Our Daughters: Your Daughter’s Online Social World

The BFF 2.0 Tour: Welcome to Your Daughter’s Social World Online

What is your daughter doing there, hunched in front of a computer, phone beeping to one side, mp3 player buzzing to the other, earbuds streaming music or video or the latest drama? Do you ever feel like she’s in another world, one you don’t understand, are too old for, or can’t figure out?

Welcome to BFF 2.0, your daughter’s online social world… I’m taking parents on a tour. Don’t worry: this tour has no technical information whatsoever. I’m going to speak in real English and keep it simple. I’m offering some big picture points about why girls are so obsessed with social media and why so much of it is making them anxious and insecure.

Stand on the edge of any playground and you’ll see a scene play out day after day: most boys play games, and most girls linger on the edges to talk. The same is true online: social media is social, and girls use technology to connect and share. Check these stats out:

  • Girls typically send and receive 50 more texts a day than boys.
  • Girls ages 14-17 are the most active, churning through 100 texts a day on average.
  • Girls are more likely than boys to carry their phones on them at all times.

It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning, technology helped connect girls. It was an adjunct to relationship, filling the gaps of contact that opened up between home and school. Today, technology is part of relationship itself. With gadgets more portable and accessible, the average kid ages 8-18 spends up to 8 hours a day using an electronic device. Girls move fluidly between virtual and spoken conversation, texting to each other in the same car and conducting real and virtual conversations simultaneously.

Real life is frequently experienced as a new opportunity to post or share online. A high school girl told me that the phrase “take a picture of me” now simply means, “put it on Facebook.” Another girl told me, “People go to parties in college with the intention of just having [Facebook] pictures for the night. If someone makes a joke at a party, a person will be like, oh my God, that’s the perfect title for my album.” And in 2009, a teen told Teen Vogue, “You’re not dating until you change your relationship status on Facebook.” A year later, “FBO,” or Facebook Official, became the new measure of dating legitimacy.

Many parents suspect that what’s happening online is some crazy, altogether foreign world than the one you know your daughter to inhabit. Think again. All social media does is magnify the feelings and dynamics that were there all along. In the real world, girls are obsessed with their relationships. They know a big part of their status is defined by who they sit next to, which parties they get invited to, and who they count as a “best friend.”

The same thing is happening online. Every time her phone beeps, or someone “likes” her status on Facebook, she gets a tangible message about how well (or not) her relationships are doing. Today, a socially aspirational girl must be vigilant about not only what happens in real life, but her virtual reputation — and on a new, uncharted plane of connection and coolness. That girl sitting at her laptop, working three machines at once? She’s doing a new kind of social work. It takes time, and it takes access.

That’s why girls claim they “don’t exist” if they lack a Facebook account. This is why parents sleep with confiscated laptops under their pillows; they know their daughters will do anything to get them back. And this is why girls show levels of rage and anxiety hence unseen when they lose phone or online privileges. It is precisely the value that girls place on their access to technology that illuminates its position at the heart of girls’ relationships.

But just because girls love social media doesn’t mean they know how to use it responsibly. The biggest mistake we can make is to assume that a girl “gets” technology in a way that an adult does not. Looks are deceiving. The world of BFF 2.0 has presented girls with new, unwritten rules of digital friendship, and it has posed a fresh set of social challenges.

What does a one-word text mean when someone usually types a lot? What if you and your friend are texting the same girl, but she only replies to your friend? Does she like you less? How should you handle it? Online social interactions generate situations that demand sophisticated skills. Without them, girls become vulnerable to online aggression and worse…

Related post:


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: 5 Ways To Talk With Your Daughter About Technology

The New Odd Girl Out: 5 Ways To Talk With Your Daughter About Technology

As part of my series celebrating the newly revised and updated Odd Girl Out,

I’m leading parents and girls through some of the twists and turns of girls’ social lives online.

