The culture we live in today is growing increasingly toxic and hostile to our girls. With the influences of social media and the never-ending pressure to perform in every area of life, our daughters are fighting a battle every single day.
So how can you, their parents, champion your girls to be strong, aware and confident women?
I recently spoke with Dr. Leonard Sax, a bestselling author and a leading expert in raising young girls and boys for my “Parenting Great Kids” Podcast.
Our conversation was incredibly insightful and eye-opening, and I want to share a few of the highlights with you.
“I visit schools and I talk to middle school and younger and ask, ‘Who here is on Instagram or on Snapchat?’ Almost all the hands go up.”
Question (Dr. Meg Meeker): What confusion do you find girls experience today regarding their sexual identity?
Answer (Dr. Leonard Sax): Our American culture today pushes girls to present themselves sexually, earlier than ever before. The result is that they become unhinged, they get detached from their sexual identity. Everything becomes a performance. We are seeing a whole generation of young women growing up who regard sex as something that girls provide to boys, that women provide to men.
I spoke to a gynecologist friend of mine who told me that she is seeing so many young women now who say, “I’ve never experienced an orgasm. Is something wrong with me?” After the usual check-ups, she says that in every case, the woman is totally normal. The problem is with the men — they have no idea how to interact with a woman. They’ve come to regard women as aides to masturbation, essentially. And the irony of this permissive era, in which we push girls and boys to be sexual before their time, is that they have no idea how to do it.
Rushing things doesn’t make it better; it makes it worse.
Q: How does the early sexualization of girls affect their sense of worth as they grow through their teen years and into their 20s?
A: Well, this is where we get into this perfect storm. I talk about different factors. We talked about one factor, the sexualization of girlhood, and then we have this whole other factor — social media. I visit schools and I talk to middle school and younger and ask, “Who here is on Instagram or on Snapchat?” Almost all the hands go up.
The girls are figuring out that if they want to get 1,000 followers on Instagram, they just post a few pictures of themselves in a bikini or a provocative pose at age 12, and you will have 2,000 followers overnight. Now what the girl doesn’t understand is that a lot of those followers are men and a particularly creepy variety of men that you really don’t want following you. But they don’t know because these girls are intensely competitive and, “if Emily has 1,000 followers on Instagram, then I have to have 2,000.”
Q: You talk about girls who struggle with obsessions. Why do girls in particular struggle with them so much?
A: I think all of us as human beings need a sense of “Who am I? What am I about? What gives me a sense of worth?” The way American culture is working right now for girls is all about surface — so girls are latching onto something that gives them a feeling of self-worth. For one girl, it’s academic achievement, for another it is athletics, and for another, it’s getting 10,000 followers on Instagram. And sometimes parents can get confused and they’ll say, “Well, I’m very proud of my daughter. She’s very academic, and she’s not at all concerned about Instagram…”
While it’s great to be academic, has it gone over the edge? What’s driving this? If it’s just this desire to be better than others, to impress other people, if it’s all about the performance — that’s not so great. It creates fragility. If this girl defines herself as the best student, as a straight-A student, then one B on a report card is a catastrophe. This girl is crying and suicidal because (and I’ve seen this, and parents are baffled) to her, it’s existential. Her whole sense of self has crumbled because she is no longer the top student. She doesn’t know who she is.
Q: Do you think parents spend enough time with their kids these days?
A: Well, American parents are spending more time with kids than American parents did 30 years ago — and this is especially true of dads (and we have good data on this point), but the problem is, I think, that it’s often the wrong kind of time. If you’re spending time with your child, chauffeuring them from soccer practice to dance practice and not having a meal at home, that’s not the greatest time. The unspoken message of that kind of frantic running around is that it’s all about the performance.
If you want your child to be healthy, to be happy, not to be on medication, etc., you’re going to have to do things differently.
Instead, you want to break away from that. Don’t get sucked into that 21st-Century American, “We’re all so busy” kind of franticness. American kids are much more likely to be anxious, to be depressed, to be diagnosed with ADD, and to be on medications compared to kids in other countries by factors of 10, 20 to 90 times! So, if you want your child to be healthy, to be happy, not to be on medication, etc., you’re going to have to do things differently. Don’t look at what other parents are doing.
Listen to your heart. Take time off to be with your child.
Parents, these are just a few of the very real-world battles your daughters are facing every day. The stakes have never been higher, and our girls’ hearts are on the line. This is not the time to sit in the stands.
So arm yourself with the facts about your daughter’s world, and get in the ring right beside her!
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book, “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.