The Times's family matter agony aunt "Professor" Tanya Byron (as far as I can tell her PhD is from The House of Tiny Tearaways ... only joking but I can tell you her PhD is about drug abuse and not about raising young children) needs stripping of her academic title and keeping away from children and families forever. And I will prove it. Exhibit A: Her response to a letter from a mother entitled "Why won't our daughter wear girl's clothes?"
(you have to sign up to The Times now to read articles but I have pasted most of it below so I can critique it).
"We have a beautiful, bright nine-year-old who is taking being a tomboy to extremes and wears only boys’ clothes. What can we do?"
Do? When did "tomboy" become a bad thing? And not wearing dresses is hardly "extreme" is it? What about starting fights all the time, lying about her age and joining the military?
"When she was 5 or 6 she started to reject wearing dresses and skirts, which we were fine about, but for the past few years she has worn only boys’ clothes because, she says, they are comfortable and practical."
Well she's right. And how radical is it that your child wants to wear clothes that are practical and comfortable. Would you rather she wore clothes that hurt her and limited her ability to participate in activities with other children?
"I am concerned that she is taking this too far and now, probably because of arguments we have had, the idea of going clothes shopping fills her with dread and she can become hysterical."
Too far? Too comfortable and too practical? Yeah that could be an issue.
"Currently she has one pair of tatty ski trousers that she will wear and just a couple of tops. She finds only one pair of knickers comfortable, and buying school shoes is a nightmare."
How about buying her clothes that she feels comfortable in? Like some more of those comfy knickers? What are you trying to dress her in? Thongs?
"I have warned her that image is becoming more and more important to her peers at this age but, interestingly, she has made friends with a girl at school with similar “issues” about clothes. I am more than happy for her to be tomboyish but there are times when she needs to look smart — going out to dinner, for example — and every time a situation like this arises it causes big problems for us."
So she's not even the only girl at her school who likes to dress sensibly. How "extreme" is this behaviour - it sounds really smart and sensible to me. And I bet she hates going to dinner with her dreadful appearance-obsessed parents.
"Her hair is an unstyled mop and needs a cut but, after a dreadful experience for her at the hairdresser’s last time, the idea of returning puts her in a state."
Wow she does sound smart - she had a bad experience last time so she doesn't want to go back to the hairdressers. Who's fault that she had a bad experience?
"I am concerned at the problems this may cause in the long term, and confused about where these insecurities are coming from. She doesn’t seem to take any pride in how she looks, and reacts hysterically when her appearance becomes an issue. Should I seek professional help?"
Insecurities? She seems very secure and confident in her decisions. The insecurities are coming from her parents who seem to have confused "having a child" with "having a dress-me-up doll" and been caught out.
...No doubt Professor Byron will set them straight...
"When people want to wear clothes usually worn by the other sex, we call it cross-dressing. But this term comes laden with unhelpful stereotypes about gender and sexual orientation, and if used about children it often leaves the parents feeling very anxious."
Hold on. She's not trying to disguise herself as a boy. That would be different. She openly says she's choosing boys clothes because they're more comfortable. That's not cross-dressing, that's sensible, practical dressing. When I go skiing and I take my husband's waterproof trousers and thermal socks I'm not beginning a new life as a drag king, I'm wearing the most practical clothes for the situation.
"Children can feel deeply unhappy about being boys or girls. This can be a problem when a child continues to believe that he or she is, or wishes to be, the other sex. However, studies indicate that most children (almost 90 per cent in one study) who cross-dress and are unhappy with being their own sex do not want to be the other sex in adulthood."
How exactly does not wanting to wear uncomfortable and impractical clothes or go back to a hairdressers who was horrid last time make this child unhappy about her gender. Is she answering a different letter?
"There are many ways to think about this problem, and I want to begin by outlining some theories. As there have been arguments, I wonder if this issue represents a power struggle in which your daughter exerts her will (which reinforces her behaviour) and you, her parents, have been unable to keep authority and set boundaries. If so, a child clinical psychologist could help you (see bps.org.uk)."
