01/20/2013 11:12 am ET Updated Mar 22, 2013

Growing Up: 15 Comes in Many Sizes

I told my daughter that 15-year-olds, like 63-year-olds, come in lots of different shapes and sizes. We all get to the same place, even if we arrive at different times.

There are some problems that we grow out of, and then there are some that we grow into. Not acting your age is one those problems that kind of gets you coming and going.

My beautiful 15-year-old daughter is what many would call "young for her age." She's a pint-size whirlwind, living proof of how good things come in small packages. She's a bright kid -- A's and honors classes -- and a gifted athlete who never quits. She has a wall full of school and community awards and is adored by teachers, coaches and pretty much every adult whose path crosses with hers. She's a loyal friend and protector of the world's under-dogs. But what she isn't is typical.

She's 15 but she looks, acts and thinks much younger. When I was growing up, I was called a late bloomer too. I was probably the last one to give up my stuffed animals; I climbed trees long after other girls my age stopped doing that; and to this day, I love the wind rushing around me when I ride in a convertible and never care about what it does to my hair. Makeup? Only when I'm going out and at that, very little of it.

My daughter is much the same. She's in a spot now where many of her fellow high schoolers seem preoccupied with trying to look and act older than their years. And then there's my daughter -- solid in her own identity but feeling increasingly out of place.

Let's just say this up front: High school is a seriously hard time of life and for many of us, it's simply something you just have to get through. The playing field tends to level out in college and by the time you enter the workforce, the high school slights that once were a knife wound to the chest are all but a distant memory. But try telling that to a 15-year-old who looks younger, acts younger and thinks younger than her chronological peers.

In adulthood, these are all traits that are sought-after and envied. In high school, they mostly set you apart in a way that leaves you feeling uncomfortable.

Since parenting is three parts gut-instinct and one part what you've heard and read, I tackled the situation the best way I could think of. I told my daughter that I am 63 and am regularly told how I "don't look 63." When this happens, I usually borrow from Gloria Steinem and say "Actually, this is what 63 looks like." What's "wrong" is that person's perception of what 63 should look like.

And in my daughter's case, what's wrong is the perception that at 15 she should be looking, acting and feeling a particular way. I told her that a 15-year-old doesn't have to want to wear makeup or shorts with her ass cheeks hanging out; a 15-year-old doesn't have to want to drink beer at a party or be eager to smoke cigarettes to prove they're cool; a 15-year-old certainly doesn't have to be sexually active or need to boast about their sexual conquests (real or imagined). You are still a 15-year-old without doing any of those things.

I told her that 15-year-olds, like 63-year-olds, come in lots of different shapes and sizes. And we are all still 15 or 63.

And then I told her this: We all get to the same place, even if we arrive at different times. She will be the thoughtful, smart, confident adult woman that she is destined to be. And for the time being, it's fine to climb the tree.