4 steps for teaching girls to combat negative media

Nov 27, 2014, 7:39 PM | Updated: 7:39 pm
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If you worry about the negative influence of media on your daughter’s beliefs and behaviors, you’re not alone. Educate your child to be aware of media messages, know how to respond, and find ways to counteract them.

1. Find the source. The issue is not just about media but which are the most prevalent in your child’s life. Consider, what does media look like in your home? What is your child’s go-to electronic device? Hold a family council and ask those very questions. Then follow up with how much each child (and parent!) has spent on the device in the past 24 hours. Discuss some of the messages you’ve seen or received and how they have made the person feel.

Different media affect people in various ways. In one survey, 69 percent of girls in 5th through 12th grade said that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape — even though these images are unrealistically enhanced. And seven out of 10 women said that after looking through fashion magazines they felt depressed and angry.

Help your children understand how these messages are coming to them, whether it’s through YouTube, music videos, Facebook images or plain old TV.

A few years ago I watched a family show with my girls on television. During one of the commercial breaks it hit me that each ad had told me something I needed to have, be, or look like in order to get a man’s attention. Things like pouty lips; silky smooth skin; and glossy, natural-looking colored hair. Finally, I shouted at the screen, “I don’t need that,” or “Nope, not true,” etc. My girls joined in and though we chuckled at the experience, it made the point that we were hearing messages that didn’t ring true.

2. Explain the why. Talk frankly with your children about the effects of these media messages, both subtle and overt. Explain that over time it can change their beliefs and behaviors. Research tells us that eating disorders are up 400 percent since 1970. One study showed that 80 percent of 9-year-olds were on a diet.These messages seep into our kids’ psyche, possibly affecting their self-image and choices.

The next time you see or hear a negative media message with your kids, pause and ask: What message did you just hear? Do you agree with it? Where will that message lead a person? Too often media portrays a one-dimensional image that isn’t even close to real life. Yet our children may not understand this. One study shared that in a given year, the average teenager receives about 14,000 messages of sexual content or innuendo. But only about 165 of those messages share any kind of natural consequence or outcome.

3. Give your girls a voice. Teach them to say how they feel in a kindly candid way. If we don’t educate them, our daughters can accept abnormal messages or behaviors as the norm. One woman married and on her honeymoon the husband was rough with her during intimacy. When she questioned it, he basically said, this is how intimacy is. If we don’t teach our daughters to know healthy ways to be treated, they can think the media messages — which often share violent themes toward women — are somehow normal.

In using her voice, a daughter can also educate the young man she is with on how she is to appropriately be treated. Saying phrases like, “Thanks for opening my door,” or, “Thanks for using clean language,” or, “I really enjoyed talking tonight, that was great,” helps him understand what is healthy and positive.

4. Focus on her as a whole person. Encourage your daughter to develop talents, cultivate personality traits, and connect in healthy friendships. These become positive pillars for her to lean on when one life area gets tough. As she learns more about who she is and what she can do, the need to be considered pretty or popular will recede. She’ll become more confident and clear. She can be herself in all situations without needing to look, act or be a certain way to receive approval.

As mothers, we can help by not only supporting those traits and talents, but by developing our own. When our daughters see us enjoy various parts of our personality, or learn a new hobby — and fail and laugh through the process — it helps them see how a real person lives.

We can combat the negative media messages our children receive as we help them become aware and proactive in dealing with them.

Connie Sokol is an author, presenter, TV contributor and mother of seven. Contact her at www.conniesokol.com.

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4 steps for teaching girls to combat negative media