In this fifth installment of our Steve Biddulph series, the author talks about the culture of competitiveness and how we can help our girls to counteract it.
We live in a culture that worships success.
What we see on the covers of magazines, on endless TV shows, and acclaimed in school assemblies and stories on the news, are people who are the best and the most rich, famous, talented or just eye-candy qualified to have everybody know their name.
Since barely one in 10,000 people can meet these criteria, then it’s a rather odd goal, since it means that the majority of we ordinary folk are therefore to be considered failures.
We adults take this with a grain of salt, but our kids, and especially girls, can be terribly set up for feeling they are of no use.
The consensus among mental health experts is that a combination of factors.
Social media, the busy-ness and distractedness of parents and an increased academic pressure at school are all considered as contributing to this wider problem.
There is also a fairly horrific competitiveness among many girls themselves that has led to intense anxiety that they somehow don’t fit in – or that they don’t measure up to what society – and their peers – expects of them.
They find themselves waking at 3am to check their screen for a word of affirmation.
If nobody “likes” you then nobody likes you.
The deep down secret nobody tells young people is that we aren’t measured by external success.
In fact, success requires abandoning most of the things that are of value in life – such as friendship, looking after others, peace and reflection, family, love, or being truly creative or free.
Because in the pursuit of such success there just isn’t time.
In his work researcher Peter Benson discovered a remarkable thing that helps protect the well-being of young people.
Researching for my book Ten Things Girls Need Most, I was blown away by how true, and how important this finding was.
According to Benson, every young person has a spark - an interest, passion or love that if encouraged, gives them a reason to be alive.
For some its creativity, for some it is caring - for animals, children, the environment, for some it’s a hobby or sport.
But none of it is about pleasing or impressing others. And, in fact, If that element of evaluation is introduced, then it will simply spoil any benefits that come from it.
What if education was based that way - that kids were encouraged to follow what they really wanted to learn and do?
For now it’s up to us at home and in the community to provide this lifesaving help.
Kids with a spark do better at school - but it is a side effect.
They meet more interesting and different adults through their pursuit.
They don’t worry about their looks or if they are hot or cool. They don’t desperately mind what their peers are doing or think of them.
But most importantly, they have a reason to be alive.
They don’t self-harm or have eating disorders or depression. They can’t wait to get back to doing whatever it is they love.
Benson said a spark needs three things - a parent who helps it to happen, an adult at school or elsewhere who encourages them, and the simple opportunity to do it.
From ukelele playing to wombat rescue, ballroom dancing to rock climbing, your daughter has something that she is in the world to do.
It matters, it goes somewhere, and your job is to find it. Or just give her the time to find it herself.
This is the road to real success. Balanced and happy, whether anybody notices or not.
Retired pyschologist and parent expert Steve Biddulph is the author of the Ten Things Girls Need Most, Manhood, and Raising Boys.