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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5 Ways to Help Girls Resist the Pressure to be Perfect

By Claire Mysko

Girls today are told they can do anything. Unfortunately, the message they’re often getting is that they have to do everything and please everyone--get straight A’s in school, have the right look, and manage their jam-packed schedules. All this pressure is adding up to big time stress. According to The Supergirl Dilemma, a recent study conducted by Girls Inc., more than half of girls in middle school reported that they often feel stressed. By the time girls get into high school, that number jumps to 74%. Perhaps even more disturbing is that one third of all girls in grades 3-12 said they often feel sad and unhappy.

When girls get caught up in the quest to be supergirls, they are less likely to feel confident in themselves and celebrate what truly makes them amazing. Here are five tips to help the girls in your life tackle The Supergirl Dilemma.

  1. Does the pressure to do it all sound familiar? You might not be worried about making the honor roll or wearing the It brands anymore, but there’s a good chance you’ve felt the twinges of insecurity that come from trying to juggle career and family while looking the part of the put-together mommy. Supergirls and Superwomen hear the same nagging voice, and it says you’re not good enough. Give yourself a break and take time for healthy stress relief. To break this damaging “super” cycle, we have to start with ourselves.

  1. Teach girls to be savvy and critical media consumers. Resist the urge to lecture about what you think is inappropriate. Instead, ask them what they like about the movies and TV shows they watch and the magazines they read. What do they dislike? Talk about the difference between fantasy and reality by showing girls real examples of retouching. Point out how often retouching is used to make models and actors look artificially flawless.

  1. Encourage girls to exercise their bragging rights. Too often, girls are hesitant to talk about what makes them amazing because they don’t want to be seen as conceited or they feel like they’re not perfect enough to be proud of themselves. Turn that thinking around by challenging girls to take pride in all of their amazing qualities, not just their achievements. Ask a girl what makes her amazing. If you get a sheepish shrug or an “I don’t know,” press on. You can spark the conversation by sharing a few of her qualities that you think are amazing, but don’t let her off the hook until she can say this sentence out loud: “I’m amazing because…”

  1. Discuss the value of making mistakes and taking healthy risks. Many girls are so focused on being perfect and doing things “right” that they miss out on valuable opportunities because they are so afraid of failure. Share a mistake you made or a risk you took in life that helped you get where you are today.

  1. When girls talk about the pressures they feel, the best thing you can do is listen. Don’t judge, interrupt, or get upset. Remember that what girls need most of all in their lives are supportive adults who take the time to hear what they’re saying.

Claire Mysko is the author of Girls Inc. Presents: You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self. She has served as the director of the American Anorexia Bulimia Association, the Executive Editor of SmartGirl, and the Assistant Director of Communications at Girls Inc., the organization that inspires all girls to be strong, smart, and bold. Claire received an MA in Gender Studies from The New School for Social Research. She is also the co-author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby, coming in October from HCI Books. If you would like to learn more about her self-esteem workshops for mothers and daughters, visit her website at www.clairemysko.com.