Raising a Stronger Daughter

Posted by Lloyd on October 19, 2012

As the first generation of liberated mothers, it may be easy to think that our daughters will grow up in a world far kinder and more accepting of women. It certainly is better; however, evidence shows that our daughters are still being shortchanged – in school, on the playing field, in peer relations, etc.

After about third grade, girls begin to show a descent in how attractive they think they are and how much they like their bodies. Since physical appearance is so highly related to confidence, girls’ self esteem takes a nosedive.

Experts say females have 3 hurdles that challenge them as they grow up:

They live in a society that often devalues a woman’s contribution.
They are educated in a system that still favors boys.
They begin to gain weight and undergo physical changes just when appearance becomes the most important aspect of their self-image.
But what you do at home can go a long way to help. Parents must assume it’s their job to build their daughter’s self-esteem. That goes for any daughter, at any age!

When 3,000 kids ages 9 to 15 were asked by the American Association of University Women (AAUQ) if they agree or disagree with the statement “I am happy with the way I am,” there was a significant gap in the level of confidence felt by girls and boys as they matured.

Percent Who Agreed:
Age Girls Boys
Elementary School 60% 67%
Middle School 37% 56%
High School 29% 46%
So what happens?

According to Myra & David Sadker, Ed.D, professors at American University in Washington, D.C., who studied sexism in education:

Girls receive less attention from teachers in school than boys. Teachers tend to choose activities that appeal to boys’ interests.

Society still discriminates against girls. You see it in magazines, movies and on the television. Women are depicted as having a lot less power than men. As a result, girls learn to suppress their real feelings.

By 11 years old, girls are aware of messages about the importance of being nice, kind, and always sweet.

Without awareness of this impact on girls, parents often reinforce these societal messages by praising their daughters only for how sweet or pretty she is versus for her good decisions, strong academic skills, etc.

Onset of Adulthood
The strongest influence in the decline of a girl’s self-esteem is the onset of adulthood. Since appearance is held to such a high standard in our society for women, girls want desperately to be thin just when puberty is causing them to gain weight. Girls become more self-conscious, feel less attractive, have more negative body image and have more physical changes than boys do.

The Importance of Role Models
One way to help our daughters is to expose them to strong role models. Talk with your daughter about women having options. Let her know that the most important thing to realize is that she can be anything she wants to be, whether a surgeon or a home-manager.

The bottom line seems to be that the more positive images of independent woman your daughter gets, the greater her chances of escaping the teen plague of self-doubt.

Great Resources for Girls:

Reckless Ruby by Oram Hiawyn, AGES 4 and up.
Brave Irene by William Steig, AGES 5-10
My Way Sally by Mindy Bingham, AGES 6 and up.
Choices: A Teen Woman’s Journal for Self-Awareness & Personal Planning by Mindy Bingham, AGES 10 and up.
A League of Their Own
Beauty and the Beast
National Velvet
The Long Walk Home
Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken

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