Girl Talk: Who Wants to RAISE Their Self-Esteem?

Interview with Dr. Carol Langlois by “Out of Ink”

In her new book “Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image” Dr Carol Langlois seeks to provide teenage girls with the tools they need to RAISE their self-esteem. Here we chat with Dr Carol, teen self-esteem expert to find out more about her work and the importance of healthy self-esteem development in teenage girls.

Self-esteem issues can corrode many aspects of our lives. Eating disorders, lack of direction, hopelessness, depression, binge drinking and suicide are some examples that have a high association with low self-esteem.  In Australia, suicide amongst teenagers and young adults is one of the leading causes of death, second only to motor vehicle accidents.

Girl Talk: Boys, Bullies and Body Image” is a compilation of interviews with teens girls – their stories, their challenges, their choices and their journey towards self-discovery and empowerment. Throughout each interview, Carol helps the reader to breakdown the issues discussed, offering points of reflection and an effective and practical guide designed to RAISE (Resilience, Attitude, Independence, Self-Respect and Empowerment) teen self-esteem.

What initially drew you towards researching and working with teenage girls and their self-esteem issues?

I’m a trained therapist, academic researcher, educational consultant and writer. My primary area of interest is in female self-esteem development among teens.  During my training, I counselled hundreds of clients in one-on-one sessions as well as in group settings, mostly working with 18/19 year old freshman. They tended to have one of 4 issues when coming to speak with me – identity development challenges, an eating disorder, binge drinking issues, and/or poor choices/lack of direction. 

Some teens go to college fearful of change. Their identity in high school may have been strongly defined by their friends, sports teams or some sort of label (like the cool girls, or the popular girls) so when they get to college they don’t know “who they are or who they want to be.” 

College is the perfect time for exploration and discovery; however, some girls are too fearful to even explore. Afraid to make a mistake. That’s where I see a lot of the eating disorders and binge drinking coming to play. They don’t know where to begin. They are frozen; lost. It’s frightening. This is very different  from a girl, who is comfortable enough with herself and her self-esteem to try figure out who she wants to be in college…to explore. To try new things. To succeed…to grow.   

For more from this interview click here.

Teaching teen girls that saying “NO” isn’t a dirty word.

Just say no!”  Do you remember hearing this phrase in the late ’80s and early ’90s? This saying served as the basis for an anti-drug campaign during those years.  It quickly became popular as a response to many things (drugs the least of them) and even a kind of cultural joke.  But if only it were that simple. For girls, this word is often clouded by invisible pressures relating to what they ought to do or ought to be, eclipsing their own desires.  Saying “no” can mean a girl is refusing societal expectations and voicing what she wants, and it can be very hard, but girls need to learn early on this is something they can do.

When girls believe they must attend to everyone else’s needs before their own, their self-esteem suffers.  Stephen Hinshaw writes in his book The Triple Bind that girls now feel compelled to be all things to everyone – attractive, sexy, smart, athletic — and hearing that there are “no more barriers” for girls only exacerbates the pressures they feel, mostly because this isn’t true.  Yet, if parents and girls believe not just that they can do anything, but they should do everything, a girl’s individual needs gets buried at the bottom of a long pile of expectations.  Girls live in “response mode,” not listening to their own voices and not prioritizing what they really want versus what others want for them or what they think they must do to be appreciated and noticed.

Saying “no” means exercising one’s voice – literally, by speaking the word, but also figuratively by being in touch with one’s own will and speaking out against what someone else imposes.  For a girl, saying “no” can mean standing up to her parents and risking punishment.  Saying “no” can mean confronting peer pressure and feeling shunned.  Saying “no” can mean refusing a boyfriend’s requests and risking a relationship.  But it can mean a giant step forward in prioritizing her needs and it also means practice with building leadership skills.  It can help set the stage to becoming a woman who is assertive, confident, and knows how to hone in on what she most desires from the pile of expectations heaped upon her. 
Girls need to start to understand that “no” is not a dirty word when they are young.  By assuring them that voicing their wishes respectfully won’t have repercussions girls gain in self-esteem and a stronger sense of individuality.  Give girls examples of how saying “no” is actually a productive move.  Parents can encourage girls to understand what their limits are and how to compassionately refuse obligations that are about pleasing others and not themselves.
The woman who complains about needing to be “Superwoman” and having to “do it all” is a cliché – based on many grains of truth.  Girls who can’t say “no” but feel crushing pressure to deny their voices in service of meeting others’ expectations suffer more since they don’t yet know there is another way.  Help girls “just say ‘no'” literally — by allowing them to hear you say it, and articulating why, and by telling them the word “no” actually is a very positive one.

The Duck Syndrome (Anxiety and Perfectionism Among Young Women)

Recently, I learned about the duck syndrome from a friend of mine at Stanford University. The duck syndrome is apparently running rampant at many colleges (and from my research) at many high schools as well. What is the duck syndrome? Well, think of the duck gliding along the water. She looks very serene, calm and pleasant. Then, look under the water and s/he is paddling frantically. That is the duck syndrome. Too many students on the outside are appearing calm, cool and collected while on the inside they are completely stressed out.  As women, we want to see ourselves being able to have it all.  To be the great student, great athlete, and well-liked by her peers, which typically means being social. But what price do we pay?  Proving we can do it all has transformed into an ugly state of unattainable expectations and extremes, which are unhealthy for any girl at any age. This is a recipe for disaster that really goes against what feminism truly stands for.

I believe high school is where this syndrome starts to formulate. Many of the girls that suffer from the duck syndrome in college were probably “big fish in small pond” at their high school. Most teens want to be popular, and to be popular these days means that you can do it all. I see high school students staying up ridiculously late doing homework, always wanting the A, playing on one if not two sports teams, and also expecting to go out every weekend. All this can lead to anxiety, depression, and unhealthy habits. When they get to college, which could have 12 to 20,000 students, being big fish is not so easy anymore so the stakes get higher.  During college, the classes (typically) are more difficult with more homework, papers and tests. If they see their peers staying out late and still getting good grades, they feel the peer pressure to attain the same and compete among the top percent,  to be popular, to be perfect. This means more competition and pressure for top grades with less sleep.  We need to teach our teens that setting limits for themselves never means failure, but in fact it means a healthy and happy life with realistic and attainable goals. Paddling frantically is literally for the birds.