Photo credit: by mira/Moment/Getty Images
I am one of the lucky ones. I was raised by parents who not only believed in girl power, but who also set the bar high for me. I have two sisters and one brother, and we all have our strengths. We were all encouraged to follow our dreams and repeatedly told that hard work and dedication would help us reach those goals. Whether I was on the lacrosse field, in the classroom or hiding out in the library in preparation for my final exams, my parents supported and encouraged me every step of the way. They did the same for each of my siblings, and we all carved our own paths.
“Like a girl” was not a phrase used by my parents unless it was used to reference the power of girls. In my family, “like a girl” meant strength, confidence and intelligence. “Like a girl” was always a compliment in my mind. But somewhere along the line, “like a girl” became a negative. Evidently not all young girls are as empowered to beat the boys at their own game as I was. In fact, many girls internalize negative emotions in response to this phrase and experience a sharp decrease in self-confidence during puberty.
The Always Confidence and Puberty Study, conducted by Research Now, is eye-opening. The study surveyed 1,300 American females between the ages of 16 and 24. The results of the study confirm that it is time to reclaim “like a girl” and make it a positive phrase, a battle cry for generations to come.
We might think that we go to great lengths to build girls up, but it’s easy to send mixed messages. Sometimes parents (and teachers and coaches) unintentionally limit girls simply by using words and phrases that actually hinder their self-confidence. “You hit like a girl” shouldn’t be an insult, but when we constantly put male athletes on a pedestal, it sure begins to feel that way. Other times, it is suggested that a brother or male peer handle a situation that might be too difficult for a girl. Boys are often seen as better problem solvers, better builders and better at fixing broken things. When girls receive these messages often enough, they begin to internalize some very negative core beliefs: "I’m not capable. I shouldn’t even bother trying. I’ll never be as good, as fast or as smart as him."
The reults^The study showed that:
- More than half of girls (1 out of 2 or 56 percent) claimed to experience a drop in confidence at puberty
- The majority (89 percent) of females aged 16-24 agree that words can be harmful, especially to girls.
- Only 19 percent of girls have a positive association toward the phrase “like a girl.”
My daughter is only 7 years old, but she is lucky to have several positive female role models in her life. “Confident and strong young ladies” is a phrase repeated often during her Irish dance classes and team practices, and she takes that phrase to heart. She holds her head up high and takes pride in her physical strength. We build up her confidence at home, as well. Although it always feels nice to get a compliment out of the blue, we are careful to point our her strength, hard work and determination as much as possible in this house.
We need to watch the messages we send our children. A girl can dress like a princess one minute and then tear up the soccer field the next. Science is fun for everyone and math isn’t just for boys. Girls need to hear that they are capable, strong and confident. They need to be empowered to take chances and try new things at all ages. Sadly, it seems that girl power takes a dive when puberty hits. That shouldn’t be the case. Although puberty can be a difficult period of physical growth complete with raging hormones, it shouldn’t limit girls at all. It’s time to build girls up at every age and show them that they are strong and capable. It’s time to reclaim “like a girl” because girls are truly amazing.
Everyone has a strength. In fact, many young girls have more than one. The key to building girls up is supporting their strengths and encouraging them to reach their goals. If my parents were baffled by my unexpected announcement that I wanted to play hockey on the middle school team for boys, they didn’t show it. They smiled, asked a few questions and took me out to buy the necessary equipment. They believed in me, and that helped me to stay focused on my goal.
Puberty doesn’t have to be a difficult adjustment for young girls. When girls know their strengths and feel loved and supported by their families, they thrive. We have to encourage young girls to try new things (not just sports) and explore all of their interests so they can find their individual strengths and spread their wings and fly.