Our “tween” age and teen age girls are being bombarded with an onslaught of demands. These young girls keenly feel the pressure from many sources which include school, their peers, and society. The support they so desperately need from their parents while they are trying to navigate the maze of unrealistic standards expected of them may be non-existent, because many parents just don’t understand the extent of the pressures. Parents may naively think that their daughters are too young to be feeling any stress or strain whatsoever. Life unfortunately, is not so simple nowadays.
The impact of our culture’s pressure on young girls recently hit home for me when I found out that a young girl I know is now in Rehab being treated for anorexia and drug abuse! Who knew? No one saw it coming. Her parents were totally unaware for a while. This victim of society’s horrid pressure—a sweet young girl from a Church-going family—hid any tell tale signs very cleverly. She had excellent teachers—the girls who led her down the wrong path also taught her how to cover up any evidence of her new lifestyle. Thank goodness her parents realized what was going on before it was too late for her. This girl is now counting her blessings and relieved that her parents intervened. She also revealed that she could have died at the rate she was going.
The everyday life of a teenager is tough enough with their hormonal mood swings—one minute exhilarated and the next minute immersed in a major trauma. Dealing with acne, worrying about boys, feeling that their parents don’t understand them, and emotional ups and downs add to their stress. But, our culture tops it all off with crazy expectations that can be utterly overwhelming to young girls. Because of this, sometimes life seems like a pressure cooker to them.
Young girls are vulnerable and take criticisms very personally and deeply. They feel intimidated by the “in crowd” and by the popular girls. They may think that they are fat or ugly. They can feel depressed. They deal with bullies who talk about them behind their backs which truly bothers them. They stress out about academic pressure which is high these days.
Body image and how these girls perceive themselves is a huge problem. It’s impossible to miss the standardized body image for girls, plastered all over the mass media from Hollywood, the runway, television, and glossy magazines. Basically, everyone should be a size zero according to the propaganda. Our young girls are brainwashed into believing that being a particular clothes size will bring them happiness and solve all of their problems in life. Most adolescents are also unaware that what is projected to them is impossible to achieve anyway because of the tricks of airbrushing that are used in the industry which further distorts a young girl’s perception of beauty. We need to somehow combat this obsession with body image.
In addition to worrying about their body image, the teens and “tweens” are consistently exposed to the pop stars in the news, glamorizing underage drinking and drug abuse. It’s pretty scary to think that these celebrities masquerade as role models for our children. Heaven help us! There are countless new pressures for our girls today. All of them affect their self esteem.
The “National Mental Health Information Center” reports that girls are three times more likely than boys to have a negative body image. The constant worry about their image can overtake other aspects of their lives, as well. The focus needs to be put on a girl’s real beauty—her talents, her mind, her heart, her spirit—and off of her body.
Parents should start early to help build self esteem and a strong sense of self in their young girls to enable them to resist the battering of pressures later in life. One study revealed that 32 per cent of girls felt much loved by their parents. Imagine that, 32 per cent! This is alarming! Our children need to feel loved by us. A girl who feels loved by her parents and good about herself will still feel the pressures from our culture, but will better be able to deal with them.
The best role models for kids are the parents. Our example speaks volumes. We should never joke or comment about someone’s body size or weight. Our children look up to us and learn our behaviors. We should continue to show our affection toward them even when our adolescents may pull away at times seeking times of privacy. While we respect their occasional times out for privacy, we welcome and encourage them to partake in family activities and dinners, keeping the family unit intact. Prayers at the dinner table are not only wonderful but essential and set a valuable family tradition as do get togethers with relatives in their homes and ours—all helping to foster our family values and togetherness.
Parents should encourage their daughters to stay away from the cliques and to develop a good group of close wholesome friends which helps a great deal to combat the stress. There’s nothing like supportive girlfriends to help ease the trials and tribulations of teenager-hood! We need to keep a close watch on activities with our children, encouraging get togethers with their friends at our own homes, rather than away where we don’t have control. We have to know who they are hanging out with. We need to teach our girls not to worry about what others are saying or telling them to do and to be confident in their own shoes with their own friends.
Very clear and consistent boundaries need to be set by parents about what is acceptable and what is not. Kids absolutely need these parameters. They even want them, despite their attempts to rebel against them at times. The boundaries establish the safety net. Kids can use their parent’s rules as their excuse to their peers for not getting involved in a potentially dangerous situation. It’s a safe way out of trouble and a way that parents can suggest their children use, if need be.
Half the battle in helping our daughters is in recognizing and accepting that these young girls indeed experience all of these very real stresses and pressures. We have to open our eyes! Striving to keep open the lines of communication is critical. Hopefully this art form was established early on with our daughters and our continual encouragement to talk to us, to share with us—will reassure them that they can come to us at any time with their troubles. We can hopefully discover opportunities for open communication while out on a walk, driving in the car, or involved in an activity with our children when they are more likely to open up when they are not in a face to face situation with us.
Being aware of our children’s needs is crucial. To get them through these years safely, we absolutely have to show our daughters our love in an affectionate, understanding, and tangible way and be there for them—always!
I recently discussed the pressures on our “tween” age and teen age girls on the air with Teresa Tomeo on our “Mom’s Corner” segment on “Catholic Connection” on Ave Maria Radio. Teresa recommended a fantastic website and initiative by Dove called, the “Campaign for Real Beauty.” It’s a wonderful, interactive website packed with information; complete with self esteem building techniques, tips in talking to kids about body image and what it means to be beautiful, and so much more. There is also a very short and excellent eye opening video called, “Onslaught” showing the images that young girls are exposed to in the course of a day. Another very effective short film on the website is “Evolution.” Please watch them.
(copyright - Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle)
Editor's Note: The photo in this story is used to enhance the story and is not of anyone who is having trouble with anorexia or drug abuse. The picture illustrates girls having fun.