Fighting "Princess Syndrome": How to Raise a Strong Girl and Live Happily Ever AfterJennifer L. Hartstein, PsyD
You may not find it in a medical textbook, but many young girls suffer from Princess Syndrome. What is Princess Syndrome, you ask? A girl who suffers from PS lives life as a fairy tale: she focuses only on the pretty things, puts herself at the center of the universe, and obsesses about her looks (even if she’s only headed to the playground). While this can be fun and whimsical when a girl is a toddler, it can also set the tone for how she develops into a young woman, influencing her self-esteem, her dependence on others, how she takes care of herself, and how empowered she feels in life.
There are messages everywhere presented to girls that being a princess is the best, and only, way to be. In today’s society – with its focus on appearance, having only the finest things, and the need to be number one – it is understandable that girls are having a difficult time deciphering the messages they observe.
And why wouldn’t they? Clothing stores sell t-shirts that tell them they are “too pretty to do homework.” Other stores sell thongs to seven- to 10-year-olds with slogans on them, such as “wink wink” or “eye candy;” one has even started selling crotchless underwear for girls within this age range. Abercrombie and Fitch, a nationally known clothing company, sold bikinis with push-up tops in them designed for children as young as five. How do girls learn that they have worth beyond their appearance when the inordinate amount of pressure on them to “do this” or “look like that” begins at such a young age? And, while this pressure might have started during the teenage years in the past, current research shows that girls as young as 11 have issues with their bodies.
Parents often believe their daughters can avoid being affected by the messages they are receiving. Unfortunately, as well intentioned as this idea is, it takes an incredible amount of self-confidence and self-awareness to not be seduced by these messages. Advertising is incredibly powerful and impacts all of us at all ages. It’s unrealistic to expect your 4-year-old daughter to understand that life with solid values and a healthy lifestyle is better than life as a princess. It is up to you, as a parent, to combat the pressures coming from the outside.
Of course, it isn’t solely about appearance and impaired body image when considering Princess Syndrome. It is also important to consider the other messages your daughter gets from the fairy tale life she creates. She may learn that she has to rely on a savior to make it all better. This can lead to superficial friendships, a controlling boyfriend, and a lack of internal motivation because she “expects” it all to come to her. Being a princess has its place; being a princess who is empowered to create her own kingdom? A much better option.
So, what can a parent do to help his/her daughter create her own happily ever after? Your first instinct may be to try to shield her from all potentially negative influences. Unfortunately, this is virtually impossible. Rather than avoid it, teach her how to deal with the pressure and help her develop positive self-esteem, a realistic body image, and self-sufficiency.
As a parent, you can teach your daughter how to replace the unhealthy “princess symptoms” with positive “heroine values.” And starting while she’s young can set the stage for your daughter as she grows up. But where to start?
The changes start with you. As you become more aware of the messages in toys, clothing, and television shows, you can begin to share them with your daughter and help her create a more positive, empowered sense of herself. Below are some skills to work on developing with your daughter. It’s never too early to start.
- Question the media: Teach your daughter to be an educated consumer and to think about the messages she receives. Start to help her formulate questions about the things she wants, why she likes certain celebrities, and why appearance may be so important. Help her to develop her own ideas about what it means to be strong, independent, and confident, and to seek out similar things within the media.
- Teach her about dressing appropriately: Clothes are getting skimpier and skimpier. Similarly, clothes that used to be appropriate for teens are now being worn by fifth-graders. Start teaching your daughter about the messages she sends by the clothes she wears. You certainly are not going to get into a discussion with your five-year-old about what is sexy. You may, though, talk about what might be more comfortable or easy to wear when playing with her friends, and how much more fun she will have if she is comfortable. This does not mean thwarting your daughter’s individuality and sense of style. In fact, it may mean promoting it. Let her be mismatched. She’s exploring who she is – and having fun while doing it.
- Help her find her voice: Encourage your daughter to speak up and ask questions. If she sees something she doesn’t like, such as a doll or a shirt with a mixed message, support her choice to talk with you about it. If she comes to you with a concern, make the time to discuss it. All too often girls avoid speaking up for fear of damaging relationships they may have. The more comfortable your daughter feels talking with you about her feelings, and the earlier this starts, the more likely she will be able to do it during her teenage years (which is when you really want them talking with you).
- Remember: Conformity is not required: Sometimes your daughter is going to want what other kids have – just because they have it. Giving in to this pressure is easy to do. Help your daughter understand that being an individual is good. Encourage her to embrace her differences and even celebrate them! This will only help her develop a strong sense of herself, her likes and dislikes, and what she will or will not do.
Getting your daughter into some “princess recovery” might be the best way to help her grow into the heroine you know she can be. She will be pulled in lots of directions to act, think, and behave in certain ways. As her parent, you can use your influence to help direct her toward choosing things that will help her find her best self – and fight the allure of Princess Syndrome.