Good Morning America gathered a group of women, 18 to 22, at Miami Dade College this week to discuss what it means to them to be a strong and empowered woman.
Dr. Jamie Howard was invited to comment on their conversation, and offer advice for protecting themselves in the world of dating and building healthy relationships.
“This generation of women is talking about things that previous generations were sort of afraid to talk about, it was taboo,” Dr. Howard told “GMA.” “It’s not anymore and that tends to be the stuff that makes a big change.”
Dr. Howard’s tips for college-age girls:
- Be prepared, not scared. Mental rehearsal is an important strategy for coping with complex stressors like sexual assault. It’s very difficult to cope in the moment, but running through how you would respond in your mind can lay the tracks for an effective response should an assault occur (e.g., what would I say, who would I report this to, etc). When we are mentally prepared for a stressor to happen, we are much less likely to be shocked and exhibit a freeze response. Being prepared doesn’t mean you have to live in fear; it just means you are equipped to deal with a difficult situation, just like fire drills in school or safety announcements on airplanes.
- Use social media responsibly, to support other women. Studies show that heavy social media use increases the risk of depression. Girls and young women are more negatively affected by social media and depression than boys and young men, partially due to the doubled rate of reported cyberbullying amongst girls and women. Use social media to support and encourage one another, and be a responsible bystander—if someone is disparaging another woman, respectfully call her out.
- Think of men as your equals. Rather than emphasizing differences, it’s important for men and women to be thought of as more similar to one another than different. This can reduce intimidation because men are thought of as fellow human beings, thereby reducing some confusing power and control dynamics. When it comes to dating, remember that chivalry is icing on the cake, but basic respect is primary. Be willing to walk away from a guy who is disrespectful or otherwise unkind.
- Have faith in your ability to cope. Parents may be particularly worried nowadays about young women as they graduate college and enter the “real world.” It’s important that young women bravely pursue their goals and enjoy their relationships with men (friendships, mentorships, romantic relationships, etc), knowing that they can cope with the inevitable difficulties that arise. It’s important not to avoid situations or people out of fear that something will go wrong, and instead have faith in your ability to cope with whatever difficulties arise.