There’s a curious thing that happens when our little girls start to become teenagers. Not only do girls begin to bloom in so many ways, they often start to pull away. It’s not uncommon for parents to wonder: “What happened to my happy, carefree girl?”
It may be a comfort to know that the shift you see in your girl’s personality and mood is not just about hormones. In fact, it’s so much more than that. Her brain is undergoing an amazing rewiring process which happens during the teen years. With the right experiences, new and emerging neural connections allow her to stretch her abilities and develop into a thoughtful, empathetic and creative human being.
Part of this growing-up process also means that girls will naturally compete and compare themselves to other girls. This is an evolutionary behaviour that allows girls to adapt to the world. It also means that they begin to look outward for affirmation of their self-worth and for things to be happy about. Fitting in and being accepted can become more important to them than being with family or enjoying childhood hobbies. All of a sudden, girls may shift from thoughtful self-reflection, creativity and tuning in, to tuning out from an authentic sense of self. Often, what makes children happy is pursuing their individual hobbies and interests – but for many teenage girls, it’s more important to be like everyone else.
For some girls, this need to have approval from others can override their ability to draw on their own developing sense of identity and become calm and confident teenagers. Friendship groups and the media can create beliefs around beauty and ‘being cool’, fuelling the myth that being perfect will lead to happiness. Buying into these myths can reinforce something called a ‘negativity bias’ in the brain. This makes us super-sensitive to differences, causing us to see them as flaws or dangers.
Many girls start to believe they can only be happy if they…
It’s important to help girls realise that ticking items off a wish list isn’t the key to everlasting happiness. In fact, they need to realise it’s impossible to feel happy all the time – because feeling happy is a momentary experience. Instead, the key is to savour those moments, appreciate them, remember them and reflect on them. Encouraging girls to regularly consider the joyful moments during their week will help them appreciate that life has its ups and downs.
Mindfulness, the practice of ‘non-judgemental awareness’, is one way to help girls cope with the external pressures to look and be a certain way. Mindfulness skills have been well studied and the research shows that it has many benefits – including resilience, happiness and wellbeing – to help your daughter deal with any appearance-related anxieties. There are many different kinds of mindfulness practices (see below for specific examples) and it’s now being taught in schools, and in many medical centres. There is no better time to teach mindfulness skills, and to explain how to feel happy with yourself as you are, than when girls are growing up and dealing with the challenges of fitting in.
Dr Christopher Willard, psychologist and author of Child’s Mind, teaches mindfulness practices to children and teens. He notes: “We have a comparing mind. If you consider that social media is largely driven by teenagers and that they are exposed to it 24/7, their attention becomes hyper-focused on what’s external, such as ratings and ‘Likes’.” Indeed, many girls today take control of how they present themselves. While this can be a highly creative activity, Dr Willard points out: “This can be at the expense of paying attention to what’s going on inside, honing a gut instinct, understanding social cues and tapping into heartfelt awareness of other qualities a girl may have that will serve her over a lifetime, such as generosity, loyalty and kindness.” When girls can learn to be aware of what they are experiencing inside and out, without being self-critical, they are better able to withstand the pressures from the wider world.
Mum and dad can play an influential role in shaping their daughter’s ability to experience joy and calm, creating an internal compass that will help her establish those neural connections for resilience, happiness and compassion for herself, and her body. One step towards happy teenagers is for their parents to practise mindfulness, too.
Author: Dr Tara Cousineau, clinical psychologist and self-esteem coach.
Dr Willard offers simple ways for parents to help their daughters feel positive and to get more joy out of life:
Useful information from elsewhere on the web
Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed by Christopher Willard
Dr Tara Cousineau’s Self-Compassion Kit for Moms
The Greater Good Science Center
Dr Tara Cousineau clinical psychologist, self-esteem coach, founder of Moxie Moms Coaching
Dr Christina Berton self-esteem expert and founder of the Amara Pro Self-Esteem Foundation in Mexico
Article date: 18 September 2014
Review date: 18 September 2015
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