Are You Empowering Girls to be Brave?

We see girls being brave in our world, in huge public ways and smaller ones as well.

In search for knowledge concept. Fantasy world imaginary view. Woman walking down the book pass above clouds with windmill old ship in horizon. Life success of an educated person, human concept

Empowering Girls

Who among us isn’t motivated by the incredible courage of Malala Yousafzi? The young Pakistani girl who loved learning, loved school, and became an outspoken opponent of Taliban efforts to restrict education and stop girls from going to school.

So Taliban leaders voted to kill her.

And nearly did.

But she survived.  To fight louder, stronger, advocating for the rights of girls to become educated.

Our daughters and nieces and all the young girls we know won’t (we hope) be faced with such choices.

Yet and still, day-to-day life poses huge obstacles to girls trying to be who they are.

Faced with enormous pressures to conform to beauty standards, to don the latest fashions and be the most popular, to fight off peer pressure and that from a body-obsessed media, how can a girl maintain the core sense of herself and be the best person she can be?

It takes help from all the women and men around her.  Malala’s love of learning came from her father, who ran a school next to the family’s home, and became an outspoken critic of the Taliban restricting the education of girls.

Ah, powerful stuff indeed, that love of learning.

Girls in childhood tend to be brave.  According to Martin Seligman, M.D., girls, at least up to puberty, are more optimistic than boys.

But this changes dramatically in adolescence.

These very formative years, however, will determine which women become leaders (which always requires bravery), and which don’t.

After years of research as a psychologist and consultant for women struggling in the professional world, Dr. Stacey Radin in her book, Brave Girls: Raising Young Women with Passion and Purpose to Become Powerful Leaders, made a groundbreaking realization: It all begins in middle school.  At a pivotal time in their lives, girls learn to advocate for others, think critically, and, most importantly, gain confidence in their abilities to create change.

So how can we help our girls be brave?  To learn to think for themselves and be who they are, in the face of constant pressure to conform?  Many ways exist, but here are a few:

֎   Focus on the Intellect.

When my nieces were quite young, I was living on the farm, writing.  Not a very conventional lifestyle, and the family thought me a bit of an odd nut.  But my nieces found me to be magic.

And when we visited, I never focused on what they were wearing (their mother always had them dressed so cute, even when out at the farm), or how pretty they were (both were and are just beautiful).  Instead, we talked about what they were reading.  What they learned in school that week.  Which subjects they liked best, which were a struggle.

For a time they could forget about trying to be the cutest, and winning in that manner. And instead, focus on who they actually were becoming.

1.  Ask her opinion.

Kids and pre-teens especially are inundated by family and authority figures with what they’re supposed to think and do and be.  But what often gets lost in the mix is what the girl herself thinks about the world around her. And while of course all the former is necessary, learning is a two-way street, a back and forth of the ideas and concepts she’s passing through.

So often people say their kids won’t talk to them.  Which I often find amusing, as most of the time, girls never shut up around me.  Because I don’t tell them what they “should” be thinking or doing, but instead ask them their opinions.

And kids have opinions.  Lots of them. All you have to do is find the questions that unlock the keys to their thoughts, and off they go.  And then, don’t pass judgement unless asked.

I’ll never forget one of my niece’s friend’s saying to me when they were teenagers, and we were having a deep conversation, “We can talk to you, Aunt Sue, ‘cause you’re not really an adult.”  I still chuckle at this. But it just meant I listened more than I preached.  And found out far more about their world than the other “adults” around them . . .

2.  Become a media critic.

And not about what the latest celeb was wearing, but rather, about why that was the entire focus.  Questions as simple as, “I wonder what that actress thinks that they only talk about her butt?”

After a few giggles, the conversation will grow deeper . . .

Or, question the motives of a movie or advertisement.  Questions as simple as, “Wonder why she needs to be saved?  Her life must be really boring!”

Not accepting the figure-blasting or waif-promoting images opens a new place for girls to consider.

3.   Encourage girls to participate.

I grew up in a time when girls weren’t really playing sports.  Once we got past the elementary years where softball and tetherball were played by both sexes, boys kept playing and girls, well, girls cheered them on.

Thank God this has changed.  Yet, so many of the young girls I know still watch from the sidelines.  Which is all fine and good—as long as they participate in some sort of endeavor.

Because that’s where you learn your strengths and weaknesses, and how to master tasks, how to be a good sport, win or lose.

How to jump in and be part.

