October 11 is International Day Of The Girl and this year’s theme is “Digital Generation. My Generation.” According to a research report by Plan International USA, more than half of our girls will be harassed and bullied online, with 25% of them actually feeling physically unsafe as a result. Our girls were very much living in a digital world before the pandemic, but even more so now. When this generation of girls is living and learning in a digital world, it can take a toll on their self-esteem.
Melody Pourmoradi, founder of GiRLiFE and author of “XOXO, From A Girl Who Gets It,” has expertise in this area. Melody is passionate about our girls and is on a mission to #RedefineNine. By the age of nine years old, our girls will hit the peak of their self-esteem and it declines from there. Melody wants to change that. GiRLiFE is a platform that enables women to create a business hosting empowerment workshops for the girls in their communities, giving them tools to foster strong friendships, initiate self-care, mindfulness, confidence building and more.
Here are 5 ways Melody says we can help our girls keep their self-esteem up while being online.
1. It’s Not Your Fault
“The goal is to empower our girls to use their digital resources for the many wonderful things that it offers, so with that, we need to have some parameters around their digital world,” says Pourmoradi. “It’s a sad reality that our girls can quickly become targets for online predators. We know that just by being online, they will most likely receive some inappropriate or cruel remarks. It’s extremely important that we, as the adults in their lives, let them know that it isn’t their fault. Even if a comment or message is completely unsolicited or unprovoked - our girls can still take it on wondering what they did wrong to receive it. This could lead to them internalizing what was said and not telling the adults in their life. It’s best to warn our girls of this preemptively to let them know that it isn’t their fault if it does happen.”
2. Blocking, Reporting and Checking Privacy Settings
“As women, I know that in an effort to be nice we’ve endured sexist jokes, cruel remarks and snide comments with either a smile or silence. It’s time to give ourselves permission to speak up and hold some boundaries around these things that make us uncomfortable,” notes Pourmoradi. “In doing this, we are modeling to our girls that they can do the same. It doesn’t matter if blocking a classmate will hurt their feelings or make them feel uncomfortable - it’s a boundary that is ok to hold. Let the girl in your life know that they don’t have to worry about hurting someone else’s feelings if they want to block or report them.”
In addition, double check all privacy settings on social media accounts to make sure that personal information, images, etc. aren’t readily available to try and minimize them becoming a target. Use the resources of blocking, reporting and privacy settings to make their online experience a safer one.
3. Tell Someone You Trust
“If you suspect that the girl in your life is being targeted and they are hesitant to open up to you about it, first, let them know that it’s not their fault and second, offer up another trusted adult that they could talk to. Like a grandparent, teacher or therapist. Sometimes it’s easier for them to open up about their experience to a third party,” says Pourmoradi. “It’s normal and totally ok, the main thing is that they are able to tell someone so they can get the help they need, the perspective that they are not alone and the intervention to stop the harassment. Again, it’s best if you preemptively discuss this so that girls know who they can turn to should this happen.”
4. Find Sources Of Strength
“Because so much of our lives are lived online, it’s important to help our girls find alternative sources of strength,” urges Pourmoradi. “Whether it’s family, a friend group, a faith or organization - help your girl find confidence in offline places. Strong connections with others, especially over a shared goal, creates confidence and helps raise self-esteem. Cultivate and show interest in what she’s interested in, find activities that you can do together that she excels at. Offline connections really boost a sense of self and foster a deeper connection with the people in her life. This, in turn, helps her find sources of strength beyond social media.”
5. Lift Others Up
“Urge the girls in your life to be champions for one another, online and offline. From standing up for one another if they see online harassment happen, or simply commenting positively on a friend’s post is a great way to start,” says Pourmoradi. “The internet is an easy place to be cruel, but our cups are filled when we are kind. Remind the girl in your life that a kind comment can go a long way in helping another girl feel their worth. If we model this in our own lives, it’s easier for them to do it, too. Be kind and respectful in your own digital world as to model respectful and confidence-boosting interactions in theirs.”