Adolescent girls are currently being diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders at twice the normal rate of any other group within our population! But why is this? Well, many factors, including a risk of reduced self-confidence and self-esteem along with external messages that make girls feel like they are not safe nor capable of handling the scary parts of society are playing a role in spiking anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders among our teenage girls.
If you are spending countless hours desperately searching for behavioral remedies to help reduce your daughter’s specific fears or anxieties, you are in good company. Just google something like “how to help my child’s fear of monsters” and you will find there are as many recipes for home made “monster spray” as there are varieties of chocolate chip cookies! Every night, many well-intentioned parents douse their child’s bedrooms with homemade “monster spray” trying to reduce the child’s encounters with their personal imagined monsters.
But does is this type of ritual really help to address the root causes of a child’s fears and anxieties? The answer is, not really.
While “monster spray” may provide a temporary solution and allow an exhausted family to get some much needed sleep that night, it is not a sustainable approach when it comes to helping kids overcome their fears and deal with their anxiety. Contrarily, it can actually increase their anxiety because the parents are now validating the existence (and power) of these “monsters” and sending a message that even they, as parents, are not totally capable of handling these monsters without some extra help.
Now, before anyone feels judged for having taken these sorts of “parenting short cuts” it is important to keep in mind that the sanity of parents should also be a top priority! So, if monster spray works for a night when nothing else does, then it works! But the problem is most children’s fears do not end after a few nights. Frequently, parents who start using these tactics begin their way down a path that leads to an ongoing internal battle. They eventually ask themselves “Do I keep shielding my child from scary things, or do I push them towards facing their fears and doing things that are really scary for them?”
It is only natural when our first grader says she is scared to go to school that we get fearful. Having thoughts such as, “Is something bad going to happen to her there? or “Does she have the skills she needs to cope?” are normal. We may ask ourselves, “Am I being mean if I force my child to go to school or leave her when she is crying?” These emotional impulses may slowly lead us to become more of an over-accommodating parent. The desire to always provide safety for our child and protect her from everything scary in the world, can put her in situations that don’t serve her best interests in the long run.
Many parents want more than anything to be seen as approachable, accessible, validating and kind by their children. They understand that a “suck it up buttercup” attitude may not always work for their child. However, being validating AND being a catalyst for bravery in your daughter’s life are NOT mutually exclusive approaches. The truly “nice parent” the is one that empathizes with the struggle their child is going through and yet still drives that child towards personal growth. The nicest parent says to their child, “I know going to school can be hard and that you miss being home with me during the day, but I also know that school is good for you and so staying home today is not an option.” They may then ask their child, “How can I help you to feel brave enough to face this today?” This empowers their child rather than leading the child to believe that going to school is too big or too scary for her to handle.
In the end, we must ask ourselves as parents if the use of monster spray tactics are hurting our adolescent girls and contributing to their lowered self-esteem, self-confidence and anxiety? Girls don’t need us to “spray the monsters away”. They need us to move those monsters into the bedroom and help them face their fears with confidence and bravery. As a parent, you can help your daughter to grow and discover she DOES indeed have the ability to be courageous and overcome challenges! Increasing her self-esteem and self-confidence by facing her monsters TOGETHER is one of the best things you can do for your daughter. And she will feel you behind her, every step of the way!