By Ashley Pontius (Contributor)
While opportunities for women have advanced significantly in recent decades, studies reflect that the path to personal independence and growth isn’t always smooth – starting in early childhood up through high school.
Gender stereotypes persist. According to a survey of 1,900 girls and young women between 7 and 21, conducted by the charity Girlguiding, many feel that pressure from social media, TV, friends, teachers and parents affects how they think and act. Another study in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that stereotypes of girls were reinforced by schools, parents and the media, thereby limiting their mobility and access to opportunities.
One possible answer, says mentor and author Sheri Engler, is for parents to empower their daughters from a young age.
“We parents need to take the necessary time from our busy lives to find out what our daughters are experiencing on a daily basis,” says Engler, author of The Pearls of Wisdom: A Fairy Tale Guide to Life’s Magic Secrets for All Ages (www.ThePearlsOfWisdomBook.com).
“We must break down barriers to success early on. Otherwise, girls frequently surrender their ‘surplus’ qualities before they even leave grade school, because they feel they won’t be accepted if they are ‘too much.’ They are not allowed too many gifts for fear of alienating boys and competing with other girls. This has to stop.”
Engler says five ways parents can empower their daughters and help them grow into strong, successful women are:
- Explain the social dynamic. “Help them understand the reasons why boys may be intimidated by powerful girls, and why girls may become jealous and pull down a girl who has too much,” Engler says.
- Help them avoid social programming. Engler says that most forms of mass media “bombard girls with destructive messages.” With character development so important, Engler says parents need to offer more positive influences. “Discouraging Facebook is a good place to start,” Engler says, “due to its entrainment of a ‘me-oriented’ society.”
- Provide social alternatives. Connecting with other parents and families who hold similar values is one option. Engler says, “Parents need to find out what’s really going on with their daughters, both at home and at school. Perhaps consider online or home schooling if your child is being affected by negative conditioning from peers and/or misguided authority figures. Sadly, damaging messages come from every direction.”
- Teach them to help others. Parents can role-model strengthening values. These values could be exemplified by going together to volunteer in soup kitchens, to foster homeless animals, or to visit lonely, old people in nursing homes. “Learning compassion for others supports strong self-esteem through character building,” Engler says.
- Help them identify their unique desires and abilities. “Encourage pride in being who they are on an authentic level,” Engler says. “Help them experience life’s many aspects so they may explore their natural abilities and interests, while paying particular attention to what truly brings them joy – because that is usually where their authentic selves reside.”
“We need to prevent damage early on,” Engler says, “instead of trying to fix it after it’s too late.”
About Sheri Engler
Sheri Engler is the author/illustrator of The Pearls of Wisdom: A Fairy Tale Guide to Life’s Magic Secrets for All Ages (www.ThePearlsOfWisdomBook.com). She is an experienced mentor, medium, and metaphysicist with a background in psychology, counseling and research. She received a BA in Clinical Psychology at San Francisco State University.