As Amelia Earhart said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”

4.   Encourage them to dive in even when they’re afraid.  Because fear is a part of any process, of taking on a new thing and running with it.

And there’s no better time to learn to face fear than now.  Whenever that now is.

Fear is a great teacher.  Until you participate in something that scares you, that fear can lie dormant until a time comes when you have no choice but to participate.  And then it bites a huge hunk out of your backside.  When a girl faces smaller ones as she goes, she builds courage to carry her on.

I love what author Caroline Myss says about this:

“Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you.”

And what better place to learn that than when making the crazy transition from childhood to womanhood.

Girl empowerment grows our next generation into empowered women.  Into women who can change their own lives, and the ones around them.  Ultimately, courageous, strong, intelligent women change the world.

And uncovers early on what author Marianne Williamson says about fear, so our girls can go beyond it:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?Actually, who are you not to be?

About the Author Susan Malone

Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.

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28 comments
Roslyn Tanner Evans says February 24, 2016

What a powerful post and timely for me. We were just with our 16-year-old granddaughter who now has no braces so she smiles broadly, plays LaCross & is often quiet around her brilliant family. I asked her how she felt if her congregation hired a gay married Rabbi with twin boys. I said something silly like, cool, huh? And she said, “it makes no difference to any of us teens who he sleeps with or his preferences as long as we can relate to him as a person”. She also had opinions about the uproar it was causing amongst families they know. We had a great conversation, all of us & I let her take the lead.
Your post is reminding me to talk more to her about her. Thanks

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    I just love how you posed the question to her, Roslyn! Isn’t it just amazing how girls will open up about their beliefs if you ask them! What a wonderful grandmother you are!

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Teresa says February 24, 2016

What a wonderful article Susan. It speaks to what I am passionate about too. It is in our young girls that we see a evolutionized society in compassion – if we support them now.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    You hit the proverbial nail, Teresa. Supporting our girls holds the key to the future for us all.

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Lisa Swanson says February 24, 2016

As my daughters were going through the early teen years, I noticed a huge difference in how they thought of themselves and how my generation thought of ourselves. I grew up in a time when women’s liberation was in the forefront of our minds and my girlfriends and I were proud to be strong women! I was rather shocked when I started to realize the direction this generation was headed in; allowing boys to treat them poorly, listening to and buying music that included lyrics that were derogatory to women. I actually printed out the lyrics to one song and had my daughter read them out loud to me. She could bring her self to say them and that was the start of her realization that words to songs do matter, that women matter, and you need to make sure that no one takes your power away from you unless you allow them to do so.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    Isn’t this shift just the oddest thing, Lisa. When we were working to be strong women, and now, the teenage rate of abuse is astronomical. Just hard to believe! But I LOVE you having your daughter read the lyrics out loud! What a great impact you made. Yeah, Mom!

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Rebecca Bryant says February 24, 2016

What a powerful post and inspiring. I am amazed at the courage this young woman had.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    Isn’t Malala just an incredible inspiration, Rebecca. If she can do it, we have no excuses!

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Joyce Hansen says February 24, 2016

Susan, we always need to be out there asking girls for their opinions and reinforcing the fact that their voices matter. At the same time, it bothers me that no one is stepping and challenging the attitudes of young boys that it’s okay to put girls down and abuse them.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more, Joyce. Even today, as teenage abuse is all over the news, we talk of speaking with our girls not to take it, but I’m not hearing anyone talking to the boys. Hm!

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Sabrina Quairoli says February 24, 2016

Lovely post! Asking their opinion is great. It works. I also noticed that if we are able to slow down and do nothing, we talk more with each other. Thanks for sharing.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    Isn’t that the truth, Sabrina–slowing down and doing nothing. It leaves the space for real thoughts and feelings to arise 🙂

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Beverley Golden says February 24, 2016

This is an important conversation to have in our world today, Susan. It made me think of our biography cycles and how ages 7-14 are the Mercury years, Mercury being the sign of information and learning. These are the critical years when children, both girls and boys, learn about the world around them and start to formulate beliefs about themselves and the world outside their home. I see things changing and it is wonderful to know that you and many women are having a different kind of conversation than when I was growing up. Most girls weren’t encourage to aspire to careers, although I saw it begin to change in the later 60s with the intro of the Women’s Lib Movement. The conversation opened up and women started to believe they could be and do whatever they chose. We’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go, however, there seems to be more openness because of the online world. Younger people stand for a very different set of values and don’t buy into the “supposed” to dos as much. Thanks for keeping the conversation alive and for bringing it to the young women in your immediate world.

