Shaping the Next Generation of Successful Young Women
● By Sandy Kauten
As parents of children of either gender, we hope that they will end up happy, healthy, successful, and prepared to take on all the world has to offer. Children today are extra vulnerable because the world is changing quickly and it can be difficult for anyone to keep up. Think of the shows that were on television, or the values that seemed to be in place mere generation ago. Those things have been replaced with reality television, cable access with very little censorship, and an apparent acceptance of the “norms” of today’s world.
Girls, in particular, can get caught between the generations, in large part due to their parental influences. What can parents do to help their girls prepare for their futures? They can nurture their individuality, teach them to have a voice and use it and help them learn how o overcome and challenges and embrace all opportunities.
There are several key areas that come into play when discussing girls:
Many of today’s fashion trends make it near impossible to raise girls with a positive self-image. Questionable attire used to be reserved for older girls in their teen years. However, the recent marketing ploys put into place by big businesses, is targeting younger girls. Between lower and lower-rise pants, leaving nothing to the imagination when girls merely sit down, cropped, mesh, lace and sheer tops that require multiple layers if girls want to try to preserve their modesty and clothing with inappropriate messages emblazoned on them, exactly what is a girl to do? There are stores around that sell appropriate clothing, but with each passing year their numbers are dwindling. Many girls who would rather dress more conservatively are stuck with clothing they’d prefer not wear, like current fashion trends or uniform clothing – each on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Younger Girls: Parents should refuse to purchase things like thongs, or undergarments that sport inappropriate messages like “juicy”, “hot”, “naughty”, or with questionable graphics. Complain to stores. If enough people complain and post their complaints online, store buyers will take notice, quickly. Why stock a store with clothing that isn’t being purchased? Today’s work parents can make social media work in their favor.
Older Girls: In addition to refusing to make purchases and letting their dissatisfaction be known, parents should ask them to step away and put themselves in an observer’s shoes prior to making a purchase. Ask, If they would be embarrassed to walk up to a register holding their purchase for everyone to see, or if their clothing was accidentally torn and the graphic/message on their shirt or panties became visible, or if they were seen sporting a certain look by their boyfriend’s parent, a clergy member or their grandparent how would they feel. Some girls may not care, but just asking them to consider how their clothing choices look from another perspective may make your case without you having to harp on them.
Girls can often get caught up in cliques, stuck in ruts, or pigeonholed into a role like a jock, or a princess, or a nerd, etc. Given that they spend so much of their day in school, often where these roles are nurtured, community involvement can help them step away from their perceived roles and grow as individuals. Soup kitchens, volunteering for storytelling at a local library, or visiting retirement/nursing homes can be just the thing to help girls learn to focus on others and give back to their community.
Younger girls: Girls are never too young to start giving back. Four and five year olds can help plant and maintain a community gardens or help set tables at a soup kitchen. Nurturing empathy and social responsibility can help make this a lifelong habit.
Older girls: In addition to personal growth and aiding the community, many high schools are requiring students to perform a minimum number of community service hours in order to graduate. Older girls can also coordinate food, clothing and blood drives, collect supplies for the military and participate in parades, community days and more.
Today’s parents often speak of this generation as the “entitled” generation. As parents work hard to provide their daughters with as many opportunities as possible, they should also make sure their daughters recognize and appreciate their efforts. Our changing society where parents are reluctant for children to have newspaper routes, or collect bottles/cans and when children have activities that begin right after school has contributed to a reduction in working teenagers.
According to the Census Bureau for the Labor Departments Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 1999, slightly more than 52 percent of teens 16 to 19 worked a summer job. By this year , that number had plunged to about 32.25 percent over June and July. It means that slightly more than three in 10 teens actually worked a summer job, out of a universe of roughly 16.8 million U.S. teens.”
Younger girls: If possible, start girls earning, saving and budgeting money at an early age. Chores and allowance are excellent ways to help teach girls about the value of money and how much work it takes to earn something you want. In addition, it also helps girls recognize the need to develop and improve upon skills for increased performance.
Older girls: In addition to chores and allowance, older girls can babysit, have weekend jobs, or perform online work as a freelancer to make extra cash. Searching for an online job is an excellent way to introduce girls to the job search process and how to create a resume of their marketable skills.
Girls should be taught that they can be or do anything. In order to achieve these goals, their intellectual side should be nurtured from the very beginning.
Despite the obvious differences, girls are neurologically different from their male counterparts. According to recent research performed at the University of Southern California and in Madrid, Spain, girls’ brains are 10% smaller than boys’. However, girls use the brain’s gray matter more efficiently than boys. So, while boys tend to learn math easier and can master it earlier than most girls, girls tend to master languages and fine motor skill tasks years earlier than boys.
Younger Girls: Parents should make reading a very important part of their lives through the library, book stores, or even online retailers. Children should be taken to storytelling groups to help them broaden their social worlds, but to also encourage them to verbalize their opinions in a group-setting, which is often a problem for girls. Encourage the reading of magazines and newspapers for current events awareness. Visit museums, historical societies, botanical gardens, plays and other cultural events, locally and while traveling. Feeding the brain and the body also builds intellect. Games that use the mind like checkers, chess, Suduko, word puzzles, and crosswords are particularly useful. Proper nutrition is crucial to brain development and intellectual stimulation.
Older girls: Parents should continue the experiences used for younger girls, and make sure daughters learn to nurture their own intellect with positive internal dialogue. Very often positive influences are sabotaged by negative messages. So, parents should help their daughters train themselves to recognize their accomplishments, applaud their successes and be content with their own personal best.
Being able to successfully interact with people of all races, religions, socio-economic groups and nationalities is important in today’s society. Teaching girls to respect differences and form healthy relationships without tearing down others is very important. Often young girls put themselves as prettier, smarter, richer, more athletic, etc. than a counterpart – thereby making another girl, or group of girls feel inferior. Parents can help girls develop relationships without the competition that can lead to bullying. According the Cyber bullying Research Center, “females are more likely to experience social or psychological bullying.”
Younger girls: Teach daughters about diversity and acceptance. Teach young girls to respect their achievements and that while competition is healthy and a normal part of society, they can be competitive without being nasty or mean. Learn to be supportive of others and work as a team. They should not set out to intentionally cause anyone emotional or physical harm and that they do not have to belong to any one group, but can be friends and have relationships with many different types of people with different interests, backgrounds and goals.
Older girls: Let older girls know that teasing, criticizing, belittling and talking about others is mean and is bullying. Bullying is a crime. There is no excuse for it and if the shoe were on the other foot they would not like it. Let them know that you will not tolerate any bullying on their part. Encourage daughters to be supportive of other women. If young women learn to work together the work force of the next generation will reflect this strength.
Our daughters are half of the population of the future. As parents, we need to encourage them to dream big, work towards their goals and keep the lines of communication open – as young girls, older girls and adults. What a beautiful legacy!
Written By: Kim Green-Spangler