When I was a young girl, my then-home state of Washington elected their first female Governor: Dixie Lee Ray. I had never met her—and didn’t believe I ever would—but the fact that she was in a position of power gave me a newfound confidence and pride in being female. I remember wearing a large pin button that stated: “Anything boys can do, girls can do better.” It was the first time that I realized that girls could do not only important things but could actually be in a position of government leadership. Fast-forward six years, and I was once again proud of being female when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. A year later, Geraldine Farraro became the first female vice presidential candidate, and women and daughters everywhere in America suddenly had an unlikely voice that represented them. She didn’t succeed in her endeavor, but the very fact that she even tried changed the way people in America looked at women and politics. It also gave me the confidence to realize that I really could do anything I wanted in life.
Isn’t this what we want for our daughters to know, that they can be anything they want? As we know, this is not an easy task. The world as we know it has changed, and women more than ever are in positions of leadership, but at the same time, they are bombarded with mixed messages about who and what they are and what they can be.
According to a report done by the American Psychological Association, by the time most girls enter high school, less than a third of them feel confident, assertive, and positive about themselves. They report that boys also seem to have a small nosedive of self-esteem, but not as much as girls do. They note that by the time girls reach age 10, they start to focus less on their own abilities and accomplishments, and more on their outward appearance. Television, movies, music videos, and magazines ads all have a huge impact on our daughters’ self-esteem. Instead of recognizing their own worth, girls try to measure up to the models, movie stars, and musicians they see. The daily sexualization they are bombarded with sends mixed messages resulting in self-consciousness, passive behavior, and ultimately unhappiness, because no one can compete with Photoshop.
So how do we as parents reverse these images, raising our daughters’ sense of self-worth and making them strong and confident? Besides pointing out positive role models, we can also help our daughters develop those qualities of a strong, independent young woman. The world has more than enough women that allow others to sexualize and pigeonhole their abilities. We need instead to raise daughters that believe in themselves and their abilities and that have the fortitude and integrity to do and be whatever they want in life.
Rachel Simmons, author of “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” has several ideas that can help parents raise our daughters to realize their worth.
Simmons says that confident girls develop an attitude of “I can do this.” The more girls learn to rely on their own ability to make decisions, the more confident they will become. She goes on to say that parents can help build up this quality by giving their daughters opportunities to show they are capable. Many times we as parents take over or do certain tasks because we can do them better or faster. However, if we allow our girls to do these tasks and praise both their efforts and their abilities, we can raise daughters that are strong, capable and confident.
Resiliency is a quality that is all about a person’s character, not looks. To help foster this quality, we as parents need to sometimes step back and resist the urge to rush in and make everything all better. This is hard to do, especially if your daughter is hurt. Our first instinct is to try to protect them from any hurt, but as we know, it is not possible to protect them from everything. The best thing we can do is to teach them how to deal with what is happening with them and to help them bounce back from whatever life hands them.
A good way to do this is to prompt them to come up with solutions on their own. If your daughter is having disagreements with a friend, ask her what she thinks she could do to make things better. Have her come up with a couple of different solutions and talk to her about the possible consequences of each one and let her decide which one she will do.
There is nothing wrong with a girl being assertive and being able to communicate to others what they feel, think and want. Learning to be assertive, looking people in the eye, standing up straight and not being afraid to speak what they really feel are all positive actions that girls can—and should—learn to do. Being assertive doesn’t mean being aggressive. We can encourage our daughters to express their needs to others and to stand up for themselves and their beliefs, while still being kind, respectful, and thoughtful of others.
Provide Role Models
If raising strong and confident daughters is our goal, we need to have strong women that can be role models for them to follow. This is where parents can step in and point out to their daughters those women in society today that can be positive role models for them to follow. In addition, parents can also provide books and information on great women from history that have made a difference in the world.
Helping our daughters grow to be strong, confident women takes time and encouragement, but it is so worth it. Our girls may be young now, but they will soon be tomorrow’s leaders. Let’s help them get there together.