How to Build Strong Young Women (Part IV)

How to Build Strong Young Women (Part IV)

We want our young women to feel confident that they can hold any career they choose, perform at any level they choose and do what most inspires them. We watch for their skills and talents and hope for them to develop into something that these young women can use to find a means of executing whatever they understand their purpose in life to be. Our hope is that they will develop interest and passion, that they will feel that these interests and passions are available to them, and pursue them.

A solid way to encourage their interest and to help our young women feel that what interests them and what they’re passionate about is available to them is to help them develop their sense of connectedness to her cohort and authentic self. I’ve discussed these topics in my earlier How to Build Strong Women posts so, please feel free to take a few minutes to review them now. (I’ll wait for you.)

Our young women develop their beliefs and values based on their interaction with their world. These are values and beliefs about themselves, the world, their impact on others, and their capability. They develop their passion and interests based on these beliefs and values.

We know that there are a lot of distractions that are thrown at our young women. These distractions can also have a quite an impact on a young woman’s values and beliefs. Fortifying her sense of authentic self and connectedness to her group members will strengthen her resistance to these distractions and her resilience when she trips over them.

What our young women are searching for is what will allow them to improve their community in a way that feels fulfilling to them (inspired purpose). They want to inspire, advocate, nurture, educate, heal, and create. Many of them have been moved by music, the arts, helpers in their lives, and family members. They have been inspired, and they want to know that they are capable of embracing that part of life, too.

Be curious about their interests with them. Perhaps some of their interests will come and go; overall, this is appropriate for their development. What is important for this time is that you are teaching them to navigate the challenges that accompany seeking and engaging their sense of inspired purpose. Along the way, they might encounter any combination of failure, judgment, criticism, and hardship. They will benefit from your guidance and confidence when they feel like giving up or wonder if this really what they want. Our young women will learn from you that they have the perseverance and strength to reach their inspired purpose.

Sometimes our young women aren’t quite sure what inspires them; they aren’t in touch with their skills. Sometimes this has to do with their sense of authentic self, at times it has to do with fear, and sometimes it has to do with their ability to feel satisfaction. If you are concerned about your young woman’s ability to access her skills, interests, motivation, and passion don’t worry by yourself. Give me a call and let’s talk about it.


Love and Be Loved,


How to Build Strong Young Women (Part III)

How to Build Strong Young Women (Part III)

Earlier, I mentioned the idea of an Authentic Self and its importance for sustained resilience throughout a young women’s development and into adulthood.  This part of her is what decreases her drive to search for outside validation and what helps her to find comfort and strength when she experiences rejection from others. With this tool, she can navigate her world, relationships, obstacles, and triumphs with much more confidence and stability.

“This sounds great!” you might be thinking. “I want my kid to have that.” So, how do I give that to her? Well, the earlier you start, the better, of course, but you can start doing these things that I will recommend at any age.


Step 1. Recapture the first moments you fell in love with her. Remember the earliest times when you first became aware of how overwhelmed by your love for her and your curiosity about her, your wish to keep her safe. This is a helpful step because it puts you back in touch with the part of her that is the vulnerable person she still is (in case things have gotten a bit tense between the two of you and it’s hard to access that) and it reminds you of the reservoir of love you hold for her. This step reminds you from which part of your intentions for her are coming. It can be easy to forget this when you find yourself in a power struggle with her, stuck in fear, and out of sync with the important young woman in your life.

When she feels your in-loveness with her, she will be more in touch with her self-worth (self-respect and confidence), which is crucial for healthy development.   


Step 2. Trust yourself and your instincts. Sometimes this is asking a lot. If you have been going through a lot with your young woman, and you feel like your family has been through the wringer, it can feel like you have lost touch with yourself. You can begin to mistake your anxiety for your instincts. They’re still there, and it will take some practice regaining your ability to hear our voice again. If you feel like you need some guidance here, call or email me, and I can provide further assistance.

When you trust yourself, you are less afraid, overall, and you can make more reasonable decisions. When you are less afraid, she feels safer with you, and she is less afraid of her world. She begins to trust herself. When she trusts herself, she does not need as much outside validation and does not feel as driven to seek approval at any cost.


Step 3. Be curious. The young woman is going through a lot right now. So are you. Be curious about her patterns and decisions, but don’t draw any quick conclusions from minimal information. Don’t be afraid to ask her questions about what you see or what concerns you. Be curious about your thoughts, reactions, and responses to her. There is power in curiosity, but we tend to lose that power once we become reactive. As she experiences your curiosity, she will strengthen her own and gain comfort in sitting with the unknown while she figures things out for herself, rather than reacting impulsively.


Step 4. Set reasonable and compassionate limits. It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and start rattling off shortcomings and consequences to the young woman in your life. This results in feelings of resentment, shame, and a wish for some rewind button. If you’re not used to slowing yourself down, it can be hard to get it going at first, but all you need to do is start with being aware. You’ll get it. Ok, so slow yourself down a little, then take control of the situation. Remember that you’re the parent, and you set the pace. If there needs to be a consequence of an action you don’t have to come up with one on the spot. You can give yourself time to think of something that makes sense for the situation and come back to it. Many of the parents I see don’t realize that they can give themselves this option and when they try it, they feel freedom.

If it’s a conversation that you want to end, it’s ok to end it. You don’t have to keep going around in circles. If you don’t think it’s a productive conversation anymore, it’s ok to take a break. You can be both loving and respectful while still holding firm boundaries. This teaches her that she doesn’t have to let others walk all over her to have a relationship. It teaches her to make and respect her boundaries while respecting others’ boundaries.


Step 5. Make room for both success and failure. She can’t always succeed, and she won’t always fail. She’ll need to learn how to manage both. Many parents are afraid to celebrate their child’s successes out of fear that they will become over-identified with them, entitled, or unable to deal with failure. This is understandable, but minimizing success is not a way to teach failure-management. The idea is to be curious about both. Why was she successful here? How does it feel when she is successful? It’s ok to praise her experienced success. The same goes for her failure. What made for the failure? How does it feel to have failed? It’s also ok to offer condolence and encouragement. She will take these lessons and reference them. She will remember that both success and failure happen and that neither defines her.


Step 6. Ask for help. If you would like more clarification regarding these steps, do not hesitate to ask me for help. Asking your support system for help takes the burden off of you and provides more balance. It shows the young woman that, instead of suffering alone, she can increase her capability by asking for help when she needs it. It puts her in touch with her resourcefulness.      

How to Build Strong Young Women (Part II)

How to Build Strong Young Women (Part II)

If we find ourselves a part of a young woman’s support system, most of us have experienced thoughts about her at some point that goes something like this; “When did this happen?  When did she start doing/saying/behaving like/dressing like this?” Maybe this is accompanied by feelings of dread, fear, anxiety, anticipation, sadness or a combination of any of these. You’ve probably also noticed that these moments build on each other and increase in number.

Listening to One Direction last month, but suddenly she’s wearing pentagrams, and you can barely make out her features through all that dark makeup? Did you find those pictures on her Facebook account in which red cups adorn every hand, and she is wearing skimpy clothes you didn’t know she had ‘til now? Maybe you’re worried because you found a bag in her room with a patch in the shape of a marijuana leaf safety pinned to it.

These scenarios could be something, or they could be nothing. And they could be anything in between. Doesn’t make you feel better? Fair enough. That young woman is a)exploring her interests in a world of information b)what her interests mean (to herself and others) c)the relationship between her interests and their meaning. It can be tough to navigate for her. And for you. She wants to know if her interests will become her identity if they are supposed to, and if she wants that. Here is where her cohort members come in.

They are in search right along side her. They are feeling just as unsure and insecure. The young woman wants both to be able to explore and find out about herself about the world and have her group to come back to and report what’s out there. She wants to be allowed to change and experience things and remain loved and accepted by her members. Her hope is for her group to hold her accountable in a loving way if she falls too far down the rabbit hole. There are many girls who have this experience and their ability to continue to bond with others, with other women, flourishes. They enjoy the stability of healthy friendships, understand the impact of their choices, and experience confidence in relationships.

There are also plenty of girls who have not experienced this kind of bonding with their cohort members. In fact, they have experienced an exiling. This exile can take place in the form of the young woman’s fear that she will be rejected so, she leaves her group before they can leave her (though she still experiences it as a rejection). It can also take shape as the group actively rejecting her. As a rule, have a tough time watching our loved ones change. We don’t know what it means so, we find it threatening, and we don’t allow it. And this is how the exile can begin.

The group sees that the young woman is somehow changing and they resist it, either by poking jabs at her newfound style/other friends she has found/new music preferences, etc. Maybe they do this directly or indirectly (girl culture isn’t known for its direct nature, but more for its passive yet very aggressive torment). They can do it to her face, behind her back, or both. They begin to distance themselves from her. This behavior escalates. Eventually, either they will not tolerate her presence in the group or she will find her membership there intolerable, and she will leave. When this happens, it is most common for the young woman to find a group of boys to replace her group rather than a new group of girls because a)she has lost trust in her members and b)it can be brutal to enter a new girl-group. There might be a few peripheral girls in her circle. She has experienced her cohort as unsafe. She has taken a severe blow to her confidence and sense of power. Many of the girls I see who have experienced this suffer from depression, anxiety, tend to isolate, and engage in some form of addictive behavior such as drug addiction, alcohol addiction, cutting, or eating disorder.

So what can you do? Start with being curious. When you see that she has changed her style of something, her presentation, her friends, etc. be curious about it. Don’t automatically assign meaning or judgment to it. She’s not sure what it means yet so, how can you know? Allow her to change. Not only will this will give her some breathing room, but it will show her the compassion she needs in addition to giving her a template for how it looks to allow someone to change so that she can pass it on. Trust your instincts. This can be tricky for some people who have a tough time seeing the difference between anxiety and instinct. The more in touch you are with your instincts, the more in touch she will be with hers. If you need a tune up or feel like you want some help deciphering between the two, feel free to call or email me, and we can discuss this further. Know your negotiables and nonnegotiables. Some things, like partying, can be a phase but if this is nonnegotiable for your family, don’t be afraid to hold a calm, firm line here. Lastly, if it seems like there are things your family needs sorting out let’s talk about it. This can be a scary time, but I can help you figure it out.


Love and Be Loved,


How to Build Strong Young Women (Part I)

How to Build Strong Young Women (Part I)

This is Part I of a series. It has become the topic of a lot of conversations among my peer groups, colleagues, and the families and adolescents I treat. What do young women need to launch into the world? What is essential for them to stand firm in their communities? I will cover each of these in more detail in articles to come.  


                                                        Connectedness to One Another:

            A young woman needs to feel a sense of community in her peers, a sense of belonging.  It is important for her to experience herself in a supportive environment of other young women who are learning to navigate the world so that she can find sameness when she needs it (and a sense of difference when she needs it, too), solidarity, comfort, and strength. This home group of her peers will help the young woman learn both how she does and does not want to move through her relationships.

As she works through conflict and adversity, these peers will teach her various ways to communicate which the young woman will carry into other relationships.  It is here that she has the chance to begin to gain a confidence and experience the effectiveness (and perceived ineffectiveness) of her power in a way that only her group can provide her. If she experiences support amongst her members, this group has the chance to be one of the safest places for the young woman to express her fears, hopes, frustrations, and disappointments that she experiences as she navigates young womanhood.  If she suffers a lack of support amongst her members, the young woman might begin to develop a belief that it is safer not to share these parts of her experience.  It is possible for her to start to isolate, experience herself as powerless, and the risk for her to develop unhealthy behaviors as coping mechanisms begin to increase.


                                                                Sense of Authentic Self:

            Here is where this young woman will be able to legitimize her feelings, her experience, her opinions. A strong connection to this place, her authentic self, is what will make it possible for her to a) believe she is capable and b) exercise her capability. This is a place where she will find resource through hardship.

This connection is not just necessary for helping the young woman to realize her aspirations, relationship objectives, what kind of person she wants to be in her world, and how she intends to navigate through all of this. This connection to her authentic self is imperative for her resilience. The relationship with her self is essential for her to know that she will be ok regardless of what happens throughout the course of her life.

The more developed this part of her becomes, the more secure the young woman will feel about the feelings she experiences in response to particular situations. She will not only feel more confident about her opinions, but she will share them more freely with those around her. The young woman will demonstrate fewer behavioral defenses (defenses which serve to distance her from others in a protective way) because she will know that there is a safety within her that is always there.

A lack of connection to an authentic sense of self can encourage a young woman to constantly look to others for validation regarding choices and decisions she considers, causes her to illegitimize her feelings, strengthen a belief that what she has to say or do is not of value. A tenuous alliance with her authentic sense of self will make the obscurity of life increasingly overwhelming. It will be easier for the young woman to believe that she will not be able to withstand the pain she experiences in the world.


                                                            Sense of Inspired Purpose:

            The collective young woman being described throughout this article wants to connect and give something of value. She wants to impact her world. Some of her peers will choose to impact our world by committing their lives to the helping professions, others to business. Some will choose to leave their mark by contributing other humans to the world, and still, others will give themselves to social justice. It is important to highlight the many choices witnessed by the young woman (whether or not she perceives them as available to her, specifically, is related to the strength of her connection to her authentic sense of self).

Considering the pressure we as humans put on each other and ourselves to succeed, what it means to be successful, and the existing social constructs, a young woman faces quite a challenge as she decides how she will spend her time and energy in her world. She is confronted with the responsibility of finding out what inspires her, what gives her the most genuine sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Then she must take another brave step and begin to do it.

It will not be enough for the young woman to simply pick a lucrative career if she is not somehow indubitably inspired and adequately satisfied with the gains returned by her efforts.  To choose a path based on someone else’s wish for her, societal pressure, lack of motivation, and maybe a combination of each of these will eventually leave her with a feeling of emptiness. It is not sustainable- at least not without paying a high price that will involve experiencing a disintegration of a part of her self.

The young woman aspires to influence and inspire by translating what influences and inspires her. She searches for the most impactful way she can accomplish this in a way that speaks to her the loudest, corresponds closely to her values and beliefs and allows her to fully experience her value in her world. She pioneers her path.

The three institutions described here are cardinal aspects of a young woman’s development for which there are no short cuts. Our holistic support of these conditions of her development will encourage a safe and healthy community for her to find her way. She will possess the confidence and strength to help others find their way.  The collective young woman is more resilient in these conditions and carries with her a sense of ok-ness. She passes this on to others, and we find that we all begin to strengthen.


Love and be Loved,