Women in today’s world collectively face an increasingly steep set of challenges. Even though the fight for gender equality steers in a more progressive direction by the day, the uphill battle requires a focused means of educating our girls and equipping them for the world ahead.

In our world today I believe that we teach empowerment and leadership skills to girls 20 years too late, which is one reason I cofounded Girls Rule Foundation to inspire, educate and empower the next generation of leaders. We can’t expect girls to fill the leadership roles, political roles, STEM roles, CEO roles and entrepreneur roles in the future if we don’t teach them the social, emotional and leadership skills to navigate the seven core pressures of being a modern girl. When girls lack these skills they can often get overwhelmed with coping with these obstacles, which is one of the reasons our girl statistics are so staggering. Here is how we can teach girls to navigate the difficult waters of growing up:

Dena Patton is the co-founder of The Girls Rule Foundation.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is something that is as constant as it is unrelenting. Be it from friends, family or the internet, all children face external pressures, but do they know how to cope with it in positive ways? Girls often get pressured to be perfect, versus taking risks and learning how to fail forward. As adults we can encourage more girls to take risks and learn how to fail forward, without rescuing them. Teaching strong moral values with clarity and intention will also help her navigate between the positive and negative experiences that are thrown at her. Although the teen years are designed to be the “disconnection years” it’s imperative that we nurture a loving, transparent relationship with them if they are expected to be honest and comfortable sharing their peer pressure battles with us.

Unrealistic images of beauty

The expectations placed on some young girls today can set crushing standards. Fifty percent of 9-year-old females and 80 percent of 10- and 11-year-old females feel self-conscious and are on some type of diet. Due largely to the advent of social media, today’s overexposed pop figures and constant beauty ads girls are bombarded with disempowering messages of unrealistic images of beauty. Young  girls need to be taught that true beauty is an internal characteristic and comparison can steal your self-esteem. Remember you are her role model she is listening and watching how you treat yourself and learning how to treat herself accordingly. Let’s all remind the girls around us they are not just pretty, they are pretty strong, pretty brilliant and pretty bold too.


The pubescent years of our lives often factor in to the two stressors above. All young women develop at their own pace. By providing thorough puberty and sex education, girls can better understand big changes in a healthy and comfortable way. We are seeing more girls develop earlier, which can bring on insecurities of feeling different. Adults’ messages around our bodies and sex can be very disempowering and shameful to girls if we aren’t aware and mindful. Just keep nurturing your girl in whatever phase of puberty she is in and utilize the many books and resources on this subject to help both of you through it.

Suicide and self-harm

The suicide rate for girls is at a 40-year high. A large percent of people who engage in self harm begin during their teen or pre-adolescent years, and girls are well aware that suicide and self-harm are prevalent, and, in some cases, trendy, in today’s world. Overwhelming feelings of shame, depression, disconnection and negativity can be paralyzing if they don’t know they can get help and view suicide as the “out.” A proactive step is to encourage kids to know their feelings and help them process their feelings in positive ways instead of hiding them, stuffing them or numbing them. If we know the signs and symptoms, which can be found on the Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition website, we will be better equipped to take action if we see something. Kids are often the first to see signs in their friends and we want them to save the friend, not the friendship.

Teen pregnancy

A harsh reality of the world we live in today is that one million U.S. girls between 10 and 18 years old become pregnant every year. In Arizona last year, we had 7,100 girls get pregnant. Abstinence-only education is not only disempowering but also failing our girls. They need interactive, empowering education about their bodies and pregnancy. There is something deeper going on here. Teen pregnancy isn’t just about sex, it’s often about girls feeling accepted, validated and fulfilling their self-esteem. We often are taught by a young age to seek boys’ attention, and now social media attention, to feel good about ourselves. This goes against the very concept of “just saying no.” The “external validation game” has a bigger payoff , has been part of our messaging most of our lives and is at the heart of disempowered women everywhere. Disempowered girls often become disempowered women. I was one of them until I learned this skill. As long as girls base their self-esteem on vanity, like validation from boys and popularity on social media, they will never truly know their true worth and greatness. Self-esteem cannot be medicated, nor filled by external elements. Self-esteem, whether it’s low or high, drives our decisions, our education, our relationships, our success, our income, our dreams and our jobs, so it’s crucial to intentionally teach self-esteem skills to girls. If we did this well, my bet is we would see 40 to 60 percent less teen pregnancies.   

Drug and alcohol epidemic

Perhaps most closely linked with peer pressure is the temptation to try drugs and alcohol. This is an inevitable part of most young girls’ social experiences. A clear focus on education, safety, values and honesty as opposed to staunch forbiddance tends to yield more positive and lasting results. This comes back to teaching girls courage and self-esteem skills so they are equipped to battle ongoing temptations. We have found that the “external validation games” become less important when girls truly know their worth and they have big dreams. Our jobs as adults is to keep our girls’ eyes on their dreams, love them deeply and help them build their courage.

Cellphones and electronics

Overuse of cell phones and electronics could be one of the most pressing issues young girls face on this list. Cellphone overuse leads to lack of sleep and weakened attention spans, which adolescent teens can’t afford to be losing. It is also pulling apart the parent-child connection quicker than usual. Children depend on the emotional connection to their parents, but with six to eight hours of screen time a day that might not be happening. Our social and emotional intelligence doesn’t come from screen time it comes from face time with people we love. Raising our social and emotional intelligence is crucial to succeed and lower suicide. Suicide experts are saying that phone addictions are at the heart of soaring suicide rates. If your child doesn’t have a phone, try to prolong it. Keep in mind, some kids might set up social media channels on their friends’ phones and use fake names to hide from you on social media. If your child has a phone, one of the healthiest rules you can integrate is no phones at night. All phones should be charged in the parent’s room at night.

Remember this, “kids go where there is excitement, but they come back to where they are loved.” Love your child deeply and be that courageous parent who asks hard questions.


Dena Patton is the co-founder of The Girls Rule Foundation, a local 501c3 nonprofit that offers empowerment, education and leadership programs to girls ages 12 to 18. She is also a full-time life and business coach and best-selling author.