I have a confession. I have been up all night feeling sickened. I am sickened with worry about the plight of the hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped from their school-Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Nigeria. A radical Islamist group known as Boko Haram has actually come forth and claimed responsibility for this act of terror that has the world reeling. The girls were not up to no-good as we are fond of saying, using drugs or doing any of the things that we as American parents worry about on a daily basis. Instead, they were at school to take exams. Imagine that. They, like millions of other girls and young women around the world were simply taking exams and getting an education. Or, so we thought and so they and their parents thought.
Instead on that night of April 14, 2014 the lives of these girls and their families would be irrevocably changed in the worst possible way. And, I look at my calendar for April 14th to see what I was doing on that day. I see that on that day that we will never forget I was preparing for a media appearance on a totally unrelated topic. I begin to feel queasy and even a bit guilty. I was preparing for a television segment on photo-shopping and across the world other mothers' children were literally being stolen. Suddenly my day's activities feel somewhat irrelevant and worthless. I do not, however, see myself as an irrelevant individual who is incapable of instigating thought and action. So, I am here with mothers everywhere to discuss the lessons that we must teach all of our girls no matter where we live.
I was particularly impressed and at the same time haunted by the comment of one Nigerian mother who as she was wailing about the fate of her kidnapped daughter had the wherewithal to ask "What Am I to Do As A Mother?" Yes, as mothers we struggle with this question way too frequently. As a clinical psychologist and a mother I would like to answer this question for you. I cannot of course answer the question about how to save the hearts and souls of the girls and their families in Nigeria but I would if I could. Damn right. I would if I could. Instead, I'll attempt to answer another question which is what we forget to teach our daughters. Keep in mind that I am in no way implying that the mothers of the kidnapped girls or the girls themselves are in any way responsible for what happened and is happening. I have never ever been one to blame the victim. Please understand that.
I suggest strongly that you teach your daughters the following:
1. To both pay attention to their intuition and to learn to trust it. The body often gives us cues that something is amiss.
2. To be both independent and to protect their peers. Way too often we suggest to our girls that they need to look out for themselves and we forget to teach them that they have responsibility for their peers as well. Look we are a community and we must act as such.
3. If our girls are in danger then they must and should raise bloody hell. There is nothing virtuous about remaining passive. Get your girls involved in self-defense classes. Help them find their speaking and screaming voices. As Dylan Thomas suggested we should not go gently into that good night. And, our daughters should not go gently into a situation where they may get raped or taken advantage of. Sometimes, of course, they may not have any choice especially when they are staring into the barrel of a gun.
4. Listen to your daughters when they are angry. Find out what they are angry about and validate their feelings if they seem to be on to something. They need to know that it is okay to feel anger and even to express it.
5. Encourage your daughters to get all of the education that they can so that they can become powerful and influential in all kinds of positive ways. No one ever complained about having too much education.
Let us all join in the effort to do whatever we can to be a part of the international community. The Nigerian girls are our girls too. Yes you must tell your own daughters about the suffering of the Nigerian girls. Start teaching them that suffering occurs on many levels and that we as citizens of the world must support one another in both small and large ways.