Grace, 14, is a straight A student, a star on her select basketball team, and tries desperately hard to be perfect in everything that she does. And, in her words, it’s not enough to be perfect; “I feel every day like I have to be amazing!” That’s obviously an impossible benchmark to live up to, but Grace continually strives to reach it each and every day.
If that’s not bad enough, even being an amazing young girl seems not good enough these days. The level of competition amongst girls in academics, sports, socially, and with their appearance is incredibly intense, and it’s a 24/7 contest with no end in sight. Girls constantly compare themselves to their peers, and almost always unfavorably. It’s not sufficient to be smart or at the top of your class; you also have to be thin, pretty, cool, popular, and hot. And it’s more important to be hot than smart. Oh, and you’re supposed to look effortlessly hot as well.
Girls have heard the mantra that “You can be what ever you want to be” their whole lives. But they are interpreting this freedom to be limitless to mean that they are expected to be perfect in all they do, and also to be everything for everybody. The pressure from parents, teachers, and coaches is intense. And that doesn’t even count the cultural imperative of leaning in until you are a CEO or bust. Throw in the burden of having to look like a model and to measure up for boys, and it’s not hard to understand why so many of our adolescent girls are so stressed out and anxious these days.
We all need to do a better job of being aware of any undue pressure we might be placing on girls. They need to understand the costs of comparing themselves to anyone, and learn to develop their sense of themselves from within. I want us all to slow down, breathe, and remind ourselves that you do not have to go to a top tier college to be successful or happy in life. I want girls to know that getting into college should not be the end in mind, just the start of the next leg of their journey. They need to become media savvy and to question every image they see so that they are no longer at the mercy of the unhealthy messages and conditioning they are bombarded with each day.
Finally, we all need to re-examine the impossible standards we have set out for girls and women: being the perfect daughter, wife, mother, career woman, friend etc. I believe that every girl can be all that she can be, and that she can have it all, but it’s got to be on her terms and her definition of what that means for her. Girls need to be directed to value their inner resumes more than the external, and to direct more energy inward to know who they are and what is right for them. If we would start providing such guidance, direction, and support for our girls, than that would truly be amazing!
Dr. Tim Jordan is a leading expert on parenting girls from 2 – 20 years of age. He is the author is Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding Transformation of Adolescent Girls. He is also an international speaker, media expert and school consultant. He often speaks about girls and their journey through adolescence, relationship aggression, friendship, cliques and bullying and the best practices for parenting girls. For more information visit www.drtimjordan.com.