In discovering who the girls are that walk through our local church doors and who I meet in the community, I’ve been surprised by several items unpacked by Dr. Leonard Sax compilation of research in Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crises for Girls: Growing up too fast, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, and Environmental Toxins. Much of his information on environmental toxins I blogged here. Yet, two areas of environmental toxins resonated with me: (1) BPA used to make just about every kind of hard plastic such as a typical baby’s bottle and the resin that lines the inside of a can in most canned foods such as soup, ravioli, tuna, and vegetables is leaching into our foods/waters acting like a female hormone contributing to the early onset of puberty in girls (pg 107), and (2) Phthalates used to make lotions and creams softer have a complex action on the human endocrine system, disrupting sexual development and increasing the risk of obesity, possibly via a direct action on fat cells (pg 109). Think most baby pacifiers, soft plastic toys for infants, and salad dressing as well as body lotions are just now found to be harmful. We’re talking for more than 40 years, we’ve welcomed these things ‘as is’ and as ‘modern conveniences’. Good grief! Moving on.

The book closes with especially interesting info specific to a girl’s mind, body, and spirit. These are areas that made me go, “Hmmm…”

A Girl’s Mind
• Early reading does not equal a life-long inspiration to learn. As our kids get older, they are less and less likely to read for fun once the middle school years arrive.
• The greater danger for girls today is that American culture puts too much emphasis on the virtual world and not enough on the real world. Kids in second grade need to understand dirt more than they need to search about dirt on the school-issued iPad.
• When girls go to school (or church) with boys, they obsess over what they look like. When girls go to school (or are in small groups) with other girls, they thrive on the community with their focus on their behavior/character. Therefore, as boys crave competition, girls crave community. Safe, nurturing, linguistic (talking), serving community.

A Girl’s Body
• 8-year-old boys are better, on average, than girls at tasks requiring targeting a moving object in space (dodgeball). 8-year-old girls are better, on average, at tasks requiring balance (hopscotch, jump rope).
• The most dangerous sport kids do today, even more dangerous than football or ice hockey, is girls cheerleading with the focus on how they look AND the dangerous flying skills they exhibit. Volleyball coaches could care less what you look like while you play sport full out.
• The sport with the greatest risk of concussion is women’s ice hockey, having more than double the risk of concussion than guys playing football (pg 168).
• Specializing in one sport year-round (year-round sports weren’t even possible until the early 1990s) greatly increases the risk of injury since overdeveloping one set of muscles, while neglecting the others, throws the body out of alignment (pg 162). Participating in the same sport year-round also means she’s likely to be with the same group of girls for most of her days, making their respect and opinions the highest priority of her life (pg 162). There needs to be real off-seasons with unstructured play (pg163).
• A normal part of puberty is the widening of the pelvis leading to a larger Q angle (the angle formed by the thigh bone in relation to the vertical) for young girls. “As a result, activities that involve the quadriceps – activities such as running, jumping, or kicking a ball – create a more severe torque on the ACL in girls meaning a girl is 4-6 times more likely to injure her ACL than boys playing the same sport at the same level of competition. THEN, she is more likely to develop ‘significant arthritis’ in the knee with a greater likelihood for knee replacement by the time she’s in her 30s.
• Girls need to drink plenty of milk and avoid soda. Milk from a cow, or a goat. Soy milk doesn’t count. There’s more to the story between milk and girls than calcium. Drinking soda is associated with brittle bones in teenage girls, but not in teenage boys.
• Boys engage in sports because they want to win. Girls ‘are more likely to enjoy sports when the emphasis is on having fun and getting in shape rather than on beating the other team.’ (pg 177) Reminds me of a girl I knew who only at the end of the swim season realized that a swim meet was a competition and not just a place to ‘swim and meet people.’

A Girl’s Spirit
• The puberty years are the years of ‘spiritual awakening’ when she will struggle to figure out what she really cares about (pg 182).
• If you fail to nurture your daughter’s budding spirituality, it may be extinguished making it more likely she will substitute sexuality in the place of spirituality. Reminding us again that ‘no young man (or woman) can fill the niche in the heart that belongs only to the spirit. But girls don’t know that.’ (pg 183)
• Girls who are FULLY engaged in the spiritual life are less likely to be depressed than girls with the same demographics who are disengaged from spirituality. The antidepressant effect of being involved in the spiritual or religious life gets bigger, but only for girls, after the onset of puberty. (pg 192)
Achievements in academics and athletics won’t get you through the dark night of the soul. If her life is just mind and body, she’s may feel her life falling apart when disappointment comes. But if she has nurtured her spirit, nurtured it because you have taught her to cherish it (by your words and actions), then she can endure through that dark night. (pg 195)
• “The spirit cannot grow and be healthy if there is not enough silence.” T. S. Eliot Turn it off…the tv…the radio…the phone…the headphones…the computer. Let her learn to comfortable with her own company, her own thoughts, and her own creativity.
Girls need a community that lasts, (pg 206) where there are multiple generations and intentional time for building community and personal relationships. Don’t let your girls fall into the trap of thinking that her knowledge (and the knowledge of her peers) is a substitute for YOUR wisdom. (pg 208) (my emphasis)
• The core of a girl’s emotional life, for most girls, has to be founded on good friendships with two, three, four, or, at most, five other girls and/or women. (pg 211)

Come back next week when we wrap up with intentional responses to leading little boys and girls to the throne room of their King how He has intentionally wired them.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” Proverbs 14:1