We have been reading in the literature since the 1970’s that girls starting in middle school lose their self-esteem and don’t get it back for years. But from my experiences working with girls at these ages, I don’t buy this mantra.
I wrote in a recent blog about our “spa night” at our all-girls camp, trying to capture the spirit of that week. What girls have demonstrated to me over and over again is that when you can get them into an environment where they feel safe, not judged, accepted for who they are, nurtured and loved, they break out of their protective shells and their true, authentic selves come out to play.
The self-esteem of these girls is just fine. I get tired of everyone looking at girls of this age as damaged goods; like they have a disease or a diagnosis; and that this esteem problem is a universal certainty for all girls.
The problem is that they are too often in toxic environments where they feel unsafe, judged, and surrounded by relationship aggression and drama. Who wouldn’t feel insecure and unsafe there? The hallways at school are probably the toughest places for girls to stay true to themselves; just too much judgment and mischief to feel safe.
So let’s start focusing more on cleaning up these environments than on symptoms girls exhibit because of them. My Strong Girls Strong World program is my way to go into schools and work with girls throughout the school year to create a safe, healthy learning community. The girls themselves make their own intentions for what they want their class or team to look and act like, and then we give them the skills they need to make it happen.
Schools need to provide the time regularly for girls to talk to each other, hold each other accountable to their agreements, handle conflicts so that they don’t fester, and to keep boosting their social-emotional intelligence.
Girls in middle and high school are incredible beings; create safe, sacred spaces for them and watch them bloom.