I'm dating myself here, but I remember as a pre-teen girl, watching music videos on the brand new channel, MTV. There were some cool videos, but what I remember most vividly are those by the myriad "hair metal" bands. I remember watching the writhing, scantily clad young women behave provocatively toward the men. I had never seen such images!
What made those videos so memorable was the way they made me feel. I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as I took in the confusing and powerful subliminal messages. The videos didn't speak to my conscious, discerning mind. They spoke directly to my vulnerable, unconscious mind in a way which made it difficult for me to critically think about them, and to keep them out! They were, however, powerful messages I received about what it meant to be a young woman, how I should think and behave, what my purpose should be, etc. I began to think of myself differently. I began to devalue my intellect and my true personality.
Fast forward to today: girls as young as 12 are using smart phones and "sexting"; social media pervades our girls' lives with ruthless peer interactions, many of which have a sexist context; hip hop and pop music glorify the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls and women; female musicians perform in increasingly provocative ways; and research has shown, TV and film continue to under-represent the female perspective. It's enough to make us all ditch our technology and run screaming for the hills! So, what can you do as a concerned parent to protect your daughter and support her to maintain her connection to the value of her mind and heart?
Suggestions & Considerations
- Cultivate a secure attachment with your daughter. This can be difficult if you did not experience a secure attachment yourself growing up, but with the help of a caring therapist and some work, you can provide your daughter with a gift which will last her lifetime and carry on to future generations! Dr. Dan Siegel has written and researched extensively on this topic, and his book, Parenting From the Inside Out is an accessible and helpful guide.
- Spend time with and talk with your daughter in a way which encourages her to self-reflect and think critically about her experiences. Showing her empathy and genuine curiosity can go a long way toward helping her to develop self-confidence and trust in her own wisdom and voice. The classic book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, is a great resource.
- Provide ample opportunities from an early age for free, unstructured play in nature. The folks at Children and Nature Network do a great job explaining this.
- Encourage her to participate in activities which de-emphasize her appearance. Dance and gymnastics can be wonderful experiences for girls, but they do exert pressure on girls to look pretty, graceful and often, thin. Don't forbid your daughter from such activities, but encourage physical pursuits which value her contributions and not her appearance. Rock climbing, hiking, biking, team sports and yoga (without a mirror) promote a freedom from self-consciousness. If she does enjoy dance, invite her to discuss these issues on a regular basis.
- Delay computer usage as long as possible, and delay internet and social media usage even longer. Once that genie is out of the bottle, it is really tough to put it back in.
- When your daughter goes on-line, she needs your protection and guidance. You wouldn't put her on a bus to Times Square alone at night without any money, or phone, would you? So don't let her go on-line without you! This can be a tough sell, and many parents are afraid to set limits for fear of being a "bad guy" to their child. Trust me and gazillions of other experts - your child needs you to set limits for them, even if they don't like it! In my experience, many kids protest initially, but experience parental limits as containing and calming. When you do decide to allow your daughter online, establish safety guidelines from the beginning. Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents.
- When you decide to allow your child social media access, establish ground rules from the beginning. Educate her about safety, but also let her know that you will have her passwords and be checking her posts regularly. Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for parents, and this article covers concerns with social media, including the importance of kindness.
Raising a daughter today can be a challenge! There are more opportunities for girls than ever before, yet the factors which erode their confidence and strong sense of self seem more pernicious than ever. With some thought, attention and support, we can help girls to navigate these critical years with strength and grace, laying the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life.