Suhba Circle and Sax

Last week, I offered a quick overview of the Leonard Sax’s Girls on the Edge for a circle of companions, or suhba (the arabic word for group of companions). The last time I did a presentation on powerpoint was in 2018 on immigration policy– and honestly, I missed using PPT. My client work currently does not require PPT, but there is something so soothing about putting words into square boxes. Between potty training and hosting out of town guests for the second time in a month, I barely have time to find matching socks, let alone fumble around PPT templates. Yet, somehow by His mercy, I made time to read, and summarize the book. I hope these notes give you something to think about, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on additional resources and practical strategies. I highly recommend Sax’s books, and I know there is a ton Sax has done to help parents cultivate the spiritual identity of their children.

Some of my internal notes from the book (sorry not as organized as I would like!)

The Problem according to Sax

Why do girls’ have increased rates of depression, cutting, and alcohol abuse?

Why do girls have an increased propensity to look and act sexy before they feel sexual 

Why are they obsessive; why are they managing their personal brands on social networks; and pursuing academic or athletic excellence above all other concerns? 

The problem is that girls are seeking external validation for everything. 

AND his theory is that girls are seeking this external validation and trying to fill a void because they have not developed a healthy sense of self. 

According to the author, girls often “find themselves not so much living as performing.” 

And when, for whatever reason, that performance stops eliciting external approval or comments on Facebook walls, or whatever it is girls implode.

Girls are more anxious than 40 years ago.

1 in 8 females in the US take antidepressants.  

1 in 5 undergraduate girls are sexually assaulted.

Girls have more choices than they did before.

Girls face different sets of challenges.

Girls have more obsessions — relentless focus on how you look, who likes you, etc. etc.

 “Because girls don’t know who they are, they are all too ready to seize on anything real to define themselves, something tangible and solid and sharp. It could be a razor blade to cut, or a bottle of gin, or a finger down their throat or a straight a report card combined with an incredible list of extracurriculars. All of these are obsessions.”

Leonard Sax

First factor: Sexual identity

Today’s girls have a hard time with their sexual identity. 

  • Girls are self-objectifying themselves.
  • They are focused on how they look instead of who they are. 
  • There is an emphasis on pushing girls towards adopting a sexual identity before they need to. Girls are taught to put on a show for boys before they are ready.  Popular culture bombards girls with messages about how liberated and independent they should be, but many girls seem to be hungry for traditional alternatives.
  • Sex before marriage 
    • First sexual experience at age 13, 14, 15 
  • Change in culture→ romance without sex and now its sex without romance 
    •  He writes about sexual identity: “Sexuality is good, but sexualization is bad.” Too-early sexualization has pushed girls to flaunt their young bodies long before they are emotionally or physically ready to explore their own sexuality. As one frustrated commented about a Halloween costume search, she’d “never heard of a boy who wanted to dress up like a Chippendale’s dancer,” and yet stereotypical French maid costumes complete with fishnet stockings are being marketed to 9- and-10-year-olds!

Second Factor: The Cyber-bubble

Facebook, cells phones, texting, cyberbullying, sexting. And 500 ‘friends’ on the internet does not mean your daughter can hold a face-to-face conversation.

  • 1 in 5 teens engage in sexting
  • Kids create online personalities and their virtual lives interfere with the real world.
  • Kids are overmedicated because of lack of sleep 
  • Sometimes they have a hard time concentrating 
  • Obvious things: Monitor your child’s cell phone 
  • Tips: Keep the cell phone charger in the parents room; daughter’s cell phone goes into the charger in your room. 
  • “Declare the family dinner table an electronics free zone; no texting, and no cell phone use allowed at the dinner table. That means you too, Dad.” (57) 

Third Factor: Obsessions: Looks, brains, muscles

Too much of any good thing becomes detrimental.

  • Our girls are obsessed with grades or their looks, or their muscles. Their identity is tied to something superficial which makes it very hard for them to deal with disappointment.
  • Girls are taking substances that numb them from the disappointment.
  • An ANECDOTE — Nice girls — Sax writes that risk for nice girls is also very high. Nice girls don’t make a fuss. He offered an anecdote of a nice girl who was out with a young man who had been drinking, and she warned him not to drive but he insisted, and she ended up in the hospital for 3 weeks with a punctured lung.

Fourth factor: TOXINS

Environmental toxins: BPA, pthalates, PETE, BGH – why girls are starting puberty at younger ages than ever before.

In the newer version of the book – there are toxic elements in American culture that lead girls to be fearful and risk-averse, with evidence-based strategies to help empower your daughter to find her voice and Walk Out rather than Lean In, when necessary. This requires a little more exploration.

Proposed Solutions  

Community matters — especially for girls. We are part of a community in which binge drinking is severely forbidden. For men, the community standards had a barely significant effect but for women this difference was large. We need to be part of communities that have strong norms. Some of Sax’s recommendations:

  • Have friends. Not too many. Mostly females. 
  • Dads need to be present and take their daughters wherever they go (e.g. skiing, etc.) 
  • Girls should go to all-girls schools.

Some feminists have long claimed that teaching, coaching, and parenting girls differently or separately from boys projects the idea that women can’t compete with men “in the real world.” Sax points out pretty convincingly that, actually, coed school is very different from the real world, and that we ignore girls’ unique needs, established by countless studies on gender and development, at their peril.

He writes:

We now live in a culture in which kids value the opinion of same-age peers more than they value the opinion of their parents, a culture in which the authority of parents has declined not only in the eyes of children but also in the eyes of parents themselves. Parents today suffer from role confusion.

Leonard Sax

As parents, we have a choice. We can pretend that dramatic cultural changes are not happening. Or we can step up to guide our kids with knowledge and love. The key, according to Sax, is to cultivate the spiritual core of that child. He argues that when that spiritual core is weak, or missing, the child can easily try to fill that void with sex, drugs, or pointless obsessions. I’ve had a number of conversations this week with women about the findings of this research, and how it applies in our own lives. I highly recommend the book.

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