October 19, 2017

What Today’s Girls Need

By Julie Samrick

“Why are those girls so nice to their mom?” my first grader innocently asked as we watched the 1949 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women over the holidays. She then asked to watch it over and over again, reminding me how much I also loved the story as a child.

 

Set during the Civil War, Little Women is the story of four sisters coming-of-age under the guidance of their mother, whom they affectionately called Marmee.  The film starring Janet Leigh and a very young Elizabeth Taylor was a favorite when I was a child too, but I always thought it was because we also had a family with four daughters.  I see now that the heart of the movie shows what girls need most to thrive: lots of fun with other girls as well as positive, older female role models.

 

Marmee is deeply respected by her daughters. They witness her live a dignified daily life of humility, love, and service. In one scene the girls decide to sacrifice their $1 cash Christmas presents from a wealthy aunt to buy presents for Marmee.  In following their mother’s example, they also donate their one lavish meal of the year, their Christmas breakfast, to give to a family who needs it far more than they do.

 

Sure it’s just a scripted movie, but its timeless appeal is a reminder that girls are hungry for our guidance and they will emulate us more than we realize.  We know that a mother influences her daughter’s own body image and can even shape what kind of a parent her daughter will be herself one day.  A recent study even found that a mother’s (not a father’s) own drinking habits directly correlate with her children’s later drinking habits.

 

Dr. Leonard Sax, a family practice doctor, as well as a psychologist, and the author of the recent book Girls on the Edge, argues that a good chunk of what should be a precious phase of girlhood, that time between childhood and adulthood when girls should be having innocent adventures like riding bikes, playing in creeks, and giggling with their friends, is being replaced by sexually charged images and expectations that have made them make the leap to adulthood much too quickly. Losing their girlhood, thereby growing up too fast, is a detriment to their development, he says, and it’s causing unprecedented increases in anxiety, depression, and loneliness in girls today.

 

Where are carefree, fun loving girls like Punky Brewster, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the four March sisters when girls flip on the television in 2013?  Those characters have been replaced with far more serious ones like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna (three of the most Googled young people in 2012).

 

One of the antidotes to this is to pair girls with older mentors. Though their peer group is strong, and it’s normal for teenage girls to want some separation from their parents as they develop an identity of their own, other female adult role models can be positive as well. We saw this in quilting communities of generations past and in single gender organizations like Girl Scouts.  When I first became a mother I joined a community of knitters and was the youngest in the group by at least 30 years.  These women told me stories as they doted on my baby, teaching me to knit while they also doled out advice and welcomed me into a tribe of sorts.  At different times in a girl or woman’s life it may not be possible for her to have her own mother as a mentor, and that’s where other women can help.

 

Several months ago Dr. Laura talked on her radio show about a remarkable girl she knows and how this girl’s mother has been “a phenomenal mentor” to her.  The word choice was striking: I hadn’t thought of one’s own mother being a mentor.  A teacher can be one, or a coach, or an aunt, but a mother?  She was so right.

 

Mothers have a responsibility to be upstanding role models for their daughters to look up to, but all women share in this endeavor even if their children are grown or they have sons, but not daughters. Women can do this even if they do not have children at all.  

 

Girls really do want to hear our stories and our perspective on things…Good or bad, they are listening.

 

 

A credentialed teacher, Julie Samrick is now a stay-at-home mother of four kids and the founder of Kid Focused.

 

 

 

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