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Expectations for Tween Girls

It's hard to be a boy, but when it comes to being pressured, girls rule. Yes, girls have more opportunities today, but they're under a triple whammy when it comes to expectations, says Stephen P. Hinshaw, Ph.D., chair of the department of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls From Today's Pressures. Girls today feel they have to be good at:

  • All the traditional girl stuff (look pretty, be nice, be popular with boys);
  • Most of the traditional guy stuff (be athletic, win awards);
  • Conforming to an unrealistic set of standards (doing it all, effortlessly, while still looking great).

Tween girls aren't immune from the pressure. In fact, it's even more confusing for them, says Hinshaw. "Kids under twelve don't have the same perspective as teens, so they're more puzzled by the contradictions. They may think, 'I'm expected to know how to look cute.'" We asked Hinshaw what parents can do:

Remember that family matters. We tend to think that peers trump parents, but that's not true. So eat dinner as a family whenever you can or just hang out. The payoff? It helps her feel more connected, and that's key for strengthening her resilience and self-esteem.

Give her a sense of the wider world "You don't want your daughter to internalize expectations and blame herself for failing to meet them," says Hinshaw. One way to prevent that: Community service. Helping others will build up her sense of empathy and let her know that the outside world is as important as the one at school. Watch what she's watching "One of the problems with the images girls see in the media is they think that's the only reality there is," Hinshaw says. "So ask your tween why she thinks that character is wearing such a short skirt, say. It's a way of keeping her engaged and alternative ideas flowing."