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Moms Matter Most

For self-esteem

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Moms Matter Most

Fostering your child's self-esteem in our culture can be a daunting task, especially for girls. Follow our 10 parenting tips for building self-esteem in girls.

News headlines and self-help books characterize today’s girls while tabloids and magazines glorify the digitally altered Hollywood images of the sexually powerful teenagers they should strive to be. Fostering your daughter’s self-esteem in this culture can be a daunting task!

A decade ago, Andrea James was confident of her ability to nurture her toddler into a self-assured and assertive young woman. However, like many mothers in today’s celebrity-driven culture, James bumped up against influences she could not have imagined when the Spice Girls began selling their campy version of girl power.

Effects of Self-Image

The cost of low self-esteem is painfully obvious. Despite today’s incredible opportunities, girls are at greater risk of depression and eating disorders than boys of the same age, and girls with a poor self-image engage in sexual intercourse, on average, two years earlier than their peers.

Worries about appearance and weight are directly related to girls’ self-esteem. Pressures that put physical image ahead of health, interests, or personal relationships compromise opportunities for experience and skill development.

A recent study involving 3,300 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 64 in 10 countries around the world indicated that 92 percent of girls want to change some aspect of their appearance. Girls who are dissatisfied with their appearance are less likely to express opinions and more likely to skip school or social events.

There is hopeful news, though. The same study indicated that mothers remain the most powerful influence on how girls feel about their appearance and self-esteem.

Mom’s in Charge

At 12, Zo?ames is a self-assured force of nature who plays softball and electric guitar with equal confidence but struggles to understand why she can’t wear stilettos or lingerie-inspired clothing to middle school. Her fashion icons are the impossibly thin, designer-wearing adolescents normalized in celebrity magazines.

Fortunately, her mother Andrea James consumes media together with her daughter while teaching her about the industry’s artifice. James is part of a growing movement of moms who realize they need not relinquish their power to pop culture; they have a valuable role in helping girls interpret, challenge, and resist these external definitions of beauty.

Safe Challenges

Another important way for mothers to foster self-esteem is by encouraging girls’ passions and unique interests. Though hockey, wall climbing, or singing might be outside a mom’s comfort zone, her daughter may enjoy the challenges of these unique opportunities.

Taking risks is a normal and healthy aspect of adolescent development, so helping daughters access safe opportunities is a supportive way to aid in their growth.

Healthy Weight Perception

The spotlight on childhood obesity has put normal puberty weight gain under scrutiny and increased the stigma for larger-than-average children. Paradoxically 27 percent of Canadian girls are engaged in some form of disordered eating.

Keeping the focus off weight and on increasing energy and healthy sustainable habits for the whole family will help develop realistic expectations. Studies show that the more physically active girls are, the higher their self-esteem, regardless of weight.

Calorie restriction can make girls hungry, unmotivated, and ultimately preoccupied with food or their bodies. As girls grow, they require all the nutrients and energy that come from a diverse and sufficient diet.

Most importantly, as Andrea James understands well, moms are still the most important influence in their daughters’ lives.

10 Tips for Fostering Girls’ Self-Esteem

  1. Let her know that her opinions count and that she is valued for her contributions to family, school, and community.
  2. Praise her efforts, achievements, and perseverance more often than her appearance.
  3. Encourage communication, decision-making, and problem-solving skills; these equip her with genuine solutions to life’s challenges.
  4. Prepare her for normal growth spurts in height and weight during puberty.
  5. Explain that we don’t have infinite control over our bodies, which resist manipulation through dieting and overexercising.
  6. Promote positive female friendships; discourage competition or comparisons based on weight or appearance.
  7. Encourage her to diversify friendships so she is better prepared to weather the normal ebb and flow in relationships.
  8. Increase responsibilities such as volunteering, dog walking, or independent financial decisions in order to foster self-worth.
  9. Consume media together and teach her to question what she reads, views, and hears.
  10. Point out the strengths and the beauty of women of all sizes and diverse appearances.
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