|Photography: Sophie Baker|
By Alison Stegert
We parents have got to stop raising such nice girls. “Nice” doesn't cut it anymore. In fact, “nice” may disadvantage our children*.
“No more nice girls” sounds radical, and, to some, it may even border on scandalous. Surely we should train our daughters to be nice, especially in the current reign of mean girls and the age of relational aggression. Isn't that what the world needs most – a little more love and kindness?
The thing is, there is a gaping chasm between niceness and loving kindness.
It is true that today's girls seem lost. The news regularly features stories of girls doing very ungirly things – street fighting like common thugs, swearing like stevedores, bullying shamelessly. Not too long ago the Australian media ran a story about two teenage girls who beat up an elderly lady and stole her purse. Today's girls are a confused lot. The foul-mouthed, scantily clad, mentorless young women are an indictment on our society. We have let them down.
Truth be told, the sweet, innocent and “nice” are not much better off. The world says, “Be brash.” The glossy magazines scream, “You're not skinny enough!” and “Pout like you mean it!” Music lyrics and media suggest, “Sexy is as sexy does.” All the while, some girls' mums are saying, “Just be nice.” It's no wonder our girls are confused.
Niceness disempowers our girls. It steals their voice and softens their backbone. Being nice makes them passive in the face of abuse. You see: nice girls don't talk back. Nice girls don't want to upset people, because nice girls are, evidently, responsible for other people's moods.
This is dangerous. Today, girls are exposed to more opportunities for danger. Even at home, in their bedrooms, with parents nearby, girls can encounter corrupting influences via the internet. Now, more than ever before, girls need to know it's okay to be NOT nice.
Our girls must be allowed to speak up and to assert themselves. They have to know that it's okay to say, “NO!” They need their voice and their backbone in tact, but if the ultimate expectation is “niceness”, they're stuffed.
Parents, we must train our girls to recognise and heed their gut reaction. If something doesn't “feel right”, they need to know it is okay to decline. If they feel scared or guilty or pushed, we allow them – encourage them – to say no. They can even shout it. Please, let's give our daughters permission even to be downright rude if they sense they are in danger.
Girls need to witness confident kindness in their mothers, female teachers, and the adult women in their lives. Ladies, we need to speak up. We must demonstrate to our daughters what it looks like to be assertive yet kind. When we are mistreated, we must not cower, but rather say, “I don't like being treated that way. I would prefer if you didn't swear in front of my kids” – or whatever unsavoury thing is going down.
Confident kindness is a new paradigm to replace wimpy, pushover niceness. Kindness borne out of confidence is caring and strong, pleasant and positive. Genuine kindness comes out of the balance of loving others as we love ourselves. Confident kindness carries the expectation of gentle, attractive behaviour, but without the hidden message to “shut up and put up” inherent in niceness.
A confidently kind girl can and will say, “No”. She'll heed her instincts. She won't take responsibility for other people's moods, a stance which protects her against manipulation and abuse.
5 Steps to Raise Confidently Kind Girls
- Train them in empathy. Talk about feelings; build their emotional vocabulary. Help them understand the way their actions are felt and perceived by others. For many kids, empathy does not come naturally – and it's a crucial component of kindness.
- Don't ban “talking back”. Rather, ban disrespect. Girls need permission and practice in articulating what's bothering them. They must gain experience vocalising what's troubling them in a respectful way, and, guess what, parents? They need to practise on you! Don't shut them down if they tell you they feel mistreated (by you). Praise them for vocalising it, and help them word it and express it in a respectful way.
- A mother demonstrating assertiveness is empowering to her daughters, as it caught as much as (or more than) it's taught. Mum, if someone mistreats you, speak up respectfully.
- Train them to tune into their gut feelings. If they've done the wrong thing, help them recognise and name the sensations associated with remorse. If they've been mistreated, help them vocalise it. If someone is manipulating them, help them see it and know what those sensations are. These are vital, protective life skills.
- Help your daughter understand that she is responsible for her behaviour: She should do the right thing so she can be confident. Other people's anger or sulking is their business. Help her learn to separate what is “her stuff” from what is “their stuff”.
“Nice” is not the be-all. Set your sights on something better for your daughter – confident kindness.
* Much of this article can be applied to boys, too; however, the expectation of “niceness” is not so prevalent for them.
Alison Stegert is a school counsellor, former church pastor, writer and author. She blogs at eQuipped and Tweets here.