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Raising Confident Daughters

How parents can help.

© Salima Senyavskaya/istockphoto.com

It can be tough to be a pre-adolescent or teenage girl these days. Big schedules—school, sports, and lessons of all kinds—can make even the most calm and self-possessed individual anxious. Things can get even shakier when a daughter experiences negative comments or harsh judgments in a social situation. What’s a parent to do?

For some suggestions, we spoke with Molly King, head of school at Greenwich Academy, which for over a century has taken as its mission the education of girls, from preschool through grade 12. With ten years at the helm, King has great experience, and many suggestions about helping young women develop resilience and confidence. Because Greenwich Academy is an all-girls institution, it gives her and her faculty and administration what she calls a privileged window on their students’ lives and concerns.

"Working in this setting gives us the luxury to really zero in on issues specific to the development of girls and young women," says King. "There are so many pressures on our girls these days, so we try to help them be counter-cultural. That is, we want to help them to define themselves three dimensionally, not just physically, or socially. Considering all of the imagery that’s portrayed in the media, girls feel vulnerable. They see other young women who are perfect visually or socially—even though adults know that these images are enhanced." She adds that such imagery is not realistic, or healthy.

How does she define a self-assessment that’s three-dimensional?

"We want to push our students to engage with the world in multiple ways, to define themselves more broadly. We encourage participation in the arts, in community service, in athletics, as well as schoolwork, in ways that are authentic to each girl as an individual. We want to help girls see and define themselves from the inside out."

Adds King, "When a girl feels engaged from the inside, then in the face of success—or failure—that builds genuine self-confidence."

That’s just the reverse of our social media-driven world of Facebook, Instagram, texting and selfies, which provide a surface-only view of the world. King describes an exercise among the advisory groups at the school—every faculty member has a group of girls that he or she advises—to unplug, and see who could set aside their smart devices for a day. 

"It was a great experience for all of us to support each other, and focus someplace other than that little screen on the phone or the tablet." This suggests that giving the instant communications a rest might give us all a chance to recharge, personally.

Beyond helping our daughters engage in activities that resonate positively with who she is inside, King also advises parents to be unafraid of asserting their roles as parents.

"Don’t be afraid to set clear limits," she says. "Your children know instinctively that the boundaries you set keep them safe, and show that they are loved."



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