Mom attacked for putting her 4-year-old pubescent daughter on TV

Sep 15, 2016 at 12:38 p.m. ET
Image: Jamie Grill/Getty Images

Talking about puberty is awkward and dicey even at its most banal — when your preteen or teen is going through their first big change — but it can get downright painful when the kid going through these sometimes scary changes is no older than 4.

That's why one mom wanted to bring a little awareness to the rare condition her daughter has. It's known as precocious puberty, and Charlie Denton's 4-year-old, Nevaeh, is facing down the challenges that come with developing breasts and hormone fluctuations long before she should have to. And you won't believe what happens next! Just kidding, she's getting totally slammed for it.

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It was an admittedly uncomfortable scene for viewers when Denton and her daughter made an appearance on Good Morning Britain to talk about the condition, which can manifest as early breast development, pubic hair growth, and changes to the hormones that affect reproductive organs in boys and girls at a rate of about one in 5,000 children. The little girl didn't appear to want to be on camera and curled into her mother, refusing to face either the hosts or the camera.

It prompted a little social media freak-out.

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And yes, it's easy to imagine that this won't be one of Nevaeh's favorite moments to look back on. But is it really fair to paint this mom with the monster-mother brushstroke we're so fond of using? Maybe not. Whenever our kids are looking at handling an issue most kids won't have to, whether that's health-related or otherwise, our first instinct is always going to be to advocate for them — to bring awareness to what they're going through so they won't be stigmatized and shamed. And yes, sometimes in the new purpose we have as their allies, we're going to get perhaps more enthusiastic than we ought to. Nevaeh won't always be 4, and she'll always have to deal with knowing that when she was that little, her early breasts were a topic of public discussion.

But bad mothering — willfully malicious mothering — requires malice. And we just don't see any of that with this little girl's mother. All we see is a mom who is trying to help people understand what kids like hers go through when they're affected by precocious puberty. Was this the best way to do it? Time will tell. Moms may already be thinking twice about what they choose to share with the larger public about their children as they grow up in a world where everyone is always watching.

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But we need to walk it way back. When we look at reactions like Nevaeh's, it's not hard to jump to conclusions. We imagine ourselves at that age or a little older, and through the lens that adulthood provides, we cringe. We're a little embarrassed ourselves, and it's not a big leap to project that onto a little kid. We may immediately imagine that the source of her shyness is her body, and that very well may be the source.

But the source may also very well be the unpredictability of what a 4-year-old does and does not want to do, which can change from moment to moment. What little kid, no matter how outgoing, hasn't retreated into mom's arms when they're faced with more attention than they're used to? Don't assume it has anything to do with her precocious puberty. Kids will do it if you tell them you like the sweet plastic dinosaur they're holding.

Outcome matters, but so does intent. Denton wanted to do the right thing for her kid. Maybe she didn't do it in the most sensitive way, but we're all learning. That's parenting. We'll still be learning when our own kids hit puberty and long after that too. Won't we be glad when people cut us a break during the process?

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