Remember how awkward it felt to be a teen? Remember what it was like to worry each night when you went to bed if you would recognize the you who woke up in the morning? Budding breasts, growth spurts, and those terrible pimples were all potential minefields.
I know I can still feel how my dread on the first day of school in the fifth grade—I’d grown three inches over the summer and developed acne.
Birth of Our Girly Thoughts
As teens, we often felt betrayed by our changing bodies and by that feeling of not being good enough, of being defective. Why? Because as young girls, we felt required to be perfect, and we castigated ourselves because we were not.
We internalized those negative thoughts through a toxic, inner dialogue I call girly thoughts—a way of speaking to ourselves that begins in our teens and continues through our lives. Our girly thoughts chip away at our sense of self-worth until we take direct action to detox from this type of habitual, negative thinking.
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There’s a good reason we wouldn’t want to be teenagers again—not only did we not feel good about ourselves, but those negative thoughts were reinforced by our so-called friends, the media—even our own families.
But how did we know we weren’t everything we were supposed to be? Comments, looks, slam books, selective ostracizing—let me count the ways. Then we internalized those negative messages (“You’re not pretty enough.” “Don’t act too smart or the boys won’t like you.” “You aren’t wearing that, are you?”), and we continue to do this to our adult selves.
And the saddest part is that by listening to and acting on our girly thoughts, we inadvertently teach our daughters to do the same.
Girly Thoughts in the Digital Age
As challenging as your teenage years may have been, they pale in comparison to what our daughters are experiencing in feeling judged—not just by peers in the classroom, but also by peers on Facebook, Twitter, and especially Instagram, which a survey found 76 percent of teens chose as their go-to app.
In a stunning article about how to de-code our daughters’ communication on social media, Rachel Simmons, author and co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute writes,
Girls face increasing pressure not only to be smart and accomplished, but girly, sexy and social. . . . Instagram’s simplicity is also deceiving: look more closely, and you find the Rosetta Stone of girl angst: a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it.)
What To Do?
Now that this judging is so intense and so public, we need to give our daughters additional tools to help them:
- Give your daughter a name for her negative self-talk: girly thoughts.
Having a name for something will help her wrap her mind around her experience and see this as something she is doing, not who she is. Helping her see her feelings as transitory and nothing to feel ashamed of will help her overcome the barrage of negativity that is part and parcel of being a teenage girl.
- Help her challenge feeling like a This is the end result of girly thoughts your daughter will feel she has no power and feel she is a victim at the mercy of her peers, and the world. Share with her in general terms how you have fought the same toxic self-talk she is fighting.
- Encourage her to become involved in activities in which she feels proud of herself. Encourage her to sketch, sing, journal, join the Chess Club, Engineering Club, Babysitting Club, and Church Youth Group, to name just a few. The more positive activities she is involved in, the more she’ll have to post about the best in her.
- Help her identify the girly thoughts of her friends. If she has a peer who is cyberbullying another girl because of her braces, breasts, pimples, or who she’s dating, help her see that this is how her peer is responding to her own girly thoughts that say there is only way, and it is the popular way.
It may be rough going at first, but the more your daughter (or granddaughter or niece) can learn to get in front of what is said about her now and learn to define herself, the easier her life will be—not only her teenage years, but for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, she will get a great deal of practice in needing to do this, so why not start now?
Learn more about helping your daughter avoid internalizing her girly thoughts in my new book, The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman’s Guide to Saying NO to Negative Self-Talk and YES to Personal Power.
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Patricia A. O'Gorman, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice. She is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and amusing presentations that make complex issues accessible and even fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations across the country in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O'Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and she has held positions ranging from director of a rape crisis center to clinical director of a child welfare agency, and director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). She is a veteran of numerous television appearances, including Good Morning America, Today, and AM Sunday and is the author of eight books including: The Girly Thoughts 10 Day Detox Plan (2014), The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (2013), and Healing Trauma Through Self-Parenting (2012) 12 Steps to Self-Parenting.