09/03/2014 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

3 Keys for College Women to Stay Empowered

Sexual assault. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. Binge drinking. Eating disorders. As young women begin college with anticipation and enthusiasm, these are a few of the roadblocks that too often sabotage the empowered and joyful experience they so deserve in this new chapter in their lives.

Remember when your teenager was a baby just learning to walk? No doubt you were perched somewhere close by -- ready with encouraging words and outstretched arms in case she should fall. That first demarcation of independence was followed by countless others, yet few are as significant as sending a child off to college.


Remembering all too well the experiences we went through at that age, it's only natural to want to prevent her from feeling unnecessary pain or heartache. By the time I hit my early college years, I'd been pregnant, had an abortion, and nearly committed suicide -- yet amazingly, I kept all of this hidden even from my closest of friends. I thought no one would understand me. I thought I was alone. I know now I was wrong.

Fast forward to today. We are armed with statistics that confirm our daughters are not alone. One in five women will face sexual assault while attending college. Twenty-five percent of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique. Over half of college students report having felt depressed or anxious to the point they couldn't function. The list goes on.

As parents, even though we are no longer physically by our daughters' sides to bolster their courage or hold their hands, it is within our power to arm them with insight that will help them protect themselves from almost any type of danger: A young woman who knows how to connect with -- and listen to -- the voice of her own authentic self is emboldened by inner resilience and self-esteem, whereas a woman disconnected from this inner power source is vulnerable to outside forces. The more we can equip our daughters with a means for empowering themselves from within, the more we can rest assured that when along the road to greater independence they stumble and fall, they have the reserves to pick themselves back up and readjust their course.

Compelled by the desire to provide resources for girls and women struggling with low self-esteem in secrecy, as I did, I issued a call to all women brave enough to share the thoughts, feelings, hopes and doubts they confided in their private diaries during their own teenage years. The product of that search is My Diary Unlocked: Stories of Teen Girls Heal the Inner Adolescent of Our Soul, -- an anthology of diary entries and inspirational tools compiled to provide a direct window into the hearts and minds of adolescents on the fragile quest toward self-knowledge.

Among other tools shared throughout the book, I offer 3 keys for young women to become and remain empowered as they begin the new chapter of college life. They are embedded in the following acronym for raising the BAR to higher self-esteem: Developing 1) BOUNDARIES, 2) AWARENESS, and 3) RESPONSIBILITY.


The first step in raising the BAR is to establish clear personal BOUNDARIES, reflected in one of Shakespeare's famous quotes, "This above all, to thine own self be true." Of course, to be true to ourselves requires us to take the time to notice how we feel in any given relationship or situation. Like a soul-centered GPS, this internal guidance system helps us navigate and remain safe in changing situations.

A 16-year-old girl named Kate was the first woman to send me her diaries in their hand-written form. Her sense of humor shines through as she clarifies her boundaries about what she will and will not accept in a boyfriend:

"My Guy Requirements:
  • Can carry on a conversation without using "I" more than 50 times.
  • Has goals (going 30 days without a beer doesn't count).
  • Regularly challenges himself -- not others.
  • Calls when he says he will call. Understands the word no.
  • Respects my goals and doesn't get in the way of them.
  • Doesn't drive like a psycho.
  • Never touches me in a violent or possessive manner.
  • Does not kick the school mascot.
  • Knows how to play solitaire, because if he doesn't meet these requirements that will be his fate!"

A young woman who has the insight and courage to honor her personal boundaries is off to a good start to keep her self-respect intact.

The second step in raising the BAR to personal empowerment is to deepen self-AWARENESS by giving more attention to our internal thoughts, feelings, desires and reactions. Asking some basic questions is a good place to start: When you reflect on a particular situation or friendship, does your body feel tense or relaxed? What about your emotions? Do you feel happy, appreciated, anxious, frustrated? What do you imagine in the future regarding this situation? In a week? A month? A year?

In your most important relationships, are you being "authentically you," or are you compromising your truth to accommodate someone else? What kinds of thoughts are you telling yourself about how worthy or unworthy you are of respect? This awareness check-in offers a reliable way to reconnect with ourselves, especially when we are feeling off center.

The third and final step in raising the BAR to personal empowerment is becoming willing to take full RESPONSIBILITY for our lives. I break this word down to remind individuals when they remain true to their own soul they are able to respond to circumstances with a sense of peace and assuredness of right action. When we objectively observe our own actions, noticing those that contribute to anxiety or suffering, we regain the wisdom to make different choices.

If we can support our daughters in developing these three basic qualities of BOUNDARIES, AWARENESS, and RESPONSIBILITY, we will send them out into the world with the certainty that it is safe to speak their minds and their hearts.

Janet Larson enjoys conversations with her readers. Feel free to leave a comment or email her at Keep inspired on Facebook @mydiaryunlocked, and check out