Whoever said being a 14 year old girl is easy probably hasn’t been a 14 year old girl! The struggle she has to go through to find her True Self and still be accepted can cause many a teen girl to lose her voice.
The article How Can We Help Young Girls Stay Assertive, describes research on adolescent girls “losing their voice” resulting in low self-esteem and lack of assertiveness. This phenomenon can cause teen girls to feel like they don’t belong, leading to isolation, even self-harming thoughts and/or behaviors.
Anyone who is a parent of a teen girl, a counselor or teacher accepts the job to help them feel more secure and to speak up for themselves! Here are some suggestions to help. The first five are from the article. The last four are from my work with teen girls:
1. Encourage her interests. Support her in her pursuits, whatever they are. Linda Hoke-Sinex, Indiana University Bloomington, says, “When she [the teen] has an area in which she feels confident, it can act as a touchstone to build confidence in other areas of her life.”
2. Point out pressure from social media. Unrealistic media images and the pressure on women to look and act in certain ways is constantly in young people’s faces. Girls may be subject to brutal criticism or bullying on social media because of how they look or act. Unless parents monitor interactions on social media they might miss communication that contributes to corrosive self-doubt.
3. Watch your own talk. Dr. Mendez-Baldwin of Manhattan College says, “Sometimes, women inadvertently send messages to their daughters by focusing on their weight and their appearance. [They say] ‘Oh I need to lose weight’ or ‘I don’t look good’ or ‘I need to get Botox to remove these wrinkles,’ and then that sends a message to the girls that they need to focus on their appearance and that their self-worth is connected to their appearance.”
4. Give them a safe place to express themselves. Adolescent girls have opinions and insights-ask about them. Avoid reacting negatively, even when those opinions and insights might not reflect your own.
5. Talking directly about the phenomenon can be a strong antidote. Sometimes, talking about how common it is for young girls to lose their assertiveness as they enter their teen years helps the teen to not feel so alone. Emphasize how with some healthy interventions, it doesn’t have to be inevitable.
Parents can offer a strong foundation to help their child build confidence, to feel empowered by her voice and her ideas. But while the support of parents is important, the teens themselves need to focus on their voice. The importance for teens to reclaim themselves is crucial to their development. It’s essential for the teen to remember that:
6. You have talent! Your strength just may be different from someone else’s. Girls, your talents are you! Try not to focus on what you can’t do. Focus on what you CAN do. If you are having trouble finding what you like, try new things. Explore different interests even though it may not be what others do and enjoy. Give yourself permission to be YOU and dive right in!
7. Society and social media does not realistically portray the “Best You.” Girls, try not to listen to what society and media tells you to be. I know, its hard. The things that make you the most interesting are different than your friend. Don’t be afraid to be YOU.
8. Take pride in your accomplishments. Give yourself a ribbon, even if its a participation ribbon. Give yourself points for just showing up! Trying something new is an accomplishment and you should pride yourself in it. Pushing yourself helps you find your strong YOU.
9. Aim for effort, not perfection!!! Perfect is not only impossible, it’s boring! The important thing is to take yourself out of your comfort zone and try. Instead of being afraid of failure, embrace it. Robert Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly ever achieve greatly.”
Girls who start to use these steps become stronger and more self-aware of what makes them truly happy.
My “Girls Take Charge” group at Explore Whats Next is designed to develop self-confidence, a resilient self-esteem and to show teens that they are not alone. This group has exceeded my expectations. The girls create strong friendships through humor and shared experiences. “Girls Take Charge” offers a safe place to express themselves and open their eyes to all their talents and ideas, inviting them to feel good about “ME.”
If you or someone you know would like more information about “Girls Take Charge” call Kate Maleski, LCSW at 716.880.5689 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.