With stories of cyberbullying everywhere, parents’ anxiety increases with every headline. But parenting can’t only be about saying no and laying down the law, or operating from a place of fear. Rules are important, to be sure – and I’ll write more about that soon – but so is conversation. When parents take the time to ask why their girls love and struggle with social media, they exercise empathy and gain crucial insight into their children.

Asking questions about your daughter’s life online also cuts down on the “us vs them” mentality that exists between many girls and their parents. Perceiving a parent only as a digital policeman makes a girl far less likely to confide when she’s in trouble, or to listen to why a rule might be in place.

Here are five conversations starters. My advice is to have discussions that come from a place of sincere inquiry. You are taking the time to learn about your daughter’s experience and empathize. This is not the moment to discipline or yell “A-ha! I knew it!”

1. What is your favorite thing about [name a form of social media, like texting or Facebook, that you know she loves]? Or: What’s your favorite thing to do online or on your phone?

Discussion Tips: Make a genuine effort to see social media through her eyes. Ask her how fast she can text or if she can do it without looking. Invite her to show you her favorite videos. Ask her to take you on a tour of her digital life. The point here is for both of you to connect over the positive aspects of social media, and for her to see that you respect – or at least tolerate and understand – her relationship to this very important aspect of her life. If she’s not engaging, try this one: If you had to give up your phone or your computer, which one would you pick? Why?

2. Would your friendships be better or worse without technology? Easier or harder?

Discussion Tips: Be careful here. If she’s honest and says, yes, my friendships are harder, don’t do the I-told-you-dance. Technology isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much it taxes her relationships. This is a great opportunity for you to share your own feelings about how social media has changed your own relationships. The answer is never black and white here. Wrestle together with both sides of the question.

3. Do you think people act online the same way they act in real life? Why are people more inclined to be rude or mean online?

Discussion Tips: These are exciting questions because they can open a window into personal stories. If you promise me that you won’t come down hard on her for the answer, try asking if she’s ever said anything online that she’s sorry about. Extra points if you can share your own confession. The point is not to freak out, but to talk frankly about the challenge of learning what belongs online and offline. We can’t learn unless we know what we want to change. It won’t help any if she feels like she can’t talk about her learning process.

4. Technology can bring friends closer together. Can it also make you more insecure in your friendships?

Discussion Tips: This is not a question about bullying or even aggression. It’s about what happens when friendships become public and tangible, as they do online, and how we compare ourselves to others by using our social media lives as a barometer for social status and self-worth.

Trying asking if she’s ever felt left out of something online. Some ways this could happen include texting someone and not getting a reply; watching someone get lots of texts while you don’t; seeing pictures of parties or hang-outs that you were not invited to; or getting fewer Facebook wall posts or birthday messages than someone else.

5. Are there ever misunderstandings caused by technology?

Discussion Tips: This is harder for younger girls, so you may need to prompt a bit. Have you ever thought someone meant to say one thing in a message they wrote, but they really meant something totally different? Or: have you ever thought you were being left out of a situation because of something you saw online, and then realized you weren’t? You will feel the symptoms of I-told-you-so-dance coming on. Hold back and put your most empathic foot forward.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: My Teenage Werewolf

Mom Embeds Self in Teen Daughter’s Life! (Read the Author Q&A)

My Teenage WerewolfAre you currently on a wild roller coaster ride with that charming/ alarming pre-teen or teen in your midst?  If so, Lauren Kessler’s book, My Teenage Werewolf: A Mother, A Daughter, A Journey through the Thicket of Adolescence— just released in paperback — may save your sanity.  The award-winning author launches an 18-month mission, embedding herself in her own about-to-be teenage daughter’s life. From middle school classrooms to the mall, from summer camp to online chat groups, Kessler observes, chronicles—and sometimes participates in—the vibrant, dynamic and scary life of a 21st-century teen. With the help of a resident teen expert (her daughter), as well as teachers, doctors, therapists and other mothers, Kessler illuminates the age-old mother-daughter struggle from both sides,  interweaving personal experience with journalistic inquiry.

Why did you write this book, Lauren?

The short answer is:  I had to.

