In our twenty years of working with girls and the adults who care about them, Girls Empowerment Network (GEN) has developed a strong foundation of expertise on the pressures of girlhood. These pressures range from the personal and parental to academic, social and societal expectations that affect girls’ choices and behavior between the ages of 8 and 18.
GEN recently released #Stressed #Savvy: Texas Girls Talk, our qualitative research report that enhances our understanding of today’s girls’ experiences – and clearly reveals the stress this generation of young women feel. The effects of stress on girls and young women is real, measureable, and detrimental, as rates of self-injury, depression, and anxiety increase. This anxiety and stress epidemic concerns us. One perspective to consider is that the pressure of “having it all” or to be “perfect” is affecting women at a younger age than ever before — from grown adults to teen girls. Hearing girls share their thoughts on stress and the future affirms that our work is important. We are here to support girls and the adults who care about them, as girls and young women navigate the challenges of girlhood.
Based on the study’s key findings, here are three ways we believe parents and adults can support the girls in their lives.
#1 – STRESS – We all have stress. But without the right coping mechanisms and role models, stress leads to harmful behaviors.
GEN SAYS – You can support a girl by helping her set realistic expectations, allowing for imperfection and failure, and modeling healthy choices in times of stress. Failure can be an opportunity to learn more about oneself, and ultimately lead a girl to become more resilient. Talk to her about perfectionism and that is it okay to fail. When she is stressed, encourage her to take a break by listening to 10 minutes of music, taking a short walk, coloring a mandala or taking deep, cleansing breaths. She can meditate or let her mind wander to something new for a few minutes. Set a limit, and when the time is up, she can resume the task before her. Finally, be a role model. If she sees you going for a walk when you’re stressed, she will know it is okay for her to feel stress and deal with it in a positive way.
#2 – PARENTS’ RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEIR DAUGHTERS – #Stressed #Savvy: Texas Girls Talk showed that so much happens between middle school and high school. Younger girls were more likely to have challenging friendships and tight relationships with their parents while older girls had learned to limit the obvious “frenemies” and had more tension with their parents.
GEN SAYS – Participants in #Stressed #Savvy: Texas Girls Talk valued their connection with their parents and also wanted the freedom to explore life outside of the family. Girls want to be connected to their family through easy conversation and closeness to each other physically. Girls also feel pride in their own accomplishments, and they value feedback from others relating to who they are, not what they have achieved.
Here’s how to give your girl a compliment with staying power: acknowledge who she is on the inside, and not only what she does. If you give detail, a compliment will have staying power! For example, instead of saying “You are a leader,” try this: “I saw your leadership skills during that soccer game when you encouraged everyone to do their part.” Or instead of “Great job raising money for the animal shelter,” offer an observation: “Your passion really shines when you raise money for a cause you believe in.”
#3 – LIVING IN TWO WORLDS: Most participants seemed to live within a dual reality – the first level exists in places/with people where they’re comfortable and can be themselves. These are within themselves, with family/friends and part of immersive activities. The second level is outside this bubble where they don’t feel as safe, and they worry and wonder about how they are seen and what people think.
GEN SAYS – We hear girls say these are times when they can “take off their mask” and be more authentic. How can you help? Have your girl say out loud something she loves about herself, at least once a week. You can say one thing you love about her, too. Make it a weekly (or daily) tradition. It boosts her self-worth and strengthens your parent/daughter bond. And you’ll learn more about what she is passionate about and how she is feeling about school, activities, music, TV shows – and she’ll feel more connected to you.
More so than 20 years ago, today’s girls are savvy and well-versed in vernacular of empowerment. They are a generation that sees unlimited possibilities for their futures and are familiar with a wide range of accomplishments by their role models. More than their mothers, and certainly more than their grandmothers, this generation of young women believes that the sky is the limit. Think about giving her the support she needs at home, school and through our campGEN summer camp for girls in grades 3-8, or Pathfinder Leadership Summit for high school girls.