Q: My 7-year-old niece flirts with my husband and other adult males who are visiting. The men find it very annoying, as she won't leave them alone. I've spoken to her and after questioning her, I don't believe she's the victim of child sexual abuse. I think she idolizes the blatant sexuality in the media and thinks that by flirting, she'll gain peer approval.
I'm concerned about my niece, and I don't want to upset her mother. Are there any suggestions as to how we can correct this type of behavior?
A: You've asked a very serious question that is, unfortunately, most likely directly related to today's media. Flirtatious behavior should be checked out carefully because sexual abuse can also be a prime concern. Many parents see the problem you've described, and they have a serious responsibility to at least correct it for their own children. My wish would be that the media be corrected for the sake of society.
As an aunt, you should first talk to your niece's mother about the behavior because she's the one who should be talking to her daughter. You can say to her something like this: "It's difficult for me to talk to you about this, but I noticed that 'Stephanie' is acting in a flirtatious way with her uncle and other men. I'm sure she doesn't mean any harm by it. She's probably just imitating television stars, but I'm worried it could eventually cause her problems. I wrote to the newspaper columnist for advice and this is what she suggested." Then show her this column and hopefully, she'll explain her concerns to her daughter.
This is what I suggest the girl's mother say to her 7-year-old privately: "I know you love your uncle and your daddy, and they love you, too, but I see you acting like women on TV toward them. That's called 'flirting,' and it's the way some women act when they want to attract a boyfriend. It isn't the way little girls are supposed to behave, and if you act that way around teenage boys, they might not understand that you're just being friendly. Daddy and 'Uncle Dan' like you to be your real self and not like the actresses you see on TV." Then she could show her daughter some examples of the wrong kinds of flirtatious behavior she's seen her do that would make it understandable to your niece.
I'd also suggest your niece not be allowed to watch inappropriate television channels, if possible. Of course, that's difficult to monitor, but 7-year-olds should only be watching an hour or so of television a day, and parents should know exactly what their children are watching.
Finally, it's important that your niece becomes involved in healthy activities that fit with her age group. Girl Scouts, girls' sports, crafts and music activities can keep her on a healthy, active path, and distract her from reliance on TV screens.
For a free newsletter on "How to Parent So Children Will Learn, and/or Growing Up Too Fast," send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address below. Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.