I had to write about my feisty, moody, mercurial girl-woman and her generation of take-no-prisoners girls.  I had to dive into the deep end of teen girl culture and attempt to navigate the stormy seas of the mother-daughter relationship.  It was the only way I could figure out how to survive her teenage years.

She was 12 when overnight, it seemed, I toppled from my throne. I ceased to be Mommy the Genius, Mommy the Wise and Beneficent, the font of all things cool and fun, the curer of all ills.

That’s how little girls look at their mothers. But at 12, my girl was no longer little. She was already full throttle into teendom and had mastered the vocabulary: deep sighs, exasperated eye-rolling, monosyllabic responses, snotty retorts and stony silences. Mom (that would be me) was now the enemy. All of a sudden, it seemed to me, Lizzie and I were sparring over everything, from food to friends to fashion, school work, chores, screen-time, bedtime, you name it. Most mornings we would eye each other warily, waiting to see who would cast the first stone.

I had to do something.  I’m an immersion journalist, so that’s what I did:  I took it on as a major research project.   I’m a storyteller.  I told a story, a story I was in the midst of living.

So you embedded yourself in teen girl culture, in your daughter’s life. How did you convince your daughter to let you do this?

First let me assure you that I employed no coercion or bribery…although it did cross my mind!  In fact, although our relationship at the time was, shall we say, tempestuous, she readily – almost enthusiastically – agreed.  I can’t answer for her about her motives, but I can tell you my take on it. I think it was all about the balance of power. I basically asked Lizzie to be my expert, my source, my guide. She got to teach me. I was her student. This was particularly the case when she instructed me on her online life and taught me computer games, and when she helped me through my week as a summer camp counselor. But it was just generally true. She was empowered throughout this process, and she loved this position as “boss.”

What most surprised you about what you learned?

I was also astonished at how savvy the girls were about just the things that keep us mothers up at night: sex, drugs, internet predators. I am not saying they did the right thing, that they invariably made the right choices (blame at least some of this on that discombobulated brain). I am saying that they understood the terrain better than we think they do (and sometimes better than we do).

I sat through a week of sex ed classes at school, for example. During one session, the kids were asked to share what their responses would be if they were being pressured to have sex and didn’t want to. Only the girls volunteered responses – no surprise here – but if their mothers (all mothers) could have heard those responses…the intelligence and power and self-confidence behind those responses – well, we would all be sleeping better at night.

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Our Daughters: CyberDRAMA

Why Girls Need to Learn About CyberDRAMA, Not Just CyberBULLYING

If it bleeds, it leads: it’s a popular saying in journalism that refers to our attraction to sensational, often violent headlines. As an anti-bullying educator, I have seen something similar: we tend to focus on the most extreme levels of bullying as a way to teach and build awareness.

The problem is that most kids are not bullied in such dramatic ways. Yet almost every child experiences day-to-day aggression. If we only teach intervention strategies for the worst crimes, we don’t teach kids to cope with the daily injustices. We imply that only the most extreme aggression is problematic, while other behaviors – like saying “just kidding” after you do something mean, or giving someone the silent treatment – are unavoidable rites of passage. Lacking the tools to deal with these smaller infractions, kids are more vulnerable to the “flare-ups” of extreme behavior.

This same emphasis on extremes is evident in the anti-cyberbullying world. Most of what’s out there for parents and girls focuses on what to do when the building is already on fire. But what about preventing the fire in the first place?

I’ve spent several years traveling around the country talking with students about how to avoid drama – by which I mean conflict – online. It’s worth mentioning that I rarely use the word “cyberbullying” in my assemblies. That’s because of what I call “cyberbullying fatigue:” many kids have been lectured already about what to do if they are bullied online. While fatigue is a happy sign of the success of anti-cyberbullying initiatives, it also points to the need for more textured education about digital citizenship.

As the girls in your life prepare to begin their school year, consider sharing some of these tips on avoiding drama online. You can find several more girl-friendly video tips in my BFF 2.0 series.

If you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it.

When they are upset, girls type things they would never say to someone’s face. Surges of panic and anger lead to impulsive messages that leave smoldering holes in relationships.

