Adolescence is a tumultuous time in anyone’s life, but there’s no denying the many ways it can be especially rough on girls. Despite improvements in recent years, dominant culture and mass media continue to promote narratives that center women’s value on their physical beauty or their sexual availability to men. Extended exposure to these narratives will only deepen the many insecurities any teenage girl will naturally already be grappling with as she grows up.
The things you say and do as a parent are sure to have a huge impact on your daughter as she navigates this especially challenging period in her life. Read on for some helpful strategies for fortifying your daughter’s self-esteem and helping her build lifelong confidence.
Let Her Develop Her Own Style
Teenagers will be experiencing many rapid, drastic physical changes throughout their adolescent years. They’ll also be growing increasingly conscious of how other people might perceive them. If these experiences have your daughter feeling a little awkward or uncertain in her skin, try encouraging her to experiment with fashion as a way to express herself. On your next shopping trip, bring her along to buy antimicrobial socks for women, her first pair of running shoes, or a dress with an unusual pattern. Encourage her to buck trends and try on different styles of clothing. Above all, emphasize that she’s not your dress-up doll and that her style is her choice. Make it clear to her that her comfort and self-expression matter most when it comes to what she wears.
De-Prioritize Physical Beauty
That having been said, it’s best not to overfocus on good looks in conversation with your daughter—whether your own, hers, or other people’s. Remember, your environment is already saturated with messages about how girls have to look good in order to have worth. Even seemingly complimentary comments can damage your daughter’s self-esteem if she notices that you only ever talk about her appearance. Focus your praise on other aspects of her person—such as her hard work at school, her imagination, or her compassion for other people. Be sure to do the same for other girls you encounter, like her friends and classmates, your nieces, and others.
Model Healthy Attitudes about Food and Eating
Unrealistic body and beauty standards lead many girls to develop an intense fear of gaining weight that can plague them well into adulthood. At worst, these anxieties can lead to the development of eating disorders and other health problems. In light of this, it’s best to reevaluate the language you use about food in front of your daughter. Avoid making derogatory comments about looking fat or being too skinny, whoever these might be in reference to. Don’t attach moral judgments to food and eating, even as a joke—for example, by tagging occasional snacking or asking for second helpings as “being bad.” Center discussions of eating habits around good health and practicing moderation. Demonstrate an accepting attitude toward all kinds of bodies, no matter their shape or size.
Acknowledge Her Efforts More than Being Critical of Her Mistakes
The teen years are a fruitful time to try new things and push the limits of one’s comfort zone. Encourage your daughter to explore new skills and interests—and emphasize that doing her best matters more than whatever results she might achieve. Affirm even her “mistakes” and “failures” if you see her making an earnest effort. Point out that such experiences are not wasted because of the potential lessons she can learn from them. This assurance will go a long way toward helping her become more mentally and emotionally resilient.
Build Media Literacy in Your Household
When it comes to your daughter’s media consumption, your responsibility as a parent doesn’t stop at telling her what she can’t read, play, or watch. It will be good not just for her but for your entire family if you all make a practice of thinking and talking critically about the media you regularly consume. Start by expressing your earnest interest in the TV shows your daughter watches or the books she’s currently reading. Urge your daughter to ask questions and form her own thoughts about the media messages she encounters. You might even watch some shows together and discuss what you’ve seen to better hone her critical sense.
Encourage Her to Use Her Voice
Many girls grow up with the expectation that they exist to please other people, particularly the men in their lives. Don’t let this happen to your daughter. Affirm that she has the right to advocate for her own needs and desires, and make it clear that you welcome her honest thoughts on anything that concerns her. If your daughter isn’t the kind of person who’s inclined to speak up for herself, for example, create opportunities where you can gently nudge her to do so. Make a practice of asking her what she thinks, what she wants, or what would help her in a particular situation. Give her the time and space to make her own choices, and then be sure to abide by those choices.
As you can see from the above, there are many ways to make confidence-building an integral part of how you parent your daughter. The key is to affirm positive behaviors you’d like her to keep practicing and also to model these attitudes in your own speech and actions. With hard work and consistent support, you’ll help nurture confidence in her that will see her through her teen years and serve her well for the rest of her life.