We Tell Our Kids That Hard Work Always Pays Off. What Happens When They Fail Anyway?

Time

BY RACHEL SIMMONS MAY 23, 2019

Rachel Simmons is the director of the Phoebe Reese Lewis leadership program at Smith College and the author of Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Happy, Healthy & Fulfilled Lives.

A star athlete at the college where I work recently stopped by my office. After committing a few unforced errors during a weekend match, she was — several days later — riven by self-criticism and distracted on the field.

“I can’t stop beating myself up,” she told me. “I’m at peak fitness, and I practice hard. How is this happening?”

This student, like many I teach, believes she should be able to control the outcomes of her life by virtue of her hard work. It’s a mentality verging on invincibility: a sense that all-nighters in the library, a jam-packed calendar and hours on the field should get her exactly where she needs to go in life. Nothing can stop me but myself.

I study and write about resilience in young adults, and I’m noticing a troubling spike in students like this athlete. Their faith in their own sweat equity confers a kind of contingent confidence: when they win, they feel powerful and smart. Success confirms their mindset.

The problem comes when these students fail. When they fall short of what they imagine they should accomplish, they are crushed by self-blame. If my accomplishments are mine to control, they reason, my failures must be entirely my fault, too. Failing must mean I am incapable, and maybe will be forever.This makes it incredibly difficult for students to move on.

We talk often about young adults struggling with failure because their parents have protected them from discomfort. But there is something else at play here among the most privileged kids in particular: a message transmitted to them by doting parents who have falsely promised them that they can achieve anything if they are willing to work for it.

Psychologists studying students in high-achieving schools have sourced this phenomenon to a misapplication of “mindset” research, which has found that praising children for their effort will increase academic performance. Developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and popularized in her 2006 bestselling book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, mindset education has infiltrated the classrooms around the world. But a 2018 meta-analysisfound that while so-called growth-mindset interventions, in which educators respond to their students’ challenges by praising effort (“You worked hard!”) over ability (“You’re really smart!”), may benefit high-risk or economically disadvantaged students, they do not necessarily help everyone.

One possible explanation comes from psychologists Suniya Luthar and Nina Kumar, who argued in a research paper last year that teens growing up in wealthy, pressure-cooker communities are actually hurt by the message that effort equals success. For them, Luthar and Kumar wrote, “it is not a lack of motivation and perseverance that is the big problem. Instead, it is unhealthy perfectionism, and difficulty with backing off when they should, when the high-octane drive for achievements is over the top.”

The humbling, brutal, messy reality of life is that you can do everything in your power — and still fail.

When parents demand excellence in their kids while still promising them that effort is king, they tell them, wrongly, that they should be able to rise above any obstacle. But research has found that young people who push themselves onward in the face of unattainable goals experience physical and emotional stress. In a 2007 study by psychologists Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch, the authors determined that adolescent girls who refused to give up impossible goals showed elevated levels of CRP, a protein that serves as a marker of systemic inflammation linked to diabetes, heart disease and other medical conditions. A 2012 study by Luthar and Samuel Barkin showed a correlation between the “perfectionist strivings” of affluent youth and their vulnerability to drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety and depression.

The humbling, brutal, messy reality of life is that you can do everything in your power — and still fail. This is knowledge that comes early to underrepresented minorities on campus, including first-generation students and students of color. Their experience of discrimination and inequality teaches them early on to brace for what is, for now, largely beyond their control to change.

Yet for many others, the quixotic belief that success is always within their grasp is a setup. University of Chicago Professor Lauren Erlant calls this “cruel optimism,” or when the pursuit of a goal actually harms you because it is largely unachievable. The college admissions game promises young adults a meritocracy that will reward their hard work with entrance to the ivory tower – yet admissions scandals and ultra-thin acceptance margins make such a promise impossible to keep.

Adults help students pursue success in healthier ways in part by redefining failure as a feature, not a bug, of learning. At Smith College, where I teach, the Narratives Project asks students to explore how setbacks and missteps made them stronger or more effective. “It can be instructive to observe your own response when things don’t go your way,” said director Dr. Jessica Bacal. “It might reinforce your passion for the work you’re doing or send you in a whole new direction – and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Luthar and Kumar urge parents and teachers to spend time helping students find purpose, or goals they both genuinely love to pursue and that make an impact on the world. Researchers have found that adolescents with purpose report greater life satisfaction, have a strong sense of identity and are more psychologically mature.

