Madonna’s book, Ten-Ager, provides insight into the lives of our 10-year-old daughters and nieces and grandchildren. Why do they find friendship so hard? Why is there a need, beyond anything, to fit in with others? Should they be allowed social media? And is it true that puberty now starts as early as six and seven? Madonna shared some of her insights with the team at Booktopia…..

Tell us about your book, Ten-ager!

MK: Ten-ager gets inside the heads of our 10 year old girls, to let them explain those issues keeping them awake at night and often robbing them of happiness. It shows they are the new teenagers, navigating social media and self-esteem, friendship and anxiety and a host of other issues in a way their big sisters did at 13. The aim is to help parents and educators understand our 10-year-olds, and to help them through it.

You claim in this book that that 10 is the new start of a girl’s teenage years. What prompted you to start thinking about this?

MK: After I wrote Being 14, I was contacted many times by parents – mainly Mums – asking could the behaviour they were seeing in their daughter mean that they were 14 at 10 and 11. They’d noticed their daughter stepping back, arguing more, slamming the bedroom door, the odd eye-roll. So I decided to investigate when that teenage behaviour — from puberty to valuing friends more, to seeing independence, to body issues and self-esteem issues – really kicks in. And as so many experts confirmed, 10 is the new teenager!

What role do you think social media has played in shaping the lives of teenage girls in the 21st century? What kind of role do you think it will play in the near future?

MK: A phenomenal role. Our girls are now older, younger. They access content on social media that they don’t understand and that might not even have been available when their big sisters were 10. The more ‘mature’ girls in the class pass on information to those who still believe in unicorns, and the difference in knowledge and interests in this age group makes it really difficult for everything from friendship to teaching. Our girls also believe that what they see on social media is true — they don’t see the perfect holiday snaps are photoshopped, or that people don’t look like that in ‘real life’. It makes them believe, too often, that they need to change. And I find that quite heartbreaking. I give all sorts of examples in Ten-Ager, but online bullying is one aspect of social media and there are so many others. Did you know, for example, that during lockdown, some 10 year olds didn’t want to join classes on Zoom or other platforms because they were too self-conscious about their appearance? The influence of social media is all-encompassing.

I love that our children have access to social media, but I think it is how it is used that is the problem. Girls are de-friending others because they don’t respond to them immediately, for example. We need to teach our girls that social media can be of enormous benefit – from learning to skateboard to cooking, doing a braid to communicating with others – but it can also be a weapon that hurts them, and others.

Why do you think parents (and society in general!) continue to find it difficult to understand and deal with teenage girls?

MK: Because life is different now to when we were 10. The girls say that; we can’t possible understand. And they are right. We can’t. The smartphone has introduced a variable that means the lives of our 10 year olds is even different to those of their big sisters, who were 10 only a few years ago. In one chapter, I ask the girls what they want us — their parents and educators — to know and do, and overwhelmingly they want us to listen and understand more what they are going through.

Can you tell us a little bit about your research process for this book?

MK: The book follows the advice of 500 10-year-old girls across Australia, along with 1,600 mums, 400 dads and 100 Year 5 teachers. In addition to that, I also interviewed dozens of school principals, guidance officers, teen psychologists and others to navigate the issues raised by the girls.

What was the most interesting thing you learnt while writing Ten-ager?

MK: SO MANY THINGS. Let me give you two. Firstly, experts believe puberty actually begins at the age of about six or seven and it is those ‘under-the-bonnet’ changes — that we can’t see — that can dictate how a girl copes as she navigates independence. It is then that issues like her mental health and self-esteem can be developed. This is so important for parents and teachers to understand. Menstruation is the visible, late part of puberty. But we need to understand what our daughters are going through earlier than that.

The second thing — and I found this quite heartbreaking — is the number of girls who decide on their life’s trajectory at 10. They decide then whether they are a ‘maths/science’ girl or not, or whether they will continue with netball etc. Experts say their brain is at such a stage at 10 that they can’t possible know what they’ll be good at. Yet, in classrooms across Australia, girls are putting self-imposed limits on their journey. We need to stop that.

I could go on and on. But friendship is the biggest issue raised by 10-year-olds. It can be tough in that playground! And tall has become something that is no longer an attribute. So many girls told me being tall was ‘horrible’; it stopped them making friends or looking good or fitting in. One school psychologist told me she is saddened by the fact that our 10 year olds largely want to change those things they cannot!

What is the last book you read and loved?

MK: How can I pick? I’d say A Promised Land by Barack Obama.

What do you hope readers will discover in Ten-ager?

MK: That our 10-year-old girls are a gorgeous cohort, who need our help. They want us to listen and to help them navigate an adolescence where self-esteem and anxiety and friendship problems and school work is robbing them of happiness. They want their parents to give them a touch of independence, but to be their backstop. I guess, I want our 10-year-old girls to be heard in a way I believe they are currently not.

And finally, what’s up next for you?

MK: It’s a new year, and it’s the same answer each year. To get fit. To cook better. To be a better Mum. To catch up more with my girlfriends. To work less. And to relish 2021, with a gratitude taught in 2020!

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