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Does childhood now end at 11?


Jaclyn Ascough picking out an outfit with her daughter Katie, 11, and, inset, playing computer games with her son Andrew, 10

Jaclyn Ascough picking out an outfit with her daughter Katie, 11, and, inset, playing computer games with her son Andrew, 10

Jaclyn Ascough picking out an outfit with her daughter Katie, 11, and, inset, playing computer games with her son Andrew, 10

The angst, the silent treatment, and the intense hatred of everything childish. Ask any parent what they dread most about childrearing and they'll tell you it's the teenage years. So if you're a parent, then brace yourself for some bad news. According to a new survey, the majority of parents feel childhood now ends at the tender age of 11.

Of the parents surveyed by children's book publisher Random House, 35pc let their daughters aged 12 and under dye their hair, while 50pc let daughters aged 14 and under wear make-up.

Three-quarters of parents said their children regularly acted against their will and admitted they give their children a far easier time than their own parents had given them.

The research was conducted to coincide with the publication of another book by popular children's author Jacqueline Wilson who, unsurprisingly in the publicity-driven publishing world, has some strong views on the subject of childhood: "Our society has made a collective decision to stop children from being children. We're expecting them to grow up much too quickly, force-feeding our own materialistic and consumptive culture into their mouths. Much of the innocence of childhood is being robbed from them."

Wilson laments the fact that girls all want to wear high heels and tight, trendy clothes -- she longs instead for children to enjoy "simple pleasures, like going out for a picnic".

According to Wilson, the blame for all this lies with the media and parents. The solution, she says, is for parents to be less concerned about whether or not their kids like them, and to remember that teenagers secretly like rules.

"Parents need to take a stand, to tell their children, 'I don't care if everyone else in the class is allowed to do this or that. You are not'."

Two Irish parents staring down the barrel of the teenage years told me whether they agree...

‘We can’t let children become sexualised too soon’


Katie (11), Andrew (10), Hope (7), John (5), Christopher (2) and Matthew (5 weeks)

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I would agree with most of what Jacqueline Wilson is saying, and I do feel it is important for children to be children for as long as possible.

Because of that, others might label me conservative, but I think I am just a caring, nurturing parent who wants the best for her kids.

My eldest wants so badly to grow up and is really starting to push the boundaries hard. She wants to wear make-up, she wants to go to parties, she wants her own phone.

I knew all that was coming down the line, but I didn't think it would be so soon. She's only 11 and a half!

I think she is feeling a lot of pressure to grow up and a lot of that comes from watching other children her age and what they are doing and wearing.

We just have to tell her that some things are simply not suitable for her age. She is not an adult yet, she's not even a teenager, and she is too young to wear grown-up clothes. I do want her to grow up, but I want her to grow up gracefully and in her own time.

They say every generation grows up quicker than the one before and Katie is certainly pushing the boundaries even younger than I did myself. But we do have a responsibility not to let children become sexualised too soon. She wanted to go to a party recently where there would have been boys and dancing, and we felt she just wasn't ready for that.

When we say no, it does cause conflict and I hate that.

I worry that it will push her away. But eventually the upset calms down and she listens to our perspective. I think some parents are afraid they'll sever the relationship if they say no. But if you have a good relationship, it will be able to weather that conflict. Children do want boundaries; they need them and expect them.

My daughter is getting pocket money now and sometimes she will buy an item of clothing for herself.

There was one occasion when she came home with a shirt and we had to tell her she couldn't keep it because it was too revealing.

She got upset and kicked up a fuss, but it went back to the shop. I want her to dress fashionably and to feel good about how she looks, but not in a revealing, sexy way.

It's important as well to lead by example, and clothes that are too revealing aren't good at any age.

I dress modestly so she's learning those messages from what I do as well as what I say.

I wouldn't agree with hair-dying, though it hasn't come up yet. She does want to wear make-up: foundation, mascara, eyeliner -- the works. But she is too young. I try to explain to her that she is so pretty that she doesn't need make up, that only older people need it.

Instead I'm letting her wear one or two high quality products suitable for younger girls, like lip gloss.

We're trying to be sensible rather than un-budging. You can't give them everything they want -- if you give them a table full of chocolate they'll eat it until they get sick.

‘I believe that by saying ‘no’ you invite rebellion’

Sherina Spillane

ZOE (11)

I would say that I'm a lot more liberal and open than most parents I see. I wouldn't agree at all with what Jacqueline Wilson is saying because she is talking about a time that has long since passed.

Modern-day living means that children are exposed to outside influences such as crèches from a very early age and for that reason alone they tend to grow up quicker. Both parents work, children go to the crèche, and children are expected to be mature enough to understand and deal with this fact.

Zoe got highlights in her hair last year, which was her first grown-up hair experience, and I’ve let her have girly nights in with her friends putting, on all the make-up and fake tan and everything. She looked like an Oompa Loompa for a couple of days but she thought she was the bees knees. She puts moisturiser on every day and loves wearing lip balm.

I don’t agree with the idea that parents have to say no all the time. If girls wish to wear make-up, is it not better on both parent and child if a compromise can be found? Agreeing on a very light tinted moisturiser with a sun factor, lip balm and perhaps a clear mascara?

I’d prefer for Zoe to be well into her teens before wearing full-blown make-up but I realise that wearing make-up for a girl has always been a fun thing.

I believe that by saying no to this issue, you invite rebellion. Children have their own money, make-up is inexpensive and easily available, and friends will always help. Taken together, that’s a recipe for going behind parents’ backs and putting a lot of make-up on (badly!). I prefer to turn this issue into a positive experience with my daughter.

I understand why some parents take issue with this but parenting is a personal experience and what is appropriate for one child may not be suitable for the next.

I definitely don't believe that we're robbing our children of their childhood. If a child says “everyone else has one” or “everyone else can go”, then why not examine why that is?

Children enjoy being equal with their peers. That’s their social world and by allowing that to develop you encourage the child to share their experiences with you.

Zoe has her little social life, complete with discos (which are specifically for 11 year olds), trips to the cinema or shopping. She tells me all about her outings, who said what, for example, and the next day there are texts flying between her and her friends.

I believe you can be liberal without letting them run riot. The key is making it easy for them to talk to you. If they feel you are always saying no, no, no, then they can’t relate to you and communicating with mum and dad is paramount to every child’s happiness.

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