I spent the weekend up camping and was reading the book Reviving Ophelia – Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, PHD. She uses the character Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in her title because it shows the destructive forces that affect young women.
“As a girl, Ophelia is happy and free, but with adolescence she loses herself. When she falls in love with Hamlet, she lives only for his approval. She has no inner direction; rather she struggles to meet the demands of Hamlet and her father. Her value is determined utterly by their approval. Ophelia is torn apart by her efforts to please. When Hamlet spurns her because she is an obedient daughter, she goes mad with grief. Dressed in elegant clothes that weigh her down, she drowns in a stream filled with flowers.” Does this sound familiar to anyone??
In my first blog I wrote about facilitating an event with Mothers and Daughters. The girls ranged from 5th grade to 11th grade. I asked them to write 5 things they loved about themselves. The 5th and 6th grade girls started writing furiously. I approached an 8th grade girl that had a funny a look on her face and asked what was wrong. She told me “I’m embarrassed”. I asked her what she had to be embarrassed about and she replied “I don’t know”. What happens between 6th and 8th grade (besides dreaded middle school) that causes girls to no longer be proud of what makes them unique. I think this is what Mary Pipher was getting at in her title. The girls go from open, curious, happy little girls to withdrawn, secretive shadows of their former selves. Something dramatic happens during this timeframe. Girls start their period, true (although that is happening earlier and earlier these days), but it is so much more than that. Along with this rite of passage seems to come some set rules about what is feminine and what is not. How they should look, act, feel. Rules that they feel they need to conform to so that they can make their way through the next stage in their lives.
I look at all of the parenting magazines and articles online, and everything positive seems to stop around the 6th grade time frame. Then they step into no man’s land (and I used that language on purpose). It is this black hole from 7th-12th grade. Everything after 6th grade is geared to “Problem Teens”, and “Raising Difficult Teens”. I think the conservative culture that surrounds us here in Utah does dampen the effect of some of the outside stressors, but it is still there. The culture here can also create another type of peer pressure. Pressure of not being good enough, of not being accepted if you don’t “fit in”. If you don’t see this in your teen, look at your niece, or your neighbor’s daughter. How can we let these girls know that it is OK to remain true to themselves (especially when we women, their role models, are not always so good at it. Don’t believe me? Look at how we morph from one group to another). From outward appearances, a lot these girls may seem OK, but inside they are struggling. Struggling to conform, struggling to adapt, and struggling to fit in. Remember back to your junior high days. How fun was that? Then there is the almighty embarrassment that they might cause us, their parents, by something they do. It makes us look like bad parents (or so we believe). We turn it from being about them to being about us. No wonder they are so confused.
Let’s start a movement. Let’s send these girls the message that they can be true to themselves. That they don’t have to adapt for anyone. As Martin Luther King said “A world where we are judged not by the color of our skin” (or the clothes we wear, or our looks…OK, OK I am taking some liberty here), but by the content of our character. If they are free to be themselves, they will know what type of character they are building and make choices accordingly. I love the girl scout mission of “building girls of courage, confidence and character”. That says it all. What is doesn’t say is how to do that in this ever changing world. I am going to sit with that this next week and see what I come up with. Considering the fact that I have 3 daughters, I have a large stake in this. What about you?