What does it mean to be a girl with purpose? What does it mean to be a girl? What does it mean to have purpose?
Originally Girl Talk, Nia Gwenda concept was born in 2009. Since then, we have mentored many girls in various contexts. Most of the time girls are not aware of the impact this group has upon their lives. But it is a seed. It is always a seed planted in their memories and their mind, to remind them of their power as a girl and a girl with purpose.
One month into the 2015 winter group of Nia Gwenda, I had a moment of sadness. In the span of a month, I serviced a dozen girls in the group and individually who were bright, intelligent and beautiful. However, they did not see their beauty. At 11, 12, and older these young women were brainwashed to believe they were less than human, less than desirable, and less than worthy of friendships and love. I’ve been there, but to see them be there was/is painful.
One night, our group of girls watched Amanda Todd and related to the horror that she experienced as a young person. The same girls related because they experienced or observed girls experience such horror. To hear these girls say: people think I’m a bisexual (at 11, shouldn’t you make your own decision when you’re ready?), I cut my arm when I’m upset, I tried to overdose on medications, I hate a member of my family, I’m bullied by others because of my skin colour, I am treated less than human because I have a disability, I have no friends, I can’t be friends with other girls, I don’t know my family or culture, my classmates use drugs, I consider some girls a “hoe” or a “thot”…. What can I say, but wow.
Why do we live in a society that values money more then people? That focuses upon capital gains rather than relationships? A society that pushes sexuality and not relationships? That values sameness and shuns differences? Why do we live in a society that forgets to notice you as a person, but focuses on your accomplishments, your likes on Facebook (borrowed from Oprah) or your followers on Instagram? What is society creating, because it is not uniqueness, acceptance, empathy or love?
Parents! Every girl needs to be connected to a girls’ group and program. Your daughter needs to know her value and the only person to teach her her value is you and other adults. Their peers can bring them down with their lack of understanding about what it means to be a girl with purpose.
So how do we begin to heal our daughters? I believe acknowledging how difficult their journey is in 2015, is the first step. A few weeks ago, my daughter came to me and said she was having a hard time in math and didn’t understand some of the concepts she had been taught. She had a big test in a few weeks, and worried about the outcome. There are many ways I could have responded to her worries. I knew that instead of studying she sometimes could watch hours of Netflix, and I knew that her busy dance schedule took her away from her studies (her choice)…. but I also knew that the competitiveness in her nature made her strive for academic excellence despite her challenges with the material. I chose to acknowledge where she was at, with no judgement. I encouraged her to take a break, and give herself time to learn the material. The learning was more important than a mark. Her anxiety noticeably decreased. Validating your daughters experiences is more powerful than teaching, correcting, or criticizing. Knowing that we all have our strengths and weaknesses puts your own daughter’s challenges in perspective.
What you do need to teach your daughter is how to “cope”. For my daughter, I needed to teach her how to manage the pressure of a fast-paced curriculum, how to decrease her anxiety about school performance and achievement, and how to value herself regardless of her performance.
For our girls it may be how to cope with girl drama, how to manage being bullied, how to decrease anxiety, and how to feel good about yourself. One of the natural reactions parents may have is to try to fix our young people’s problems. Everyone wants a Knight in Shining Armour. At 37, my knight in shining armour is myself. I have to figure out the rules, to problem solve difficulties, and to deal with my own difficult feelings. I truly wish my parents did more teaching and modelling than “saving” so I would have learned the skills to manage better at a much younger age. Our young people need to learn how to value themselves in the face of bullies, as opposed to knowing that the bully could be suspended and when they return to school become more violent and harmful. Teaching our young people how to recognize fear, how to calm our bodies down when we are afraid and how to respond to what is causing fear is far more powerful than teaching them to only talk to a teacher when fear comes.
The second step to healing our girls was borrowed from Native teachings around competency and responsibility. I believe that humans strive to feel they are competent. We all want to have a skill, a talent, or a gift to feel valid in our world. Many young people I have worked with have no idea what they are good at (i.e. playing video games is not a skill). From the time your child is young, provide them with opportunities to learn and develop their competency. When they achieve well, ensure to validate their efforts and how they feel about themselves. When they don’t do well, do the same thing. At 11 years old, I knew I wasn’t an athlete at all. During a regular track and field meet, I was forced to sign up for the 1500 metre race. It was horrific. I had horrible shoes, no proper clothes, and no training. I started out good, but after the first lap I was well behind my peers. I toyed with the idea of quitting and giving up as I continued to run laps. I even tried walking for a bit. I ended up convincing myself that I would complete the race regardless of the time. The chatter in the background was not helpful. My peers and teachers were putting me down and criticizing how horribly I ran. But I focused myself on the chatter in my head. I focused on finishing and not winning. When I finished the race, I felt a satisfaction in my competencies that remained a powerful memory for years. Teach your girl how to feel competent, how to do her best and focus upon meeting her realistic objectives. Then congratulate her efforts for working hard to accomplish her goals.
