Everyone wants their daughter to be happy. Yet, when girls start to focus on perfection and their body image, they may ignore their true strengths. New brain science reveals that relaxation skills can be useful in showing girls how to feel happy from the inside out.
Happy Teenagers and Sulky Adolescents: What’s Going on in a Teenage Girl’s Brain?
A curious thing happens when our little girls start to become teenagers. Not only do girls begin to bloom in so many ways, they often start to pull away. It’s not uncommon for parents to wonder: “What happened to my happy, carefree girl?”
It may be a comfort to know that the shift you see in your daughter’s personality and mood is not just about hormones. In fact, it’s so much more than that. Her brain is undergoing an amazing rewiring process which happens during the teen years. With the right experiences, new and emerging neural connections allow her to stretch her abilities and develop into a thoughtful, empathetic and creative human being.
The Desire to Conform Can Prevent Teenage Girls from Discovering How to be Happy with Who They Are
A part of this growing-up process also means that girls will naturally compete and compare themselves to other girls. This is an evolutionary behavioural trait that allows them to adapt to the world. It also means that girls begin to look outward for affirmation of their self-worth, body confidence and sources of happiness. Fitting in and being accepted can become more important than being with family or enjoying once-loved childhood hobbies. All of a sudden, girls may shift from thoughtful self-reflection, creativity and tuning in, to tuning out from an authentic sense of self. Often what makes children happy is pursuing their individual hobbies and interests, but for many teenage girls it’s more important to be like everyone else.
The need for peer approval can diminish their ability to draw on their developing sense of identity. Friendship groups and the media can create beliefs around beauty and being cool, fuelling the myth that perfection leads to happiness. Buying into these myths can reinforce something called ‘negativity bias’ in the brain; making us super-sensitive to differences and causing us to see them as flaws or dangers.
For example, many girls start to believe they can only be happy if they…
- Are skinny
- Have bigger boobs
- Are super trendy
- Have a boyfriend
- Get straight As
- Get 100 Likes on their profile pics
It’s important to help girls to realise that ticking items off these “wish lists” isn’t the key to everlasting happiness. In fact, it’s impossible to feel happy all the time because feeling happy is a momentary experience. Instead, the key is to savour those happy moments, appreciate them, remember them, and reflect on them. Encouraging girls to consider the joyful instants during their week helps them appreciate that life has its ups and downs.
Next Steps: Ten Ways to Help Raise Happy Teenagers
Dr Willard offers simple ways for parents to help their daughters feel positive and get more joy out of life:
Be calm. Demonstrate thoughtful responses in your own daily life rather than immediate reactions. If your daughter gets a bad grade at school, don’t get cross but offer to sit down with her and go through steps on how she might improve next time.
Take deep breaths when you feel stressed. When you are calm, children are often calmer – they can understand how to be happy even when plans fall through by following the example you setting.
Take perspective. When challenges come up for your daughter, especially around body image, help her take a step back. For example, if she doesn’t like her thighs, acknowledge her feelings, but help her ‘zoom out’ by pointing out that her strong thighs make her a faster runner.
Take gentle care of your body. Exercise regularly and make healthy meals. By encouraging these healthy habits and by practicing them yourself, your teen will in all likelihood also adopt them and so take care of her body and be more conscious of all the great things her body allows her to do. This will nurture body confidence.
Make time to have meals together.
Spend time outdoors. Go for a walk and take in the sights and sounds around you.
Have a technology-free zone in the house. Keep all cell phones, iPads etc. charging in one spot and don’t allow them in bedrooms. Screens on these devices keep the brain awake and interrupt natural sleep rhythms.
Show kindness to others.
Show that you are thankful for the little things. Even when life may seem stressful.
Celebrate the best parts of the day and share things to be happy about.
To read more articles like this visit the Dove Self-Esteem website: http://selfesteem.dove.co.za/