Girls Will Be Girls

I grew up in a family of four boys and every time we visited my grandma in the Twin Cities, she, without exception, chided us with the expression “Boys will be boys.” Well, now I am a parent of two teenage daughters and have come to learn that just as my grandma would say, “boys will be boys,” I can proudly offer “GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS.” What is it like to grow up as a girl in the 21st century? The fundamental needs of all children are similar. Girls, like boys, need love, shelter, security, and a sense of belonging. Girls, like boys, need the emotional sustenance of being valued and cherished, respected and admired, supported and validated. As much as our children’s universal needs are similar, the way in which our culture socializes our girls and boys significantly impacts their psychological growth in different ways. Today, my daughters, our girls, experience a world culture unparalleled in time. For all the wonderful advances we experience in modern culture, there is also a price to pay. Our children are the benefactors of all our successes and our failures.

The 1991 release of Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America, was the first national survey to link the sharp drop in self-esteem suffered by pre-adolescent and adolescent American girls to what they learn in the classroom. The poll, commissioned by the American Association of University Woman, shook America’s consciousness and has led to many other interesting studies revealing the challenges today’s girls face. Consider the following:

  • Only 29% of high school girls acknowledge the statement, “I’m happy the way I am” as always true.
  • Adolescent girls are more likely than boys to have their declining sense of themselves inhibit their actions and abilities.
  • Adolescent girls attempt suicide 4-5 times as often as boys.
  • Pressure to have sex starts early- of the girls surveyed, 11 year olds were the only group not to mention it and the pressure comes not just from boys, but from girls too.
  • Girls frequently cite incidents of boys as young as 12 or 13 calling girls “bitches,” “sluts,” and “whores” or making crude requests for sex.
  • One in five girls says she has been abused sexually or physically. One in four shows signs of depression, and one in four does not get health care when she needs it.
  • 25%of the juvenile arrests involve girls.
  • The four most serious threats to girls’ health and education are depression, delinquency, substance abuse, and pregnancy.
  • Unlike boys, girls’ self-esteem plummets from ages 10-15, often leading to poor school performance and increased risk-taking behavior.
  • Girls are twice as likely to experience depression.
  • Approximately 56% of girls said they ” are expected to speak softly and not cause trouble.”

These are striking trends and do not imply that boys are without their own set of problems. Also, this research may not depict the issues specifically facing your daughter or your community, but they definitely reflect the zeitgeist or popular culture of our daughters.

We need, as parents and teachers, to acknowledge that our girls face unique situations and special challenges that are distinctly different from boys. We need to actively pursue pathways that allow “girls to be girls.” Several years ago my oldest daughter was involved in select soccer. Her male coaches became frustrated with the girls’ excessive talking at the beginning of practice and ‘not caring about practice.’ The coaches responded by verbally reprimanding them or punishing them with running laps. Around the same time, a Sports Illustrated article was published describing how girls needed ‘social time’ or ‘relationship time’ at the beginning of a practice and allowing it led to a more cohesive team. Girls will be girls.

  • The New Girls’ Movement: Implications for Youth Programs(2001) developed several key ingredients for successful programming with girls.
  • Create safe places for girls. A safe place fosters self-expression and conflict resolution.
  • Expand the definition of and ensure girls’ leadership. Through intergenerational relationships between girls and women, model purposeful skills and build individual competencies.
  • Respect girls’ cultures and communities.
  • Provide girls the opportunities for community-building and social change work. Actively engage girls in critical thinking about issues affecting their lives and transform words into action.

As a dad it is imperative to become aware of the resources available in your community. Helping your daughter build a support network is vital to her well-being.

How can a dad nurture his daughter’s development in a world he knows is complicated and dangerous, and, as noted above, the playing field is not level and is full of land mines? If our daughters pull on our heartstrings, how can we effectively let go and allow them independence in a male dominated world that we, as men, are all too familiar with? I suggest the following:

  1. Respect all women. Role model kindness.
  2. Be available. Be emotionally involved.
  3. Allow your daughter the opportunities to have her own successes and failures.
  4. Maintain communication.
  5. Accentuate the positive. Do not belabor the negative.
  6. Maintain the integrity of your father role.

Being a dad with daughters is a blessing. Everyday I learn and re-learn what it’s like to be a girl. Unfortunately or fortunately, I will just never totally get it. Now, I think I understand what my grandma meant when she said “boys will be boys.” Maybe, she was saying “I love you with all my heart and stop fooling around.” In proud memory of my dear grandma Marie - GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS!