Daughters: From Childhood Through Adolescence

Find out what to expect as your daughter passes through pre-adolescence to her emerging sense of self.

Daughters: From Childhood Through Adolescence

Woman to Woman

Approximately 95 percent of those who suffer bulimia or anorexia are females. Only 5 to 10 percent are males. A study by the American Association of University Women reported some disturbing findings that clearly show how self-image diminishes as girls grow. Sixty percent of elementary school girls in the study said they felt happy with themselves. This number fell to half of that, 30 percent, by high school. Sadly enough, 10 percent of American women are reported to starve, binge, or purge themselves. This number doubles to 20 percent during adolescence. And as if that weren't troubling enough, nearly 15 percent of anorexic women die.

Growing up means becoming one's own person. With that come differing opinions, rebellion, and loss of complete parental control. The humorous thing is that when daughters begin to exhibit this perfectly natural behavior, many of us cringe! Life was simpler when they didn't question our authority.

Preadolescence, a Preview of What's to Come

Somewhere between 10 and 11 years old, Sally develops the ability to see things from different points of view—hers included. More and more she will begin evaluating Mom's opinions and how they stack up with her own. This ability to begin to see things from different points and return to the original is called "reversibility thinking."

It may be comforting to keep in mind that much of that original opinion may be made up of the values and ideals little Sally has been raised to believe in before this new era of independent analysis.

Adolescence, Agony, and Ambivalence

The onset of puberty, adolescence, and moral independence is a particularly precarious time for daughters and an era of trauma for their mothers. Once this phase sprouts into full bloom an outgoing, productive Sally can turn into a frustrating, sulky, self-centered young teenager.

Matrophobia, or the fear of becoming like one's mother, is particularly prevalent in adolescence. In fact, it is so common in Western culture that many experts consider it normative behavior.

Building Blocks

Matrophobia is the fear of becoming like one's mother or emulating her basic characteristics. If the fear is particularly potent, a woman may estrange herself from her mother in order to establish her own identity.

The Adolescent Self

All of the sudden sociological (magazine and media ads) and biological (hormonal) forces are demanding that Sally focus on a physical presence that is attractive to the opposite sex. According to Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., author of A Woman's Book of Life, these forces are so powerful that a happy, well-adjusted young girl may become confused and ambivalent over who she was and who she is supposed to be. The pushes and pulls to strengthen "the power to be or the power to please" can, Borysenko claims, exacerbate the onset of depression.

The whole idea of "self versus others" makes the young woman in transition feel conflicted by family pressures, the influence of friends, and pride in her own independence. If she feels guilty for the pride and satisfaction she feels in her own independence, there is a risk she might forego her own attitudes, desires, and opinions in favor of the posture of peacekeeper. Borysenko warns that the role of peacekeeper is performed by connecting with others but excluding oneself. She says that society reinforces this because we grow up with the belief that a good woman is not selfish.

Women who grow up and deny their own identities to win favor of others miss out on the cornerstone of intimacy and mature love, a hearty dose of self-respect.

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