I give girls two tips to avoid making this mistake:
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Our Daughters: The Importance of a Parent’s Empathy

Why a Parent’s Empathy is Vital for a Bullied Girl
…and Why It Often Goes Out the Window

When I did the original research for Odd Girl Out, I asked every bullied girl I interviewed to tell me what she needed most from her family. The answer truly surprised me. It wasn’t having the best solutions, calling the school or trying to act like everything was okay.

It was empathy.

Before you say, yeah, yeah, I figured that, hear me out. Now that I’ve been working with parents for a decade, I have seen up close how easy it is for empathy to go out the window. There are two reasons why parents struggle: First, when the alarm bells go off, we want to put out the fire. We assume – understandably – that we can make a child feel better by making her problem go away. Parents are habituated to this from the moment of a child’s birth: feed when they’re hungry, sleep when they’re tired, hold when they cry. We bypass empathy and go straight to the problem solving.

But as your daughter grows more independent, and her peer culture becomes more influential, it becomes almost impossible for you to make her problems “go away” (in my experience, most girls come to accept that long before their parents do). In fact, peer aggression is one of the first moments many parents come to that painful realization: I’m not going to be able to control her world. I can’t fix it.

Second, empathy is painful. It involves slowing down to acknowledge and think about your daughter’s feelings of hurt, rejection or sadness. This can be an anguishing experience for parents. Connecting with these emotions can make you feel powerless and overwhelmed, so it’s understandable why many parents would prefer to spring into action.

Your daughter is hungry for empathy when she is struggling socially. Remember that girls live in a peer culture that often denies or invalidates feelings: you’re being too sensitive, I didn’t do that, you took it the wrong way, I was just kidding. Still other girls are hurt by peers who deny what they’ve done in the first place. Your empathy tells your daughter, I know this happened. I know it hurt. I see you, I love you and I’m here.

An empathic response to a bullied or targeted girl might sound like this:

  • “I’m so sorry this happened.”
  • “That sounds awful.”
  • “If I were you, I would also feel really ______.”
  • “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty _______.” That makes a lot of sense.

Empathy isn’t the same thing as expressing emotions. It’s not about sharing your feelings – it can be really uncomfortable if a parent cries or loses strength at the moment her daughter needs it most. The message sent is that you need to be taken care of, not the other way around.

To help you achieve the right balance in how you respond to your daughter, think back to when she was learning to walk. If you showed fear and panic when she slipped and fell, she’d usually sense it and wail. If you chortled, “Oops! You’re okay! Up you go!” and plucked her up calmly, she probably kept on trucking. Your concern and reassurance motivated her to continue. That’s what she needs from you now. Your courage will help sustain her when she can’t access any on her own.

Empathy isn’t the only tool at your disposal, and it’s hardly the only thing you’ll do when she’s hurting. But it’s the first step, and one not to be missed.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

This post is based on sections of the newly updated and revised Odd Girl Out.To get four new chapters of anti-bullying strategies and insights for girls, parents and educators, pre-order the new OGO now!

Our Daughters: Lemon Juice in Paper Cuts

BFF 2.0: Is Technology Making You Insecure?

In the latest episode, Rachel looks at the way social networking and texting can make girls compare themselves to others..


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: Being Snarky Online

BFF 2.0: Is She Really Kidding? The Problem With “Joking” Online

In the latest episode of her new series on friendship and technology, Rachel talks about how “just kidding” and “no offense” can start drama online.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: Using Facebook to Air Conflict

BFF 2.0: Using Status Updates to Hash Out Conflicts

In the second episode of her new series, BFF 2.0, Rachel talks about using Facebook and AIM status updates to deal with friendship problems.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: Texting While Hanging Out with Friends

BFF 2.0: She’s Texting While We’re Hanging Out


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

Our Daughters: Cinderella Ate My Daughter!

