Raising Strong Girls
As an American now residing in India, I cannot help but notice that some of the negative aspects of Western media are beginning to encroach on Indian culture. Low self-esteem, insecurities, and poor body image are creeping into the female psyche and behaviour. As Bollywood actresses become increasingly slim, television ads promote fairer, whiter skin, and weight loss clinics are popping up on nearly every street corner, it is not difficult to project how this new trend will impact India’s next generation of girls.
Unlike the West that is now struggling to undo the many consequences the media has had on its young women, India is in a position where prevention is still within the realm of possibility. This begs the question; what can we do now to build strong, self-confident girls?
If you have a daughter, here are some tips for building self-esteem and encouraging her to become her best self:
1. Let your daughter know that you love her because of who she is, not because of how she looks.
I have a young niece and two nephews. Some time ago, I realized that whenever we would spend time together I would compliment my nephews on the good marks they received in school or their abilities on the football field. When I would see my niece, I often caught myself saying, “What a pretty dress you have on today!” or “I love how you’ve braided your hair!” When we compliment girls on their physical appearance, we are neglecting to acknowledge who they are on the inside. These little girls are so much more than pint-size Barbie dolls. They represent an important part of society’s future.
When you interact with your daughter, make sure to engage her interests and passions, and acknowledge her achievements. Compliment the way she was a good friend to one of her classmates, or how she demonstrated responsibility by completing all of her homework on time. The more you can identify and recognize character strengths in your daughter, the less she will feel that her self-worth is a product of her personal appearance.
2. Model body acceptance.
Kids are constantly watching and observing our behaviour. Mothers have a tremendous impact on their daughter’s body image. Beware of criticizing your own appearance in front of your daughter. Comments such as “This outfit makes me look so fat!” or obsessing out loud about food (“I was bad today. I ate so much junk food!”) can have a negative impact on the way your daughter sees herself.
3. Take time to listen to your daughter.
One of the best things you can do as a parent is engage your daughter within her own world. What is important to her? What is she passionate about? How was her day at school? While it may be a challenge at first, do your best to talk less and listen more. Resist the urge to talk over her or interrupt her with a new question or comment. Carve out time where your sole duty as a parent is to listen to your daughter to learn what’s on her mind.This special time promotes a deeper parent-daughter bond, and establishes trust and security. If your daughter knows that you will listen to her when she shares about the small things in life, she will be much more likely to come to you when dealing with life’s more difficult challenges.
Research tells us that one of the best things we can do to build strong girls is to encourage them to get involved in sports at an early age. Girls who play sports are more likely to embrace their self worth and personal value rather than turning to others for validation. For those daughters who do not enjoy being out on the turf, work together to identify other interests such as theater, music, art, or any other area that allows her to express herself.
5. Minimize your daughter’s pop-culture and media exposure.
The impact that media has on girls is not a new discovery. While it is difficult to avoid the media completely, by limiting your daughter’s exposure you can help protect her from many negative messages that she would otherwise receive. If you do find yourselves watching television or glancing through a magazine together, teach your daughter to be “media literate” by helping her to develop a critical eye to decode media’s messages.
6. Demonstrate unconditional love.
Reinforce that no matter how your daughter’s appearance, dress, or even performance may change over time, you love her no matter what. The safety and confidence that she feels from knowing that your love for her will never go away is one of the best gifts you will ever give her.
7. Enjoy time together.
Identify interests and activities that you both enjoy and set aside time to do these things together. Whether it is going for a walk in the park, riding a bike, or cooking together, these activities develop a special bond between a daughter and her parents that will likely keep you connected as she grows older.
Raising a daughter is both challenging and incredibly rewarding. By taking the time to develop your daughter’s sense of identity and self-worth, you will not only equip her to face the pressures of today’s society, but you will also establish a bond that you and your family will enjoy for years to come.
If you would like to discuss and learn more about parenting your daughter, consider talking it over with a professional counsellor.