Seriously - she won't wear dresses and you're advising taking her to a shrink? Go to your local high street now and see how many grown women are wandering about in dresses - very few. Are we all mentally ill?
"However, I think this is too limited an explanation in your case.Looking at family dynamics, maybe your daughter identifies strongly with her father and wants to emulate him. In families where the mother dominates, father and child(ren) may bond powerfully. This could be explored via family therapy (instituteof familytherapy.org.uk)."
Ok so footnote to readers - three things to be avoided AT ALL COSTS in your family: (1) Mum is main family decision-maker, (2) Daughter wants to be like Dad, (3) Dad and daughter have close bond. So here's the solution - maybe if Mum acts like a total doormat and Dad stops spending time with his daughter? That will definitely lead to the well-balanced family you've always wanted...
"What particularly strikes me, though, is that your daughter becomes “hysterical” at the prospect of clothes shopping, haircuts, etc, and I wonder if some tactile sensations are uncomfortable for her. She may have what is known as tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivity."
Yes I reckon that's is - she has this weird and bizarre medical condition called "Not liking being manhandled or wearing frilly scratchy clothes". Call a medical team at once. Next she'll be telling you she doesn't like being shoe-horned into a corset.
"Children with tactile defensiveness have a range of reactions that can include: disliking being stroked; refusing to handle dirty, sticky or slimy substances; needing labels cut out of clothing; refusing to wear certain fabrics, such as “scratchy” wool; and hating to have their feet touched or their hair brushed."
I have all of these things. I also don't like: nettles in the face, scalding water on my knees and motorised vehicles approaching me at over 60mph.
"Touch-sensitive people appear to feel discomfort or even pain from sensations that most of us find non-threatening or even pleasurable. It is thought that their tactile sensory system isn’t working properly, so they are constantly on alert for sensations that they see as a physical threat and traumatic, such as having their hair washed or nails cut. Such sensations feel to these children like fingers being dragged down a blackboard."
But if you look at the original letter it mentioned not liking having her hair cut (by a hairdresser who had previously caused problems), nothing about washing hair or cutting nails - and it's not like the letter suggested the parents might have been unobservant about such matters.
"The condition can lead to difficulties in concentration. At school, these children may lash out if they are bumped into. Sitting on the carpet may make them fidget. A draught on the back of the neck can lead to extreme discomfort. At the same time, such children may crave calming sensations such as firm pressure (eg, being held tightly or rocked, or being wrapped up at bedtime)."
The condition that is that this child simply does not have. Stop medicalising her desire to wear clothes she can run about in. She's a kid...
"It is hypothesised that this condition arises from neurological disorganisation in the mid-brain region — responsible for filtering incoming stimuli — such that sensation is heightened and becomes overwhelming and distressing."
Oh good cos I'd like to hypothesise that Prof Byron is a total fraud and should be struck off (and professional registers, the academic roll of honour and preferably the planet.
I'd also like to hypothesise that the correct answer to the letter was: Dear parents, very very bad news I'm afraid. Did the hospital seem busy and crowded when you went in to give birth. Did the nurses look flustered and tired? Did they anxiously keep your daughter's identification tag out of sight, insisting you didn't need to see it? You see your daughter even at the age of 9 is a bout ten gazillion times smarter than you both and the odds of that happening if she really is your child are very low. Get a genetic test (look it up) and start looking in the paper for stories about two really smart parents whose nine-year-old has been asked to re-sit kindergarten.
I stopped line-by-lining the piece there cos the rest of it (another whole page worth) is about how to treat this "touch sensitivity" issue that the kid just doesn't have. I will mention though that it does say at the bottom "If you have a family problem, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
", so if for instance you and your family have a problem that you've read her piece and it made you all feel very angry and want to break things - do let her know!
Labels: children, fashion, media, The Times, UK