Supporting teen girls to be who they want to be

Supporting teen girls to be who they want to be

Your daughter discovers her answers to the biggest question of them all, ‘Who am I?’, by listening to her inner voice, following her dreams and having an awareness of her ancestry. As a person finds peace with who she is, and lives according to her core beliefs, she frees herself from needing to fit in.

Daring to dream

Children are inspiring: they watch someone and immediately imagine that they too could be a superhero, pop star or Olympic athlete. Children are brilliant at reaching for the stars. They imagine an adult life of great possibility: running a riding stables or flying jets, writing a best-seller or designing clothing for celebrities. Adults do these things, and children are inspired.

We adults must refrain from pouring our cold reality onto their dreams, believing we are protecting them from unrealistic hopes, sparing them from disappointment. Is it really better not to dream the impossible than to try to see how far you can get? If 6-year-old Joanne Rowling hadn’t believed herself capable of being a writer, writing her first story, ‘Rabbit’, we wouldn’t have Hogwarts and Harry Potter. If that small Jamaican boy Usain hadn’t dared to dream of being the fastest runner in the whole wide world, we wouldn’t have had the Olympic legend that was Bolt.

Children see an injustice and declare that they will stop it. They have the audacity to hope for the best from people and sometimes this brings out the best in people. Take 14-year-old Julia Bluhm, who was concerned about how many girls in her ballet class considered themselves to be fat and dared to ask Seventeen magazine to stop photoshopping its photos. After 84,000 people signed her petition the magazine made a commitment not to alter the body size or face shape of the girls and models and to feature a diverse range in its pages. Or take 9-year-old Martha Payne, who commented daily on her school dinners, raising the standard of school meals and more than £10,000 for a charity providing meals for UK schoolchildren.

Every person who has achieved great things has a tale of modest beginnings and those who first inspired them. Children dare to dream big. The sky is the limit when you are 6 or even 16.

Parents’ encouragement is vital. Your child needs you to believe in her – a parent’s opinion is such an influential thing for a child. Take her interests seriously and help her to follow her passions. A person does well in life when she is doing something that she cares about and enjoys. In a world full of people doing jobs they don’t particularly like, and surrounded by adults dousing children’s grand plans in realism before they can even try them out, our children need us to support them in following their hearts.

If you weren’t able to follow your dreams as a teen, you will need extra courage to be there for your teenager as she follows hers. All too easily she can hold herself back through lack of self-belief, finances, opportunity or willingness to expend effort. Challenges can strengthen us, and if those around her believe something is possible, it helps her to believe it too. We all have our ‘disabilities’ – some more obvious and some more debilitating. The Paralympics gives us the chance to see that the most crippling disadvantages can be overcome.

Do you know what your child dares to dream?

School years can sometimes take their toll when it comes to children learning to follow their dreams. So much of teens’ time is spent at school, studying for exams in only twenty possible subjects. Many feel this isn’t bringing them any closer to the work they wish to do or the people who can help them learn what they will need to know, and they become disheartened.

You can help your daughter to follow her dreams by paying attention to what brings her joy and finding ways for her to follow that passion:

  • Help her to spend time with adults she admires and whose advice she respects.
  • Really listen to her as she talks enthusiastically about something.
  • Read the book she is raving about or ask her to show you what she likes to watch.
  • Ask her to teach you how to use her favourite social media tool.
  • Help her pursue the activities she loves.
  • Put her in contact with adults who are working in areas that fascinate her.
  • Help her to self-publish.
  • Let go of your dreams for her, making space for her dreams for herself.

And don’t get attached to her dreams, as they may change as she grows.

Demi needed a reason to study

Demi enjoyed seeing her friends at school, but as the pressure to be studious intensified she became increasingly bored. At home she’d sooner spend time with her hamsters than do her homework. Her dad downloaded some nature programmes for her to watch and her mum arranged for her to spend a day helping out at a nearby animal rescue centre. Demi ended up volunteering there every weekend, and by talking to staff she discovered that with the right qualifications she could train to become an animal care worker. Suddenly she found motivation for studying biology, maths and English so that she would be eligible to apply for an apprenticeship a few years down the line.


Does your daughter know her own mind?

Does your daughter know what intuition feels like? Is she allowed to trust and follow this?

Having a daughter who knows her own mind can be challenging, but if you celebrate it she is more likely to find a path in life that really suits her. Having a child who is full of ideas, passions and ideals can be exhausting, but if you encourage it she is more likely to think things through for herself and make good choices.

Having a daughter who is sensitive can be inconvenient at times, but if you honour her sensitivity she will feel able to pay attention to that funny feeling that tells her a situation isn’t safe and get herself away from it.

Much in our culture dissuades us from listening to our gut feelings. Young children rarely have as much time with their parents as they would choose, are made to eat foods they don’t fancy, and have to stick with teachers they don’t warm to and spend time with children who are mean or whom they clash with. Children are swamped by advertising that encourages them not to like the way they look, the possessions that they have or the life they are leading.

Our children will only know to trust their intuition and act on their gut feelings if they’ve already had a lifetime of having their feelings listened to and taken seriously:

  • Talk to your daughter about recognising the quiet voice of reason and paying attention to it.
  • Notice when she expresses an interest and help her to develop that.
  • Support her passions and help her to shrink the disliked bits of her life.
  • Teach her to notice how her body feels when something isn’t quite right – girls usually find that their tummy, shoulders, mouth or hands alert them.
  • Discuss strategies for how to respond when she doesn’t feel at ease – text you, find a friend, take five minutes in the toilet to think clearly, seek a trusted adult, leave.

Sometimes we say we want strong, independent, confident daughters, but then we suppress those qualities when they thwart our own purpose. If you want your daughter to honour herself, you must honour her.


Kim McCabe is a home-educating mother of one girl and two boys. She is the founder and director of Rites for Girls, which, since 2011, has offered year-long Girls Journeying Together groups, support for mothers and training for women wanting to support girls.

Edited extract from From Daughter to Woman: Parenting Girls Safely Through Their Teens by Kim McCabe, Robinson.

First published in Issue 56 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 
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