Raising Girls in Today's World
In today's society children face a great deal of challenges before they reach adulthood. The challenges facing boys and girls may seem similar, but the truth is that boys and girls are different, and their problems while similar, are also diverse. As the society has changed, so have the issues facing girls. In years past girls were groomed to find good husbands to take care of them, to learn how to run their households for their future families, and to be efficient mothers. They were taught to be respectful and to tolerate uncomfortable situations in silence, to strive for perfection in grooming and status, and in essence, let males be the important ones in their relationships. The calendar dictates that decades have passed, but girls are often still caught between the times. Girls today need to be taught to be strong and confident, possess excellent self-esteem, and become competent, educated, successful members of society.
In a world filled with obstacles, here are a few tips to help parents get their daughters on course:
Level the playing field. Make it easy for daughters to come to parents with questions, comments, updates, and feelings. The more accessible parents are, the more opportunity there is for these conversations to occur. Turn off the electronics a little more at home, or at least establish rules that apply to everyone (barring emergencies or true job requirements.)
Encourage girls to try new things and step out of their comfort zone. Have young girls try a multitude of different activities and sports as they mature enough to physically handle the activity. Let them determine where their true interests lie and which things they really enjoy. They can eventually narrow down their focus. They will then be able to experience a sense of accomplishment from selecting, participating in and honing their desired craft. If none of the current activities are a good match, discuss stick-to-it-ness (until the current session/week/season/class ends) and move on to greener pastures.
Adopt a limit on the amount of television, types of music, and internet sites that can be accessed in the household. If you can't ban/limit altogether, perhaps you could make it a point to listen to music together, surf as a family, and watch pre-determined programming that provides an appropriate message. While you probably won't eliminate all the negative influences, you may minimize them, or at least provide girls with a solid foundation for determining what is in line with their own family morals. Use television as a tool to discuss current events, social problems, and any mixed messages that may be presented.
Discuss the things that often concern parents - peer pressure, drugs/alcohol, promiscuity, media influence, image issues, questionable fashions, social media, technology, etc. Don't be afraid to let daughters know your concerns and see if they have any insight, opinions, etc. Their thoughts could ease your mind, provide a gateway for serious communication, or perhaps provide a head's up concerning a potential problem. Two-way communication is the key.
Buy clothing together, or at least, be clear about what your family deems acceptable. Many will say that clothing is a self-expression, but be sure to voice which messages you want your daughter to be conveying. Just be clear about why certain clothing is unacceptable, and what messages short, tight, minuscule clothing and excessive make-up may be saying to certain individuals. Clothing should be selected for their own personal enjoyment and not to fit in or attract attention from boys.
Yield when necessary. There is a time for everyone to step back and access a situation. A time to ask "will continuing on this path result in my desired outcome?" If the answer is no - cease and desist. This is a skill parents should teach, as well as, practice. Sometimes completely disengaging from a situation is best, while in other cases, it provides both parties with a much needed cooling off period.
Engage girls in activities that will build their self-esteem. Let them work toward their goals with a plan in mind. Let them learn through trial and error, perseverance. Life can throw many obstacles along the way. Girls should learn they can achieve their goals and leave whatever mark they desire in the world, if they keep trying. Having the wherewithal to pick themselves up and start over again is one of the most valuable life lessons.
Examine girls in environments away from home. This does not mean spy on them, but simply watch how they interact with others - peers, teachers, other adults, siblings, etc. Is your daughter the funny one trying to fit in or the class clown, the shy one, the popular one, the mean one, or the misunderstood one? If she is having problems fitting in, or her interactions with others are a little disturbing, she may need your help. Discuss the situation and see if you can help her solve her dilemma, or at least maybe bring your observations to her attention. It's often very difficult to see a problem when you're immersed in it.
Allow girls the opportunity to decide on what occurs in their lives. While most major final decisions will be made by parents, daughters should be allowed to make a case. However, in day to day operations let girls practice making decisions and/or develop a plan for initiating a conversation about whatever they may want. Let them learn to be assertive, take the initiative, and become self-sufficient.
Mothers, in particular, often have a difficult time living with their daughters. This is especially true when they are similar in personality, and more so when they have strong personalities. The good news is that girls with strong personalities will typically not be anyone's doormat. However, the bad news is that you do have to live with them until they grow up. Which may not be an easy tak! Encourage girls to speak their minds and to speak up for what they believe in. Also encourage girls to learn to listen to those around them and to know when to simply observe. In years past, it was often expected that a woman keep the conversation flowing. Much can be learned by simply listening.
Provide a stable environment for girls to grow up in. One of the disadvantages for more youths today is the fact that there are fewer two-parent homes. Daughters should be exposed to successful adult relationships. This helps provide them with an environment in which to relax after venturing out into the world for the day. A place to recharge their batteries, and provide a sense of well-being in what could be a chaotic existence. Additionally, this lays a foundation for future relationships. Do mom and dad fight fair? How do they rectify their disagreements? Are chores divided up by gender? After all of these years do mom and dad still hold hands and actually converse with each other? These are all things that are witnessed daily.
Love your body and teach girls to love their bodies, and be accepting of their friends' bodies, as well. Body image is such a taboo in today's society. While boys often want to DO what their friends are doing, girls typically want to LOOK like their friends. We live in a society where it is not uncommon to hear a perfectly weighted six year old asking if she is overweight. Negative body image in girls can lead to lifelong emotional and physical problems. Parents need to discuss body image, unrealistic weight goals, dieting, and air brushing with their children, but girls, in particular. What's on the inside is what matters, but girls should be taught to love their entire package - body and soul.
Embrace your daughters. Let them know how much you love them and appreciate having them in your lives. It's one of the things many people take for granted. Let them know all you want for them in the future, but accept them for who they are right now. Let them know that everyone is a work in progress. It's the fortunate ones who recognize this fact, and continue to learn their entire lives.
As parents it's easy to forget that children see what is done, hear what is said and often imitate what they learn. One of the best ways to try to mitigate the outside influences, is by providing girls with strong role models they can look up to and learn from.
While you may currently be tempted to invest in good earplugs for your own ears, duct tape to keep the girls from opening their mouths before they think things through, and have a therapist on speed dial, parents may find some of the above tips useful to help raise girls while maintaining most of their sanity.
Kim Green-Spangler B.S. Ed. is a freelance writer, columnist, research specialist, budding author, wife and mother. She has written hundreds of articles on topics specific to women and moms, exercise enthusiasts, small and home-based business owners and homeschoolers. She can be contacted at www.kspanresearch.com.