I don’t know about you, but I’m suffering from a bad case of only what I can call “Shudder Syndrome”, and it seems to be worsening. It’s a relatively new ailment, but it always materializes when I read those disturbing statistics about young girls. I’m sure you know the ones about anorexia, depression, cutting, date rape, binge drinking, aggression, and bulimia. The list goes on and on. The minute I hear one, my ailment flares up: it always starts with a bad feeling deep down, and then my whole body just shudders. There has to be other parents like me who are shaking with worry. And I’m the mom of three boys! I can only imagine your symptoms if you’re raising daughters. This is scary stuff.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not implying that our girls are doomed. And certainly boys have their own share of problems as well. I’m just saying we need to keep a closer eye on those trends and realize leading experts are concerned about the young female gender (and with quite valid reasons). We are seeing a rise in depression, eating disorders and low self-esteem. Most experts agree that it’s due to continual negative messages that happiness comes from the outside (being a particular dress size, wearing designer labels, or getting liposuction or breast implants (I kid you not. The increase of plastic surgery among young women is frightening!) Robbed is that great notion that real happiness comes from the inside.
So how do we counter those constant negative media continually bombard our girls? How do we help young girls realize that there are other ways to be happy than by being rich, famous, or pencil-thin? What are ways for parents to help their daughters learn to feel comfortable in their own skin without having to copy “the look” of this week’s Hollywood idol? And just how do we turn these troubling trends around and help our girls grow to be strong, confident and happy?
Here are the four strategies:
1. Be a confident mom. Girls don’t learn to love themselves by hearing our self-esteem dinner lecture, but by having confident role models to copy. Sounds so obvious, but how easily that child development tenet is overlooked. And there’s proof: A famous University of California at Davis study found that a mother’s working status, occupation, income, education, religious affiliation, and even IQ were no where as significant on her child’s self-esteem as the mother’s own confidence level.
Your self-perceptions–whether high or low—do trickle down to your child. So take care of yourself so your daughter can learn to love herself just as she is. Ask yourself one question each night: “If my daughter had only my behavior to watch today what would she have caught?” Was it independence or dependence? Confidence or insecurity? Be mindful of your influence. Model what you want your daughter to become. You do matter.
2. Stay connected to your daughter. I know those preteen and teen years can be tough on a parent’s ego, but a big mistake is stepping back from our daughter’s lives. Don’t! One of the most comforting finding (that didn’t make me shutter) was a survey conducted by the Girl Scouts of America survey. (Gotta love the Girl Scouts). Read this carefully: Ninety one percent of over 2000 girls surveyed aged eight to nine go to their mothers for advice.
Find ways to stay connected and get into her life. Granted, it may take a bit of creativity, but think! If your daughter is leaning more towards her peers, why not get a few of her friend’s mothers on board? Start a mother-daughter book club or go to yoga or exercise as a group. Watch Friends or Mean Girl with her. Read and discuss Harry Potter because she loves it. Or do what one mom told me she did: read Teen People so you can get into her zone.
3. Foster her strengths and passions. Find that spark in your daughter and help nurture her passions, capabilities, and interests. Yoga, horseback riding, drawing, basketball, writing, cooking: what turns your daughter on? Always tailor your parenting towards her natural nature so she has permission to be herself. Let her know you love her for who she really is—not for what you hope she will become. Doing so is one of the best ways to nurture strong identity and self-worth.
4. Find positive, female role models. Let’s offer our daughters female role models who feel comfortable in their own skin (and don’t need to rely on Botox, breast implants, dieting, and designer labels to feel attractive). What about J.R. Rowling, Erin Brockovich, Michelle Wei, Anne Hathaway, Great Aunt Harriet or even the neighbor lady next door? Expose your daughter to authentic, confident women, and then tell her why you admire them. Our girls need strong, resourceful female examples to emulate. Enough of Paris, Lindsay and Britney!
Our best hope is to help daughters learn as early as possible that real happiness isn’t borrowed or copied, but lies within. That’s exactly why we need to help our girls become strong from the inside out. Doing so is what will help our daughters feel comfortable in their own skin. It’s also the best cure for not only my shutter syndrome (and I’m sure yours), but for those troubling trends plaguing today’s American young girls.
You can start by boosting your influence with your daughter and stay more connected in her life. It’s the best way to counter those negative media messages and help her become her own person and enjoy who she is.
This article is excerpted from Michele Borba’s book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass) available for order now:
Follow Michele on twitter @micheleborba or on her daily blog at https://micheleborba.com