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A crisis of confidence: Teenage girls and the risky years

Teen years for girls today are a period of real danger. Girls entering puberty often face a "crisis in confidence" which makes them vulnerable to risky behavior, and these bad choices can have devastating lifelong consequences. Find out how mentors can help teenage girls survive the risky years and how you can find a mentor for your teenage daughter or become a mentor yourself.

Somewhere to turn
What's perhaps even worse than the dangerous opportunities teen girls are at risk for is the fact that most of them will not talk to their parents about these dangers they face. According to Pegine Echevarria, MSW, author of the new book For All Our Daughters: How Mentoring Helps Young Women and Girls Master the Art of Growing Up, "No matter how good your communication is with your daughter, there are things she will not and cannot tell you, things she needs desperately to tell someone."

The answer? Female mentors -- someone girls can trust who isn't Mom or Dad. "You must point your daughter toward a trustworthy role model - an aunt, a cousin, a grandmother, a Girl Scout leader, a teacher, a friend, or some other responsible caring woman," she says, "because your daughter's survival depends on it.

"One of the most rewarding relationships is when a mother steps forward to mentor her daughter's best friend. Some mothers "cross-mentor" each other's daughters. Some cities have organized mentoring programs for girls."

The crisis years
Echevarria believes the challenges teen girls face are tougher than those faced by boys, adding that "no parental relationship, in and of itself, is strong enough to see a daughter through these years. If you want your daughter to emerge from the crisis years as a healthy, well-adjusted adult, you need to reach out to another woman. "At nine or ten years of age, girls begin to focus powerfully on their need to be independent. Privacy becomes a concern, and often an obsession. Girls have an underlying desire to establish control. As parents, we have complex emotional relationships with our daughters. Many of them are frightened of disappointing us or challenging our belief system. Often, it's hard for us to give advice that doesn't sound like a lecture. Girls are usually desperate to discuss the issues they face, but they need a "neutral party," someone they can trust who isn't Mom or Dad.

The most important thing a mentor can do is to listen and to lead by example. She isn't there to judge, punish or condemn. And as crucial as her role becomes, it is a temporary one -- a mentor will never replace a mother. According to Echevarria, "The mother/daughter bond will remain a dominant force in your daughter's life for as long as she walks on this earth." Indeed, she suggests that one of the most rewarding relationships is formed when a mother reaches out to mentor her daughter's best friend. Some mothers "cross-mentor" each other's daughters.

A difficult transition
What is happening -- both within girls' own bodies and within our society -- to make the challenges they face more dangerous and complex than for any previous generation? Because puberty happens earlier and is more apparent in girls than boys, it can be a very difficult transition.

"Whether she likes it or not, whether she means to or not, whether it's fair or not, your daughter now makes a sexual statement every time she walks into a room that contains other people," Echevarria writes. "Girls find themselves pigeonholed by males (young and old) who make assumptions about sexuality based on the prominence of a young woman's breasts." Today's changing society makes it even tougher for girls to adjust to their own changing bodies. "Girls are struggling with media manipulation, uncertain moral standards, self-loathing arising from impossible standards of physical beauty, heavy peer pressure concerning sexuality and substance abuse, and a host of sobering academic and career dilemmas," she says. (Continued...)

To the next page: The thirteen crises

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