Even as an adult, finding yourself in a situation where you don’t know anyone can be daunting, but when teen girls are thrown into this position it sparks an internal battle. On the one hand they desperately want to feel part of the community and ‘fit in’, but at the same time they are trying to express their individuality and personal sense of style.
“I do think there is peer pressure about looks and clothes at Kirsty’s school,” says mum Gill. “Since puberty and going to secondary school she has become very anxious about how she looks and I think she’s aiming to look ‘just like her friends’.”
“Let’s be real: when girls walk into a room, they all check each other out,” says self-esteem coach Dr Tara Cousineau. “At this point in her life your daughter is noticing the different emotional and physical traits of her peers, comparing herself to her friends, starting to judge these as desirable or undesirable. This is compounded by the media, magazines and movies. All of a sudden, the value of a certain type of appearance and personality is amplified.”
Starting at a new school or in a new team or class are classic situations in which these types of comparisons come to the fore. Girls may begin to experiment with different looks, vocabulary and responses to social cues. These situations can also trigger a massive shift in girls’ attitudes towards their bodies and appearance as they struggle to find their ‘place’ in their social circles.
Take heart that these are important situations that your daughter actually needs to go through to work out who she really is and what’s important to her. It’s all part of the process of growing up.
However, this can be a particularly vulnerable time for girls’ confidence as they are figuring out their place in the perceived social ‘pecking order’. She may find herself envious of others or being the envy of her peers.
Building confidence can be a long process and is best fostered in a nurturing environment. So what can you do to help your daughter navigate this tricky territory, value her uniqueness and safeguard her confidence for the future? We’ve put together some practical suggestions in our action checklist. The main thing is to help her understand that she shouldn’t let go of all the brilliant things that make her unique just because she wants to fit in.
Remember, there is a phase when fitting in is the most important thing for a girl. This changes as she matures and develops her own interests, talents and style. Over time, and with your support, she will work out which friends are ‘good’ for her and which aren’t so good. By helping her to identify what makes her unique and the way she contributes to friendships you will help give her the confidence to be her own beautiful self as well as recognise and appreciate diversity in others.
To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of the people whose stories we tell on these pages. But the stories they tell are absolutely genuine.
Show your daughter how brilliant she is: reinforce her sense of self-worth by complimenting specific characteristics. Focus on her actions, skills and personality rather than emphasising her physical features.
Find friends who are there for who she is – not how she looks: help your daughter identify a supportive group of friends by talking to her about which qualities she thinks make a good friend. Does a great friend wear the same clothes as you? Or is being a good listener or considerate of someone’s feelings more important? Spend time together identifying the personality traits and characteristics of her friends that she respects and admires. This may help remind her it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Valuing the contribution she makes to the group: help her understand how she contributes to her social networks by discussing what role she plays in the group – she might be a good listener, the one who cheers everyone up, or great at getting people involved.
Focus on positive differences: celebrate the diversity in her peer group by complimenting her and her friends on the unique aspects of their appearance, but also remember to highlight their beautiful personalities.
Celebrate positive role models: talk about people in the family, community or larger culture that have qualities to be admired. There are many role models who exemplify compassion, collaboration, overcoming adversity, and leadership. Importantly, be the kind of person you hope your daughter will grow to be and admire.
ChildLine: what is peer pressure?
Article date: 26 June 2013
Review date: 26 June 2014
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