Six Ways We Are Conditioning Girls To Be Discontented And Miserable

Raising Daughters | Conditioning Girls


Childhood isn’t a race to the top; it’s a journey of self-discovery. Let’s raise daughters empowered by their uniqueness, not conditioned by society’s standards. Dr. Tim Jordan talks about how daughters are taught to be unhappy, such as feeling they need products to be happy, seeking approval, avoiding pain or negative feelings, and always competing to be the best. An activity about father-daughter dynamics highlights the difference between valuing inner qualities and being obsessed with physical appearance. Dr. Jordan emphasizes that childhood is not a race and that parents should redefine success beyond academic and financial fields. Tune in now and learn how to stop conditioning your daughters!

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Six Ways We Are Conditioning Girls To Be Discontented And Miserable

Thanks so much for joining. I’m glad you’re here. The topic is interesting and also sobering. I woke up in the middle of the night. I was thinking and dreaming about this topic for some reason. That happens to me sometimes when I’ll wake up and I can’t fall back asleep because I keep thinking about a topic. I start getting ideas, and then all of a sudden, I can’t fall back asleep. The topic is ways that we are being conditioned and ways especially that we are conditioning our daughters to be unhappy, discontented, and miserable. That’s a pretty strong statement. A lot of times, we are not even aware of the ways that our daughters are being conditioned.

I heard a story one time about this little girl who went into a grocery store. She got a box of these laundry detergent snowflakes and brought it up to the counter. The man said, “What’s that for?” She said, “I’m going to be giving my dog a bath.” The clerk said, “This stuff is pretty strong. You might want to be careful about that.” She said, “I will.” She went home with this box of laundry detergent.

She came back a couple of weeks later and the man asked her how it had gone. She said, “My dog died.” The clerk said, “I told you that stuff might be too strong for your dog.” The little girl looked at the man and she said, “It wasn’t the laundry detergent that got him. It was the rinse cycle that got him.” We are unaware of what is going on around us and what kind of forces are shaping our daughters. I’m going to mention 4, 5, or maybe 6, depending on how long it takes me to do this episode.

Advertising’s Influence: From Needs To Wants

The first one is about advertising. I watched a documentary about advertising and how the advertising industry, especially a guy named Bernays, very consciously decided that we need to change the thinking of the culture. What I mean by that is they wanted to figure out how we can make people buy things when they don’t need them. People, many years ago, mostly bought things that they needed. If they wore out, they bought something new to replace it. They wanted people to buy more. They wanted to create more of a consumer economy.

They started to develop this plan, which worked very well. They were like, “How are we going to change people from a needs-based in buying things to a want?” Instead of, “I need to buy,” it’s more like, “This is what I want to buy.” We’re buying things out of desire, not real needs. That became very popular. That has extended to a lot of things. It’s not just about what I need, what I want, or what I desire in products. It is also being popular, looking good, looking a certain way, being rich, being famous, and having people know who I am.

We're buying things out of desire, not real needs. Click To Tweet

There’s an exercise that my wife and I have done at a father-daughter retreat. We’ve probably done it probably times at least. Also, I’ve done it at our summer camps. We asked the girls and the dads, and they’re in separate rooms, to create a drawing together on this flip chart of their daughter, ideally at age 30. In the other room, and I have the girls and my wife has the dads, I tell the girls, “I want you to make a drawing. You can contribute with pictures and words. I want you to draw a picture of the ideal woman at age 30 based on what you’ve learned from the culture, what you’ve seen, and what you’ve heard. This may not be exactly what you think, but it’s what you think you’re supposed to think based upon what you’ve absorbed.”

Both groups have about 10 or 15 minutes to make their drawings and we get them back together. We always have the dads go first. They unfurl their drawing and there’s this picture, usually a stick figure, of a woman at age 30. She has all these words all along the sides of the drawing. It is words like high integrity, kind, compassionate, being of service, independent, successful, and all these spiritual, courageous, and cool qualities. The girls are like, “That’s cool.”

