Empowering girls, how to? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 12 Old 09-12-2004, 03:20 PM - Thread Starter
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I am concerned about the messages my girls have and are getting from me, their family, and society at large. I want my girls to be confident, secure and emotionally/mentally (and sexually) healthy.

How do you (other parents) help your preteen and teen girls maintain healthy body image and self-esteem among our pop culture and advertising onslaught on our gilrs? Our girls have to deal with such mixed messages and a confusing array of contradicting expectations.

I found these magazine recommendations in Utne magazine:

Teen Voices www.teenvoices.com

New Moon: The magazine for Girls and Their Dreams www.newmoon.org

Dream/Girl: The Arts magazine for Girls www.dgarts.com


Shameless www.shamelessmag.com

Any other ideas? Is it better to homeschool girls, private school, all girls school? Does religious involvement help? Can we do all the building up at home, or does the exposure at school and from TV tear all our efforts down? Do "dates" with Daddy help?

I am really commited to raising healthy, critically thinking and self assured, internally motivated girls who aren't looking constantly to others for their self worth. You know, STRONG WOMEN!!
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#2 of 12 Old 09-12-2004, 11:25 PM
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Make sure you are modeling the behaviors you want.

As for schooling, I would go for homeschooling first, then it would be on a school to school bases. Some private all girls school are cut throat.

Girls can be verbally abusive to each other. A hit with words is more damaging than with a fist.
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#3 of 12 Old 09-13-2004, 07:21 PM
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Shameless is awesome! We grabbed the first issue a couple of weeks ago, even though, technically, dd is ten years too young for it, and I'm ten years too old. We read some of the sports and arts articles together, and we especially liked the Rock and Roll Summer Camp they profiled. dd is psyched to go to something like that when she's older.

For Canadian families, there is also CAGiS, the Canadian Association for Girls in Science. I haven't fully checked it out yet, because my daughter hasn't hit the minimum age (7). According to their site, they organize girl-centered field trips and science fairs in a number of major cities. Does anyone have any experience with them or know any more about this group?
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#4 of 12 Old 09-14-2004, 01:25 AM - Thread Starter
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I agree with the above..... what else????
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#5 of 12 Old 09-14-2004, 02:28 AM
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We are most concerned with modeling right attitudes about this stuff in the first place. Explaining that taking care of our bodies and being proud of what we look like is great, but that it's just one tiny piece of who we are. I find that in the area of tv and media in general we are more mainstream than some other fams on MDC (totally no problem.. its the variety I dig here and we discuss the things that come up alot. Clothing issues, weight, sexuality, stereotypes.. etc.

I think it's important for parents to think about the example they set. If I vent one day that I am feeling "fat" that is alright I think. I am only human after all. However if I constantly say things like "Im so fat" or "im fat and ugly" or "I cant eat this or I will get really fat" that is setting an example to our children that weight is tied into how good a person we are, and also can set the stage for food battles that girls don't need.

New moon magazine is terrific, and it gets me and Dd's (age almost 11) vote. We are unschoolers, and we think it's great for allowing Dd to develop her own sense of self. Religion wise: I am Wiccan, and though Dd has not decided what her path is yet she has enjoyed many of the positive aspects that Wicca has to offer girls.

"The true measure of a man is how he treats a man who can do him absolutely no good."
peace.gif  Embrace the learning that is happening within the things that are actually happening!    
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#6 of 12 Old 09-16-2004, 11:02 AM
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This is what I did.

First I am a strong woman, and I make sure that they know that. I let them see me struggle and work, and learn, and finally succeed. (or fail ). I talk about my past, about the good decisons I made and the bad.

We encourage them to take chances, to try new things. They've tried musical instruments, dance, gymnastics, soccer, softball, track and field, Girl Scouts, the Outdoors Club, cross-country skiing, etc, etc, etc. I took tehm to Science Museums, to the Smithsonian to see what the women of this world have accompplished, we've discusssed our personal heroes, male and female.

I give them the oppotunity to try things a bit above their level, to stretch themselves, and I project confidence that they will succeed, or maybe try again.

I listen to them, to their feelings, what they say or think or feel, counts.

As far as sex goes, this has worked for me. At a fairly young age, say 10 or 11, as their bodies are changing, I point out that I'd have to be awfully comfortable with someone before I could taake all my clothes off and stand around with some guy looking at me, LIKE THAT! The like that part would be refering to whatever movie or show was presently on, displaying the right, "stuff". Never any problem, everyone seems to go to bed on the first date on tv. We discuss a bit how we would have to really be in llove, to want to take those risks.. I swear I don't make it scary or anything, just point out that stripping isn't usually something you do, even with a boyfriend. And that sex is special and it's important to be comfortable. So far, so good.

Start early! Strong women don't just happen.
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#7 of 12 Old 09-16-2004, 11:17 AM
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I work with a ton of girls with poor body image, most of them thin and beautiful. Sports is the best protection from this because girls need to see the value and strenght of their bodies as something other than decoration.

Be careful about the whole "self-esteem" thing. Some parents have gone too far with rewarding or praising their kids for breathing. Kids should feel good about doing good and feel bad (not shamed or hated, but a healthy dose of guilt) for making bad choices. The research says that high self esteem is associated with risk taking behaviors. They need a balance of knowing who they are- both strenghts and weaknesses.

For people that think self esteem is all that- just because you think your great, doesn't mean you are. Think about a drunk singing karaoke!!!!

