If you have a teenager (or have ever been a teenager), you know how hard it can be. Teenage girls in particular experience so many additional issues regarding friends, society, and self-esteem. They may be keeping feelings locked up, unable to understand their emotions, or dealing with things outside of your control.
Self-esteem is more than just liking yourself: It includes positive body image, being confident in your choices, asserting yourself, and making healthy decisions about your life and well-being.
A self-esteem exercise to try with your daughters is learning what (and what not) to filter. Ask the following: “Who said it, what was said, and is it valid?” If someone says something that makes you feel down, the validity of the statement is in who said it and what was said. For example, if a doctor says to eat more veggies for health reasons, that seems valid because they have a medical degree and are concerned for your well-being. However, if a peer calls you fat, they literally have no say in that. How does a stranger, who doesn’t know you, get a say in YOUR body?
Help your daughter recognize if she is assertive, passive, or aggressive. Now, help her determine how to become more assertive, and less of the other two. This is important for you to model as a parent as well. For example, start small by speaking up for yourself at a restaurant if your dish is wrong. Then, work your way up to standing up to someone intimidating in a cordial, professional way. This all leads into learning about boundaries and what she wants to be assertive about.
It’s so important to teach boundaries and consent, especially to females in society. Have regular conversations with your teen, while also modeling healthy boundaries. Talk about what they want/don’t want, what they will/won’t do, and who they are/are not. Allow them to create the responses on their own, while processing healthy decisions with them. This also involves discussions on asking for and giving consent on any topic, and conversing about possible scenarios involving other individuals.
The last thing, which is most important, is parents modeling healthy self-esteem. When mothers show positive self-esteem, their daughters will follow and feel confident in themselves. Additionally, daughters whose fathers value them have healthier self-esteem. And don’t forget teen boys also have their own set of issues. Sons who see a confident mother and equal, assertive parenting will grow up to see women as equals and treat them respectfully. Allow your daughters and sons to express their emotions freely, and be open and supportive of them. Their self-esteem will thank you.
Gianna Russo-Mitma, M.S. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Intern in Portland, Oregon. She specializes in working with teens (hosting the group “G.E.T. It! Girls Empowering Themselves”), life transitions, and co-parents after separation and divorce.