Building Healthy Self-Esteem in Girls

It’s all too familiar to many teens. The phrases – “I’m too fat. I wish I were skinnier. I want a flat stomach. My hair is too straight. My waist is too thick. My nose is too big. My chest is too small.” – are typically already part of teenage girls vocabulary. And who can blame them? We live in a culture that celebrates skinny over intelligence, the perfect face over inner beauty and a size 2 over the “true size” of the average American woman – a size 12. In fact, many parents and their daughters are shocked to find out that the gorgeous movie icon Marilyn Monroe actually wore a size 14.

All of the “Perfect 10” images circulating in the media often dictate how girls view themselves and their bodies. Research has shown that 75 percent of teen girls felt depressed and guilty after looking through a fashion magazine for just three minutes. In addition,The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty found in 2006 that 92 percent of teen girls want to change some aspect of how they look – with body weight ranking the highest on their list.

Indeed, the “media effect” can take a devastating toll on girl’s self-esteem. Instead of taking pride in themselves and feeling empowered by who they are and what they want to do, teenage girls often feel just the opposite – allowing glossy images and super-skinny models to tell them what they should wear and how they should look. These images can affect a teen’s body image by making her feel ugly and shameful about they way she looks. Since negative body image has been linked with the development of low self-esteem, a myriad of issues can follow this development such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Not to mention the wasted potential of our girls to become strong, independent, women.

Self-esteem usually begins to decrease for girls around the time of puberty, when their bodies are changing and they care more about what their peers think of how they look. It’s at this juncture that parents can make a big difference. Just because your daughter takes social cues from her friends, doesn’t’t mean that parents are powerless. You can help your daughter reach her full potential by doing simple things that can make a big difference in how she views herself and the world around her.

Try these parenting tips to help your daughter grow and develop into a strong, resilient woman.

Steps to Higher Self-Esteem:

  • Value Education. Education seems to be an indicator for healthy self-esteem. Over 90 percent of women who had a college education said they were “happy,” compared with only 3 percent of women who had not completed high school. In most areas for women, the more educated you are, the higher your self-esteem.
  • Don’t Rescue Her. Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, parents tend to “rescue” their daughters more than their sons from difficult situations. Research shows that this type of help actually undermines a girls ability to problem solve. Instead allow your daughter to work through her issues, while still providing support if she needs it.
  • Encourage Traditional “Boy” Activities. We are fortunate that in today’s world, there ample opportunities for girls to try traditional “boy” sports and activities. Let your daughter try a season of basketball or show her how to fix the flat tire on her bike. The more she’s exposed to different and challenging situations, the more she will grow and develop a sense of worth and accomplishment.
  • Get to Know her Goals. Talk with your daughter about her hopes and dreams. It’s never too early to get to know what she wants to do “when she grows up.” Support her goals by showing an interest in what she wants to do. If you don’t agree with her goals, talk with her about your feelings. Just make sure that you are not in disagreement for your own personal reasons. If her goals are realistic, it’s important for your daughter to know that you believe in her.
  • Confront Media Images. Take the media driven “culture of beauty” on. Talk with your teen about how she feels about the images she sees. What does she think of her body? Instead of focusing on all the things she doesn’t’t like, ask her what she likes the most about herself and use that as a guide. Point out the images of women in the media. Discuss how she feels about how women are portrayed on TV, the movies, and magazines. Let her know that most of the time these images are not “real.” Pull out your computer and show her Adobe Photo Shop, she’ll get the picture (literally)!
  • Praise her – Differently. Girls are often praised based on their beauty and cleanliness (ex. “You look so pretty in that dress”). Instead, praise her based on her intelligence, creativity, and ideas (“I really like the way you figured out how to fix the tire on your bike”).
  • Ask questions. Encourage your daughter to ask questions and question answers. Girls are often taught to do less of both. Make sure your teen knows that she should always speak up for what she believes is right – even if it goes against the beliefs of others.
  • Encourage extracurricular activities. Extracurricular activities add character, so encourage her to join clubs, play sports, get a part time job, etc. She’ll learn responsibility, leadership skills, build friendships, and be a team player – all qualities that will enable her to grow into a strong woman.