As a mother/daughter relationship coach, Dannah places special emphasis on helping moms raise their tween girls to be sexually pure, modest and emotionally whole teen girls.
What are the challenges younger girls are facing today that ten years ago more likely would have been encountered during their teen or college years? What have you seen happening within the larger culture that is creating “age compression”—or the pressure to grow up faster— in girls at earlier ages?
Today’s tween girls are facing an alarming amount of pressure to grow up too fast and that includes consumer pressure to purchase beauty and fashion items they’re not ready for and don’t need. For example, eyeliner, mascara, thong underwear, and padded push up bikini tops are some products peddled to 7-12 year olds in recent years. Though these products and the use of them have no seeming immediate impact, research reveals that girls who become obsessed with them are more at risk of eating disorders, body image issues, and depression. We’re seeing things like the average age of an eating disorder clinic patient becoming younger. For example, the average age for the onset of anorexia used to be 13-17, now it is 9-12 with girls as young as 7 struggling. This is nothing to mess with. Our daughters’ understanding of beauty is being horrifically distorted and we need to remind them that they’re a masterpiece created by God. That’s the thesis of my new books. They’re much more about true beauty than they are about modesty.
Your newest books in your Secret Keeper Girl series, The Power of Modesty for Girls and Secret Keeper Girl: Mom-Daughter Devos & Coloring Experience, expand on your earlier message of modesty for teenagers. Why the urgency to address the topic of modesty for 8-12 years old? What risks are the catalyst for your desire to write these books?
I’m committed to teaching young women to live lives of purity so that their hearts aren’t broken by the sexual pain that I once knew. One of the many factors that place a teen girl at risk of an early sexual debut is appearing older than she is. How does she do that? By showing off her curves, wearing too much make up and dressing like she’s 17 when she’s 12. While the way a girl dresses should not be and is not the primary risk associated with an early sexual debut, being age appropriate and presenting modestly is a common sense risk reducer.
One reason I feel called to teach this is that modesty is often not taught accurately in Christian circles. There are four strong texts in the New Testament on modesty and the primary purpose of them is to teach women that God wants the good works they do to be visible to the lost world around them. The mention of clothing, hairstyles, and jewelry in these verses is of secondary concern. The purpose of physical modesty is so that nothing distracts people from seeing the gospel at work in our hearts and lives. Modesty is not about hiding our bodies, but revealing the depth of our character. If we limit our teaching to the length of a girl’s skirt, we’re missing the point altogether!
What does the power of modesty mean? In what ways is a whole-understanding of modesty crucial in building a strong and healthy identity within our tweens and teens? As someone who has studied sexuality and parenting for almost two decades what may be most threatening to a young girl’s identity?
Modesty is a power because it enables people to see the depth of your character. Physical beauty is a diminishing quality, but inner beauty is a quality that can increase with age. There’s a strong correlation between girls becoming obsessed with fashion and beauty products and low self-esteem. I want girls to know that their value is not commensurate with the amount of money they spent on a pair of jeans. While there is nothing wrong per se with fashion and beauty, the world will not stop spinning if your jeans don’t report the name of the current trending brand name.
Marketers try to tell tween girls that they’ll feel better about themselves and/or be more accepted if they look a certain way. They try to sell our daughter’s self-esteem through fashion and beauty products. A girl doesn’t need to get self-esteem. She needs God-esteem. If she understands who God is, she will understand her value but not make too much of herself. A mentality of modesty enables the way she presented herself to say “look at God” instead of “look at me.”
If our daughters seem stuck, how do we help them to think beyond themselves? To think about others more, to move beyond themselves toward a more empathetic, selfless way of life?
Again, the core premise of all the main modesty texts in the Bible, the purpose was not to regulate women’s dress but to remind them that what is most beautiful is acts of kindness and helpfulness: good works. There is an entire chapter devoted to challenging tween girls to think beyond themselves and be communal and global in the way they think and live. The book features a few girls I know who have lives full of good works. I call that chapter my “hall of beauty fame.” Because the acts of kindness they do are the real reason they are beautiful. True beauty is not about how we look on the outside, it’s about how we see the needs of others! It’s my hope that this book will help girls become adept and seeing the needs of others and meeting them.
You’ve been doing this for eighteen years. Can you tell us a story of a girl you’ve seen transformed by this message?
So many girls between the ages of 7-12 have reminded me that they are capable of digesting spiritual meat. One girl who attended an event came up to me having endured many oral surgeries and her face encased in metal that held in severe braces. She shared through tears that the content in this book—which I’d shared at the event she attended—changed the way she thought. She had a moment of eureka where she realized that God had made her more sensitive to the needs of others through all the hardship her teeth had created. She was grateful that God was growing true beauty inside of her.
Another girl was obsessed with fashion and beauty and popularity, but decided to do a “beauty fast.” Her own idea! She told me that it was prompted by the teaching in this book, and that she felt more beautiful when she stopped obsessing about her beauty.
You advocate that the parent-child relationship is the factor that allows girls to experience a real childhood, that keeps the ‘little’ in little-girl. Tell us how girls without a traditional mother-figure can find that stability and understanding if their own mother isn’t present in her life for whatever reason?
God’s word tells us that He is a Father to the fatherless. It also tells us that though a mother forgets the baby at her breast, He will not forget us. He overrides the risk that losing one or both parents creates. And it does created risk, but when a father or grandmother in a girl’s life prays for God to fill the gap, steps in to do activities like this book provides, and connects deeply, he will erase the risk.
More about Secret Keeper Girl:
Is your tween prepared for what’s ahead?
It used to be that middle school was the time to talk to kids about topics like modesty and body image. Unfortunately, the at-risk demographic for distorted views on the body is now girls ages 8–10. Fortunately, Dannah Gresh has provided a resource for this need.
Secret Keeper Girl is geared to helping tween girls understand their dignity in Christ. It features a creative self-help text format that includes sidebars, quizzes, games, exploded quotes, and graphics to help them absorb the message.
Here’s what author Dannah Gresh has to say about the motivation behind the book: “My past fifteen years of studying at-risk teen and tween behavior has over and over again led me to good news: girls who are exposed to an age-appropriate, Bible-based understanding of beauty and fashion between the ages of 8-12 tend to be less likely to engage in early sexual activity or have body image issues. They are also more likely to have healthy friendships, excel academically, and become positive social contributors in their communities, all while expressing their beauty and value appropriately.
“It’s not rocket science. It is social science paired with a whole lot of prayer and Bible study. We can change what tween girls see when they look in the mirror by changing what’s inside their hearts.”
This is the heart behind Secret Keeper Girl: a desire to teach tween girls how valuable they are and how to honor their God-given dignity. Ultimately, it’s about grounding girls in their identity in Christ so the tumultuous teen years don’t uproot them.
This book pairs with Secret Keeper Girl Mom-Daughter Devos, allowing moms a helpful resource for walking through this formative time with their tween girl.
DANNAH GRESH is the best-selling author, speaker, and creator of Secret Keeper Girl, America’s most popular tween stage show for moms and daughters. Dannah has authored twenty-seven books, including And the Bride Wore White, and Lies Young Women Believe (with Nancy Leigh DeMoss) and is considered one of the leading experts on the subjects of sexual purity, modesty, and parenting tweens and teens. More than 20,000 leaders and 100,000 moms have taught her curriculum and over 350,000 people have attended her live shows and retreats. She has been a guest on CNN, Fox News, and the 700 Club and is a frequent guest on Focus on the Family and Family Life. Her TEDTalk on Tolerance for Virginity offers a thought-provoking look at why one’s sexuality is enhanced by self-control. She lives in State College, Pennsylvania with her husband, Bob and three children.