Q & A with Bestselling Author & Girl Shero Peggy Orenstein

"If looking in the mirror and asking, “Who is the Fairest of them All” at three years old helped them attain a healthier body image, shielded them from eating disorders, gave them healthy perspective on their appearance, reduced their obsession with it... I’d be all over it... but it just doesn’t. It’s a really damaging paradox: girls are told that the thing that makes them girls is the obsession with appearance, but that that appearance is never good enough. Most of us lived that. None of us want that for our daughters." - Peggy Orenstein

Do you have or know a young girl obsessed with princess culture? A girl who, despite your best efforts to raise her to be strong and independent, suddenly insists on growing up to be Snow White?

Journalist and bestselling author Peggy Orenstein is back with Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie Girl Culture, a whipsmart, funny new book that explores the challenge of parenting in a culture determined to sexualize and sell to girls from the youngest ages. What are girls learning, and what can we do about it? Read on.

RS: Why did you decide to write a book about girls and princess culture?

PO: The short answer is: I had a daughter. Until then I was blissfully unaware of how gendered, hyper-sexualized and appearance-focused the culture of even the tiniest girls has become. The Princesses had sort of blindsided me. We didn’t have the products in the house. I had never even heard of Disney Princesses (because, it turned out, the Princess concept didn’t even begin until 2001).

But within a few weeks of starting preschool Daisy suddenly knew every one of the Princess’s names and gown colors as if by osmosis. So Princess obsession marked her first real foray into mainstream culture. And what did that culture tell her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants—or should want—to be the Fairest of Them All.

And so while you may say, well, what’s the big deal about Cinderella at three years old, you’ve then got the lip smackers collection at 4 years, Monster High Dolls at 6, America’s Top Model at 9… girls are put into this little pink box at ever-younger ages. So while I’d always been interested in teenage girls, I had always written about teenage girls, but I realized all those things we have concerns about, the risks linked to premature sexualization and obsession with appearance—depression, negative body image, eating disorders, poor sexual choices—do not just spring forth when a girl blows out the candles on her 13th birthday cake.

Right now, for instance, Daisy, who is 7, is really into Mad Libs, so we were at our local independent book store in Berkeley and what do they have? PINK Mad Libs. On pink paper. And the topics of the little stories were, I kid you not, “The Perfect Makeover,” “The Cutest Boy in Class,” “A Trip to the Mall…”

I mean, HONESTLY!

Can girls be convinced to look at Disney with a wary eye, or is this a lost cause?

Not when they’re little. A 3-year-old can’t understand your brilliant deconstruction of a sales pitch. The only thing that penetrates is PRINCESSES and TOOTHPASTE TUBE.

But just saying “no” all the time is a trap too, because it’s hard to convince your daughter that you’re trying to offer her more choices when you keep limiting what she can have. So it’s really important to provide her with equally fun alternatives that satisfy that preschooler need to assert your gender.

That means, I’m afraid, that I’m telling parents they have to do some work. I hate to do that, because I’m a mom and I’m exhausted and frankly, it would be a lot easier to just let her have the spa birthday party. But if it’s any comfort, I get a lot out of looking for books, movies, toys and such that we both can embrace. Plus, I’ve noticed this interesting thing just recently. The toys that kids are “supposed” to play with are time bound. They know EXACTLY when they’re supposed to grow out of Disney Princesses and after the stroke of midnight on that day, they will NOT touch those gowns. Same with Barbie or Bratz or any of that stuff.

But I got Daisy these Papo figurines of kings, queens, fairies, Joan of Arc — this whole array of characters. They were $5 each, cheaper than most Barbie or Disney Princess junk (and God knows, American Girl). And they aren’t licensed out as breakfast cereal. They just are what they are. So she doesn’t know when she’s supposed to grow out of them. Therefore, she has played with them every day since she was three. And she’s still going strong using her true imagination with them. Best $50 I ever spent.

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Our Daughters: Helping Girls to Be Honest in a Good Girl World

When the Truth Hurts: Helping Daughters Be Honest in a Good Girl World

I had just started a fifth grade class when a student began waving her hand and doing that “Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!” thing that I used to do when I couldn’t contain myself.*

“Okay,” she said, “what if, like, my friend asks me if I like the dress she was buying and I didn’t like it and I wanted to tell her but I was afraid she would get mad at me?”

