‘I wasn’t raising children. I was raising adults.” Michelle Obama attributes these words to her mother, Marian Robinson. I remember hearing her quote this line while watching a video of her speaking on stage at the United State of Women Summit in Los Angeles in 2018.
t brought so much clarity to me. Because it’s true: we mothers of daughters are not raising children; we are raising confident young women.
So how can we equip them for adulthood? How can we provide them with opportunities that prepare them for a successful future, whatever success looks like for them? In my new guide for parents of girls aged seven to 20, I grapple with these questions. No one has all the answers, but what we do know is that so much starts in childhood. It’s all about setting the right foundations and encouraging our girls to thrive from the inside out.
Every year, Girlguiding runs its Girls’ Attitudes Survey, providing girls and young women with a platform to speak out on the issues that matter to them. It also allows us, as parents and caregivers, to look at what is happening for girls. Many may look carefree and happy on the outside, but too often teenage girls are struggling with mental health, confidence and body image. Some have described our girls’ mental health as being at a crisis point.
Angela Salt, Girlguiding chief executive, says in the survey: “It’s clear that the pandemic is taking its toll. Girls’ mental health has been significantly impacted. Online harms have been exacerbated. It’s critical that we address the decline in girls’ happiness that we’ve observed since we started this research over a decade ago.”
Additionally, a report from Young Women’s Trust, published on World Mental Health Day 2019, showed a sharp increase in the number of young women worried about their mental health. More than half (51pc) of young women surveyed by Populus Data Solutions for the Trust said they were worried about their mental health, compared with 38pc in a survey from 2016. The figure was highest among those on the lowest or no pay, at 60pc. More than one in three of these young women reported having depression.
Adolescence is an important time of change. It’s a crucial period for developing social and emotional habits that will last for life. Yet somewhere along the line our girls can become an internal ball of anxiety. So why is this happening?
Social media is commonly cited, especially in relation to body image and perfection issues. Loneliness is also a real problem for teens today because many of the ways in which we communicate are digital, leaving less time for face-to-face interaction.
But the global struggle girls have with confidence is an ever-changing and complex issue. Here are five positive ways to help your daughter prepare for the road ahead:
1. Allow her to make mistakes
How do we encourage girls to try something new if they have a constant fear of messing up? To grow as individuals, we have to push through the fear boundaries to thrive in adulthood.
Exploration of new ideas and hobbies is often how we grow our strengths and skills. The fear of getting things wrong may be keeping our girls safe, but it can suffocate their capabilities.
No matter how old our children are, when something goes wrong our first reaction is often to seek to fix it. It starts with toys. They break them, we mend them. When it comes to their homework, they make a mistake, we rub it out with an eraser as if it never happened.
But mistakes can help your daughter learn, and learning to deal with mistakes teaches resilience. So encourage your daughter to try new things, praise her efforts and share examples of your own mistakes to help give her the courage and self-belief to have another go.
2. Encourage independence, but provide a safety net of support
During adolescence our girls go through a huge number of physical, social and emotional changes. At times things can feel overwhelming for you and for her. Use this time to try and tune into her emotions and work with her to understand and manage those feelings. This is an important stage of her becoming more independent.
Watching your girl trying to work things out herself and make her own decisions is all part of the process.
Independence for pre-teens and teenagers is about trying new things. It may seem daunting watching them, so set some clear family rules about communication, socialising and behaviours. Build trust and keep in touch with your daughter and what she is doing.
Younger teen girls might think they are ready to make their own decisions, but they often haven’t developed the skills to handle significant responsibility without your help, so keep guiding them as they need you.
3. Believe in your teen and she’ll believe in herself
If our girls have no self-belief, they will struggle to reach their goals. If they are plagued by self-doubt, self-criticism or a constant feeling of unworthiness, then they may struggle to be happy.
There is no magic formula here. We are just here to guide them. I am a firm believer that every child lives up to the expectations you have for them. Believing in yourself is one of the first conversations we should be having with our girls.
How can you build resilience if you never have the self-belief to give anything a try? Helping our girls unlock their self-belief is the first step they need to take on the path to achieving their ambitions.
Ask your daughter to write down all the things she is good, or capable, at. Ask her to keep the list safe and use it to remind her of her strengths when she is feeling down.
As a parent we can use our children’s self-identified strengths to build their self-esteem. Encourage them to work on these strengths and keep pushing forwards.
4. Keep the lines of communication open
The reality of life is things don’t always go as planned. How we talk about this, learn to adapt, and bounce back is hugely important.
The challenges we all face can present strengths we didn’t believe we had and can teach our girls how to strengthen their resilience muscle.
Whether it is moving homes, moving schools, difficulties at home, friendship changes or losses, some of us manage better than others. But the obstacles we face in life can make us stronger if we show our girls how to approach them with positivity and a willingness to learn. Keep talking to them about the challenges in front of them and they’ll know they have a bedrock of support behind them.
5. Aid her development of life skills
Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, sorting the laundry or changing bedsheets, these tasks can be a great way to show your daughter household responsibilities from a young age. It can provide her with the simple life skills she will need to know as she grows up.
The journey to adulthood can be exciting but equally terrifying. The simple things you show your daughter now will benefit her for years to come.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022
Rise of the Girl by Jo Wimble-Groves is available for £12.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk