Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
Tallulah Willis recently admitted to Teen Vogue magazine that her self-esteem crumbled at age 13 after she read the nasty comments of online bullies. The daughter of celebrities Bruce Willis and Demi Moore recalls thinking, "I am a hideous, disgusting-looking person. I might be nice and I might be kind, but I'm a really unattractive human being."
This crisis in confidence among girls goes well beyond the offspring of the famous. Decades of studies have shown a precipitous drop in girls' self-esteem that starts in puberty and lasts to their early 20s or later. The Public Health Agency of Canada found that 36 per cent of sixth-grade girls feel self-confident, but by Grade 10 the already too-low proportion plummets to 14 per cent.
As a society, we often blame the problem on "the media" for foisting unrealistic body images on our daughters, and sexualizing girls. We cite peer pressure and bullying for injecting kids' social spaces with competition and cruelty. And then there's the rush of hormonal changes that can throw even the most centred teen on an emotional roller coaster.
When the girls in our lives are young — like Marc's two daughters — we set out to raise strong, confident women. We focus our affirmations and attention on their skill, intelligence and character. We encourage them to love themselves as they are, and strive to model positive self-images.
When puberty hits, however, our caring voices often fade into the cacophony of teen culture as peers exert more influence than parents. But our girls clearly need all our support to become the assertive, self-assured women we know they can be.
This week's question: What can we do to boost the confidence of the teen girls in our lives?
Beth Malcolm, director of the Girls' Fund at the Canadian Women's Foundation, Toronto
"Most self-confident adults say their high self-esteem comes from having a positive mentor in their youth. Look for strong female role models in the community—coaches, teachers, professionals—who can offer non-judgmental support and help girls identify their unique strengths."
Jaclyn Trecartin, child, teen and family therapist in Saint John
"Let your teens know they can choose which thoughts and emotions to believe in. Like you choose your subway train, you can choose the beliefs and emotions you will 'ride' for the day. Have them look critically at their self-beliefs and replace untrue ones with self-affirmations ('I am a loyal friend' or "I am good at X') to repeat in the mirror every day."
Dr. Gary Goldfield, associate professor of pediatrics, kinetics and psychology at the University of Ottawa
"Encourage physical activity that is enjoyable, provides a sense of mastery or accomplishment, and offers opportunities to build or strengthen peer relationships. Continue to reinforce all the admirable qualities and attributes that your adolescent daughters possess (intelligence, humour, intuition, empathy, etc.) to buffer against them basing their self-esteem on appearance, weight or shape."
Have your say in the comments section.