First of two parts.
Q. I need some information about raising daughters. Are there any special child-rearing issues involved for girls? What are some good books for raising a daughter?
-- Ann Mayhew, Troutman, N.C.
A. Because of recent groundbreaking research on girls' psychology, experts now believe that one of the biggest issues in raising daughters is the plunge in self-esteem that coincides with adolescence.
There's lots of information on this topic, and we'll cover it in two parts. Today's column defines the problem. Next week we'll focus on practical things parents can do to help.
Research has shown that by middle adolescence (ages 15 and 16), only 27 percent of girls feel good about themselves, whereas 67 percent of boys at that age still have a positive self-image.
Furthermore, most girls are likely to continue to be unhappy with themselves, while boys continue to feel positive, says John Dacey, a professor of human development at Boston College who researches girls and self-esteem and has three daughters of his own.
Dacey believes this self-esteem crisis begins between ages 9 and 12, because that's when girls reach a stage of mental maturity that allows them to truly examine themselves and become aware of how others view them.
"Girls have been exposed to the culture's suggestions of their inferiority before adolescence, but now is when they can understand it," says Dacey, co-author of "The Nurturing Parent" (Fireside) who is writing a new book on fearful children.
Our culture's insistence that only one or two female body types are desirable, the way girls observe their mothers being treated in society and how girls are told by adults to behave ("be nice"), all contribute to this erosion of self-esteem.
This erosion process was first identified in research by the Harvard University "Project on the Psychology of Women and the Development of Girls," and in the resulting nationwide study on girls' self-esteem conducted in 1990 by the American Association of University Women.
This research found that one of the biggest affronts to a girl's self-esteem is schoolteachers.
"The research indicates that teachers pay more attention and give more instruction to boys," Dacey says. "Female teachers don't expect boys to stifle their aggressive impulses as much as they do girls."
Teachers also tend to praise girls more for the neatness and appearance of their work than for the quality of their work, he says.
Here's a reading list recommended by Child Life readers and experts that focuses on defining the problems. Next week's column includes books that center on practical solutions.
"Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls" by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. (Ballantine).
"Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School" by Carol Gilligan, Nona Lyons and Trudy Hanmer (Harvard University Press).
"Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls' Development" by Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan (Ballantine).
"The Mother Daughter Revolution" by Elizabeth Debold, Marie Wilson and Idelisse Malave (Addison Wesley).
"Altered Loves: Mothers and Daughters During Adolescence" by Terri Apter, (Fawcett).
There's a new newsletter specifically on raising girls called Daughters ($25 a year). To subscribe, call (800) 829-1088).
Next Sunday: How to avoid the self-esteem plunge.
Can you help?
OFF THE BOTTLE: "How do you get a 2-year-old off the bottle without severely disrupting them or upsetting them?" asks Georgia Campanelli of Canton, Ohio. "I'd like to hear from parents who have done it."
Child Life is a forum for parents to ask child-rearing questions and share tips with other parents. If you have advice, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to email@example.com