Raising Strong Girls

Raising girls in today’s society has many challenges. From navigating the external pressures of social media, peer pressure, judgement from others, bullying, and how women are still largely viewed in the world, there are many obstacles.

Our teens also face a lot of internal struggles including gender identity, mental health concerns, body image issues, sexualization, sex, fear of failure, and self-judgement.

Empowering young girls has been a passion of mine for many years, having raised one daughter who just turned twenty-seven, and now navigating the teen years with my thirteen-year-old stepdaughter.

I raised my eldest daughter during the early days of technology when Facebook was brand new, kids still had flip phones, and the only form of online messaging was ICQ. Do you remember ICQ? Even in the early days of social media and the text craze, I watched as my daughter succumbed to the constant need to check her phone at all hours of the day – even going as far as crawling into my bedroom where her phone “slept”, long after we had gone to bed.

Raising daughter number two has proven just as challenging with kids these days carrying around small computers in their pockets chock full of social media apps they can’t seem to pry themselves away from. Too much passive use of social media can be linked to feelings of envy, inadequacy and less satisfaction with life and many studies now suggest it can lead to ADHD symptoms, depression, anxiety and sleep deprivation. Many kids are spending up to nine hours each day scrolling and swiping on their devices.

Kids Ultimately Simply Want to Connect

During adolescence, girls often have low self-esteem and confidence, and find it hard to balance their uniqueness with the opposing pull of needing to fit in. It is a difficult dance, if one is too unique and they may find they are then ostracized. Too similar, and they seem to lose themselves. At the core, our kids just want to connect. It is our job to recognize this and help them find ways to do this safely.

Lindsay Sealey, author of Rooted, Resilient and Ready, Empowering Teen Girls as They Grow, states in her book, “psychologists tell us that the two most fundamental milestones of adolescent development include understanding identity and gaining social acceptance – knowing who she is and feeling she belongs.” This is a vital time for girls to start figuring out who they are, and what they stand for.

The Teenage Years are Difficult for Parents

The teenage years are a difficult time for parent’s as we want our kids to learn lessons on their own, but we also want to protect them. Hovering parents push their kids away, too out of touch, and our kids slowly drift away.

Ms. Sealey recommends that we be “periphery parents”. She states, “you are not her friend or in her circle. You are her parent – far enough away so she has the space and freedom to make her own choices, to feel free to be herself, but close enough to offer your encouragement and guidance and provide strength and security as she needs”.

Here are a few tips to consider when navigating the teenage years with your daughter:

  • Model healthy behaviour. 
    When you have had a challenging day, engage in healthy habits to unwind. Hit the gym, go for a walk, meditate, read a book or simply spend some time alone. Be open with your teen about your day and show her what healthy tools you employ to feel better. 
  • Focus on wellness with your daughter.
    Talk about the importance of nutrition, sleep, fitness, having a positive body image, nurturing friendships.
  • Keep girls busy! 
    Start this when they are young if possible – encourage them to be social by setting up play dates and enrolling them in team sports. Encourage them to join a club or team at school. Suggest volunteer work or a job. Both are excellent dopamine releasers which will help them manage well-being. Be an active participant with your teen and engage in activities with them such as bike riding, skiing, hiking, playing a sport, creating art or playing a musical instrument.
  • Foster an open-door policy. 
    Be available for your teen and let them know that no topic is off limit. Try not to overreact if they share something that startles you. Use the opportunity to probe deeper to uncover their point of view and share your knowledge, experience, and insights with them. If you are unsure how to properly handle the situation or you need more information, do some research and then circle back to your teen.
  • Help your teen find a passion. 
    The release of dopamine in the brain is supercharged in the teenage years with an acceleration in the development of incentive motivation. Find healthy ways to incentivize your teens to release this dopamine to avoid them potentially turning to substances or other unhealthy vices.
  • Be a guide for your teen.
    Focus on guiding her - not controlling her. This will keep the door open and foster your relationship with her.
  • Connect with your teen. 
    Find innovative ways to connect with your teen and keep the line of communication open. Play board games, listen to music, watch a Netflix series together, walk in nature and talk. Teach her how to bake or cook, paint, learn a language or how to play an instrument together. Feign interest in her favourite show, ask her to explain the story line and the characters. Simply sharing space and listening will go a long way in building connection and trust. 
  • Be your daughter’s biggest champion.  
    Recognize the big and the small successes and encourage them to keep trying new things outside of their comfort zone.

As difficult as the adolescent years can be, they are also incredibly rewarding. These years set the stage for who your daughter will become as an adult. You will be helping to shape her morals and values, how she views and treats others, her ability to persevere and her level of resiliency. It is a huge responsibility and one you should be proud to take. Ultimately, our goal is to launch our teens as healthy, independent, functioning, contributing members of society. I know you are up to the challenge! Parents, you’ve got this!

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