“Who am I?” 5 reasons why groups can help her figure it out.

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Written by Fiona Ghiglione, PhD

We don’t yet know who our girls will become as adults. But around now is when our pre-teen girls start to really feel the importance of this question – of “who am I?” – in their lives.

Up until now as parents we have made a lot of decisions for our girls – playdates, extra-curricula activities, books, clothes – but slowly our girls want to take the reign and discover what they like.

It’s no surprise then that a lot of parents ask me questions around how they manage this transition and help their daughter forge a healthy sense of self (identity, awareness and confidence).

The importance of identity

Adolescence is a period marked by a need for self-discovery. Famous developmental psychologist Erik Erikson believed that the primary psychosocial task of adolescence was establishing an identity. During the years between 13 and 18 our girls will go through a thorough process of working out who they are (including their beliefs, preferences, strengths, skills, purpose) and their brains will adapt accordingly to this new identity. We also know from the research that it is an important and necessary step in becoming a mature and secure adult.

Even as our girls start their pre-teens (around 8) they are already becoming more self-aware and are exploring ‘who they are’ within the context of the family. As they move towards the end of pre-adolescence (11-12 years) their peer and other social groups begin to play a bigger role too.

So many of our girls – especially in times of Covid – lost the opportunity to participate in multiple social activities and be part of different social and community groups (e.g. extended family, hobbies/extra-curricula, sports, religious, community and volunteering) yet now that things are opening up again is an important time for us to help her get back out there socialising again.

Why more is better.

According to researchers in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology have found that possessing multiple positive group identifications is particularly beneficial for young people’s mental health.

Let’s take a closer look at all the other benefits our girls derive from being part of a diverse range of groups!

1. She can explore different roles in different groups

Every group she is part of offers her the opportunity to play different roles. In some groups you may have noticed your daughter is outgoing and helpful and in other groups she sits back and observes more. Depending on the members of the group and its purpose her role will vary. (Which explains why sometimes we hear others describe our daughter differently to how we may have experienced and have a moment of “hold on, is this my daughter?”).

Experimenting with different roles like this helps her expand her sense of self and develop emotional acuity. In some situations she may feel less introverted; in others more confident. In some groups she may be funny and in other groups more focussed and serious.

It is through new challenges, experiences and social interactions where a lot of self-learning plays out.

Tip for parents: Start where she is already. What groups is she currently part of? Immediate family? Cousins? A book club?

Start with your immediate family – what rituals do you have? Family movie nights, weekly outings, dinner with the grandparents. What role does she have at home? There are so many ways to enhance the family experience, build belonging and help her explore her identity in the context of the family.

Slowly, find natural opportunities for her to engage in new groups. Guided by her interests and energy. If she is really shy you could consider doing mum-daughter activities with other parents and daughters to begin with e.g. volunteering, bush walking, cooking classes.

2. She can deepen her skills

All the important qualities we want our girls to learn will develop through experience; which often (although not always) occurs in the context of social groups. Communication, contribution, courage, responsibility, boundary setting, for example, all happen in an interpersonal context – between two or more individuals. The more practice our girls get, the deeper her skills will become.

Groups that have a common goal and value team work are amazing for our girls, but even groups where there is sometimes mild conflict or disagreement can help our girls build skills in leadership, problem solving and collaboration.

Tip for Parents: There will be many times when our girls may need some extra support, guidance and help. A lot of these skills don’t come naturally (even for us as parents) and conversations/reflections with her can help motivate her to try new things. Ask, “What can you do when you don’t agree or don’t feel supported?” or “Have you tried …” or “I’ve been in a situation similar and something that helped me was …” Role playing what she would like to say is also an excellent way for her to practice too!

3. She will learn new perspectives

Some of the most powerful development of character traits like acceptance, tolerance, respect and empathy can be cultivated in settings where our girls encounter diversity.

A good example of this comes from my own girls, both of whom can be considered third culture kids – born in one country; with parents from two different countries and raised in a third country. Ever since they were born they have been part of a diverse range of groups – through school and the communities in which they have lived – and have learnt many different cultural, religious and personal perspectives along the way.

Tip for Parents: Show curiosity and genuine interest in diverse and new experiences. Ask her, “what was the most interesting thing you learnt today?” or “tell me about that”. Share with her your own experiences and tell stories of times you explored a new country, joined a new group or saw a new perspective.

4. She is more likely to find her tribe

At the pre-adolescent stage girls really benefit from having several different social groups. Not only does this act as a scaffolding when one friend/group encounters difficulties but it also allows our girls to discover the kinds of friends she feels good with and uncovers different modes of being within and between groups.

For example, in some friendship groups it may be the norm to cut each other off or gossip a lot whereas in others it may be the norm to hear each other’s opinions. Having more than one group allows girls to discover these subtleties and gives her more scope to make positive choices for herself.

This held particularly true for me when I was a pre/teen. I spent the middle few years of high school moving through a large variety of different groups at school before landing with my ‘tribe’, most of whom shared my love of singing and performing. It was here I reached adulthood feeling my greatest sense of belonging.

Tip for Parents: Every so often help her reflect on her friendships. Ask her, “how do your friends make you feel?” or point out moments you notice her in a good space e.g. “I love seeing the two of you laughing in the backyard today – you have so much fun together” or “that was very kind of Susie to do that for you”.


Overall, mama, you play an important role in helping her grow during these years and can help her build a strong sense of self by helping her join activities and groups, meet new people and have diverse experiences. Even if it feels as though she is growing up and becoming more independent and doesn’t need you as much, she still needs your guidance, connection and support! And remember identity development is fluid and changes a lot before adulthood. Let’s create lots of space for the ebbs and flows!

Hang in there mama! You’ve got this!