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Giving Girls the Boost They Need to Cope in Life

April 23, 1998|SHARI ROAN | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

More than 48 million girls followed adults' footsteps last year on Take Our Daughters to Work Day. And this year, founders of the event are determined to leave a more lasting impact.

That will come in the form of a powerful book called "Girls Seen and Heard: 52 Life Lessons for Our Daughters" (Tarcher), which is being released today, on the sixth annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day. The idea behind the book, written by the Ms. Foundation for Women and journalist Sondra Forsyth, is to take the lessons learned during the fleeting, once-a-year event and extend them to girls in daily life.

The book should help dispel any image of the event as one that is gimmicky, superficial or unfair to boys. The fact is, girls are disadvantaged in our current culture and require special attention during the key years of transition to adolescence.

Based on the groundbreaking research by Harvard researcher Carol Gilligan, "Girls Seen and Heard" addresses her discovery that girls start out confident about themselves but, by age 16 or so, are confused about their roles and have lost their self-esteem.

While Gilligan's early work was very theoretical and, at times, hard to read and apply practically, this book makes the knowledge usable. It's a collection of 52 short chapters, each addressing a singular topic or "lesson." It's designed to be interactive between a mother--or a father--and daughter or any girl and her mentor. For example, each chapter contains advice for the adult on how to act and what to say to girls to reinforce values and thinking that will help them to remain confident, vocal and visible.

Each chapter also has an activity or two for the girl to do, usually in the form of writing in a journal.

"This book has been written in response to a need: the deluge of calls, letters, faxes and e-mails we have received and responded to over the years. Time and again we have been asked: How can we build girls' confidence not just on one day, but every day?" write Gilligan and Ms. Foundation president Marie C. Wilson, in the preface.

"Girls" is not just tips on how to rear strong, confident girls, however. Some of the most thoughtful work centers on the authors' emphasis that many fallacies are harmful to girls and need to be undone. For instance, many parents believe adolescence is rocky because girls need to break away from their mothers.

"One myth says the goal of adolescence is to separate from your daughter. We see it another way. The goal is to build a strong relationship with your daughter, based on her evolving differently," they write. Moreover, the authors caution against trite advice to girls such as, "You can be anything you want to be." Girls know that this is simply not true. That phrase denies the real problem that needs to be addressed on the unequal division of labor between the sexes.

Another eye-opening lesson is to resist urging girls to be strong and independent in a way that usurps the ability to work collaboratively.

Also, the book advises parents not to rush girls into womanhood. Adolescents may act too cool to be hugged or kissed by their parents or thrown a surprise birthday party or given a stuffed animal for their beds. They're not--they still need their mommies and daddies.

* RELATED STORY

Will your daughter enter the work force early next century only to encounter the same wage gender gap? Story in Business

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