In the former Daughters® magazine, “Parents Forum” allowed parents to answer questions and concerns raised by other parents. You can participate in similar discussions right now on the Discussion Board at www.Daughters.com.
Q: “My 13-year-old daughter is determined to try out for cheerleading next year. My husband and I don’t think this is a very positive use of her time. Should we forbid her from trying out?”
C.L., Green Bay, Wisconsin
Our 13-year-old is currently a cheerleader at her junior high. I, too, felt it wasn’t a good use of her time nor the crowd I wanted her to associate with. Now that she’s on the squad, however, my feelings have changed. Cheering is treated just like a sport. Girls have to demonstrate excellent behavior at all times and must maintain a qualifying grade point average. Between practices and games, she’s busy four days a week after school. She’s learning good lessons in time management as she juggles homework, social life, and her cheer schedule. Also, it’s great exercise!
J.W., Gilbert, Arizona
What parents need to realize is that, sooner or later, our daughters will be interested in activities for which we have little regard. The question isn’t “should we forbid her from trying out?” but “how can we support our daughter in learning about herself from this activity?” The parents should communicate their feelings about cheerleading and why they feel the way they do, and ask their daughter what she hopes to gain from participating in it. By “agreeing to disagree,” they are acknowledging that their daughter may feel differently about cheerleading (or any other subject) and they are establishing a precedent of respecting these differences.
This family could agree to let their daughter try out under the clear understanding that, if she makes the squad, her academics and family time come first. They might also require her to cover some of the costs. If she makes the squad, the parents should stay focused on the positive—how hard she is working, how much fun she is having, what she is learning—so that they can be included in their daughter’s experience in a positive way.
R.H., Santa Rosa, California
My husband and I faced a similar dilemma. Cheerleading was not a top priority of ours for our daughter’s time. But our sixth-grade daughter recently started cheerleading in a school where anyone who wants to commit the time can join the team. There’s a real camaraderie among the girls, and it’s been a good experience for her. She remains a straight-A student, whose favorite subjects are science and math. She is also a pianist, a soccer goalie, and a basketball player. The stereotypical “cheerleader type” we once knew has changed, thank goodness.
V.F., Chicago, Illinois
What are the parents objecting to? Cheerleading is a sport just like any other. It requires physical fitness, discipline, and can provide self-esteem to a girl. I would encourage my 12-year-old girl to participate in any sport she’s interested in.
P. F., East Amherst, NY
Cheerleading is an excellent use of a teenager’s time. Both my daughters are cheerleaders; the older now in 11th grade. Cheerleading requires effort and athletic ability, fosters positive spirit and self-esteem, teaches what the word team means, and allows each girl to discover and develop her leadership qualities.
V.T., Butler, New Jersey
Drawing ideological lines too starkly (e.g., “you should be part of the team, not supporting the team”) is risky, because if you pull out your big guns for something like this, you won’t have a lot of “minor weapons” left for future battles.
E.F., Madison, Wisconsin
We should tell our daughters they can try out for cheerleading if they also take calculus and chemistry; we should talk to them about the difference between skills and popularity contests; we should discuss what their motivations are and what they hope to achieve by being a cheerleader. These are the kinds of questions that facilitate communication rather than creating an impasse before the discussion ever begins. Change can occur from the inside out just as easily as from the fringes in. As feminists, it’s easy for us to believe that traditionally feminine activities are the ones we should shelter our girls from. Yet if women had left religion based on its history of sexism, there would be no female preachers today.
The question I might ask my daughter is this: How do you plan to make cheerleading a tool for social change? Will you invite volunteers—fat girls, geeks, freaks, or gay boys—to cheer with you each week? Will you make Turn Beauty Inside Out Day one of your community service projects? Will you make cheerleading a forum for raising awareness about anorexia and teenage pregnancy? The question for myself as a parent, then, is not what is a positive use of my daughter’s time, but how can I interact positively with the ways she chooses to spend her time?
D.B., Saitama, Japan
Trying out for any activity, be it cheerleading, soccer, field hockey, or choir, is an excellent way of teaching young women to assert themselves. School activities motivate students to work together, and to work hard toward a goal. My daughter, a freshman in high school, has been in band, soccer, field hockey, and jazz ensemble. These activities keep her busy and in school, which is where she should be.
L.A., Escondido, CA
With three daughters and a family legacy of cheerleading captains, it was inevitable that one of them would pursue the thrill of leading an enthusiastic crowd. My problem with contemporary cheerleading is that adults make it into a competitive dance squad, rather than a crowd-leading squad. On the positive side, the sporting events cheered at today are not restricted to boys’ football games, but include both genders’ soccer, basketball, and hockey games.
J. G., Wellesley, Massachusetts
Encourage her to try out. Let her know that you support her, but her grades must stay the same. My daughter has been on her school’s cheerleading squad for three years now. Cheerleading has given her more confidence. It’s easier for her to stand up in front of a class. And because of the time commitment, she has become more focused and organized.
S.H., Coconut Creek, Florida
Both of my daughters (now 17 and 12) have been cheerleaders, and I was also a cheerleader in high school and college. Cheerleading gets a bad rap it doesn’t deserve. I’d like to see some of those critics work out eight hours a day in summer heat doing double back handsprings, lifting 100-pound teammates, and staying positive while doing it!
D.P., Duxbury, Massachusetts
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