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Culture's Pressure on Our Girls

11/15/2007 - 19:29 PST

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Our Culture’s Pressure on our “Tween” age and Teen age Girls

By Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

Our “tween” age and teen age girls are being bombarded with an onslaught of demands. These young girls keenly feel the pressure from many sources which include school, their peers, and society. The support they so desperately need from their parents while they are trying to navigate the maze of unrealistic standards expected of them may be non-existent, because many parents just don’t understand the extent of the pressures. Parents may naively think that their daughters are too young to be feeling any stress or strain whatsoever. Life unfortunately, is not so simple nowadays.

The impact of our culture’s pressure on young girls recently hit home for me when I learned that a young girl I know is now in Rehab being treated for anorexia and drug abuse! Who knew? No one saw it coming. Her parents were totally unaware. This victim of society’s horrid pressure—a sweet young girl from a Church-going family—hid any tell tale signs very cleverly. She had excellent teachers—the girls who led her down the wrong path also taught her how to cover up any evidence of her new lifestyle. Thankfully her parents realized what was going on before it was too late. This girl now counts her blessings; relieved that her parents intervened. She also revealed that she could have died at the rate she was going.

The everyday life of a teenager is tough enough with their hormonal mood swings—one minute exhilarated and the next minute immersed in a major trauma. Dealing with acne, worrying about boys, feeling that their parents don’t understand them, and emotional ups and downs add to their stress. Still, our culture tops it all off with crazy expectations that can be utterly overwhelming to young girls. Sometimes life seems like a pressure cooker to them.

Young girls are vulnerable, taking criticisms very personally and deeply. There are countless new pressures for our girls today which affect their self esteem. They feel intimidated by the “in crowd” and by the popular girls. They may think that they are fat or ugly. They can feel depressed. They stress out about academic pressure which is high these days and sometimes deal with bullies.

Body image and how these girls perceive themselves is a huge problem. It’s impossible to miss the standardized body image for girls, plastered all over the mass media from Hollywood, the runway, television, and glossy magazines. Basically, everyone should be a size zero according to the propaganda. Our young girls are brainwashed into believing that being a particular clothes size will bring them happiness and solve all of their problems in life. Most adolescents are also unaware that what is projected to them is impossible to achieve anyway because of the tricks of airbrushing that are used in the industry which further distorts a young girl’s perception of beauty. We need to combat this obsession with body image and teach our youth what beauty really is.

In addition to worrying about their body image, the teens and “tweens” are consistently exposed to the pop stars in the news, glamorizing underage drinking and drug abuse. It’s pretty scary to think that these celebrities masquerade as role models for our children. Heaven help us!

The “National Mental Health Information Center” reports that girls are three times more likely than boys to have a negative body image. The constant worry about their image can overtake other aspects of their lives, as well. The focus needs to be put on a girl’s real beauty—her talents, her mind, her heart, her spirit—and off of her body.

What can parents do?

Parents should start early to help build self esteem and a strong sense of self in their young girls to enable them to resist the battering of pressures later in life. One study revealed that 32 per cent of girls felt loved by their parents. Imagine that, 32 per cent! This is alarming! Our children need to feel loved by us. A girl who feels loved by her parents and good about herself will still feel the pressures from our culture, but will better be able to deal with them.

The best role models for kids are the parents. Our example speaks volumes. We should never joke or comment about someone’s body size or weight. Our children look up to us and learn our behaviors. We should continue to show our affection toward them even when our adolescents may pull away at times seeking times of privacy. While we respect their occasional times out for privacy, we welcome and encourage them to partake in family activities and dinners, keeping the family unit intact. Prayers at the dinner table are not only wonderful but essential and set a valuable family tradition as do gatherings with relatives in their homes and ours—all helping to foster our family values and togetherness.

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