As a parent, how many times have you found yourself thinking, “Wow, things sure have changed since I was a kid!”?
As a mom, I compare my experience with girls growing up today. Some of the statistics certainly paint a bleak picture:
- In 2006, more that 84% of girls believed they had to be thin to be popular – up from 75% in 2000 (Girls, Inc., 2006)
- 39.4% of female Texas high school students report depressive symptoms, such as feeling sad or hopeless. (Department of Health and Human Services, 2005)
- Seven in ten girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way, including their looks, performance in school and relationships with friends and family members. (Dove Self-Esteem Fund study 2008)
- In Texas, 3 in 10 girls get pregnant at least once by the age of 18. (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy 2004)
It can be easy to feel helpless in the face of these grim numbers, but, luckily, we have several organizations in Austin dedicated to working with girls to reverse these trends. Among them is GENaustin, a nonprofit formed in the late 90s by 12 concerned moms who read the book Reviving Ophelia, which documented the huge drop in self-esteem that occurs in girls in early adolescence.
After a town hall-type meeting the moms organized that drew over a hundred concerned parents, what was then called The Ophelia Project was born. The organization, which changed its name to the Girls’ Empowerment Network (GENaustin) started with afterschool groups for girls to discuss topics such as body image, bullying and relationships. The girls’ groups grew into a peer mentoring afterschool program called clubGEN, in which high school “big sisters” visited middle schools weekly to present activities from a curriculum developed by the high school girls with help from experts. Now, through several programs GENaustin serves over 2,000 girls annually in nine Texas school districts and statewide through its annual conference.
I grew up in Austin and found out about the organization after college when I moved back here to live. One of the founding mothers lives across the street from my parents and encouraged me to get involved. At first I became a volunteer and then worked at GENaustin, managing clubGEN and working with other programs. Learning more about how tough it is to be a girl now, I was happy to be part of the solution.
So, what role can we play as parents and adults who care about girls? Here are three things GENaustin suggests we can do to help our girls grow into healthy, confident young women:
Model Healthy Behaviors As difficult as it might be, don’t let your daughters hear you criticizing your own body. Even when it isn’t directed at them, hearing you put yourself down will make them think more harshly about their own bodies. Instead, celebrate your body, and your daughters, for its strength, its utility and the amazing things it does every day.
Talk to your Daughters about the Media Take the time to have conversations about things they see in magazines, in movies and on television. Talk about how unrealistic these images are, and that even the women on covers of magazines don’t look like that in real life. As Cindy Crawford once said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.”
Compliment your Daughter on her Accomplishments Make sure your daughter knows how proud you are of her for her successes, her artistic efforts, her academic achievements or whatever it is that she does that makes her happy. It’s very important that from a young age to encourage girls to develop a sense of esteem and value that comes not from what they look like but from what they can accomplish.
If you are looking for a chance to bond with your daughter and come away informed and inspired, GENaustin is sponsoring an all-day, statewide conference on November 12th at Austin High called We Are Girls. Girls in 5th-12th grades and their parents can attend sessions on body image, media literacy, nutrition, fitness and a variety of topics related to maintaining healthy self-esteem. This year’s keynote speaker is Rosalind Wiseman, who wrote the book Queen Bees and Wannabees. This year’s conference will have a track especially for dads and will include sessions in Spanish.
I have attended the conference the past few years and can speak first hand about the amazing energy and enthusiasm of the girls and adults who attend. The conference is absolutely buzzing, and girls have the opportunity to choose from workshops such as “The Media and Me”, “Jewelry Design”, “Yoga for Better Body Image”, “Girls Who Mean Business” and “Chica TV”. The conference is state-wide and has grown so much that it will be held this year at Austin High school. Scholarships and group rates are available.
Being a girl today might be hard, but it’s nice to know we have some resources locally to help make girlhood a little easier.
If you have daughters, what concerns you most about what they encounter growing up today? Has your daughter been bullied or talked in a negative way about her body or weight? What do you try to do to help your daughter be self-confident? Do you find yourself criticizing your own body in front of your children (raising hand)?
Written by: Nicole Basham