Family Life, May 2016

Parenting Girls for Resilience in Today’s Toxic Culture

by Laura Choate Ed.D., LPC-S
Laura Choate
Laura Choate

If you are the parent of a daughter, you know that the cultural climate is extremely confusing for girls. On the one hand, statistics show that girls are doing well these days—many are excelling in school, in sports, and in their pursuit of advanced degrees and careers. On the other hand, many girls are struggling. We are seeing increases in serious mental disorders like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-injury, and substance abuse in girls. So yes, girls are doing well in reaching external goals, but at what cost to their development and mental health?

Part of the problem is that if a girl is tuned in at all to popular culture, she is learning a toxic definition for success: that her worth should be based on her appearance, her ability to gain attention and approval, and her ability to produce a long list of accomplishments. Specifically, she is learning:

  • Your worth is based on your appearance. Girls are bombarded with the pressure of a perfect appearance everywhere they turn — from advertisements, television, movies, the Internet, fashion magazines, books, music, and videos — the ideal is held out as the standard that girls should attain. Sadly, this hot-sexy-thin-beautiful ideal is imposed upon girls when they are too young to know what this even means. This pressure intensifies into the preteen and early adolescent years, as girls observe how they should be as “hot and sexy” as possible, and look much older than they actually are.
  • Your worth is based on gaining attention from others. The message of popular culture is clear: Gaining attention and fame is important, regardless of how it might be obtained. Girls learn that they are expected to create a carefully crafted online image in order to gain attention — one that emphasizes the appearance of social media popularity rather than actual relat If they are not “living for likes” online, they fear they will be left behind[i].
  • Your worth is based on your accomplishments. In addition to looking attractive and gaining attention, many girls feel pressure to compete and achieve in all arenas — academics, athletics and extracurricular activ They believe that they have to be perfect, that if they just work harder, they will be finally become acceptable. In a recent survey reported by Girls’ Life magazine, more than half of girls surveyed said they feel as though they have to succeed at everything, “from school to sports to fitting in the right-size jeans to having a BF (boyfriend)”.[ii] The bottom line? To be a success, girls, you have to do it all.

These pervasive pressures seem overwhelming, but parents don’t have to stand by and just accept this as the status quo. You can make a significant difference in how strongly your daughter will be impacted by these pressures. I describe many parenting strategies to help girls stay resilient in my book: “Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture.” For now, here are a few ideas:

  • SwimmingUpstreamBookCoverLove her unconditionally, just as she is. Help your daughter take the time to discover who she truly is, not who the culture is telling her she ought to be. You can play an important role in helping her see that her worth does not have to be based only on her attractiveness to others, gaining attention online, or accruing accomplishments and perfection. She will thrive when she feels accepted and loved just for who she is, not whether or not she can measure up to an unrealistic cultural ideal.
  • Nurture her spirituality. When she knows she is fully loved and accepted by God, she will be less likely to seek out attention and validation from others who may not have her best interests at heart. When she is not thirsting for attention and acceptance, she will no longer be drawn towards earning success as it is defined by the popular culture.
  • Require unplugged time. Research shows that the more a girl immerses herself in popular culture through media use, the more likely she is to adopt cultural standards as her own personal standard. Protect her by monitoring her media use. Don’t be afraid to place limits on how often she is plugged in to device. Require that she take scheduled technology breaks each day. Enforce rules to keep all electronics out of her bedroom at night. When she watches TV, watch a show with her and ask her questions about what she is viewing. Even better, turn off all of your devices and spend time just enjoying her company!

I recognize that these are not easy tasks. To help your daughter stay resilient in spite of cultural pressures, you will have to be willing to do things differently from what others families might be doing — which will often make you an unpopular parent! That’s okay; stick to your convictions anyway. Decide to stand strong and to do what is necessary to help your daughter swim upstream in the ocean of today’s toxic culture.

About Laura: Laura H. Choate, EdD, LPC, is Professor of Counselor Education at Louisiana State University. Choate was awarded the 2013 Best Practices Award by the American Counseling Association and is a former editor of the Journal of College Counseling. She is the author of three books: Girls and Women’s Wellness: Contemporary Counseling Issues and Interventions (2008), Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Counselor’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment (2013), and Adolescent Girls in Distress: A Guide to Mental Health Treatment and Prevention (2013). She has 40 publications in journals and books, most of which have been related to mental health for girls and women. Choate lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and preteen son and daughter.