Instead of allowing our kids to beat themselves up when things don’t go their way, we might all pause to question a culture that has taught them that being anything less than overwhelmed is lazy, that how they perform for others is more important than what actually inspires them and that where they go to college matters more than the kind of person they are.

The point is not to give our kids a pass on working hard and doing their best. But fantasizing that they can control everything is not really resilience. We are harming our children by implying that they can bend life to their will, and as students walk across commencement stages this year, we would be wise to remind them that life has a way of sucker-punching us when we least expect it. It’s often the people who learn to say “stuff happens” who get up the fastest.

75 Percent of Teen Girls Have Anxiety — What We Can Do About It

ParentMap

Author and researcher Rachel Simmons talks raising daughters in a toxic culture

PUBLISHED ON: JANUARY 17, 2018

 
anxious-teen-girl

Roughly three out of four teenage girls experience anxiety, according to the 2016 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey. Seventy-six percent of tenth grade girls have felt extremely nervous or anxious and 13 percent have attempted suicide.

What is going on and how can we as parents help? We turned to educator and researcher Rachel Simmons. Founder of Oakland-based outreach organization Girls Leadership and leadership development specialist at Smith College, Simmons believes there’s no one reason why so many young women feel anxious.

Still, there is one reason she often sees in her work: more pressure.

“We hope for girls to be smart and brave and interested in STEM fields, but we still expect them to be thin and sexually attractive and have a witty and appealing online presence,” she says. “No matter how many achievements they accrue, they feel that they are not enough as they are … We haven’t really upgraded our expectations, we’ve just added on to the old ones.”

She addresses this pressure and how parents can help their daughters thrive in her latest book, “Enough As She Is” (out Feb. 27).

It’s not a bad thing that we’re instilling more confidence in our girls, Simmons says. The problem is that we’re still raising them in a toxic culture that hasn’t caught up with those new expectations.

“That’s how girls wind up feeling something is wrong with themwhen in fact … something is deeply wrong with our culture,” she says. In the last decade alone, Simmons says she’s seen “the rise of social media, arrival of college admissions mania, and ever more ruthless pressure to be thin tighten the rules of success for girls in punishing ways.”

And that, she notes, undermines the development of their confident, authentic selves. But that doesn’t mean there’s no solution. We asked Simmons why our daughters are experiencing so much anxiety — and what parents can do to help.

WHY DOES MORE OPPORTUNITY LEAD TO INCREASED ANXIETY IN TEENAGE GIRLS?

Girls have too many roles to play and too many roles conflict with each other. Add this role overload to the fact that girls continue to need to please others first and be likable. Girls are still raised with a psychology that is trained to think about other people before themselves. This all is a real recipe for unhappiness.

My goal is to give parents tools to help girls carve out a life and a sense of self that feels authentic and important to them that isn’t fully shaped by what other people expect of them. It’s not that challenges are going to go away; it’s about how to manage these challenges. For example, I never tell girls that they are going to stop overthinking things. The question is: Do you know how to manage overthinking and how to understand it?

GOT ANY TIPS FOR HOW TO GET YOUR TEEN DAUGHTER TO ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, TALK?

Teenagers are notorious for not wanting to talk when you want to talk. Annoyingly, they’re not interested in talking on your schedule and they want to talk when it’s not convenient for you. If they are deflecting your attempt to talk, ask yourself, ’Is this the right time for them to talk?’ Can you agree upon a different time to talk?

It’s also super important for parents to find that middle way between being authoritarian versus permissive. Kind but firm, gentle, curious and humble. Try saying, ‘There’s a lot I don’t know, and I would love to hear more about what I don’t know; here’s what I am thinking as your parent.’

Every teenager wants to have respect. I’m not talking about them getting to go out until 1 a.m. I’m talking about establishing trust in your teenager’s perspective. That’s being able to say, ‘Hey, listen. There are things you have to tell me’ while [also] standing firm with the fact that you’re the parent and the boss.

AND HOW SHOULD YOU RESPOND WHEN YOUR DAUGHTER DOES TELL YOU SOMETHING BIG?

When your child does open up and tell you something big, it’s so important to note that. You say to your kid in that situations, ‘Thank you so much for telling me that.’ Their job is not to serve you by telling you things — their job is to be secretive — so be grateful when they tell you things.

WHERE DOES THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA COME INTO THIS?

