Raising strong, confident girls – by example

Categorized as 09/06/10 Goshen News column

After lazy days of freedom, barges of laundry, and countless pantry raids, the buses are back. This time, it wasn’t Thing Two shouting, “Go on past, prison bus. Go on past!” It was me.

I love summer. This one, in particular, has been special. I call it The Summer of the Girl.

Baby Tessa Elizabeth kicked things off with her arrival back in May. The Schrock census being what it is (heavily skewed toward the males), she was a most welcome addition.

Then came Halli Grace, born on a hot July day to my brother and his wife. Her very name puts a lump in my throat. Halli means “unexpected gift,” the perfect name for this baby such a long time in coming. And Grace? Well, that explains itself.

As a mother of sons, I have not been called to raise girls. However, I’m an aunt, and thanks to the babies, the niece count now stands at nine. Then there’s this – somewhere in the world, there are four girls that will one day marry my boys. It is for these 13 precious reasons that I care deeply about what girls today are facing.

In a survey of its female participants, the Boys and Girls Club found that an astonishing 44% had no male role models. They identified their top stressors as being relational issues with boys and/or parents, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, and social issues.

Curious, I decided to do a survey of my own and asked blog readers these three questions: What top three issues are you concerned about that are facing girls today? What is different about raising a girl now than when you were growing up? What are you doing, if you have a girl, to help her to be healthy and confident in her womanhood?

In response to the first question, women overwhelmingly listed the media and the sexualization of our culture as top concerns. Closely linked were modesty issues, body image, and struggles with self-esteem.

“I am shocked by the sexualization of tweens,” someone wrote. “Why can’t little girls just be little girls? I remember still trading stickers with my friends in sixth grade, not wanting to wear makeup yet, and not being really sure I wanted to grow up.”

One mother, a pastor’s wife, said, “As I work with teen girls, I have been increasingly made aware that there is a lack of knowledge of healthy sexuality.”

“It’s overwhelmingly common to not be a virgin when you get married these days. All forms of media promote sexuality. Clothes for even young girls are getting ridiculous. Nothing makes it easy for parents who have different values,” a mother of two daughters replied.

This was echoed by another mom who said, “It’s tough to have higher moral standards in a world that says, ‘Everyone is doing it, and you must be a prude if you don’t.’” She added, “I think body (image) issues and self-esteem are huge. There is so much emphasis on outward appearance. Even a curvy girl, not heavy, will feel less beautiful because she doesn’t look like Hollywood or even her friends.”

Another mother agreed, adding, “I believe that America’s society has pushed a certain image for girls. We idolize Hollywood and think if we’re not all a size 2 to 4, then we’re overweight. This causes some really big self-esteem issues.”

A second area of concern for respondents was today’s social technology; in particular, texting and Facebook. They also identified this as being a major difference from their own childhoods.

“Call me way old fashioned, but I feel like texting and Facebook may be leaving some girls in superficial friendships,” said one mom.

“You also get cyber bullying, sexting, and a host of other issues,” a friend added. “Who knows what else there will be in eight years when I have a teenager?”

The issues raised in these surveys are sobering. There is much that is set against the girls of today. Society isn’t making it easy to grow up healthy, confident, and pure. Very few escape unscathed. What can be done?

On a local level, the Boys and Girls Club has launched an initiative called Girls in Focus to tackle these issues. With programs like Go Girls Go, Bully Prevention, Etiquette and Cautions for Facebook and Texting, and many others, they are working hard to instill confidence and to teach healthy lifestyles to girls.

As for the women who responded to my survey, they, too, are pouring themselves into their girls. They’re affirming their worth. They’re encouraging the use of their gifts. They’re giving them a moral compass and a foundation of faith. They’re modelling for them what a confident women look like. All of that, and they’re praying, too.

And that’s what I can do for “my” girls. I can show them what security looks like by knowing who I am in Christ. I can live out a strong, joyful faith that will draw them to the source. I can affirm their value and encourage them, and I can pray.

I may not be raising girls, but I can help. And so can you.

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