We then say, “Girls, it’s your turn now. You come forward and show the dads your drawing.” When they unfurl theirs, the dads are like, “What?” because the girls have spent 90% of the time on how she looks, not on who she is. They spent a lot of time making full lips, large breasts, a small waist, and long, typically blonde hair.

I usually write words on the side that they’re describing to save time. I’ll ask them, “What’s her size? How big is she?” The average size over the last couple of years that we’ve been doing this exercise is about 5’10” and she weighs about 110 to 115. There are all kinds of words describing her as having a Gucci purse. It’s all about how she looks. The dads are flabbergasted, like, “I did not realize my daughter has been absorbing all this.” That leads to a discussion about where she is seeing all this. Where is she hearing it and learning it? How is she being conditioned?

One of the things that we discussed with the dads and the daughters is, “What are they trying to sell me? What are advertisers trying to sell me?” They’re not trying to sell you a hair product. They’re not trying to sell you lipstick. They’re not trying to sell you soda, beer, or whatever. What they’re trying to sell you is the message that says, “You are not enough. You are not good enough. What you need to be good enough and okay is our products.”

They’re like, “Look at these cool people in our ad, these people who are beautiful. They’re happy. They have all these friends, they’re popular, and all this. If you want to look like them, be like them, be popular, and have a gazillion friends, then you need what we’re selling because you in and of yourself are not enough.” That’s what your daughters are being conditioned to believe. It is the message that they’re not good enough.”

We talk with the girls and the dads together, what are the places where they’re hearing those messages? They need to be educated. Every one of your daughters needs to be educated about what’s going on around them that they’re absorbing. The fact that your happiness is dependent upon these things that you don’t have, or that your sense of yourself is dependent upon these external things that you don’t have, is a powerful message. They’re being inundated with it unconsciously day after day.

Also, as an adjunct to this, advertisers also don’t advertise to 15-year-olds with 15-year-old products. They advertise to their aspirational age, meaning they want girls to aspire to be older. If they’re trying to advertise to a 12-year-old girl, they’ll show her things that are for 16 or 18-year-olds. Girls want to be older. They’ve been led to believe that they should want to be older. Therefore, we get them out of their childhood before they’re ready because they’ve been taught to strive for their aspirational age, not their real age. That’s part of the advertiser’s message. One of the ways that we’re conditioning girls to be miserable and discontented is that message that they’re getting that they’re not enough.

We get our children out of their childhood before they're ready because they've been taught to strive for their aspirational age, not their real age. Click To Tweet

The Power Of External Validation

I talked about this in a previous episode where I talked about how our kids are being drugged. It is similar but different to what I mentioned with the advertisers. The biggest drug that is affecting our kids is not pot, weed, or opioids, even though those can be a problem. The biggest drugs are the drugs of approval or the drugs of, “You’re not enough. In order for you to be happy, you need to be beautiful, accepted, popular, applauded, and appreciated. You need to be good-looking, rich, and famous.”

We’ve taught our girls that the drugs of approval are so important, so they’re constantly looking for those. They’re looking externally for, “Am I okay? Am I all right?” We’ve taught our young people to look outside themselves for a sense of themselves. Instead of looking inward, they look outward. When they look outward, they’re going to compare themselves, usually unfavorably, which creates another wanting and another level of discontent. They’re like, “I need these things to be happy. I need these things to be okay. I need these people. I need to be popular. I need money. I need to be rich. I need to go to the top college. I need to be on the best club sports traveling team. I need these things to be okay and to be happy.”

That is dangerous for our daughters because a want becomes a necessity. It’s a have-to. It’s a desire. It’s this craving, in a sense. If they don’t get those cravings met, then they get anxious. Their stress hormones get triggered and released and they get stressed. It’s not like, “I need it.” It’s like, “I really need it. I have to have this. I need to be this way.” I bet a lot of you have felt that pressure from your daughter. It’s like, “Where is this coming from? She’s so intense about it.”