There’s a real trend of using fear and shame to teach about social media: ‘Your life will be ruined if you do the wrong thing online.’ But teaching through fear and shame isn’t effective for teens.

Social media in and of itself is not harmful — it’s the way in which it’s used that can be harmful. It’s important for parents to make an effort to understand why their kids love it, and to understand their kids are going to make mistakes … Parents need to be clear with their kids about parameters and expectations around use. I don’t think that means being a spy, but you must play a role in how your kids learn to be online through rules and expectations.

IN YOUR BOOK, YOU RECOMMEND CREATING A ‘FAILURE RESUME’ THAT LISTS WAYS YOU HAVE FAILED IN YOUR LIFE AND SHARING THAT WITH YOUR DAUGHTER. WHY?

If you create a failure resume and talk about it with your daughter, you’re desensitizing her to the power of failure. You’re talking about something that’s often taboo and lessening the shame around it. You’re also normalizing failure, making it fun and funny, which makes it less scary. To be comfortable with your setbacks is a muscle that you must flex again and again. It’s a skill.

A failure resume is an ingredient for the recipe [of how to deal with failure]. Essentially my whole book is about this recipe for building resilience. I talk about what is threatening girls and how to respond to it, how to be resilient. I’ve learned that what girls really need are the skills to lean inside as much as to lean in: to practice self-compassion, nourish their most important relations and seek support when needed.

Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard

Time

@racheljsimmons

girl-fell-mud
Getty Images

Failing well is a skill

When I ask why, she answers without hesitation. “I’m so used to doing well on things. If one thing goes wrong, I just want it to go away and feel like it never happened.”

That’s why Mary rarely speaks about her setbacks, including the study-abroad trip when she suffered from brutal homesickness, but didn’t tell a soul. She is terrified to be seen as anything less than extraordinary.

Jessica Lahey’s new book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, says young women like Mary are in trouble. They’ve been so protected from mistakes, usually by their parents, that they fear failure, avoid risk and value image over learning. By the time they go to college, they are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and stress.

Lahey says parents defail their kids’ lives in order to minimize kids’ pain and extend their need for mom and dad’s support. When kids are dependent on parents, mom and dad can enjoy kids’ wins as evidence of superior parenting.

A raft of studies back up Lahey’s point. But evidence suggests that girls may be especially vulnerable when it comes to failing, and being spared from it. Here’s why trying to protect girls from challenge hits them especially hard:

Girls respond to failure differently than boys. When girls make mistakes, they’re more likely to interpret the setback as a sign they lack ability — a factor much harder for girls to change. Boys, on the other hand, tend to attribute failure to more controllable circumstances.

The phenomenon has been traced in part to how teachers talk to students. In observational studies, teachers corrected girls for mistakes related to ability, while boys tended to get more behavioral interventions (“Pipe down!”, “Stop throwing that paper airplane,” and so on).

Other studies have found that girls are more likely to give up in the face of a stressful academic situation. In one study, fifth-grade students were given a task that was intentionally confusing. It was the girls who were derailed by the confusion and unable to learn the material. Notably, the highest-IQ girls struggled the most. The phenomenon continues in college, where Harvard economist Claudia Goldin found it was women dropping out of Intro to Economics when they failed to get A’s.

In the early 2000s, a new gender difference in how kids experience failure was identified. “Stereotype threat” — the burden girls face when dealing with the stereotype that they are “bad” at math and science — has been linked to their underperformance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Less known is how stereotype threat makes failure more bruising for girls. It works like this: when girls buy into the stereotype that they’re bad at math, they don’t see a missed problem or poor grade as a correctible issue. Instead, it confirms what everyone else knows — that they simply have less ability. These experiences, researchers say, “add stress and self-doubt to [girls’] educational experiences and diminish their sense of belonging to the academic arena.”

Rescuing girls from failure makes them lose motivation — even more than boys. We learn best when we’re intrinsically motivated — that is, when we try something new for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. Intrinsic motivation is one of learning’s most precious resources. It bolsters us to stick out the tough moments of a challenge and pursue what we love to do.

Autonomy is one of three core ingredients of intrinsic motivation. In other words, we’re most inclined to want to learn when we can do it freely and of our own accord. When we believe others are interfering with our autonomy by trying to control our performance — say, by offering rewards, threatening punishment or offering certain kinds of praise — our motivation plummets.

