Find and nurture a spark to make girls feel alive

We live in a culture that worships success. What we see on the covers of magazines, on endless TV shows, and acclaimed in school assemblies and stories on the news, are people who are the best and the most rich, famous, talented or just eye-candy qualified to have everybody know their name. 

Since barely one in ten thousand people can meet these criteria, then it’s a rather odd goal, since it means we are almost all failures. 

We adults take this with a grain of salt, but our kids, and especially girls, can be terribly set up for feeling they are of no use.

The consensus among mental health experts is that a combination of factors

Social media, the busyness and distractedness of parents and an increased academic pressure at school.

There is also a fairly horrific competitiveness among many girls themselves that has led to intense anxiety that they don’t fit in, and don’t measure up. 

They wake at 3am to check their screen for a word of affirmation. If nobody “likes” you then nobody likes you.

The deep down secret nobody tells young people is that we aren’t measured by external success.

In fact success requires abandoning most of the things that are of value in life – friendship, looking after others, peace and reflection, family, love, or being truly creative or free. There just isn’t time.

Researcher Peter Benson discovered a remarkable thing that helps protect the wellbeing of young people.

Researching for my book Ten Things Girls need most, I was blown away by how true, and how important this finding was. 

According to Benson, every young person has a spark - an interest , passion  or love that if encouraged, gives them a reason to be alive. 

For some its creativity, for some its caring - for animals, children, the environment, for some its a hobby or sport. 

But none of it is about pleasing or impressing others. ( If that element of evaluation is introduced, it spoils the benefit.)  

What if education was based that way - that kids were encouraged to follow what they really wanted to learn and do? 

For now it’s up to us at home and in the community to provide this lifesaving help. 

Kids with a spark do better at school - but it is a side effect. 

They meet more interesting and different adults through their pursuit. 

They don’t worry about their looks or if they are hot or cool. 

They don’t desperately mind what their peers are doing or think of them. 

But most importantly, they have a reason to be alive.

They don’t self harm or have eating disorders or depression.  They can’t wait to get back to doing whatever it is they love. 

Benson said a spark needs three things - a parent who helps it to happen, an adult at school or elsewhere who encourages them, and the simple opportunity to do it. 

From ukelele playing to wombat rescue,  ballroom dancing to rock climbing, your daughter has something that she is in the world to do. 

It matters, it goes somewhere, and your job is to find it.  Or just give her the time to find it herself. 

This is the road to real success.  Balanced and happy, whether anybody notices or not. 

Steve Biddulph is the author of the Ten Things Girls Need Most, Manhood, and Raising Boys.