Big girls don't cry so the song goes. Turns out they do and little girls cry too.
In the family "to do" list as school begins, remind your daughter to keep an eye out for herself and for her friends as well. Girl power and relationship issues are embedded in their social activities. As your daughter heads off to school with her pocket full of your first-day advice, remind her to be her sister's keeper, as well. With today's hyper-media connectivity, it is quite safe to say that if there are problems in a girl's life somebody knows something.
The last 20 years have produced several books aimed specifically at the lives of adolescent girls. They offer a guide for parents as they maneuver through what can be a very challenging family time.
Mary Pipher wrote Reviving Ophelia in 1994. One of the first books to definitely explore the world of young girls, it explained the multi-faceted familial and social relationships in a girl's life. The book also gave an overview of negative behaviors that might be observed. It is still relevant today and worthy of being part of the parenting bookshelf.
Eight years later in 2002 Rosalind Wiseman published Queen Bees and Wanna Bees. This book dealt with the social life of adolescent girls by describing that often cruel social construct of cliques, relationships, and aggression where the use of negative power and control is found. It was the basis for the movie Mean Girls.
Over 20 years after Pipher wrote her book, social media has become a presence with a choke hold on the lives of girls today.
American Girls Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers by Nancy Jo Sales was published early in 2016. This book takes us beyond the world of family and friends to that nebulous world of the internet. It is chilling in its depiction of the pressures young girls experience today. They are encouraged to engage in negative online activities through peer pressure, a sense of loneliness or lack of friendships.
If bullying was a problem face to face, cyber bullying has become the mean- screen time- street of a child's life. It's so easy to be cruel when you are faceless. Targets are centred out and with precision a landslide of bullying takes place.
Cyberbullying is isolating. Girls can be dealing with embarrassing online situations where they allowed themselves to be ensnared. Parents can feel just as isolated because this all happens behind closed doors on a small winking screen.
As cliché as it is, "knowledge is power" both in life and particularly in parenting.
Open lines of communication lines are essential. Be non-judgemental. Gain your daughter's confidence with the goal that she can problem solve solutions around the issues in her life with your help. Ask your daughter how things are going. Watch her body language. Does your daughter stand tall or is she hunched into her problems?
If things are going sideways in her friendships, there is often a behaviour change. Gently probe, ask why. Answers don't come easily because embarrassment is a key attribute hinged on the gate of her life. If they have been coerced into negative behaviours either at school or online, there is also fear of repercussion.
Make sure she has a clear understanding that personal choices can have a long-term impact on her life. The internet memory stretches far into her future. Working out smaller problems together before they become bigger can be the answer to your daughter coping with the challenges in her world.
Know her friends, make them feel welcome and ask them value-based questions in conversation. See how they respond. Who are these people that are your daughter's friends? As cliché as it is, "knowledge is power" both in life and particularly in parenting.
A strong connection to school staff is an asset for any parent. Make a connection with your daughter's teacher. Very often it is the teacher that can tell you if your daughter seems overpowered by friends or in control of her friendship situations. Teachers are a very astute window on your daughters' school life.
When arranging for a teacher interview whether by phone or in person, be efficient with your time and theirs as well. Have your questions written out beforehand. Be precise and focused. Short discussions several times a year are far more effective than one or two lengthy meetings.
This is a twofold positive message. The teacher will appreciate your parental interest. It also sends a very clear message to your child that you are involved in their school life. Always ask about the social side of her education as well as the academic.
A new favourite interview question of mine that might be very useful ..ask your daughter's teacher "Is there a question I should be asking you about my daughter? "
Make time to talk -- to your daughter, to her friends, and to her teacher.
And then remember: "Before you talk: Listen." ~ W.A. Ward
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