By the HELP Committee and Havre Public Schools for Havre Daily News
Studies show that many girls tend to lose self-confidence and self-worth between the ages of 9 and 13. During this pivotal age, girls become less physically active, perform less well in school, and neglect their own interests and aspirations.
It's during these years that girls become more vulnerable to negative outside influences and to mixed messages about risky behaviors. Launched on Nov. 21, 1996, Girl Power! is a multiphase, national public education campaign sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help encourage and empower 9- to 13-year-old girls to make the most of their lives.
It is also at this time that many things about the girls themselves are changing and they need the extra time and support from caring family members and adults who can help explain the changes in a nonthreatening way. Many of the "early bloomers" become the target of teasing from both boys and girls and begin to feel that in some way they are different or weird. The "late bloomers" also feel targeted. They all need to know that they are perfectly normal and that everyone goes through changes when their body is ready for change and not before.
The Girl Power campaign has materials that can help adults address these issues and many others. The Web page has areas for adults and girls and gives insight into the changing role of being a girl today. It can offer healthy choices and activities to keep girls in top form - body and mind - as well as information about girls who are changing the world in which we live. Being a girl no longer has to define what types of jobs can be held or how far a girl can go in the world. Today's girl needs to know what she wants and that she can achieve or have it if she is willing to work for it.
So how can we help girls of 9 to 13 years of age?
Establish and maintain good communication with your child. Get into the habit of talking with your child every day.
Building a close relationship with her when she's young will make it easier for her to come to you when she has a problem and will help you become more sensitive to her mood changes. With a closer relationship to you, she'll be less likely to develop mental health problems and to experiment with alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs.
Get involved in your child's life. Young people are much less likely to have mental health and substance use problems when they have positive activities to do and when caring adults are involved in their lives. Your involvement and encouragement tell your child that she and her activities are worthwhile and may help her identify and pursue positive goals as she gets older. Additionally, you will be better able to see changes in your child that may indicate a problem.
Make clear, sensible rules for your child. When you do this, you help your child develop daily habits of self-discipline. Following these rules can help protect your child's physical safety and mental well-being, which can lower her risk for substance abuse problems. Some rules, such as "respect your elders," apply to all ages, but many will vary depending on your child's age and level of development.
Set a good example for your child. Think about what you say and how you act in front of her. Your child learns social skills and how to deal with stress by listening to and watching you. Do not take part in illegal, unhealthy, or dangerous practices related to alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs or she may believe that, no matter what you say, these practices are OK. Be careful what you say about mental illness and people with mental illness. Careless statements can lead to stigma, discrimination and a lack of tolerance.
Support your child's social development. Teach your child how to form positive relationships. Research shows that the pressure to use tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs comes most often from wanting to be accepted, wanting to belong and wanting to be noticed. Help your child learn what qualities to look for in a friend, and advise her about what to say if offered harmful substances. Children who have difficulty making friends need your support to avoid being isolated or bullied.
Do you know what your child listens to and reads and how she spends time with her friends? Talking with your child about her interests opens up an opportunity for you to share your values. And research says that monitoring your child's activities is an important way to lower her chances of getting involved in situations you don't approve of, especially those that can be harmful. Unsupervised children simply have more opportunities to experiment with risky behaviors, including the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, and they may start substance abuse at earlier ages.
Many issues that affect young girls also affect boys of the same age - so please, apply any of the above recommendations for boys of similar age.
If you have questions or would like more information, please contact the HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line at 265-6206.