Teach Your Kids It's OK to Not Be OK
"Never give up." "Quitters never win." "Just push through it."
So many of us were raised with these well-meaning sentiments. Often framed as messages of inspiration and resilience, they overlook the fact that sometimes the strongest and most courageous thing you can do in certain situations is step and away and take care of yourself. It’s OK not to be OK.
When Simone Biles withdrew from the gymnastics team competition at the Tokyo Olympics, it took courage for her—arguably the greatest gymnast of all time—to acknowledge her limits that day. And when she said she “truly [feels] like [she has] the weight of the world on [her] shoulders at times," she was setting a positive example and doing the responsible thing by taking care of herself to preserve her mental health.
Cheering on her teammates from the sidelines as they competed and won the Silver medal, rather than being a part of the action? That was not at all what Simone had planned on, but it showed a different kind grace and leadership in a difficult circumstance from a woman who was expected to dominate the competition. And sometimes doing your best looks a lot different than what you, or anyone else, thought it would.
The strength it took to not “sacrifice everything” for a win—when everything could mean her career's end or lifelong injury if she’s having an off day—makes Simone even more of an amazing role model for today’s girls who are facing burnout and mental health struggles at alarming rates. According to the National Association for Mental Illness:
One in six U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year.
Half of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-34.
Sadly, in our ultra-competitive society, when girls or women put their well-being above any marked achievement, they're often labeled as weak—when, really, they’re displaying ultimate awareness and protecting themselves from burnout, injury, or worse.
You can always come back when you’re ready
Often, there is no “one shot” to achieve a goal. Some moments are more critical than others, but girls have countless opportunities to shine. Knowing when to walk away and how to set boundaries when something isn’t right for for them, whether in the moment or long-term, is a necessary skill that will help girls face the myriad important moments they are sure to face throughout life.
Talk with your girl about the pressures she faces in her life, and pay attention if she seems overly tired, agitated, or is acting out. Sure, acing that honors class or landing the lead in the school play are things to be proud of—but they should never come at the cost of her health and wellness. Sometimes, especially in today’s world, just putting one foot in front of the other and getting through the day is a success in itself.
Nobody can, or needs to be, “on” all the time
Even tennis champion Naomi Osaka decided to take a break and pay fines (instead of talking to the press during the French Open this year), to preserve her mental health and protect her game on the court—which was her task at hand. Your girl doesn’t have to be famous to be feeling the pressures of our “all-access” society.
Keeping up appearances on social media has become a huge source of stress in young people's lives—especially teen girls—and the pressure to look, act, and seem “perfect” can be overwhelming. Talk with your girl about the importance of taking time to feel and process her authentic feelings rather than always putting on a happy face. As humans, dealing with frustrations, disappointments, sadness, and anger is simply part of life, and working through those emotions, rather than denying them, helps us grow and become stronger people.
It’s OK to say “no”
In an interview with Elle magazine, Beyoncé opened up about the pressure to do it all. Admitting that she used to be someone who would simply tough it out in difficult situations and focus on taking care of everyone else before herself—she said she's learned better. “There are things in my career that I did because I didn’t understand that I could say no,” she said. “We all have more power than we realize.”
If your girl is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, sit down with her and take a look at everything that’s on her plate. She may be juggling more than she can handle—and even taking on things that don’t make her happy—to avoid disappointing people in her life. If possible, help her identify one or two things that she can bow out of or at least put on pause. Stepping away from even just one obligation can give her valuable time to just breathe and relax, which will help her keep going strong in the long run.
Teaching our girls to look out for themselves, and to care for themselves in the moment is one of the most important gifts we can give them.
How can you help your girl understand the power of knowing and respecting her limits? Talk with her and truly listen. Remind her that you love her for who she is—not for what she achieves—and that you’re there to hear her or simply offer a safe space whenever she might need it.
Additionally, consider sharing stories of role models who have done the hard thing by putting themselves first in their own lives, even when others may not have thought it was the best decision. The lessons they teach are a healthy reminder for all of us.