There has been much discussion of girls’ loss of voice during the middle school years. Girls go from being forward and vocal about their opinions and their knowledge to being quite and shy, particularly around boys. The recommendations about what to do as a parent or educator in the face of a girl in such a situation are, by and large, what you would expect. Praise her for academic and extracurricular achievements. Encourage her to have one or two friends and not worry about the popularity contest at school. I find these suggestions to be weak in their ability to reach girls who have already begun to lose their voice.

So what to do? I think being honest is the first step. Verbalize what changes you’re seeing in your girl, and remind her that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some examples:

“You are very quiet in science class this semester. I miss your contributions to the class because they were insightful and helped the other students understand better. I know you still have those contributions inside, I see them in your eyes during class, and I would love to hear them in class again. I know the other students would learn a lot from them too.”

“I have noted that the way you talk around your friends is changing, particularly the boys. You don’t argue with them or state your point of view like you used to, or like you still do with your girl friends. But you can argue with them. You can let them know who you are and what you like or don’t like. Otherwise you’re not really giving them a chance to see the real you and be friends with the real you.”

Then ask your girl how she feels about it. And listen to her talk. Encourage her to talk. Make sure that in every conversation she talks twice as much as you do. It may be painful for a while – lots of silence, because she’s not talking and you can’t fill that silence for her. But the only way for her to find her voice again may be for someone to give her space to hear her silence first.