A recent study called “Caught in a Bad Romance: Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Mental Health” found that bad relationships have a negative impact on mental health (Soller, 2014). Girls are at a greater risk of severe depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts the more their relationships deviate from what they imagined. This study of 5,300 high-school students found that young girls are judging their own worthiness on their success in achieving “the perfect relationship.” Conversely, the study found that for boys, there were no signs that a relationship not living up to its expectations contributed to poor mental health. Why are our young girls getting so caught up in defining themselves through their relationships?
Back in 1981, Collette Dowling, author of The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence, stated in an interview: “Males are educated for independence from the day they are born. Just as systematically, females are taught that they have an out, that someday in some way women are going to be saved. That’s the fairy tale, the life message women have interjected, as if with mother’s milk.” Looking at this latest research, her statement appears to ring as true today as ever, though perhaps Cinderella has been replaced by Kim Kardashian and Katie Price. Nineteen-year-old Lauren Galley, president of Girls Above Society, puts a modern spin on this complex saying: “We see the glamour and drama of a relationship through the numerous apps and entertainment news items on television that send a skewed perspective of what a respectful relationship should be. A teen relationship in today’s society is largely based on looks and sex, not on the ability to get along, have wonderful conversation or have general interests in common. The obsession of looking perfect distracts girls from the importance of the right qualities to look for in a boyfriend, as well as the right reasons to have a boyfriend.”
The media can be seen to objectify girls more than boys. “My peers feel under constant pressure to be prettier, thinner, fashionable, sexual and perfect,” Galley continues. Is it any wonder that when their relationships don’t measure up to their expectations, girls blame themselves rather than the situation? “When relationships break down, girls immediately feel that they are not good enough, their emotional state shakes their world into a frenzy and their self-esteem plummets as they ask themselves the question, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” So what can we do as parents to make sure our daughter’s first bad romance doesn’t become the first step in a downward spiral?
Annie Fox, parenting expert and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People, says: “When parents praise their daughter for her good character traits, her choices and her accomplishments, they help her develop self-confidence and self-esteem. She’ll internalize a message of personal power: ‘I am proud of myself because I’m a girl who can do many things well.’ But if our comments are focused on our daughter’s looks, we reinforce the message that her value, as a person, is judged by how pretty, thin, sexy or popular she is. Not what we want to teach our girls!” Remember to also be specific with the praise you offer. When we use generic phrases like “good girl,” we are often subliminally teaching our children to conform, do well and please. It’s possible they may then go on to want to please others by having the perfect relationship, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend and become so tied up in being a good girl that they forget to be a real girl.
Annie Fox reminds us that boyfriend and girlfriend both have the word friend in them and we should talk to our teenagers about what kind of friend they want in their lives and what kind of friends they want to be. “Teach your daughter that friendship is a two-way street,” she says. “It’s based on mutual respect, honesty, shared values and open communication. When we teach them how to be a good friend and a good judge of character, they’re more likely to have good friends.
When we teach our daughters to be a good friend first, to like themselves first, they are more likely to begin to see a boyfriend or girlfriend as a value add rather than a necessity.
Lauren Galley’s advises parents to “explain to your teen daughters that their romantic relationships do not define them. Emphasize that boys will come and go. When a girl enters a relationship with this mindset, it is much easier to handle a breakup.”
When a girl feels good about herself, she is likely to be more realistic with herself and her expectations; she won’t be looking to be saved and expecting the fairy tale. Find any opportunity you can, every day, to let your daughter know how amazing she is on the inside and what a strong, independent young woman she’s growing into.
The best piece of advice I was ever given by someone older and much wiser than me as a teen was that a real boy will love you because of your imperfections, not despite them.
Author: Lisa Lister,founder of Sassyology.com, writer and author
Useful information from elsewhere on the web
Lauren Galley, president of Girls Above Society
Annie Fox, parenting expert and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People
Richard Heffner’s Open Mind — The Cinderella Complex and the Prince’s Problems (interview with Collette Dowling)
Girls who get “caught in a bad romance” risk more than just their broken hearts
Soller, B, Caught in a Bad Romance: Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Mental Health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Vol. 55, 1, March 2014, 56-72
Article date: 27 June 2013
Review date: 27 June 2014
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