Once the kids get a taste of this drug of approval, if you will, they become addicted to it. Even if they get what they want when they get the friend group that they want or they become popular, they’re never content because there’s always the fear of, “What if I lose it?” They’re like, “I’ve got it now,” but there’s always that sense of, “What if I lose it? There is always a sense of stress around, even when they get what they think they want. They become so dependent upon other people for how they see themselves.

If someone says, “You’re so great. I love your outfit,” or whatever, then they get pumped up. They feel good about themselves. If they get criticized, they fall. Their sense of themselves goes up and down, and it’s not based upon them. It’s based on what other people think, what other people say, and other people’s judgments. That is so unhappy.

There’s an old story that I read from Anthony de Mello. We talked about this busload of adults who are riding on a bus. They’re driving through the beautiful Tuscany countryside in Italy. Beautiful hills and wine country. What was odd about this bus trip was all the shades in the bus were pulled down so that nobody could look outside the bus.

What happened was instead of looking outside the bus, these people in the bus spent the whole trip arguing about who was going to sit in the front seat, who was going to sit by the window, who was the best, who was the most important, and who was the top dog, if you will. They spent so much time doing that that they didn’t get a chance to enjoy the countryside.

A lot of us adults and a lot of our daughters are being conditioned to go through their lives with the shades down. They’re so focused on this other external stuff. They don’t get a chance to appreciate the real things that might make them happy or the real things that would allow them to be content because they’ve been so conditioned to look out. It’s such a trap.

A lot of our daughters are being conditioned to go through their lives with the shades down. Click To Tweet

Never Have Pain

I mentioned this one time before. Another way we’ve conditioned our kids and us is we have been conditioned to believe that we should never have pain. My son, John, works in the documentary business. He’s a producer. His second to last film was a film that was on HBO. It was a two-part documentary called The Crime of the Century. It was about the opioid crisis and how that came to be.

Part of that documentary was a history of how the drug companies conditioned us to believe that we should never have pain. They’re like, “If you have a little bit of pain, you need a pill. If you take a pill and it doesn’t work, you need two pills. If that doesn’t work, you double it. You keep taking pills because you should never have pain.” We were conditioned not to learn from pain and not to listen to our pain but to blunt it, get rid of it, drug it, or medicate it. The drug companies even got doctors involved. They created what they called the fifth vital sign. It wasn’t just heart rate and blood pressure. It was also your pain level because you shouldn’t have any. That has created a huge industry of medications for everything.

Think about this. I don’t watch much TV. I watch documentaries, I watch movies. Sometimes, I watch the news. Almost every commercial that comes on is a drug company selling a drug. There are all kinds of drugs for all kinds of things. My wife and I saw a documentary called What the Health. The documentarian who took that documentary, not my son but a different guy, talked about how different industries have also brainwashed us, in a sense.

The documentary showed people who had different kinds of symptoms. They talked about how if they had high blood sugar, they immediately went to a pill. If they had high blood pressure, they immediately went to a pill. They didn’t look at what’s causing it. It wasn’t, “Maybe you should change your diet. Maybe you should change your sedentary life. Maybe you should exercise.” They went right to a pill.

The drug companies have done a fabulous job of convincing us that medicine is the answer. Any symptom becomes a diagnosis, and that diagnosis then needs medicine. We need to be aware of that conditioning as well because pain is something that we need to be aware of and to use to educate us about what we need more than a pill.

Never Have Bad Feelings, Always Be Happy

I also watched a documentary that came out a few months ago. It was about a woman whose book was called Night Vision. That was about how we also shouldn’t have “negative feelings”. It is like, “You should be happy. You shouldn’t be anxious. You shouldn’t be sad. If you have a loss in your life, you can grieve a little bit and then move on. You should be through it.” We’ve been conditioned, if you will, to also believe in the fact that we shouldn’t have “bad feelings”. I get that from girls a lot.