Professors Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, pioneers in the study of motivation, say girls are more vulnerable to having their autonomy and motivation threatened. Because girls are raised to please others, they tend to care more about feedback from teachers and parents — and so are more sensitive to feeling controlled.

Females, Deci and Ryan have written, “pay particular attention to evidence of having pleased the evaluator when praised.” That’s why multiple studies find that girls show more negative outcomes when they are praised in ways that pressure them to keep performing at a high level.

In one study, praising elementary-school students for fixed traits and abilities, like being “smart” or “nice,” undermined intrinsic motivation for girls, but not boys. Another study found that in success situations, boys were more comfortable with praise that focused on their abilities, while girls were more comfortable with effort praise (“You worked hard”).

So what does work for girls? One study found that using informational praise to describe a good performance (“You did very well on that test”), instead of making an interpretation of it (“You’re so smart”), increased girls’ intrinsic motivation. Praising effort (“You worked really hard on that”) over ability has consistently been proven to motivate all kids, and especially girls.

Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do it gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge. Besides this, girls need educators and parents to challenge stereotype threat, reminding them that ability can always be improved with effort, and that who they are will not determine where they end up.

Lahey says that saving kids from failure sends the message that we think they’re “incompetent, incapable and unworthy of our trust.” That’s why giving kids the space to screw up, as Lahey advises, is so important — and will be particularly so for girls.

A Cure for Hyper-Parenting

Photo

CreditNatalie Andrewson

PARIS — I recently spent the afternoon with some Norwegians who are making a documentary about French child-rearing. Why would people in one of the world’s most successful countries care how anyone else raises kids?

In Norway “we have brats, child kings, and many of us suffer from hyper-parenting. We’re spoiling them,” explained the producer, a father of three. The French “demand more of their kids, and this could be an inspiration to us.”

I used to think that only Americans and Brits did helicopter parenting. In fact, it’s now a global trend. Middle-class Brazilians, Chileans, Germans, Poles, Israelis, Russians and others have adopted versions of it too. The guilt-ridden, sacrificial mother — fretting that she’s overdoing it, or not doing enough — has become a global icon. In “Parenting With Style,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the economists Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti say intensive parenting springs from rising inequality, because parents know there’s a bigger payoff for people with lots of education and skills. (France is a rare rich country where helicoptering isn’t the norm.)

Hyper-parenting is also driven by science. The latest toddler brain studies reach parents in Bogotá and Berlin too. And people around the world are breeding later in life, when they’re richer and more grateful, so the whole parenting experience becomes hallowed. Scandinavians complain of “curling parents,” a reference to the sport in which you frantically scrub the ice to let a stone glide across it. (In Norway, “we do not, for example, count goals in soccer for children under 12, because they should all feel like winners,” the producer said.)

Twenty-first century parenting isn’t entirely illogical. Rather than trying to eradicate it, I suggest a strategy of containment: Rein in its excesses, and keep it from getting worse. Based on my own research, an unscientific reading of parenting literature, and a sample size of three kids, here are some key things modern parents should know:

Babies aren’t savages. Toddlers understand language long before they can talk. This means you can teach them not to pummel you with carrots at dinnertime, making your life calmer (and your floor cleaner). “Expect more from your children, and they will rise to it. Expect less, and they will sink,” Emma Jenner writes in the book “Keep Calm and Parent On.”

Seize windows of freedom joyfully, without guilt. Remember that the problem with hyper-parenting isn’t that it’s bad for children; it’s that it’s bad for parents. Between the mid-1990s and 2008, college-educated American moms began spending more than nine additional hours per week on child care; this came directly out of their leisure time. The greatest insight to emerge from France since “I think, therefore I am” is that children’s birthday parties should be drop-offs. The other parents get three hours to go off and play.

Don’t just parent for the future, parent for this evening. Your child probably won’t get into the Ivy League or win a sports scholarship. At age 24, he might be back in his childhood bedroom, in debt, after a mediocre college career. Raise him so that, if that happens, it will still have been worth it. A Dutch father of three told me about his Buddhist-inspired approach: total commitment to the process, total equanimity about the outcome.

Try the sleeping cure. Most parenting crises are caused by exhaustion. Force yourself to observe the same nighttime rituals as your toddler: bath, book, bed. When you feel an adult tantrum approaching, give yourself a timeout.

Have less stuff. Messiness compounds the chaos of family life.

