Below are the first three of six insights about whether teenagers grow up utilizing courage and what you can do to awaken and confirm this critical virtue in teenagers you know and love:
1. Teenage girls are encouraged to display their unique courage and they equally support other girls for their individuality. Teenagers have a big problem supporting each other’s unique personalities. Conformity, the opposite of courage, is more the required standard of acceptance, and girls frequently taunt or ostracize each other if they declare their originality. Girls tend to brand each other with unfavorable labels, and this negative branding can last a lifetime if the girl internalizes the cruel comments. These behaviors undermine self-esteem and suppress speaking up. Phyllis Chesler’s years of research led her to conclude in Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman: “Nice girls are not necessarily nice at all—and that most girls know this.… The teenage girls who engage in policing, shaming, and ostracizing other teenage girls are not exactly passive victims, but are in fact each of them actively protecting their own self-interest.”
What can you do? Independently speak up and declare, “Now is the time for women to stop gossiping, backbiting and slandering other women.” Betrayal will never advance teenage girls, and grudges only keep us pedaling in the same spot (even at work). Stop double standards for boys and girls. Do not encourage feelings of loneliness or rejection because a girl expresses her individuality in spite of the latest trend with the “in” crowd. The individualists among our girls tend to be labeled as “too strong,” so take advantage of every opportunity to support the courage portrayed by each girl—the girl who is willing to stand alone on an issue, the girl who honestly expresses what no one else can (or will), the girl who chooses to be her true self, changing her behavior to reflect her spirit. Elevating your personal courage is not a sin. It is a virtue!
2. Girls learn to exhibit their courage at a young age when they communicate openly and demonstrate supportive behaviors. Chesler continues, “Like girls, adult women intimates value their connection to each other so much that they are willing to sacrifice direct and honest communication.” Unfortunately, young girls are unskilled at speaking directly much less being able to express exactly what they think. This makes a courageous teen stand out from the crowd. How teenage girls demonstrate communication skills starts in grammar school, witnessing their parents and their community leaders.
What can you do? Support speaking directly without manipulation. Do not accept so quickly what one girl says about another girl. Observe if you speak more caringly and forgivingly to a boy. If so, why do you respond with different standards?
3. Girls demonstrate courage when they comfortably express their accomplishments and when they are openly complimentary to peers. Speaking up to share your experiences, such as getting an A on a paper or genuinely complimenting another girl for her courage is often considered boasting or bragging, so girls are uncomfortable (and lack support) to express their accomplishments. Girls rarely express their accomplishments because it can be judged as haughty bragging. At this extreme it is not pretty and neither is “machisma.” Research now indicates that girls commonly ask out guys and that they are comfortable expressing this behavior. In other words, girls initiate the contact and consider it normal. So what’s wrong with expressing pride in your hard-earned accomplishments or newfound insights?
What can you do? There is nothing wrong with “going for it”—being all you can be. Advance your accomplishments (large or small) with grace, and encourage others. Extending compliments spurs support and extends genuine hospitality.
Stay tuned for Part II.
Sandra Ford Walston, The Courage Expert
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