Fostering Courage, Strength, and Compassion in Adolescent Girls

Editor's Note: While this article is written with adolescent girls and their female role models in mind, it also can be applied to adolescent boys and their male role models. The issues are very similar in respect to self-esteem, self-worth, being positive role models, etc.

As a parent and educator, I continually search for ways to reach, nurture, and empower girls so that they may value their caring nature and keep the strength of their child spirit. The task is challenging because adolescent girls not only face the age old issues of coming of age, they must also deal with attitudes, problems, and pressures that were once reserved for adults. Parents and teachers must overcome tremendous obstacles to accomplish the task of fostering courage, strength, and compassion in our girls.

A recent Nike Ad featuring a female runner being pursued by a chainsaw-wielding attacker brought the issues young women face to the fore for me once again. Horrified, I got on my activist soapbox and encouraged all who I knew to protest. Why? Because if our voices are not heard as a unified plea to help our children, the media's assault to our senses and sensibilities will continue. When we speak out against actions that diminish our girls, we present ourselves as strong, caring, and courageous role models.

Advertisers and scriptwriters continually present women in violent and degrading scenes and we, as parents and educators, must deal with the fall-out. Rather than become discouraged, we need to stand up and be noticed. We have a powerful voice! Our girls hear us rise up to speak, and they learn from our words and actions. The first step in the process of raising strong girls is to be a positive role model.

Positive role models are critical to a child's development. Girls need adults in their lives who model assertiveness, strength, caring, and responsiveness. They need to see the women in their lives value and foster positive relationships. We need to empower them to make decisions and solve problems within the safety net of our love and guidance. Girls need to see us working to continually improve our ability to communicate our needs, hopes, and concerns so that we nurture others but don't lose ourselves. In a world defined by clothing labels, media hype, and gender stereotypes, girls need role models who base their identity and self-worth on who they are as people, rather than how pretty or fashionable they are.

Given the power of the media and the negative messages it sends about women, we must educate our girls to recognize and reject this conditioning. First, we must work to understand how the media and our culture impact our thinking, and with that understanding learn to revive our true selves. Only, then we can help our young women understand this conditioning and make conscious choices about who they are and what they want rather than subconsciously conform to society's expectations.

Each one of us is a powerful role model for the adolescent girls we reach. We cannot be too assertive in sharing our views or providing a good example. They need us desperately at this point in their lives. Let your voice be heard!

© 1997. Published by New Society Publishers,

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Book written by Susan Fitzell:

Free the Children: Conflict Education for Strong, Peaceful Minds
by Susan Fitzell.

This book offers a unique approach to helping ourselves and our children break free from negative cultural and media conditioning that creates aggression and conflict. Covering pre-K through twelfth grade, it presents five essential components necessary for an effective conflict education curriculum that is developmentally appropriate, and explores key issues including raising a peaceful male child in a violent world; the effect of media violence on children; school bullies; dating violence; and empowering adolescent girls to refuse the role of the "victim".

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About The Author

Susan Fitzell, M.Ed. Susan Fitzell, M.Ed. is the author of Free the Children: Conflict Education for Strong, Peaceful Minds, a book that offers a unique approach to helping ourselves and our children break free from negative cultural and media conditioning that creates aggression and conflict. Susan is professional speaker, trainer and educational consultant specializing in developmentally appropriate curriculum for character and conflict education, empowerment and special needs. Visit her website at

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