I could write pages on the issues facing girls today that challenge their self-esteem and make them question their self-worth. These pages would be filled with horrifying, unbelievable situations that high school girls have found themselves in, and have shifted their lives greatly. Following these situations some have been transformed for the better, learning important lessons about relationships, personal values, and future goals. Others take more time to bounce back and continue to struggle, wasting the years they should be focused on Biology and Algebra, consumed by social circumstances. If these stories were to be written here, whether about social media, hook-up culture, perfectionism or body image, it might encourage parents and educators to panic and tighten the grip on their adolescents, when in reality, what will benefit all parties is the exact opposite.
Building a school or home culture that inspires young women to find a voice, and live confidently, is by no means an easy task; however, there are moments that arise all of the time that provide a perfect platform for discussion regarding healthy living, not to mention the endless opportunities for modeling confident and strong behavior. Below are a few tips for taking advantage of these moments, and making a positive impact on the young women in our lives.
Hit the mark – At times, we underestimate the ability of the young people we work with, and at times we over estimate. Setting goals and expectations too high for girls to reach is devastating and feels like a loss before they have begun the game. Setting expectations too low, expresses to a student that their abilities are weak, and they are expected to underperform. When discussing goals, allow your students to set their own goals, encourage them to reach them, and then debrief whether they felt they set the goal too high, too low, or just right. Help them to make their success, their priority, not yours (or their parents!)
Questions, not answers – Do yourself and your students a favor, and ask more questions than you answer. Don’t always have the answer to all of your students’ problems. It’s okay to say, “wow, that’s a tough one, I’m not sure what I would do in that situation. What are you thinking?”. Allow them to work through scenarios and situations. You are not always going to be there to tell them what to do, so be grateful that they are even talking to you about what is going on, and take the time to work through it with them, not for them.
Touch, Don’t Look – Remember that placement has purpose. For any tough or lengthy conversation, side by side is always better than face to face. When a student has to look you in the eye, it is much more difficult to say the things they want to say. A hand on the back, or a pat on the knee, goes a long way when you are listening and asking questions during a sensitive conversation. There is no opportunity for touch, or comfort, when staring face to face and making it feel like an interview or an investigation.
Confidence – Consistently we tell young women to “just be confident”. This is probably one of the most abstract and confusing things to say to someone. Confidence is something you can build, and it is necessary in order to succeed, but it is not something you can tell someone to be. It is like telling someone with a cold to “just be healthy”. Confidence takes practice, and can only occur by doing. Girls especially should be allowed to explore many interests, hobbies, and passions, but should also be encouraged to dive into something deeply. It is important to have many “self-esteem buckets”, so if one is empty another one might fill us up (school, sports, arts, family, community service, etc.). It is also important to engage in something whole-heartedly, so there is opportunity to learn and practice consistency, grit, resilience, and identity building.
Declare motive – Let the girl you are working with know why you are doing what you are doing. Why are you taking the time to talk to just her, when she knows, and you know, that you have a million other things to be doing. Let her know you care about her, and that you are concerned. You want what is best for her now, and in the future, which is why you are asking questions. As adults, our motives are always questioned by adolescents – they think we want information, or control, or to use them to somehow look good for our families or our bosses. It is difficult for them to believe that you just simply care. So if you keep saying it, and keep showing it, they will soon buy it, believe it, and embrace it.
I am who I am – Modeling vulnerability and self-acceptance is another incredible gift you can provide your students. Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses, and asking for help when someone else might have an ability you do not, is not easy, but goes a long way. We are not perfect, nor should we be striving for perfection. There should always be a desire to improve in every aspect of life, from a better three point shot to being a better friend, there is always a need for better; however, prioritizing focus, and deciding to accept average or okay, is acceptable and healthy too. If you and your students can look in the mirror and repeat the phrase “I am who I am” with pride, then you are on the right track.
Brooklyn Raney attended the Culver Academies as a high school student. She holds a B.A. From Colgate University where she played Division 1 ice hockey, and an M.A. In Educational Theater from NYU. She currently serves as the Dean of Students at Kimball Union Academy, as well as the Founder and Director of the Girls’ Leadership Camp. To find out more about Brooklyn, check out her website: http://www.brooklynraney.com/