In 2017, parenting expert and child psychologist Steve Biddulph shared his thoughts in his book, 10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow up Strong and Free. According to the Australian, these are: a secure and loving start, the time to be a child, friendship skills, the respect and love of a father, a spark, aunties, a happy and healthy sexuality, a backbone, feminism and spirit.
As a mum to two, a girl of 20 and a boy of 15, I would say the list applies to both sexes in 2019 and I am particularly triggered personally by the respect and love of a father thing as I feel that has been lacking in my own life and therefore probably contributes to the insecurity, lack of self-worth and abandonment that washes over me in waves at times. Hmmmmm, that is something for me to work on but I digress in my musings. I love that a spark and aunties are on his list as I do feel sparkiness and the friendship of a role model auntie can make a huge difference in helping girls to grow strong, resilient and self-assured.
Report after report finds that the way a mother acts in front of her daughter largely influences her behaviour, and there are ways to model a healthy self-image that benefit both of you. Be kind to yourself in your actions and words in front of your daughter and watch what you say, especially gossip and especially about other women. Be a woman who empowers other women rather than a woman who fears other women are competition. Furthermore, how a girl feels about her appearance is largely determined by how her mother regards her own. Keep that firmly in mind and don’t be surprised if you see your t(w)een sucking in her stomach when dressing if you do the same. Model positive health choices, nutrition choices, diet choices, exercise choices. In fact, just be the best bloody healthy woman influencer you can be which quite frankly is good for you too, isn’t it?
You can teach her how to handle conflict in her life which is inevitable and not easy, especially for girls who have a predisposition for wanting to be liked. Showing her that it’s okay to express a full range of emotions is the number-one way to do this. “Because girls frequently show a lot of emotion, we mistakenly believe that they are emotionally intelligent,” says Rosalind Wiseman, author of the best-selling book Queen Bees and Wannabes. “But girls learn very early to take care of other peoples’ emotions first. They think they are always supposed to feel happy and excited, and they push down so-called ‘bad’ feelings like jealousy, anger, or insecurity.” Normalizing these emotions really helps your t(w)een daughter be able to express them without guilt and she won’t suppress them in order to not upset anyone. Instead validate them when they show up and encourage her to openly express them in a safe, loving place – your home. Explore these three important questions with her and keep them in mind in all your interactions as she needs to know the answers to be socially confident; “What do you think about me? Do you understand me? What are your hopes for me?“
Yep, you read it right. Let her make mistakes and own them in order to build her confidence. The theory is this; girls are inadvertently groomed to become perfectionists by being praised for “good girl” behaviour, so they quickly learn that making mistakes means “not good enough.” This leads to them being risk averse and staying well within their comfort zones. Instead, encourage them to try new things, new activities or hobbies or let them loose to choose for themselves. We want our t(w)een girls to succeed so we are often tempted to do things for them but this does not help them grow. Mistakes and failure is a normal part of learning and we all make mistakes. Talk about your own without self criticism and encourage her to do the same. Leave her frustrated when she is learning to do something new and only offer help in clues and chunks of information. This allows her to connect the dots and find the solutions herself. Ohhh and whilst I think about this...resilience is one of the skills employers will be looking for, for the jobs that will exist in the future; the sorts of jobs that don’t exist yet but your daughter will be doing. Just let her screw up mama!
Adolescence is when girls truly start to understand their identity as separate from their parents. Everyone is unique, of course, but the t(w)een years are a period when girls are drawn to the pack and copying their friends in terms of fashion, style, behaviour, likes and dislikes and even mannerisms and language choices. It’s very confusing for us mums when we see our daughters in their pack…..unless we can remember what it was like for ourselves. I remember a time during my teens when my pack all had to wear a Benetton red lambswool sweater and it was compulsory or else. I remember the day I decided to break the code and wear what I really wanted (bizarrely a Victorian white nightdress with boots and an oversized man’s tweed jacket). Wow, I had discovered me and embraced my unique fashion and identity. It goes for activity choices too. Just because your family love hiking, doesn’t mean she does. Give her space to explore what she does like doing and allow her to explore. When she steps into her uniqueness, her confidence grows but she will initially need to know you are Ok with it…all of it.
I think this is easier to write than to do sometimes but believe me, it makes one hell of a difference and in our busy lives it takes effort and commitment. I know I was guilty of what I call pseudo listening to my daughter and assumed I knew what she was going to say so only listened to half of it whilst I continued doing what I was involved in. I only realised I had missed out on information when I asked questions later and she got annoyed with me as she had already told me. We are all so often formulating our replies in our head rather than fully listening and it takes practice to develop the active listening muscle. Start early and keep at it. “When we LISTEN to girls, they think about what they are saying, and they tend to reflect more,” says Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., co-author of Mom, They’re Teasing Me. “We need to stay calm and listen to what they’re experiencing without projecting our own experiences onto theirs.” Let her express herself to find the answers that lie within her that will become the ones she lives her life by.
In particular talk about the differences between sex in the movies and loving relationships in real life. As a t(w)een understanding the difference between sexualised images in the media and healthy sexuality becomes very important. Through discussion, you can help her understand media representations of sex and sexiness and how sex is way too frequently portrayed without love, intimacy or emotion or as part of a caring relationship.
Have you seen the series, Sex Education on Netflix? If not, I encourage you to do so to see the effect porn has on shaping our girls attitudes, beliefs and behaviours about sex today. It takes a light hearted approach but is a great compass for what they are learning and how they think sex should be. Sex is part of a mature, healthy, loving relationship and even if the subject makes you squeamish, you owe it to your daughter to have this discussion before she watches porn which is so easily accessible.
Raising a power full girl is exciting and energising. Keep the connection, talk and listen and even when things get tough, appreciate your special bond.