Over the long weekend, I finished reading Girls on The Edge: The Four Factors Driving The New Crisis for Girls by Dr. Leonard Sax. The four factors that Dr. Sax discusses in detail (sexual identity, the cyber-bubble, obsessions and environmental toxins) are followed by three sections that focus on what parents and educators can do to help today’s young girls feel less anxiety and powerless in their lives. While we don’t offer individual services to girls at FVPC, we do reach girls (and boys) at both the high school and the middle school levels as part of our community education programming. So, I was curious as to what Dr. Sax had to say about the state of girlhood today.
What I learned was more troubling than I had imagined. As Dr. Sax points out, there are no clear guides for boys and girls on how to become men and women. Without this, they look for role models on how to act. Sadly, there are plenty of avenues out there offering suggestions on how to be “real” men and women. Namely: music, television, print media and celebrities. We know that domestic violence is a learned behavior. Abusers know that keeping an extreme amount of control over their victim creates a power imbalance in their relationship. This always leaves one person at a continual disadvantage and dependent on the other. When boys are told that they should be macho, not show feeling and to always be in control, they are being given a message that teaches controlling and jealous behaviors are the way to love. When girls are encouraged to be confident (but not “better than anyone else”), to look to outside authority for confirmation of attractiveness, we are teaching them to not rely on their own good sense, “spirit”* or desires to guide them. Giving our young people these problematic messages portends future abusive relationships.
Where to go from here? One of the terrific aspects of Girls On The Edge is its practicality. There is a great deal of theory but also plenty of recommended next steps. Here are a few:
- Create single sex groups (Sax focuses on girls so his suggestion is to build a girl/woman community) that allow young people to mix socially with each other. The group might be themed (quilting, cooking, biking, etc.) or not. The purpose is for young people of the same sex to get together with folks from different generations but of the same sex to get to know different perspectives, lifestyles, practices, etc. as a way of creating a real life guideline on to how to be a man or woman in society today, from real people not media.
- Encourage spirituality within your young person. One of the chapter in Girls On The Edge (“Spirit”) discusses the “all too common substitution of sexuality in place of spirituality” (183). Girls that do not find their spiritual voice* are at risk of giving something, usually someone else, a higher authority. And sometimes that high authority for a young girl can be a boy. Instead, help them find confidence in their own voice by developing their relationship with something greater or higher than themselves.
- Expose your child to a range of different activities. Different sports/ hobbies/passions in which they can excel instead of emphasizing one path as the only, right path. Some competitive and some not. The important thing is to find multiple activities that kids can feel good about themselves in. Sax says “it’s all about balance,” (162) When we find ourselves only doing one thing over and over, not only does that one activity become old to us more quickly, but we might find it difficult to pull out of or away from it, if we find it no longer satisfies or pleases us.
What do you think? Let’s hear some of your concerns about boys and girls today.
*Sax is quick to point out that he is not necessarily recommending girls turn to an organized religion per se (although if that works for them and their family, so be it) but rather be open to an inner spirituality that can be as simple as meditation or communing with nature (194).