I am a HUGE believer in GIRL POWER and although I am not a parent, I am a big sister and take that job very seriously. I have always encouraged my sister to do what she loves without boundaries and to know and truly believe that she is a beautiful, intelligent and capable young woman. Kids are constantly bombarded with the message that they are not pretty enough, not skinny wenough, not cool enough and essentially not good enough. Kids as young as 8 are dieting, or being bullied by other misguided kids for being different.
I love the Dove campaign for real beauty and the message that it conveys to young women. Launched in 2004, "The principle behind the campaign is to celebrate the natural physical variation embodied by all women and inspire them to have the confidence to be comfortable with themselves".
What you see in the media is VERY seldom the truth.
I recently came across an article written by Annie Fox M.Ed, award winning author, educator and online adviser for parents and teens that outlined 10 tips to help parents and mentors navigate the dicey world of teen girls and dating. It really resonated with me and I think it's a great read for all parents, mentors, older siblings and anyone in a position of influence over teens; regardless of gender.
- Recognize and appreciate the pressure she's under - Talk about all the messages your daughter gets from peers, the media, family members, and from within about the importance of having a boyfriend vs. not having one. These conversations help girls begin to understand what they're up against.
- True self-esteem comes from inside - Encourage your daughter to continue exploring her interests. Support those healthy interests in every way you can. The more direct experience she has in using her special gifts and talents, the clearer she'll be about who she is and where she's going. With that self-confidence she's less likely to let anyone else define her.
- Be a safe person to talk to - When you show tweens and teens trust that you will listenwith an open heart and an open mind as they express feelings of confusion, insecurity, anger, rejection and anxiety, you help them process emotions in healthy ways.
- Where is Dad? - Girls who consistently get recognition and approval for their intelligence, leadership, creativity, sense of humor, athleticism, etc. from Dad (or other trusted adult males) are far less likely to be "desperately" seeking attention from boys.
- The word "friend" is in "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" for a reason! - Too often girls lower their standards when it comes to boyfriends and accept unacceptable behavior just because they want a boyfriend so badly. (See #1) Help your daughter set clear criteria for what is and what isn't good boyfriend material.
- It's a 2-way street - A healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is based on mutual respect, trust, honesty, shared values and open communication. Your daughter needs to understand this. She also needs to be able to give as good as she gets when it comes to trust, respect, etc. Hopefully you are walking the walk in the healthy relationships you have in your own life. If you've made mistakes (and who hasn't?) talk about them in age-appropriate ways. Discuss with your daughter what you've learned about healthy relationships.
- Model healthy stress-management skills - Show your daughter that even when you're upset you know how to take care of yourself and the people around you by calming down and reflecting instead of freaking out and reacting. Do this and you show her how to deal with feelings and problems in responsible, thoughtful ways.
- Find teachable moments - Whether it's discussing the Q & A in "Dear Abby," or talking about relationships in a romantic comedy, you can use third person sources to increase your daughter's relationship smarts.
- Be clear about your values and your expectations - Let her know where you stand when it comes to teen dating and teen sex and why. If you're not sure then figure it out ASAP and communicate with your daughter.
- Be consistent in your empathy and compassion - Face it, you wouldn't want to be a teen again. This is a rough and emotional phase. Compassion, understanding, patience and a lot of deep breathing can sustain and strengthen the bond between you and your daughter. That's a good thing, because she needs you now more than ever!
It is never too early to instill values, morals and self-respect in kids. Conversations can be edited based on age and gender but the truth is that kids are exposed to subjects outside of their realm of understanding everyday and I truly believe that it is our responsibility to guide and encourage them on this crazy path called life. Self-respect is a non-negotiable. Intolerance is a non-negotiable and LOVE is a non-negotiable. Get involved in your kids and the kids whom you influences lives. No subject is off-limits and no conversation taboo. Most of all be an example of a happy, tolerant, self-respecting human being because they are watching, even when you think they aren't...