that my school introduced to me at 9th grade and she complains it’s too easy for her. She’s got a capacious vocabulary. She reads quickly, writes stories constantly that have complex ideas expressed in complex ways. She’s good at just about everything that she touches. She’s athletic — the fastest runner, the longest jumper, the kid you pass the ball to if you are in a close basketball game. She’s a great dancer. She’s socially adroit and gets along with nearly everybody. She’s conventionally pretty. She wants to do her best and usually her best is at the top of the class in a roomful of high flyers.

Once she gets beyond the friendly confines of her school — where, really, this isn’t a big deal and isn’t creating any social frictions — she’s getting picked at by kids who aren’t as academically engaged. They roll their eyes when she wants to tell them about this great chemistry experiment that she did in school…and they change the subject to some cable TV show that she hasn’t seen about 25-year-olds pretending to be in high school. Or some doll that costs a gajillion dollars that her parents will not be able to get her because we are putting our time and money into her development as a well-rounded human being. (A walk in the woods is free; you can get ten days going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the price of one American Girl doll.) Kid gets a little hurt by this and can’t figure out how she’s offended them.

It might be a class thing but I don’t think so — these are girls at dance class, where the parental income is high and the will to spend adult lives ferrying the girls from basketball camp to gymnastics to dance to religious training is strong. (I wonder sometimes when these kids ever have a moment to play with all the 40 or 50 Webekins that they have acquired.) I want to conclude that it’s an American anti-intellectual and a “smart pretty girl” thing, but I’m not sure. In our society, the general perception is that you can either be smart or pretty — to be both, and to be nice on top of it, is some sign of greediness or something. I (who was both smart and somewhat pretty) copped out and eventually gave up on being pretty in favor of being smart. (Smart endures, but American fantasies of pretty take too much work to maintain and one eventually ages out on hotty-ness.)

I’ve never parented a boy, but I bet parents of boys don’t spare a thought to social self-presentation — trying to gently advise their boys how to tone it down a little to keep other boys from feeling insecure and triggering catty ostracism. I don’t want Kid to have to hit the mute button. I want her to be as she is…but I know that just by being as you are, when you fall outside that muddled middle, gets you kicked in the head, socially speaking.

Any thoughts about this? Right now, we’re erring on the side of permitting her to be as fabulous as she wants to be and letting other kids deal with it. However, I worry that we’re going to raise someone who is not just confident, but conceited. I have the dread fear that she’ll wind up in the class of some sadist high school teacher who will take it as his or her mission to bring Missy All That down a peg or two…don’t ask me how I know this happens, but there are some insecure and immature adults that shouldn’t be given the stewardship of an adolescent classroom.


9 Comments so far
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You and I need to trade notes more; we seem to have the same parenting experiences.

We’ve had a saying since the children were little (which someone from your line of work might consider heresey):

Smart is easy. Good is hard.

And for us, it’s true. Our kids have always tested at at least 4 grades level above on the IBTS, and they are both Duke TIP scholars. For Lintilla and I, both “C” students in school, they are advanced (all of their classes have AP in front of them).

But they are just average at the school they attend. And this, IMHO, is a good thing.

Your daughter is far more advanced, so you have extra considerations, so, Lord knows I shouldn’t be giving advice.

I don’t know if you have the ability toplace her in a situation where she’s just “normal for the school”, or not, but it sure makes things easier.

Oh, and academically advanced boys dont have to worry about catty insults – just having the crap beaten out of them. 🙂

Comment by Slartibartfast

I totally agree about finding someplace where excellent is just par for the course. Academically, I think she’ll be better off in that respect next year. This year, she’s in the oldest group of her mixed-age classroom so she’s definitely out in front. Socially, this has made her more considerate and helpful in teaching younger kids, so maybe the payoff is in the “good and happy” part of child-rearing and keeping her grounded about the social aspects of learning. However, it’s also playing to her tendency to be a bossypants — wouldn’t know where she gets that from…

Next year, though, she’ll be the youngest of the next age grouping and so there will be greater intellectual challenges and the older kids will be in the lead. When her best friend the concert pianist math genius (who was a year older) moved up, he reportedly told her “oh, it’s great up here because you don’t always know what’s going to happen.” (Wouldn’t you love to have the kind of attitude? I know I would.)

For a while, dance was the place where she was just average. For the first two years, she stood in the back and shuffled along and had fun, but wasn’t a standout. Now, however, she’s still having a lot of fun and because she likes it, she practices a lot….so she’s become the kid in the middle, the kid who can pop quadruple pirouettes, the kid with the floaty grande jete. Once again, because of her enthusiasm for excelling at whatever it is that she does, she’s being trotted out by the adults as the example of natural talent meeting conscientious practice. I honestly wish they wouldn’t do that — not because she hasn’t worked hard and earned the recognition, but because it sets her apart on what was supposed to be a team endeavor.

The problem is that I don’t think she has it in her to remain just average at anything. It’s not like she avoids stuff (which was my trick to appear effortless at all times) but that once she gets some prefunctory instruction, she’s off to the races. That’s the pleasurable part for her — not the being good, but the becoming great.

