September 2016

Raising Powerful Girls Through the Alchemy of Adolescence


Arina M. Pittman


She is 10 years old, still far from adolescence—though there are days when she shines through in a whole new way. There are moments when a glimpse of how she might look, be, as a young woman, is revealed.

She is starting to look outside of the family for ideas and expressions of what it means to be a woman and an adult in this culture at this time. She probably does not even know that she is looking for answers, but her peers, significant adults, teachers, media figures, extended family members and the culture at large all offer their versions. Life temporarily becomes a melting pot of mixed messages, blurred boundaries, pervasive confusion and, possibly, lack of direction. The invisible, arduous task of adolescence is to sift through the medley of messages to find one’s own inner gold.

We see many adolescent girls get quiet and less focused on academics. They sometimes fall into an extreme of either shutting down or becoming over-the-top, fascinated with social media, possessive of friends and insecure about themselves. Their forming identities are at stake. They are searching for true light and true direction regarding what it means to be human and what it means to be a woman.

For a parent of an adolescent girl it is a good time to ask: Is my daughter surrounded by a culture that values diversity of opinion, creates a safe space for dialogue, one that guides students through conflict resolution by offering interpersonal skills? Are values of cooperation and relationship-building fostered in her daily life? Is she able to take academic risks, speak her truth without fear and maintain her integrity? Here is what Marion Woodman, the renowned author and women’s movement figure says about the critical values she calls “the feminine principle”: “The feminine principle attempts to relate. Instead of breaking things off into parts, it says, ‘Where are we alike? How can we connect? Where is the love? Can you listen to me? Can you really hear what I am saying? Can you see me? Do you care whether you see me or not?’” 

It is apparent how this practice of listening and hearing, of caring—by anyone, regardless of age or gender—offers a possibility of peaceful discourse, compassionate connection and creative solutions that are critical for a 21st-century citizen in our changing times. This need to relate to others requires cultivation and protection. It blossoms when supported by practice and a community. It must be allowed to inform every aspect of family life and classroom culture, where opportunities to relate to others—often to very different others—are most present. Feminine values mean sharing leadership, collaborating on projects, building inclusive alliances, caring for others, striving for mutual success and pulling talents together for a common goal. It means learning to resolve conflict in a kind and clear manner, which takes skill, strength, determination and practice. Most importantly for adolescent girls, it requires adult guidance. Adolescence is the time when exposure to and practice of these values give rise to the true gold of a strong, loving and caring person.

Arina Pittman, operations manager at the Santa Fe Girls’ School, runs TerraGirls Land-based Creativity, an after-school program that connects adolescent girls to nature through gardening and celebrating seasons. 505.820.3188,



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