This is the dreaded teaching moment when I want to stand up like a lounge performer, wave fondly and shout, “Thank you so much! Good night!”

But I had a whole class left to teach, and I had to deal with it. This is a question that can break your heart. It’s the moment when a girl announces her awareness of Good Girl pressure – the rules that tell girls they must be unfailingly nice to others at all costs, even at the expense of their own integrity.

This girl was perched at the crossroads of girlhood and womanhood – the girl in her wants to tell the truth, and the young woman knows that if she does, she might damage her friendship.

The question also brings to mind one of the most common questions parents asked me on my recent national tour for The Curse of the Good Girl: “So you want me to raise my daughter to speak her mind? If I do that, what’s going to happen to her? I mean, we’re still living on a planet where assertive women get called names.”

True story. So check out what I did in this class and let’s talk about how you deal with this. Facing those ten year olds, I didn’t try and pretend Good Girl rules don’t exist. I admitted that it was a hard question, and that I, too, often didn’t know what to say. Here’s what I did next:

Do the Cha Cha

First, I put the question in the girls’ hands and asked them to think through their choices. I call this doing the “Cha Cha” – an exercise where girls think about different choices and the possible outcomes of their choices. It works like this: If you make this Choice, what might Happen?

The first choice is telling the truth and saying, “I don’t really like the dress.” What might happen? The girls thought the friend might have gotten upset. The second choice is saying, “I think it’s great!” What might happen then? “Then I’d be lying,” one girl chirped. Nods all around.

Be Honest

I leveled with them about the Good Girl rules. “Sometimes, when a girl asks how she looks, and tells you that she wants you to be honest with her, she might be scared to hear the truth. She might be feeling insecure or worried about her looks. Because she’s feeling freaked out, being honest might end up hurting her feelings. Sometimes, a friend wants to be reassured just as much as she wants to hear the truth.

“For example,” I continued, “have you ever heard someone ask, “Do I look fat?’ What have you heard other women and girls say?” Note that I wasn’t asking girls what they say – just what they’ve heard. “Even if someone does look overweight, it’s a good idea to ask yourself if they really want to know the truth, or if they are feeling worried, afraid, or insecure.”

“Sometimes, the truth hurts. Honesty can hurt. If we don’t want someone to be hurt, we might feel like we have to lie. But then we’re not being true to ourselves. Is it possible that there is a way to answer the question where we don’t lie but we try not to hurt a friend’s feelings?”

Then we talked about different ways to answer the question without selling yourself out or launching a dressing room meltdown.

“If you like it, that’s what’s most important,” one girl suggested.
“I think it’s great for you,” another offered.
“You seem to really love it and that’s what counts.”
“It’s not my favorite, but it looks great on you.”

How do you know who you can be honest with, even if she says it’s okay to tell the truth? There isn’t a clear path to navigate Good Girl pressure; the answers often depend on the context. My approach is twofold: be straight with girls about what they’re facing but put them in charge of finding solutions. There is little to be gained by me — or anyone — telling them what to do and how to do it.

* This would be the behavior that consistently earned me a minus sign next to the report card line item that said, “Shows Growth in Self-Control.” I so would have failed the marshmallow test.


Rachel Simmons ♦ Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls

Rachel Simmons writes our monthly column, Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls.  Rachel is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, and The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. As an educator and coach, Rachel works internationally to develop strategies to address bullying and empower girls. The co-founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, Rachel currently serves as a consultant to schools and organizations around the world. Rachel was the host of the recent PBS television special, “A Girl’s Life,” and writes an advice blog for girls at TeenVogue.com. Rachel lives in western Massachusetts with her West Highland Terrier, Rosie, and teaches workshops for parents and girls in Northampton. Visit her website at www.rachelsimmons.com – Check out  Our Daughters: Raising Confident Girls the last Monday of every month.

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