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Dr. Tim Jordan, a pediatrician who has worked with adolescent girls for over 30 years, has a new book out: Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women, Guiding the Transformation of Adolescent Girls. I’ll admit I haven’t read the book. I’m feeling like adolescence is still a few years away and I need to figure out what’s for dinner TONIGHT, so it hasn’t been able to compete with my family’s submission to the immediate. However, I did look through the Table of Contents and a few topics caught my eye. Themes that I have found to be important when thinking about raising my four young ladies (that makes them sound so dignified doesn’t it? Like we are just a modern-day Little Women around here.) Dr. Jordan was able to answer a few of my questions for those of us raising girls in the early years. I’ve split the interview up into two parts. Here is part one.
Me: Many of my readers are mothers of preschool-aged girls. What can moms do now, while their daughters are young, to help with the teen years?
Dr. Tim: Be very aware of how you address your daughters. For instance, be sure you don’t always make it about her appearance: “you are so pretty today”, “you have gotten so cute”, “that outfit looks so good on you”, We never talk to little boys like that. And we don’t want to start teaching girls that what is most important is how you look and dress. I would teach young girls to speak their minds, let parents know how they think and feel about what’s going on in their worlds. I would guide them to handle conflicts directly with their sibs and parents or friends who are over playing. I would give them language to identify and express ALL of their emotions. And I’d follow their lead when it comes to what they are interested in playing, and support these interests knowing that little girls are constantly learning through their play.
Me: More than half of the “protective factors” you describe for girls have to do with strength and variety of relationships. Why do you think relationships are so important to girls? Are they important in a different way than to boys?
Dr. Tim: Girls really are wired to connect and bond; it was a way to survive back in prehistoric times and for today too. That is why friends are so important to girls. Their fear of losing friends comes from their fear of being alone, and that is why they are so willing to put up with abuse from ‘friends’. Girls need safe places to talk about relationship issues, so that they can know that they are not alone and to learn skills. They need guidance in learning how to handle conflicts directly with the other person, speaking their truth with authority, creating win-wins with others, and learning how to stand up for themselves and their friends. When their estrogen levels start to rise in puberty, it bumps up the bonding chemicals in their bodies, and therefore the relationship issues amp up along with it. All the more reason for the safe spaces I mentioned before. That is why I have been running all-girl retreats and camps for girls for years.
So what do YOU think? What can we do now as moms to help our daughters develop a healthy identity? Do you think relationships are important to girls in a different way than boys? If so, why?