Our girls are seeing, hearing and believing that they do not need to settle for anything less than half of the American pie. That is exciting! At times this year I have felt that there is magic in the air and indeed there is. However, all I have to do is walk into one of my girls leadership workshops and speak with my students (in grades 4th-8th) to be reminded of the immense pressure our girls feel to be “perfect”, “get along” and just “be nice.”
We parents (and society) give our girls mixed messages and we need to pay close attention to our actions and our words . We tell them to be leaders, but we call them out for being “bossy.” We tell them that they are capable and strong, but then we jump in and solve their problems for them. We encourage them to be assertive, but then we inundate them with pleas to be nice and respectful. We tell them to take risks, make mistakes but then we mitigate their failures so they don't feel the hurt.
Truth be told, our girls don’t have the utensils they need to eat, let alone share that half of the American pie that they are being promised.
We parents need to help our girls not rely on the external world to offer them pats on the back and validation. Sure good grades in school or being on an elite sports team offer a confidence boost during those early years, however, research shows that when our girls keep their head down and focus only on academic and physical achievement and don't speak up, it is not enough to sustain a feeling of true confidence in one's whole self. Having report cards that are covered with A’s alone is not doing our girls justice. In fact, along with those A’s we want to be focusing on a whole lot of C’s, too: Communication, collaboration, contribution, character, creativity
That feeling of confidence that we all so desperately want for our girls can only be born from the inside and hard earned. No parental life lesson, academic achievement, empowerment rally or brilliant ad campaign can give it to her. And that starts with her learning to speak up and ask for what she wants and/or needs. It takes courage, but it’s a skill they (and even we adults) can learn.
So how do we raise confident girls in 2018 you ask?
We teach our girls to use their voice and be brave!
Being able to share freely how you feel in exchange for the opportunity to make change in your world (or a situation) is freedom. Freedom is the ability to share your truth and knowing that you will be okay whatever the outcome may be from having done so. Intimacy comes when you share how you feel. That is how relationships get stronger. And relationships are the cornerstone of happiness.
Just like an iceberg where only 10% of the whole mass can be seen above the surface, most people hide their true emotions below the surface. Only if we dig below the surface, and let those feelings come above, can others actually know and understand how we are feeling. Sharing how you feel brings the truth to the surface. Thus if you share how you feel with someone, and it is not received as you would have liked, you will find that you still feel relief.
When feelings are kept inside and not voiced, that is when we see unhealthy and problematic behaviors.. Those “hurt” feelings often get buried and later in life, whether in work or in relationships, we tend to see that girls won't speak up yet again, having carried with them this default way of being in the world. This can come at tremendous personal cost to their careers, marriages and friendships.
So for those who have a girl they adore in their lives, start broadening the emotional vocabulary that you use around them. Do good role modeling and tell stories from your day labeling the emotions (disappointed, anxious, embarrassed) that went along with the events that happened. You can even play the game Rose and Thorn. Sharing with each other a “Rose” (something good) that happened and a “Thorn” something that didn’t go so well. Just be sure to include super descriptive words that the audience can understand right away how you were feeling. No generalizations like happy or angry.
And while you are at it, let’s start lowering the “perfection" wall that you have built up around you. The one that you thought you needed in order to show your girl(s) you are a wise and capable mentor. Let her see over the top and that you make mistakes too and while your at it, apologize to her when you in fact mishandle something. Have an open and honest conversation about the value i, asking for help, making mistakes and demonstrating that we can all choose to act differently no matter what age and how entrenched our habits maybe, once we know to act differently.
About the Author:
Laurie Wolk is an Author, Educator & Motivational Speaker focusing on parenting adolescents and social media. A “go to” girl since childhood and a cheerleader at heart, her passion is helping parents and young girls learn how to communicate and connect with themselves, each other and the outside world.
She works directly with companies, schools, organizations and individuals on building confidence, leadership and digital citizenship skills. Her goal: teaching girls how to put down their digital devices and develop “in real life” communication and relationship skills.
A graduate of Emory University, Laurie received her BA in Psychology and is the Author of the book Girls Just Want to Have Likes: How to Raise Confident Girls in the Face of Social Media Madness due in bookstores nationwide this August. She is the Editor of The Spark Report, a weekly report that helps parents of tweens/teens spark meaningful conversations with their children. Laurie received advanced certification at the Martha Beck and Girls Leadership Institutes and is on the Board of the Westchester Children’s Museum and at Girls Leadership.
An engaged and hands-on mother of three + dog, Laurie understands adolescents and connects with them both as a guide and a friend, teaching them important social and emotional skills that will serve them for a lifetime. She has been called a “modern mentor” by clients and forms natural connections early on with both parent and child.