“My low self-esteem is starting to interfere with my life and prevent me from doing things I love. How can I learn to worry about myself less?”
“People are just waiting for me to mess up so they can spread gossip and lies about me”
“I was bullied at my last school and since moving schools it’s happening again. Why can’t I make friends? Is there something wrong with me?”
These are the deep, honest, real thoughts coming from teenage girls. These are actual statements from the 11-14 year olds that contributed to our Girl Talk suggestions box when asked what they would like to discuss in our classes. They are typical, average kids who are going to school and have good families and appear on the surface to be coping just fine. Isn’t that just terrifying?
As one of the mentors at Girls Standing Strong, a unique wellness club for girls founded by Kim Smith in Perth, my role is to facilitate the Girl Talk sessions. These sessions allow the girls to talk about common topics and issues that they are dealing with on a daily basis, like school, bullying, friendships, self-esteem, health and wellness. We keep strongly to a positive and solution-focused approach, which is important particularly because we are often dealing with some pretty heavy issues.
When I look around my classes of 8-12 girls, I am amazed by what I see. These girls are intelligent, funny, creative, self-aware, beautiful, and kind. They are wonderful young women, and each of them wonderfully individual. Yet that is not what they see when they look in the mirror. They are in that extremely harsh phase of their lives that can be like living under a microscope. Every flaw, every blunder, every emotion is magnified and all-consuming. Even when they seem cool, calm and collected on the surface, they can feel utterly lost and alone and struggling to find their way in the darkness of their own fears and doubts.
Parents can often detect that something is not right with their daughters. They notice changes in behaviour and attitude; the moodiness and unwillingness to engage. Yet they are often not let in to the inner turmoil their girls are facing. The parents may feel just as lost and at sea as their girls; navigating in treacherous and uncharted waters, as they try to support the physical, emotional and spiritual development of their women-to-be. Thankfully, there are some practical things parents can do to help their girls find their inner strength.
Give her power in the conversation
Much of our role as a parent involves giving instructions, reminding, and providing feedback on our child’s behaviour. “Eat your breakfast”; “Remember your manners”; “Have you taken your clothes to the laundry yet??”. It isn’t any wonder that when we talk to girls, they often experience it as us talking at them. This causes them not only stop to listening, but also to stop thinking and reflecting.
When we show that we are really listening to them, they have to think about what they are saying, and they tend to reflect more. When we show an interest in their chatter about the trivial stuff, the ups and downs of friendship and goings on in their lives, then they are more inclined to talk to us about the important things.
So to give your girls power in the conversation, try asking open-ended questions rather than closed questions that can be answered by a grunt, or making the assumption that you know what she means. The typical ‘How was your day?” question is bound to elicit the standard “Good” reply with no further conversation. Try asking questions like “So, tell me about your day”, and “what did you and your friends get up to today?”. These sorts of questions prompt people to give a longer and more detailed answer. Show you are listening by giving her the encouragement and space to talk.
Hear without negative reaction
It can be really difficult for teens to speak up about the issues they’re having. When they are ready to talk, it is important to show that we respect their opinion, even if at times we may disagree with it. In fact, standing up to you and voicing her opinions is an important skill if we want to raise strong girls. It is a skill she will need to use with her classmates, teachers, partners and future bosses, and she will need your guidance about how to clearly state her disagreements and stand by her convictions. Your girls need your help girls to make considered choices about how to express their feelings, and to whom, particularly if they have a tendency to be shy.
Every once in a while when girls when come to the mentors at our club and unload about an issue or problem they are facing, they may mention that they are concerned with how to broach the topic with their parents. This indicates that sometimes the girls may fear overreaction from parents. They are worried that their parent will become overly concerned or anxious about their problem, and go taking action without consulting them. As parents we are protectors, and so naturally we have a high level of concern for our children. However, as our girls go through the teen years we need to show them that they can trust us to hear their problems without freaking out, and aim to work through issues with them collaboratively.
Aim to support, rather than fix
The teen years are a time of transition for the parents as much as the girls. As the girls become more independent, the parents must learn to relinquish control and let them engage with the world independently. While this is hard, we need to remember that in order for people to be responsible, they must be given responsibility. In order for girls to become empowered, they must be given opportunity to wield their own personal power. So as parents we are learning to let go of the reins and teaching our girls how to take them.
To support your daughters to become strong and confident and empowered, let her make constructive choices about her life whenever possible. Have appropriate limits and boundaries of course, but give her choice around what she wears and eats, what after school activities she engages in, and what activities she may want to opt out of. When she is facing a problem, aim to support her rather than fix the problem for her. When parents take over, girls don’t develop the coping skills they need to handle situations on their own. Let your daughter consider the possible options and strategies she could use to deal with a situation, and talk through the likely outcomes of each option together. Then let her decide what action to take (within reason). Even if you disagree with her choice, you give your daughter a sense of control over her life and show her that she is responsible for her decisions.
Be the person you want her to become
For girls, their mother is often their greatest role model. Whether we are aware of it or not, our kids pick up our language, habits, attitudes and mannerisms. I have personally seen this many times over when I was a personal trainer and mums would bring their young kids to their gym session. I remember a five year old girl saying to her weight-conscious mother, “You don’t have to wear black all the time mum, you don’t look fat. I think you look beautiful”.
The best way to lead is by example, and so the most sure-fire way to raise confident, powerful, strong women is to be one yourself. So, be mindful of your own self-esteem. Consider the ways you convey the values you would like your daughters to hold. Look for moments in your daily life when you can model the values you want your daughter to learn, and model the traits and strengths you want your daughter to develop as she grows.
Reach out to a positive network
A great deal of influence on our children comes from the individuals and groups they interact with socially. Their friends and teachers at school play a big role in their lives, yet school is also a source of many of the problems that teens face. Wherever possible, seek out opportunities for your girls to be around other girls where the emphasis is on forming positive relationships and learning appropriate social skills in a non-competitive and pressure-free environment.
Jim Rohn said, “We become the combined average of the five people we hang around most”. As parents, you have a great ability to be the light your girls need in dark places. Be what you want them to become, and lead them by example. But recognise that it’s not all up to you. Help your daughter to connect to positive people and exciting activities where they can feel comfortable to be themselves. It takes a village to raise a child, and a positive and supportive one to help her flourish.
If you would like to find out more about Girls Standing Strong, or if you would like to support Kim in her vision to make the club accessible to girls across Australia, please go to www.girlsstandingstrong.com or contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author- Dr Vanessa Thiele
Dr Vanessa Thiele is a coaching psychologist, Standing Strong instructor and corporate trainer at Action Potential Group. Driven by a burning desire to enable people to realize their full potential, she has dedicated herself to study and training facilitation in the areas of self-development, success and leadership. She is a mum of two young kiddies, a writer, speaker, and a former personal trainer and martial arts instructor, who would probably like to be a stand-up comedian in her next life.
Vanessa is a valuable member of the Standing Strong Team and teaches our Girl Talk classes on Thursday afternoons at 4:30pm. To find out more about our Girl Talk classes visit our Standing Strong class page HERE.
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