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:
Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

%d bloggers like this: