I’ve worked with a lot
of tween girls over the past 18 years. They end up in my office for various
reasons (I specialize in anxiety, stress, self-esteem, and learning
differences), but, more often than not, we end up talking about the pressure
that exists for young girls today.
On the one hand, girls
have tons of opportunities at their fingertips. Options are everywhere. Name an
area of interest and you can find a class or program to hone those skills and
follow that dream! In some ways, that’s a very good thing. Girls who don’t want
to play traditional sports, for example, find other cool sports and activities.
Girls who want to skip organized sports altogether seek out other outlets to
connect with other kids and follow their passions. That’s the good news.
On the other hand, the
stakes feel very high. Girls tell me that the pressure to “be the best” and
“rise to the top” is almost suffocating. Some consider quitting sports and
other activities because they feel like there’s no point in doing those things
for the fun of it – they’re expected to succeed. They also talk about the
competition between girls and how it negatively impacts their
aggression continues to be a problem in the life of girls, and they don’t know
how to manage the stress of friendship troubles coupled with the stress of
rising to the top. It’s a lot.
Tween girls go through
some tough stuff. They need to get those feelings and out and talk about the
ups and downs of girlhood. The problem is…they’re not sure where to turn.
Tweens have a tendency to be pleasers at times, and many go to great lengths to
show their parents and other adults in their lives that they can handle
everything on their own. They also hear a lot of, “move on” messages from the
adults in their lives. Thing thing is, it’s really hard to “move on” when
you’ve had a terrible day (or week, or month.)
I’ve asked girls to
share their least favorite responses from adults over the years. Below is a small
“Everybody goes through
“Don’t be so dramatic.”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Move on and find new
“Don’t worry; it’s no
Why these phrases hurt
Tween girls tend to be
highly social beings. They’re learning to gain independence and find their
tribes. When the tribe fails them in some way (even if they played a role in
that failure), it hurts very deeply.
internalize feelings. Sometimes they make assumptions based on limited
information. Sometimes they react before they’ve had time to process, while
other times they spend so much time processing that resentment and other
negative emotions build up.
They are growing and
changing at a rapid pace, and the world around them is full of conflicting and
often confusing messages. They are entitled to a few bad days and rocky
5 Phrases that help tweens
What they don’t want
is a pep talk every time they express their emotions or share their tough
stuff. What they need is support. I like to go to the source, and I suggest
that you open that dialogue with your tween (see below.) All girls are
different, and a phrase that helps one might annoy another. The following
phrases, however, come up over and over again:
“I’m here for you.”
Sounds simple, right?
I can’t tell you how many girls tell me they just want their parents to say
these words. They don’t want corrections. They don’t want to be quizzed on what
went wrong. They just want you to be there. They want to hear that they’re not
One the biggest
complaints among young girls right now is that they feel like parents are only
ever half listening. I’m guilty of looking down when I should look up at times;
I get it. But this age range marks a critical period of self-esteem development.
They need 1:1 time with us that includes tuning out the rest of the world so
that we can tune in to them.
Studies show that
self-esteem begins to dip for girls as early as age 9, with an average age of
dip occurring at 11, and doesn’t make a comeback until later adolescence.
listening, makes a difference. Girls often tell me that they feel like their
parents only listen enough to respond. What they want is for parents to sit
back and let them talk their way through their big feelings.
“I’m proud of you.”
We’re all proud of our
kids. But do we all communicate that feeling to our kids regularly? Parents get
so focused on results (grades, goals, scores) that they forget to talk about
the little things that make them proud (acts of kindness, helping someone in
need). Your girls need to hear this. Regularly.
“That sounds hard.”
The benefit of being
an adult is that adults have excellent hindsight. Adults know what mistakes
they made and how to fix everything for their kids! One small problem: Your
tween is not you, and she needs to work through her own ups and downs. Instead
of running in for the save with a point-by-point plan to solve the dilemma, try
this simple phrase. It will open the door to communication and might even
inspire your daughter to seek you out for help another time.
Parents and other
adults talk to kids about empathy fairly regularly these days (I hope so,
anyway.) We do this because we want to raise caring and compassionate kids. But
then we turn around and minimize their concerns when they share them.
I find that most
parents do this so that their girls won’t worry too much or get overly upset
about what the parents consider small bumps in the road. It comes from a good
place. The problem is that girls’ problems feel very real and very big to them.
When they feel overwhelmed and unsure, minimizing their problems only leaves
them feeling isolated.
It also causes them to
Parenting with empathy
and communicating that you understand helps build a strong connection and
encourages your daughter to seek help from you in the future.
One important question
When I ask girls what
they need or want from their parents when they’re upset, I get a wide variety
of answers. Some want hugs and snuggles. Some want time together to take a
walk. Some want to read together or color in one of those fancy coloring books
together. But almost all of them wish you would ask them this one important
“How can I help?”
That’s it. It’s a
simple question, and they might not have the answer right away, but it shows
that you listened, you understand, and you’re there no matter what.
Talking can be really
hard for tweens. Sometimes they don’t know how or where to begin. A
parent-child journal is a great way to communicate without the tension that can
emerge when sitting face-to-face. Give it a try!