Comment by bridgett

I have the dread fear that she’ll wind up in the class of some sadist high school teacher who will take it as his or her mission to bring Missy All That down a peg or two…don’t ask me how I know this happens, but there are some insecure and immature adults that shouldn’t be given the stewardship of an adolescent classroom

Ooooh. I know this one. I responded in a number of ways – failing my way through Jr. High (because the principal took one look at me and tracked me in the remedial courses, even though I’d been the head of the class bigshot at my previous school, and I refused to do any work that didn’t challenge me. Ergo, I did no work.), getting the offending teacher removed from the position (when every single honors/AP student organized to tell their counselors they wouldn’t take another class with her and they would go to the local CC to take English instead, they kind of had to), and for one of them, turning into the biggest showoff you ever did see and acing all of my classes just to spite everyone.

(Well, that last was also because it was the first time all of the dilligent frontrunners (the ones that did all the busywork I didn’t bother with) were being challenged and falling behind, and I’d never gotten straight A’s in my life so I felt like Showing Them All that I was, in fact, just being lazy and could have done this any time I wanted. I was a bit of a git.)

The thing is … supportive parents help a lot more for dealing with sadistic teachers than they do with apathetic teachers. And you guys sound like wonderful, supportive parents. If you teach her to recognize her own worth, she’ll know when that worth isn’t being valued. And, if the both of you catch it in time, you can do something about the teacher… whether that’s transferring to another class (which, yes, might not have the AP or honors prefix in front of it, but might be a better fit … and if you have supportive counselors, even that can be fixed. You can be an AP student taking independent study in a non-AP class, if you do it right.), having parent-teacher meetings with the offending teacher, calling their superiors in on the matter, or organizing student-led changes. Or some other action.

Another thing to remember, of course, is that kids – particularly well-loved kids – are resilient. If she knows that she is a good and smart person, then even though a class makes her miserable (and in the case of some type of sadistic fuckers, ruins her GPA… that’d be why we protested the last lady. She did grade manipulation and a lot worse, like telling kids she’d write them good recommendations and turning around, trashing them, and calling the college to say they should never in a million years be admitted to anything, because the girl had the audacity to miss a social lunch with her or something like that).. if she knows all that, she’ll be okay.

Comment by Magniloquence

Look, she can’t go through life without encountering a sadist or two, and having her parents advising her through the first one she meets* is going to help her a lot. I don’t completely agree with Slarti that smart is easy, but it is forever. Teach her how to cope with its ramifications now (which includes Slarti’s being good part), because she’s going to be dealing with them for the rest of her life. And when you think about it that way, obviously playing dumb or holding back isn’t optimal over the long term, so don’t teach it to her except as a tactical move to be used in certain situations. Just don’t let her turn into one of those kids who’s always telling the world about her accomplishments, and she’ll find her level.

*a teacher, another kid, whoever

Comment by nm

Yeah, that’s the problem exactly…trying to teach her the difference between being self-satisfied and strong and being the bratty precious precious who can’t wait to turn the conversation to herself so she can tell everyone once again how great she is…

I have to remember that eight-year-olds are a little on the narcissist side anyhow, so maybe this is somewhat just a developmental thing. Or maybe it’s just my own egotism projected on my kid…who knows. You never really know anything about parenting beyond trying your best on any given day.

Comment by bridgett

Well, is she habitually turning the conversation to “I learned this today and it’s sooooo interesting!” or to “I learned this today and I got it faster than anyone else in the class and the teacher said I did it the best!”? Because the first will only do her good, in the long run, and the second … eeeech, except on special occasions. The choice between the two is one you can help her learn how to make.

And you’re right that it’s partly an age thing. What’s cute and age-appropriate in an eight-year-old gets tired in a teenager. Of course, by what you say, she’ll soon have the opportunity to be around kids who are gonna challenge her. If she likes that (and them), you won’t have to worry.

Comment by nm

I think you should continue to give her all the support she needs. She sounds like a wonderful child.

Conceit usually signifies insecurity, instead of confidence, they have the need to prove they are better. Your daughter seems to be on the road of building that self confidence she’ll need to be a great adult (working hard, liking what you do, and having supportive people in your life.)

There are people out there who (to put it plainly) just suck–at all ages. We’ve all run into them at various times in our life. As long as there’s no bullying–she can learn to deal with them as they come along. Don’t stress over something that she might be able to cope with all on her own.

Boys go through a lot of the same thing–but they just pound each other over it.

Comment by Busymomma66

A-freaking-men to commenter #6.

As long as she’s just saying *this* is amazing, instead of *I’m amazing and you’re not* out in the world…things will go better.

It sounds both fun and exhausting to help her grow up.

Comment by imfunny2

Hm, this is one of the reasons I like having my second-grade smartypants daughter on a swimteam–it’s a healthy team sport that doesn’t require much socializing, and doesn’t allow much chit-chat or sizing up. Everyone’s in the water, everyone’s wearing a tank suit, goggles, and team cap, looking like bugs, what’s to compare?

But she learned pretty early on that people don’t have to talk about or understand maps or aquatic life, or whatever else she’s passionate about, to be interesting and fun to be around. Her older brother doesn’t talk at all, and she still digs him. She has a good friend who shares a lot of her interests and matches her pretty well in skills, and she gets that everyone else doesn’t have to.

Comment by pennylrichards

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