Don’t worry about overscheduling your child. Kids who do extracurriculars have higher grades and self-esteem than those who don’t, among many other benefits, says a 2006 overview in the Society for Research in Child Development’s Social Policy Report. “Of greater concern,” it noted, “is the fact that many youth do not participate at all.”

Don’t beat yourself up for failing to achieve perfect work-life balance. The French have national paid maternity leave, subsidized nannies, excellent state day care and free universal preschool, and yet they blame the government for not helping parents enough. We Americans have none of the above, yet we blame ourselves.

Teach your kids emotional intelligence. Help them become more evolved than you are. Explain that, for instance, not everyone will like them. “When a girl meets a new person, she often automatically strives to be likable, even before she has decided whether or not she likes the new person herself,” Rachel Simmons writes in her book “The Curse of the Good Girl.” “Tell your daughter to switch the order: Size up the person before you start worrying about what she thinks of you.”

Transmit the Nelson Mandela rule: You can get what you want by showing people ordinary respect. When Mr. Mandela heard that an Afrikaner general was arming rebels to prevent multiracial elections, he invited the general over for tea. The journalist John Carlin writes that Gen. Constand Viljoen “was dumbstruck by Mandela’s big, warm smile, by his courteous attentiveness to detail” and by his sensitivity to the fears of white South Africans. The general abandoned violence. Remind your kids that this technique also works on parents.

It really is just a phase. Unbearable 4-year-olds morph into tolerable 8-year-olds.

Don’t bother obsessing about what you think you’re doing wrong. You won’t screw up your kids in the ways you expect; you’ll do it in ways you hadn’t even considered. No amount of hyper-parenting can change that.

Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist and the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.”

Rachel Simmons at the “Girls Symposium” – October 17 in Trumbull, CT

Here’s some information on an upcoming local symposium on girls featuring Rachel Simmons.  Many members of the Middle School faculty will attend; perhaps some parents would also like to attend.

 

FUND FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS’
2ND ANNUAL GIRLS SYMPOSIUM

Keynote Speaker
Rachel Simmons


Keynote speaker Rachel Simmons, is aNew York Times best-selling author, educator, and coach helping girls and young women grow into emotionally intelligent and assertive adults.

She will share best practices on empowering girls with confidence and courage.

The first 100 registrants will receive a free copy of The Curse of the Good Girl.

Thursday, October 17
Marriott Merritt Parkway, Trumbull

Join more than 200 educators, social service providers, parents, school resource officers and more at the Second Annual Girls Symposium.

You’ll experience expert-led presentations and workshops specially designed to help today’s girls and young women.

You’ll learn strategies you can apply in the following areas:

  • Teen dating violence and sexual assault
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Empowering girls to take on leadership roles
  • Body image and self-esteem
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Fostering Collaboration among girls
  • And more

WHO SHOULD ATTEND

The Girls Symposium is ideal for:

    • Educators
    • Social Service professionals
    • Faith-based leaders
    • Therapists
    • School Resource Officers
    • Parents and guardians
    • Anyone who works with girls

REGISTER ONLINE

Registration is $75 per person and includes continental breakfast, lunch and materials.

Space is limited to the first 200 attendees, so register online today.

You can also print, complete and mail your registration form and check.

SYMPOSIUM DETAILS

Date: Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.

Location: Trumbull Marriott Merritt Parkway
180 Hawley Lane
Trumbull, Conn.
Driving Directions 

INFORMATION

Tricia Hyacinth
Program & Development Associate
The Fund for Women and Girls
thyacinth@fccfoundation.org
203.750.3223

 

 

Rachel Simmons Asks Why Friends Didn’t Help the Steubenville Rape Victim

By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013

Watch this video

Steubenville victim’s mom: Raise awareness

Editor’s note: Rachel Simmons is the co-founder of Girls Leadership Institute and the author of “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.” Follow her on Twitter @racheljsimmons

(CNN) — Is anyone else wondering why the Steubenville, Ohio rape victim’s two best friends testified against her? With this week’s arrest of two other girls who “menaced” the teen victim on Facebook and Twitter, we have the beginnings of an answer.

Rape culture is not only the province of boys. The often hidden culture of girl cruelty can discourage accusers from coming forward and punish them viciously once they do. This week, two teenage boys were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old classmate while she was apparently drunk and passed out during a night of parties last August. Everyone who was there and said nothing that night was complicit; if we want to prevent another Steubenville, the role of other girls must also be considered.