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    Susan Malone says February 24, 2016

    I’m with you, Beverley–this is such an important conversation to be having. Although I still shake my head somewhat that so much time has passed since the ’60s and ’70s and this conversation even still exists! We thought back then the women’s movement conquered all. Can only laugh now . . . But at least we are having the conversation, and hopefully, both boys and girls are listening.
    Love the part about the mercury years!

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GiGi Eats says February 24, 2016

I was born to empower others!!!! I love helping people feel CONFIDENT in their own skin! For a long while I didn’t feel that way about myself, but that certainly has changed!!

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    Susan Malone says February 25, 2016

    That it changed is the thing, Gigi! And you are certainly motivating!

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Beth Niebuhr says February 25, 2016

Raising a daughter is challenging. It definitely involves helping her to reach for what she wants and to feel confident about doing that. We had lots of conversations about empowerment. You’re right that Malala is a shining beacon for young girls today.

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    Susan Malone says February 25, 2016

    It is challenging, Beth. I just love all the women writing about empowering girls!

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Jackie Harder says February 25, 2016

Absolutely love this! I’m all about empowering women — and that starts when they are toddlers. I babysit my neighbor’s daughter, who is almost 3, and I am so aware of my language around her. Not cuss words; of course, I watch that all the time. But when describing her. “Cute,” “sweet” and “nice” are just a few of the words we adults use all the time, especially with very young children, because in part we’re teaching them how to get along with others. As they grow, kids are such great mimics of adults…so much so that my little friend always gets on the scale and peers at the numbers every time she goes into the bathroom. Every time. Clearly, she’s copying what she sees her mom does…and what message is she internalizing from that?

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    Susan Malone says February 25, 2016

    Wow, that’s an eye opener, Jackie. Kids are such sponges, and I cringe to think of that 3-year-old constantly stepping onto the scale! Man. But she has you to empower here, and it just takes one . . .

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Julie Syl Kalungi says February 25, 2016

I grew up in an environment where we were encouraged to “fit in” and Be like everyone else and not make a fuss, even thought it was a girls boarding sch. When I hit College I was like a bird out of a cage. I loved the freedom I got and expressed myself so much to the shock of my peers who mostly were still in the “Nun Conditioned mindset”

I realised I somehow allowed my mind to release the things I was tld and I shone through Uni. Now I Encourage my children to be, Do and Have whatever they put their ind to. Both boy and girl. My daughter is a quietly confident, reserved young woman with her own opinions which she is not afraid to express when you get to know her and give her your attention! I believe in empowering our children both girls and boys, As parents we have the power to turn round whatever it is they may learn outside of the home and we must wield that privilege with care!

I love the way you relate to your nieces Susan. And Its amazing to empower girls to be brave! I do taht as a speaker with LMI and you cannot imagine how insecure the young models are inside!

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    Susan Malone says February 25, 2016

    I grew up in that environment too, Julie. I still cringe at the word “nice.” It teaches girls to be submissive, and now when I hear it, I just counter it.
    I love what you’re teaching your children, and the models! You go!

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Kristen Wilson says February 25, 2016

Women/mothers so need to raise their daughters to be strong and independent and realize that media sucks… and they will cause people to think about women certain ways.. and just because some people believe it.. it’s not true. Love your blog.. thank you!

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    Susan Malone says February 26, 2016

    It’s a constant fight with women and body image in the media, isn’t it, Kristen? But we’ll fight the good fight!

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Dianne says February 26, 2016

Wonderful article, Susan! As a parent I can remember watching my daughter get hurt in volleyball practice and stopping myself from taking her off the team so she could stay safe. I was never athletic or competitive but I knew it was important to enable and support her in her love of volleyball. At some point we need to learn that life is not always safe so we need to learn the skills to move surely.

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    Susan Malone says February 29, 2016

    Isn’t that one of the toughest ones, Dianne! We so want to protect our children, and walking the delicate balance between keeping them safe and letting them learn on their own . . . well, one of the true tests of parenthood! That took a lot of courage to keep letting her play. Kudos!

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Deb Nelson says March 1, 2016

Really great post Susan – and timeliness with presidential primaries is quite interesting. Some of the viewpoints we’re hearing underscore that while things have moved forward for women over the years, we’ve got lots of work to do for the girls and women who will follow us.

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    Susan Malone says March 2, 2016

    So true, Deb. So many young women don’t know the fight we’ve fought all these years. We have come far. But many trails left to be blazed!

    Reply
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