The other thing that is a major predictor of success in teenagers is having dinner together. Stay connected and show you care about their choices and they will make choices that make you and them proud.

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#8 of 12 Old 09-16-2004, 02:57 PM
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I think some wonderful things have already been said here!

The only input I could add is that it is important to model behaviors of a strong woman in yourself. Now that my daughter is 16, I find that most of the things she has learned from me are things that she learned by simply observing me, rather than things I explicitly tried to teach her.

As far as the magazines, she read Teen Voices and New Moon, and seemed to like them. However, she ultimately went over to the dark side and started reading Cosmo Girl and all that other crap. I made my opinions known, but I thought it counterproductive to ban the stuff from our house. Sometimes you just have to choose your battles, and this one wasn't important enough to fight.

IMHO, religious involvement has helped tremendously. I posted in another thread that we had some issues regarding sexual activity recently. It appears that religious involvement has not only given her a grounding as to moral issues, she has also met others who have similar values.

Michelle, just the fact that you are asking these questions and are concerned about the issue says quite a lot!
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#9 of 12 Old 09-16-2004, 03:04 PM
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My daughter is just a babe, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My own mother seemed to provide me with a very positive body image and none of her 3 daughters have any kind of weight or eating disorder issues. Things she did: My mother NEVER spoke of dieting. She revelled in her "crone hood." We spoke the of the 3 stages of being female - girlhood or maidenhood, motherhood and cronehood. She always looked forward to then next stage. She wore make-up and shaved her legs, but it was never an issue. We didn't comment on other women's bodies - like Gawd - look at the hips on Hillary or anything. She never deningrated herself or made remarks that she wasn't smart enough, thin enough, young enough or coordinated enough to do things. best of all - we surrounded ourselves with "women of substance." Check out books called The Body Project and Reviving Ophelia

Third generation WOHM. I work by choice.
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#10 of 12 Old 09-17-2004, 06:20 PM
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Another good book is Slut: Growing up Female With a Bad Reputation.

Read it yourself first and then pass it along.
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#11 of 12 Old 09-17-2004, 08:33 PM
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I think an important thing to do is to avoid talking to, or within earshot of, your daughters about problems that you see as being disturbingly common in females. They may develop the idea that they are EXPECTED to struggle with these issues.

Example: My mom was concerned about Female Math Anxiety. She and her friends did a lot of fretting, within my hearing, about how terrible a handicap so many girls have "because schools and society teach them that math is scary and difficult." My mom complained to me directly that she had had trouble w/math since puberty, that she expected to be bad at it even before she had tried, and that she avoided math in her adult life. (She never said HOW she got this way, though.) I found math classes unperturbably easy until we got to multiplication; then, when I didn't comprehend it after the FIRST lesson, I thought, "This must be Female Math Anxiety! The school is making this difficult for me because I'm a girl! I'll never be able to learn this!" and I stopped paying attention. When my parents and teacher spoke to me about it, I argued that I was going to be a librarian when I grew up and librarians don't need to know math; my parents quickly came up with an example where a librarian would need to multiply, which made me furious and despondent because I felt they were telling me that my Female Math Anxiety would make it impossible for me to get any kind of job. I was then forced to listen to a record of sing-songed multiplication tables every morning while my mom yanked the tangles out of my hair. : I did learn them, but the annoyance and literal pain associated w/the process deepened my bad feelings about math. It was not until trig (when I had a really great teacher, who not coincidentally was ultra-feminine) that I stopped reacting to the slightest difficulty with a new math concept by panicking and refusing to pay any attention at all to it. I did not do this in any other subject area. I really believed that, as a female, I was entitled and expected to panic at math, that the culture was somehow forcing me to react this way and it was out of my control.

Several women have told me that they had the same feeling about eating disorders: It was not that their female role models actually HAD eating disorders, but that their mothers or teachers or the media were fretting so much about how "girls today are so obsessed with their weight" that they felt it would be ABNORMAL to have healthy eating habits and maintain a normal weight!

All this is just to say that I think it's important not to overemphasize the scary things that can happen to girls and women--especially, not to label as female issues things that actually can affect both sexes.

As for mainstream teen magazines, I think it's important not to ban them. Instead, take a look at them from time to time and use them to start discussions: "I was amazed that they found 14 pages of things to say about eye shadow! Did you think it was interesting?"

Rather than "dates" with Daddy, I'd go for regular spontaneous conversations in which Daddy shows genuine interest in whatever the girls are into--even if it's eye shadow, he can ask them to explain the techniques, etc. If you want to schedule 1:1 time w/Dad (or Mom) to make sure each kid gets enough attention, make the focus something that that kid really enjoys, not necessarily a "special occasion" kind of thing.

I guess my overall feeling is that the best way to raise strong women is to concentrate on raising strong (and kind and gentle!) PEOPLE and not think about gender issues much.

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#12 of 12 Old 09-18-2004, 01:36 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the ideas.

My dds are 18 mos, 5 yrs and 7 yrs. I have been thinking alot lately about this issue because of some things going on in my family....... AND I am now a Girl Scout leader, and was amazed at the wonderful classes I received and ideas GS has and processes in place to create an environment where girls flourish, become critical thinkers and learn how to make good decisions. I thought I would ask here in preteen, teen to get some seasoned mamas life experiences and advice!


I especially was grateful for the reminder not to talk too much about the negative, and scary stuff that girls and women have to face in front of the girls so that they do not expect to have to deal with it.

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