On the night in question, girls watched the victim (Jane Doe) become so drunk she could hardly walk. Why didn’t any of them help her? Why, after Jane Doe endured the agonizing experience of a trial in which she viewed widely circulated photos of herself naked and unconscious, did one of the arrested girls tweet: “you ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry, so when I see you xxxxx, it’s gone be a homicide.” Why were two lifelong friends sitting on the other side of the courtroom?

Rachel Simmons

Rachel Simmons

The accusation of rape disrupts the intricate social ecosystem of a high school, one in which girls often believe that they must preserve both their own reputations and relationships with boys above all else. This is a process that begins for girls long before their freshman year and can have violent consequences.

From the earliest age, girls are flooded with conflicting messages about their sexuality. They are socialized to be “good girls” above all: kind, polite and selfless. Yet they are also told — via media images, the clothing that’s marketed to them and the messages conveyed by some adults — that they will be valued, given attention and loved for being sexy. The result is a near-constant anxiety about not being feminine or sexy enough.

Meanwhile, girls consume romance narratives that tell them the most important relationships they can have are with boys who love them. They also observe a huge amount of psychological aggression among girls on television and in movies, often portrayed as comedy. Last year, researchers found that girls of elementary school age were more likely than boys to commit acts of social aggression at school after viewing them on television.

No surprise, then, that when the first crushes are confided in elementary school, it’s not uncommon for girls to turn on each other if they believe a friend is competing for the attentions of a boy they like. It often does not occur to them to reprimand the boy. This pattern is fairly innocuous in childhood, but by adolescence, it could have far more serious implications: Instead of grabbing the hand of a girl too drunk to consent and taking her to a safe place, some girls may instead angrily watch the drunken girl leave with a boy, figuring she deserves what she gets.

From late elementary school onward, the label “slut” hovers dangerously over girls’ every move. Most girls who are called sluts are not even sexually active. The word is used to distinguish “good” girls from “bad,” and the definition is constantly shifting. Few girls are let in on the criteria for who gets called a slut in the first place. The insecurity creates an incentive to call out someone else lest you be next.

In 2011, a study by the American Association of University Women found that girls in grades 7-12 were far more likely than boys to experience sexual harassment, including rumors, both in person and online. And Leora Tanenbaum interviewed 50 girls and women for her book, “Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation;” all of them told her girls, far more than boys, were at the forefront of the slut rumor mill.

I am not saying that Jane Doe was raped because of girls’ silence. Girls may choose not to speak up for many reasons, but it’s hard to ignore the power of a culture that pushes them to choose boys over each other and punish other girls to protect their own reputations.

We must talk to girls about their responsibility in situations like this. If we want to prevent another Steubenville, we need to teach children from an early age about gender-based violence. The word “slut” is not just an epithet; it is a word that has given adolescents permission to abandon and hurt each other when a girl needs support most.

Girls must understand not only their moral obligation but their power to be allies to each other at parties and other potentially unsafe spaces for girls. If boys knew that girls banded together to support each other, they would be less inclined to share on social media, much less commit, these horrific acts of sexual violence.

Instagram Unmasked: A Teen Explains Why It’s All the Rage

Instagram Unmasked: A Teen Explains Why It’s All the Rage

From rachelsimmons.com FEBRUARY 11TH, 2013 

instagram

by Valerie Aber

I made my Instagram account when I was in 10th grade, bored one day over spring break. At first I didn’t see the purpose – who needed to spend time taking and scrolling through cell phone-quality pictures of food and flowers? But then I realized the app could be used as a photo-diary of sorts.

My Instagram profile is set to private. There are random “selfie” shots of my face and lots (LOTS) of pictures of food. There are pretty pictures of clouds and tempting pictures of Starbucks cups. And there are pictures of homework assignments scattered about – pictures of large textbooks cracked open in front of my laptop screen and pictures of papers covering the floor. (What color was my carpet again?)

You can actually learn a lot about someone just by looking at their Instagram profile. It’s more than just random pictures of things – depending on how personal they get with it, it can show their interests, ambitions, hopes and dreams. It can show the little things that make them happy, whether that means they won a special award or even that their parents ordered in Chinese for the night.

But many teens don’t always account for the power that these images can hold. I’ve also seen Instagram used for cyberbullying. With today’s smartphones, it’s easy to screenshot text messages and share them to the world.

