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Parenting coach Judy Reith talks about the pressures facing teenage girls these days and how mums are their most important role models.
Teenage girls face a whole range of pressures these days so how can we give them positive role models and values?
Parenting coach and author Judy Reith says teenage girls have always had to cope with huge change from body changes and relationship issues to finding a career. The biggest difference these days, she states, is the enormous pressure coming from the Internet and social media. “In seconds, what she thinks, what she looks like or who she fancies can be up there forever for everyone to see and comment on. Smart phones mean she can be plugged in 24 /7, creating a constant threat to engaging with family, her school work and her sleep,” says Judy, who is author of the forthcoming book Darling Daughters: 7 Secrets of raising girls every parent must know and a mother of three girls.
According to the survey she did for her book, the main issue parents of teenage girls worry about is technology – including how much time they spend on gadgets, what they are viewing and how what boys are viewing influences the expectations placed on girls and their self esteem. The worry about technology is closely followed by alcohol and drug abuse. Another concern is the constant pressures girls are under, including parental pressure to achieve at school in an increasingly competitive world as well as other pressures from the media and their friends. “They are very sensitive to how they are judged by their friends, family and also the media who all create an impossible standard for a girl to achieve,” says Judy. “The media still promotes ' thin' as attractive and, of course, celebrity culture makes this worse. They tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves too. I think schools are very aware of this, but sometimes it’s worth parents just telling them to chill out.”
She agrees that mothers are under many of the same pressures so how do they avoid passing their own anxieties on to their daughters? Reith says mothers are their daughters’ biggest role models and it is important, for instance, for girls to see their mums relaxing rather than being an endless whirl of busyness or constantly glued to their smart phone or tablet. Children learn more from what you do than what you say, she states.
However, it’s also important that daughters know their mums aren’t saints and that they too have flaws. “As a working mum of three daughters I have felt the pressure to be a role model to my girls for 23 years,"she says. "Even with the knowledge I have from my work as a parenting coach there are days when I just feel I'm no good or that other mums do it so much better. But the amazing thing about parenthood is that you can draw a line under a bad day, learn from it and start again tomorrow. My flaws help my girls to see me as a human being who tries to do her best and apologises when I let them down. There is a chapter in my book that invites mums to think about their legacy to their daughters, not in a way that makes you feel guilty at all, but to grasp the values you really want them to learn from you and then do what you can to live them out.”
Girls interviewed for Reith’s survey say they wish their mothers wouldn’t moan about their weight or their wrinkles and grey hairs. “They don't want to hear about it,” says Reith. “Be real about it – ageing is a natural process. They're also saying please don't cut out food groups like carbs. Talk about what you want to do to stay healthy and active in case you get some grandchildren to chase after one day.”
She adds that it is unfortunate that, as women are having children later, teenagedom tends to coincide with a mum’s entry into mid-life where she may be questioning who she is and coming to terms with the fading of youth and all that entails. Moreover, teenage girls can be quite critical of their mums. “It can feel like they are lobbing a grenade,” says Reith, “but it will pass. It’s a phase she is going through as she figures out who she is. She knows you love her and thinks you can take it. It can be horrible, though, and can make you act like a child yourself as you get so fed up with this monstrous behaviour, but the best thing is to try to only give them the red card when they step over the line.”
Reith’s main advice to mums is to talk through issues with their daughters and try to reflect on the values they are transmitting. For instance, talk about the digital tricks that alter appearances making people look younger and thinner; emphasise health over what a girl looks like; talk about good role models and what makes them good role models. She says: “Surround your daughter with good female role models. Watch films and read books that feature women whose values you want your daughter to consider.Talk.”
Reith, whose daughters are 23, 20 and 14 had a 24-hour gadget amnesty over Christmas. “You would have thought we were going to live in Australia in terms of the amount of preparation required,” she says. “We were offline for 24 hours and we loved it. It was really weird for the first three hours, but it gave us time to relax and have long conversations with each other. I recommend it.”