[i] Robyn Silverman (2014). Am I Like-able? Teens, self esteem and the number of likes they get on social media. Retrieved from: drrobynsilverman.com.

[ii] Girls Life Magazine, October/November issue, 2014.

Family Life, September 2015

How Teaching Children Healthy Coping Skills May Help Prevent Addiction

 

by Allyson Fox Pitre

IMG_4406 copyThe initial instinct of most people in society and in the church is to protect the innocent and vulnerable from any discomfort. This is true of parents, especially parents with small children. If pain can be avoided, it is the duty of a parent to guide their young one through the perils of early life and social interactions with only having positive experiences, right?

What if the obligation of parents is not going to extreme lengths to prevent failure for their children, but instead, walking them through ways to experience their pain and emerge from the other side in a healthy manner?

So often, parents will shield their children from rejection, betrayal, hurt, disappointment and other unpleasant feelings in childhood, and later be faced with adolescents and young adults who have no toolbox of coping methods to rely on. When someone experiences “negative” emotions, they often utilize means of coping they witnessed their parents using, or they apply what has been effective the past. But what if they have not had the opportunity to either witness their parents handle uncomfortable situations, or have not had the chance to exercise their own coping skills due to a lack of history of undesirable circumstances?

In working with my clients, I often see children and teenagers crippled by a negative experience and they begin to utilize maladaptive coping skills that they taught themselves, such as overeating, video game immersion, cutting, or using any means available to escape the experience.

The intention of the parent was to create a safe, pain-free environment for the child to grow up in, but instead, produced someone who does not know what it looks like to address negativity. Therefore, when faced with a circumstance of dissension, they are ill equipped to navigate this first exposure in a healthy manner. Often, when triggered by emotions they have not learned to cope with, maladaptive behaviors may emerge. This may present itself in addiction, which can be defined as using any means to escape from experiencing or facing that moment in their life.

It is helpful for a child to see how their parents experience the unpleasant consequences of life and ways to continue to engage even when it hurts. This does not mean emotionally regurgitating every possible point where the parent feels overwhelmed or hurt, but doing so in age-appropriate situations. For example, if a mother has a disagreement with a friend, it may be helpful to share, in generalities, that they are sad and hurt by someone else’s words.

The child can observe how their mother does not shut off the world, or even avoid her friend, but deals with the situation in a healthy manner. Children do not need to know details of their parent’s fears, but it is more important that they know their parents have them, and they do not let being afraid cripple them. It is much more powerful for a son or daughter to see their parents handle situations in a Godly manner, rather than teaching them with words.

It is important to find ways to educate children about facing failure or pain because it may give them vocabulary to express their emotions. Many children I work with cannot identify their feelings and therefore have difficulty being understood. When unable to communicate and find empathy, any person, regardless of their age, can turn to isolating as a means to self-soothe.

It can be important to not dismiss a classmate that did not invite a child to a birthday party as “mean” or “not good enough”, but instead remind them that being sad is natural. Then, show them how to go to God for comfort, because only He can satisfy. When seeing not only their parent utilize God’s presence as means to handle difficult situations, but also being guided through a method of coping when they are first navigating negative experiences, a pattern will develop. Proverbs 22:6 articulates how crucial it is in beginning to “train a child in the way he should go” during the early years because once healthy patterns are developed, “he will not depart from it” when he is older.

Teaching the young how to recognize and utilize healthy coping mechanisms is not a complete guarantee that they will not turn to addiction later in life. However, they will be much more prepared when the waves of life toss them into the wind. Preparation, exposure and methods of dealing with the difficult times can be the greatest gift a parent gives to a child and the greatest protection.

About Allyson: Allyson received her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Denver Seminary in 2011 and has worked with at risk children, youth and their families since 2012. She has experienced leading and co-leading psycho-educational groups as well as individual therapy at various counseling agencies. She has been able to experience counseling relationships, where fighting against lies that clients’ believe about themselves is an important step in reversing an atmosphere of perpetual misery. She has been able to engage with families and clients through a community based approach to counseling and understand how a family system can influence the difficulties clients’ face. Allyson works towards transforming clients’ thoughts about themselves, as well as the structure of the home and community, into a place where change is possible. Allyson can be reached at: Allysonpitrelpc@gmail.com