Part of that good girl conditioning we’ve heard about for a long time is, “You should always be happy. You shouldn’t have those other feelings that there’s something wrong with you if you’re sad or anxious. It’s a blood problem. It’s a chemical imbalance. It’s a diagnosis and it should be medicated,” which goes back to medications.

In reality, we should all be okay with having all those emotions. All those emotions are teaching us something that we should not squish, numb out, or not medicate, but pay attention to it. There are a lot of things you can do with your feelings, besides medicate them or shame yourself for having them. You shame yourself for being anxious, sad, or are still grieving a year later. The same with we shouldn’t have pain, we also have been conditioned by the culture that we shouldn’t have these feelings. If you do have them, you’re abnormal. It’s a problem. It’s a diagnosis. You need a medical treatment, which oftentimes then becomes medications.

Undervaluing Artistic Qualities

Another thing is, sometimes, I’m in a group with little kids. By little kids meaning kindergartners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders. If I ask a group of first-graders, “How many of you are artists?” and there are twenty kids in the class, guess how many hands go up? Twenty hands. It’s because they all love to draw, or almost all of them. They all think that they’re artists because they’re not worried so much about being the best. They like to draw because they’re little kids. They’re in the moment. They do things because it’s fun to do it.

If I ask a classroom full of high school seniors, “How many of you are artists?” and there are twenty high school seniors in that group, guess how many hands go up? A couple. It’s because they have learned along the way to not value their artistic qualities and tendencies because the culture doesn’t value them. They’ve been conditioned to believe that every artist is a starving artist. There are other things like the ABCs, math, science, and all those things that are important, but the arts kinds of things are not as important. We devalue them a lot.

Our children have learned along the way to not value their artistic qualities and tendencies because the culture doesn't value them. They've been conditioned to believe that every artist is a starving artist. Click To Tweet

If you don’t believe me, what do you think happens when an eighteen-year-old girl comes to her parents and says, “I decided I want to go to arts school for college,” or, “I want to go to dance school,” or, “I want to be a singer.” What a lot of parents do is they dissuade their daughters from going into an arts-related career because it doesn’t make enough money.  We stifle kids’ creativity. We stifle their passions because we have this belief that every artist is on a corner somewhere doing portraits, which is not true. People who get training in the arts can use that in lots of ways besides sitting on a street corner doing portraits.

I remember I read a book years ago that was talking about the different kinds of skillsets that people need now as opposed to several years ago. I remember an interview that someone did with the CEO of Sony Electronics. They were asking him, “Who are you hiring today?” He said, “In the past, we hired primarily MBAs, Masters in Business Administration, because that’s what we were looking for. That has changed in the last five or so years. Now, we’re looking for MFAs, Masters in Fine Arts.”

I’ll never forget. He said in this book, “Most of my competitors have very similar products, similar price lines, similar stuff, and similar electronic kind of things. I want people who can make my products stand out. I want people who can help me make my products evoke emotion or evoke feelings. That’s what will help me to sell more of my products.” In other words, artists.

People with original thoughts are always people in high demand. People who are creative and allowed to express their creativity can develop those kinds of things, but we devalue that kind of thing in our culture. We’ve conditioned our daughters, “Those things are less important. They won’t pay you. They should not be a career.” We need to stop doing that.

Childhood Is Not A Race

Let me finish here and talk a little bit about one other way we’re conditioning ourselves and our kids. I wanted to remind you that unlike what the culture is telling us, childhood is not supposed to be a race. It’s not supposed to be a contest. It’s not supposed to be about prizes at graduation. It’s not supposed to be all about winning national championships when you’re ten years old. Childhood is not supposed to be about getting into a top college. Grade school is not high school prep. High school is not college prep. College is not getting-a-job-and-making-a-lot-of-money prep. There are a lot of other things that are also important along the way. It’s not a race, but we’ve been conditioned to believe that.

