Deborah Gilboa is a family physician, author, mom of four and the host of iQ: smartparent. Her most recent episode is about helping girls build self-esteem, so I asked Dr. G to tell us a little about it. Here are her words:
Girls have more opportunities than any generation before! Opportunities to play lacrosse and dolls, paint and perform, debate, be a math Olympiad or a game code writer. Women can do or be almost anything, and career paths are more open than at any time in history.
So why does a girl’s self-esteem peak between the ages of 9 and 11?
A girl’s self-esteem peaks at age nine because that is just before the developmental change when kids begin to look outward and compare themselves to the images they see. The age at which a boy’s self-esteem peaks has also been falling steadily, though girls are a little “ahead.” The media wants our kids to find themselves lacking so that parents and kids will spend money trying to fix it.
Why do teen magazine covers consistently feature only models, actresses and singers, with the occasional Olympic gymnast thrown in? Why do TV shows and movies portray very few women in traditionally “male” careers when compared to the actual, real-life numbers of women in those fields? Why are girls dressed as sultry women at younger and younger ages?
Recently, I had the chance to ask some very impressive women these very questions.
I was honored to interview three amazing women, and a whole host of fascinating and savvy teens and their parents, for WQED TV’s new parenting show iQ:smartparent. M. Gigi Durham, PhD, is the author of the best-selling book, The Lolita Effect: The Media’s Sexualization of Girls and What We Can Do About It. Rebecca Gaynier is the founder of iTwixie.com, a moderated social media site strictly for girls, ages 8-14. Jennifer Stancil is the Executive Director of Educational Partnerships at WQED Multimedia, and has spent most of her career innovating how kids see the world around them and their potential within it. This episode taught me a great deal.
They made me question what my kids are learning!
Dr. Durham explained that the media wants our kids (boys AND girls) to focus on “hotness,” even that of young girls. Why? Money. Advertisers. If “hotness” is your main goal, you will keep spending and spending. Because even the people in the pictures we’re seeing don’t look like the people in those pictures!
Rebecca Gaynier cautioned that online relationships and on-screen relationships don’t always bring out the best in girls.
Jen Stancil explained how our results-driven society pushes kids to believe that the packaging is the most important part of a person.
Then these women empowered me.
Dr. Durham demonstrates that kids of every age can learn to be savvy media consumers. Preschoolers can question the drawings they see of princesses, and ask great questions about when those princesses really should be admired. Elementary schoolers can understand what’s on the inside of a person. Tweens and teens need to learn to look for the “the tricks” of photoshop, recreation of people to sell products instead of representing truth.
Ms. Gaynier embodies the goals we have as parents to strengthen our girls’ relationships. Parents and mentors and educators can raise the bar for our children and teens. We have the power to help our kids treat themselves and others respectfully, and to demand that treatment from their friends.
Ms. Stancil encapsulates our roles as positive influences in all kids’ lives when she encourages adults to praise the process. Don’t focus on the grade, the score, the finished picture. Talk about the struggles and the perseverance, the improvement, the teamwork, the courage; focus on the journey.
I’m focusing on the journey.
As a mom of four kids, and a doctor to hundreds more, I am changing how I talk to girls and to boys. Though I may admire beautiful hair or adorable dimples or a sparkly accessory, I’m keeping it to myself. I’m talking about the curious look or the engaging smile or the excellent question.
We can all make a difference in the messages our kids get about what is important about them. Kids steadily feel worse about themselves starting at age ten?
Let’s change that, together.
Doctor G (Deborah Gilboa, MD) – Family Physician, international speaker, author and mom of four – is the host of a new television show on WQED TV: “iQ: smartparent!” From one minute videos on making your life easier while building kids’ character to her downloadable guides (chores at every age, boundaries for tech use and more) Doctor G makes caregiving more simple and more effective. Find her on Facebook or Twitter!