Teaching Girls how to Look BEYOND the Mirror
We have so many mirrors at KidSHINE. A whole wall of mirrors. Sometimes the mirrors can be a distraction (especially when we are working with preschool aged children- preschoolers LOVE to stare at themselves in the mirror). My staff and I have learned to use the mirrors with our younger clients as an OT tool to promote skill building. A mirror is a vertical surface; working on a vertical surface promotes shoulder stability, wrist extension and intrinsic dexterity. Using dry erase markers allows children to practice handwriting and drawing a person without "permanently decorating" a mirror. Looking in the mirror while doing a core or motor planning exercise helps with motor learning. Our wall of mirrors has become a valuable therapeutic medium. But with the influx of older children (tweens and teens) in our clinic, the mirrors have taken on a whole new meaning- especially with girls. Our goal is to empower each girl to look BEYOND the mirror so she can embrace all of her inner strengths.
As the mother of 3 children in the teen and tween years (two are girls), I spend much of my day wishing I could hide all the mirrors in my house. Many teenagers in general are hyper-focused on a combination of what they SEE in the mirror and what they HEAR (or read) in social media- and this infatuation with physical and portrayed image, although not just isolated to girls (or mirrors) anymore, is increasing in severity. I recently read an essay in the Wall Street Journal that emphasized the impact of social media on adolescent girls sense of self and sense of worth (Pipher, M. and Gilliam, S. 2019), and the underlying themes of anxiety, bullying, depression and decreased self worth in teens due to social media influences is terrifying.
I witness this social influence when I talk to my daughter, her friends and sadly many of our female clients of ALL AGES. When I hear what girls are saying about themselves and to each other, I desperately want to help reframe this thinking. Even when I take a step back and think "I remember being obsessed with image (and the mirror) as a teenager and I turned out ok!", I have to pause and recognize that we live in a completely different culture with additional hurdles (for girls especially) complicated by technology. Back "in the olden days" there was no social media, no texting, snapping, tweeting, Facebook or Instagram. The cultural shifts and reliance on social media adds an additional element of challenge for girls to accept themselves as beautiful, smart and amazing. How do we impart on our daughters "Just DO YOU- YOU ARE ENOUGH. LOVE YOURSELF" and teach girls filter out all the influential "noise" and clutter around them? Practice living the way we want our daughters to live. Live purposefully, limit social media "distractions", exude confidence, and believe in yourself and your own accomplishments.
As moms, teachers, therapists and role models, adults have a responsibility to guide their daughters to make choices that are going to influence their development. Allow your daughter to see your bonds with family, friends and significant others. Stand firm in your convictions with others. Be passionate about your career or your cause or your hobby. Be a "girlfriend" to your daughter, but remember you are also her mother. Smile at yourself in the mirror. It is also important to remember that girls develop self image and self worth at a very young age, so by instilling inner mantras, mind maps and connections with self as early as preschool, teens will be better able to access these tools when they enter the inevitably tumultuous years (where somedays nothing feels right and nothing makes sense).
We have a girls empowerment program at KidSHINE. This program follows our general KidSHINE Bootcamp mission and philosophy of using exercise to build strength, endurance, focus and confidence. In addition, in Girls Empowerment, we pause between strength building and physical challenges to talk about how each girl can nurture her inner self and support not only herself, but also her girlfriends. Girls write mantras, identify what makes each of them special, and set attainable strength, social and confidence goals for themselves. We teach the girls about strong female role models (in social media, politics, and local moms too) and we value having the girls express what they are confident about and support one another with their accomplishments.
We don't need to cover the mirrors during our Girls Empowerment Class, as the girls are learning to look more deeply at themselves, learning to look BEYOND the mirror instead of in the mirror, remembering to love themselves and to value what makes each one of them amazing. Whatever your daughter's passion is- help her embrace it and empower her to be proud of it.