Everybody is in this rat race to get their kids to the top. For our kids to be special and unique, we’re conditioning them to lean in and rise to the top of whatever they’re doing. They’ve got to be the best. They’ve got to be famous. They’ve got to be rich. You may say, “I would never say that to my kids.” Look at where we put our energy as parents, but also as a culture.

If you believe that childhood is a race or a contest about all those things about getting your kids to be the best, making sure your kids are not being left behind, and giving your kids an edge, it is hard not to spend your parenting life molding them and micromanaging them to be on this path that we have set for them. That is not how life is supposed to work because every kid has their own path.

Every kid has a journey to make. They’re going to need to have some ups and downs. They’re going to need to make some mistakes and learn from those mistakes in their own way and on their own time on their path. That is, instead of stuffing every kid on this path that we have been wanting every kid to be on, which is this race to the top college or top job to make lots of money. That’s where our kids are being directed in our culture. That is the conditioning. There’s a big cost to our kids when we do that. There is so little time for them to self-development. We don’t focus nearly enough on the social-emotional learning skills about being good citizens or being good people.

My wife and I have a school program called Strong Girls, Strong World where we’ll go into schools and work with a classroom of girls or high schools who have worked with teams of girls. We’ve worked with student councils, helping them to learn to get along and create a caring, nurturing community. The biggest detriment or the biggest thing that gets in the way of us being hired to these schools is that there’s no time.

We’ll get calls from schools where they tell us, “The sixth-grade girls are killing each other. We need help. Please come and help these girls get along.” We’ll go in there and say, “The first time, we need an hour and a half for them to get to know us and to do some introductory things. Then, we’re going to need some follow-ups.”

You can see the principals, oftentimes, that their face turns white and their lids start to go down. They’re like, “We thought we could give you 20 minutes from their homeroom 1 time and you may come back for 1 20-minute follow-up.” We’re like, “We can’t do this with that little time.” They’re so afraid of taking time away from math and things like that. They don’t focus enough on relationship-building and on those girls learning to get along. I know from a lot of experience, and I’m sure you do too, that if a girl is sitting in class and she’s feeling like nobody likes her and she’s been left out because there’s a big drama going on, there’s no way she’s paying attention.

There have been a lot of studies that looked at Social-Emotional Learning. They call them SEL programs. When schools take it seriously and allow time for that, the girls do better. Their test scores go up. They are more focused. The teachers have a much easier job. They’re not putting off drama fires all day long. We’ve been conditioned to believe that’s all about math, science, and all that. We’ve forgotten about some things that are also important. In our parenting, we’ve forgotten sometimes that what’s also important is growing up, letting kids be kids, letting kids play for play’s sake, and learning a love of learning. Every kid is born with that natural inborn curiosity to learn. We condition them out of it with our pressure to do it our way.


Raising Daughters | Conditioning Girls


Become aware of some of these conditioning things I’ve talked about. Educate your daughters about, for instance, the advertising thing. They need to understand what they’re looking at on the screen and what people are trying to get them to believe. They need to be more media and image savvy so they don’t buy it hook, line, and sinker. They learn to step back from it and realize, “I’m not going to fall prey to their advertising schemes. I’m not not good enough. I don’t need their products to be happy.”

Make sure you’re helping them learn about the drugs of approval. Make sure that you don’t do too much external praising and all that stuff, so they don’t become reliant on that. There are lots of ways to get there. There are lots of paths to success, especially if it’s the path that they choose. They become fully engaged in whatever it is that they choose to do with their life.

Also, remind yourself that childhood is not a race. It’s not about keeping up with the other kids or the other kids’ parents. Your child has a unique path and a unique journey all their own. They may do it in a different way and a different timeframe. Not only is it okay, but it’s healthy for your kids. Educate yourself. Become aware of these things that are conditioning us and make sure you don’t add those to your daughter’s plate. I will be back here as always with another episode. I appreciate you stopping by each and every time. I’ll be back here soon. I’ll see you then.


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