You can Make a Difference in a Young Girls Life: Be A Mentor, Be An Example


Girls today are facing many challenges. Some are unique (cyberspace,
digital access in and out of the home) some challenges are similar, but
coming at an early age. Those issues and expectations that were once
those of teenagers are now in the grammar schools and on the
playgrounds. Girls often sacrifice kindness and charity for popularity.
The cultural feminine beauty standards are now being applied to 8
year olds. As girls approach adolescence, their self-esteem often
plummets when compared to boys. Rachel Simmons is an author of
three books on girlhood and cofounder of Girls Leadership, a national
nonprofit that provides training, education, and workshops to girls and
the adults who support them. She states, “girls are at their fiercest
and most authentic prior to puberty.”;

Parents, family and friends can prepare young women for the trials of
being a teenager by helping them develop critical skills early on. tv/

Here are some skills that help:

1. How to have respect for the feelings of others and
express her own feelings

We need to teach girls emotional intelligence. That skill, says
Simmons, means having the ability to describe and express the
full range of human emotion. But when girls are taught to value
being happy and liked over all, they often suppress or can’t
acknowledge more difficult experiences.

Instead, adults need to demonstrate how to “flex the muscle of
expressing their strongest feelings,” says Simmons. We can do
that by modeling our own emotions using words like sad,
nervous, excited, scared, angry, frustrated, and confused.

Simmons also recommends parents “authorize” their daughters’;
emotions: “When your girls express authentic emotions — even if
they’re difficult — you take them seriously. You don’t deny them or
challenge them.”

2. How to feel self-compassion

Girls get a lot of messages that it’s important to please others, says
Simmons. So when they experience a setback, it often feels like letting
someone else down and loosing their approval. On top of that,
research shows that adolescent girls may be exposed to more
interpersonal stress than boys. That makes them more likely to focus
on negative feelings, putting them at greater risk for depression.
To help prevent this cycle of suffering, Simmons recommends parents
teach their daughters how to deal with failure. This means teaching a
girl how to practice self-compassion in a moment of crisis. Instead of
criticizing herself harshly, she should practice self-kindness and
remember that we all have to deal with disappointment. By realizing
others share that experience, she’ll be better prepared to treat herself
compassionately and develop resilience. Parents can demonstrate this
by using self-compassion and looking at failure as an opportunity to
learn from the situation.

3. How to develop a positive relationship with her body

Lost in a sea of selfies and reality television, girls might not know
how to view themselves beyond objects of desire. One way to
help them develop more complete and positive relationships with
their bodies is to introduce them to sports. Physical activity gives
them an opportunity to see their bodies as capable of strength
and stamina, rather than being defined by appearance only.
Research shows that sports can directly affect a girl’s self-
perception and self-confidence.

But even girls who feel physically capable and confident might still feel
ashamed of their bodies and their sexuality. Simmons recommends
talking with girls about their bodies from toddlerhood. Parents should
know and use the right names for genitalia and do their best to
“represent sex as a healthy, beautiful experience that should be had
with joy and consent.” That means talking about personal space
boundaries and what consent means early on and emphasizing that a
girl’s body belongs to her alone.

Parents who are uncomfortable discussing sex and the body
communicate those feelings to their daughter.  “When girls feel
uncomfortable with their bodies,” says Simmons, “they can also
disconnect from how they are really feeling and worry more about how someone else is feeling, or what they want, instead.”

4. How to learn from friendships

Girls are frequently told that friendships are paramount, and that may
be why they can be so singularly focused on those relationships.
Relationships help girls learn to assert themselves, compromise, and
set boundaries.

Parents should view friendships as an opportunity to show girls what
healthy relationships look like and how they can relate to others and
themselves. Girls may need to demonstrate this for their friends.
One example might be helping your daughter respond when her friend
does’t save a seat for her on the swing. Ask her what choices she had
in the situation and help her role-play an assertive response.
Encouraging her to communicate honestly and reasonably assert
herself, says Simmons, provides her with skills that she’ll need to push
for a raise as an adult.

These important skills aren’t easy to master, but the more chances a
girl has to practice them under the guidance of a trusted adult, the
more likely she’ll feel confident and self-assured as a teenager.

Rosanne Gephart, MSN, NP, CNM

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