One of my good friends was targeted in a comment on someone else’s screenshot texts – another girl had claimed she was persistent and annoying because she had sent her two or three messages asking “Hey, what’s up?” after not having heard from her in weeks. Whether such acts were “persistent and annoying” is beside the point – the commenter was being entirely rude and immature for saying such things about my friend to so many people, and the original poster was wrong for publicly sharing whoever’s text messages were being shared. The entire thing was wrong on so many levels.

Of course, all of these things could be just as easily done through other social networking services, like Facebook. But most teens realize that their parents, family members, and even potential employers and colleges can view their Facebook profiles. On the other hand, not many of those groups would probably think to check an Instagram right away. So, this leads to many of us feeling like Instagram is our own private little world, one where we get to speak our minds with little consequence. Which, as always, is false.

Instagram shouldn’t be blocked, but it should definitely be monitored, at least to some extent. Because if a parent really knows their child… well, they never really do as well as they’d like to believe they do. Some of us keep secrets. Except that they’re never really secrets, unless the people who are exposed to them are too ignorant to listen. And ignorance never mixes well with good parenting.

Parents should at least be mindful of those accounts that their child is “following,” and be willing to discuss with their kids anything they might see on there. It’s not that the parents should be constantly watching with hawk eyes – please, don’t ever do this – but they should remember to be open. If you’re a parent, remind your children: “Though you’d be in huge trouble if you ever posted anything bad, I’ll never punish you for accidentally coming across an inappropriate picture on your feed. If you find anything that makes you uncomfortable, I’m willing to talk with you about it, and I promise that I won’t negatively judge you if you do so.”

Make sure your kids know that no matter what button they might press, there is no such thing as true privacy when it comes to technology. Looking at this in a more positive light, you should actually encourage your kids to post personal achievements or things that make them happy.

As long as their settings only allow for people who they know to view their photos, this can provide for not only a safe experience, but also one that helps them to grow in a good way, one that allows them to be viewed to the outside world as someone lovely and bright.

Including, perhaps, college admissions officers. I just hope they like Frappuccinos.

Oh, and to sum everything up with a quote from Roald Dahl:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

Valerie Aber is a high school junior who lives in Florida. She is active in the National Honor Society and her school’s debate team.

Our Daughter’s Voices

See below for information on a series of workshops, for daughters and parents, related to relational aggression held at Positive Directions in Westport, CT.

While much has been said about boys and bullying, the more subtle aggression that girls demonstrate is still a mystery. In a society, which does not encourage girls to exhibit anger in traditional ways, aggression expresses itself in many forms, including exclusion, whispered insinuations, rumors and manipulation. This schoolgirl cruelty often has lasting consequences for girls, following them from adolescence into young womanhood and adulthood.

Author Rachel Simmons put a name to this hidden culture of girls’ aggression in her best selling book ‘Odd Girl Out’, in which she addresses how this phenomenon diminishes our daughters’ self esteem and how families and schools are affected.

In response to the concerns parents have expressed about this behavior, Positive Directions offers a series of workshops entitled Our Daughters’ Voices.

During four interactive sessions, participants can expect to explore:

  • What is relational aggression;
  • The relationship between voice and self-esteem in girls;
  • Characteristics of a healthy friendship & maintaining authentic relationships;
  • Understanding the difference between friendship and popularity;
  • Effective ways to identify and communicate feelings;
  • The connection between relational aggression and risky behavior;
  • Effective techniques for listening without trying to control;
  • Being a role model for your daughter.

For information on the scheduling of Creating Lasting Family Connections; Our Daughters’ Voices and other Positive Directions’ workshops in your area, please call:

203-227-7644 ext. 127
or
prevention@positivedirections.org

About Positive Directions:

Since 1973, Positive Directions – The Center for Prevention & Recovery, has been reaching out to individuals, families and communities in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area, providing treatment, counseling and education programs focused on the prevention of and recovery from substance abuse and dependencies.

At Positive Directions, our caring and professional staff offer counseling, support and Intervention services for individuals and families seeking treatment for alcoholism, drug abuse & addiction, problem gambling and other addictive behaviors. For adolescents, we offer Youth Evaluation Services designed to provide counseling, referrals and support to adolescents and their families.

Positive Directions also offers prevention programs that promote positive parenting and the prevention of risky behavior by teens and young adults.

Positive Directions is a state licensed out-patient treatment center, and as an independent, non-profit and non-sectarian agency, Positive Directions guarantees client confidentiality and the promise that no one seeking help is turned away for lack of funds.