The same is true for responsibility. As a parent, I created opportunities for my daughter to develop her independence and to feel responsible for herself and her actions. My sisters joke with me, saying that at one-year-old, my daughter was so independent that she was changing her own diapers. No, I wasn’t that bad but I encouraged her to do things on her own. The messages I gave her was: you can do this, I believe in you, and you are competent as opposed to: I don’t care to help you, I am more interested in my own needs, and your needs don’t matter to me. Ensure you are giving your girl the right message when you are teaching her how to formulate her independence at 11 years old.
Responsibility, then only fits in with independence. The messages your daughter needs to hear is: I am capable, I take responsibility for my actions, and I can achieve my goals. But how do we do this in a world where people believe taking responsibility means you receive punishment? How do we achieve this when we live in a world where guilt and shame are intertwined? And, because responsibility can be linked to shame (I am a bad person), it seems as though no one wants to accept this outcome? I wish I could preach! We all make mistakes, but taking responsibility builds our mistakes into successes. We learn from failures and we learn to move on. These are the messages we need to strive for and to teach our girls. We need to teach them that the feelings that come from failures, recognized weaknesses, and mistakes are just feelings and you can manage it. However, in my work with girls, many girls have never learned how to accept defeat within themselves. When they feel defeated they try so hard to avoid that feeling, they end up using drugs, self-harm, repressing their feelings, developing depression and more.
As parents, we teach our girls through our own experiences how to manage difficult feelings. We teach them how to cope. We teach them how to be okay with themselves despite what has happened. We teach them how to get up and move on. My favorite song is, Donnie McClurkin’s, “We Fall Down”. The experiences our girls have to encounter are not fair, but it is the nature of our life. I know that they are stronger than us as parents because they have the capacity to rise above these experiences. (Same is true for past generations) Acknowledge this! Validate their experiences. Teach them independence to achieve their goals. Congratulate their efforts. Teach them how to manage failure and weakness by taking responsibility. Address shame by building confidence that they have the ability to overcome.
The third step is to increase your girls support system both informally and formally. Ensure that in every avenue of their lives, there is a loving adult who will admire and love your daughter as their own. Acknowledge that as parents we can not fill the gaps to our child’s support network. We are not “it” and should never create a community that does not involve trusting adults in your child’s life.
My childhood was rough and I had some emotional moments that no one knew about. I never had the courage to tell anyone, but I didn’t need to spill my guts. I needed to feel the other stuff: validation, independence and competency. As immigrants to Canada, my parents had limited family support. They made friends through church and work, and included these friends in their lives. We had regular Sunday dinners at their homes. These women, matriarchs of their homes became my aunties. My aunties had a passion for girls and started groups for us as well. It was very informal, and I had mixed reactions at the time. But I’ve said this over and over as I have grown older, my aunties saved my life. The village my family created led to the creation of a buffer that helped me to learn how to re-frame my negative experiences into opportunities to grow and learn. They taught me how to manage my feelings and recognize that the attacks I experienced, were not personal but systematic. Whoa! I got chills.
When my daughter turned 13, I invited my friends and anyone else I knew who was positive to attend her birthday party. She invited 20 of her closest friends. I told the girls’ parents that this was a rites of passage birthday party. In the night, the girls had a sleepover and got spa-like treatment in my home. We catered and showered them with love, acceptance, and nurturance. I talked with them about life pressures and challenges, and I got some real responses about their experiences in grade seven. In the morning, the adults came over and had breakfast with the girls. The leaders in my family (the elders) prayed over my daughter and her girlfriends. They cancelled negativity from their lives and welcomed success and achievements, safety and strength. The elders and the girls broke off into groups for discussions and came back as a group. Then, the girls even had a fashion show where parents showered them with affirmations, love and acceptance. Each elder then went around the room and sponsored each girl, whether in prayer, to be their support person, or to provide mentorship.
I share this not so you can create the same rites of passage in your family. I share this to highlight the importance of “community” in your child’s life. We live in a world where individuality is highly valued despite the centuries we lived in communal dwellings. The community is a powerful force in your child’s life, and if well-created and maintained, it will serve as one of the main support systems that will carry your daughter when life becomes too difficult to manage.
I hope that on your journey as a parent of a young girl, you will always know that you are the most important person in your daughter’s life.
Your impact is greater than any negative force that will try to harm your daughter.
Consider Nia Gwenda for your daughter.
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