When it comes to girls growing up in our modern culture, I think Charles Dickens put it perfectly: it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. Young women in America have more freedoms and opportunities than ever before in history, and they can have wonderful and fulfilling relationships and careers.
Still, those formative years can be pretty brutal with the pressures to be thin, smart, funny, kind, and attractive weighing heavily on a young female’s shoulders. Add to that the fact that girls often take a major blow to their confidence at the age of 8 or 9, and it’s easy to see how they can have a pretty rough time.
So what can we do? How can we help girls find direction and purpose in this world? How do we equip them with the skills they’ll need to navigate the challenges they’ll experience and reach their potential? Book after book has been written about good parenting advice for daughters, and I won’t pretend to offer all the solutions on this topic in a single article. But I still believe that we can do our part to help girls overcome these common obstacles. Whether it’s your daughter, sister, niece, or student, here are a few ideas to help bring up a strong and healthy girl.
One of the aspects of a young woman that is given the most attention is her physical appearance. How often do we say things like, “She’s so cute!” or “Oh my goodness, I love your dress and shoes”? Although it’s not bad to tell a girl she’s pretty, we need to be sure that’s not the main message we give her about what we think about her.
In a famous HuffPo article from a few years ago, Lisa Bloom wrote about the importance of asking a girl about what’s going on in her heart and mind (for example, what book she is reading). This can help them value themselves more than just physically and also hopefully help them avoid the myriad problems plaguing young women who go to dangerous lengths in the hopes of improving their bodies (eating disorders, plastic surgery, etc.)
Another way to raise a strong girl is to consciously fight the culture of entitlement. Unfortunately, many of the young women portrayed in media today act like divas, and our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces may look up to them as role models. One of the ways to counter this is to talk to young girls about the value of hard work and the importance of kindness. The mother’s behavior really sets the tone here. Show by example how not to act like a diva; instead show gratitude, compassion, and conscientiousness.
A sometimes overlooked aspect of bringing up daughters is preparing them for the “real world” of education and career. It seems we often talk to young men about one day having a great job and salary but neglect to help teach and prepare young girls for these same things. We must speak frequently with every girl about how she will continue her journey of learning and take advantage of work opportunities so she can provide for herself, use her talents, and serve her community.
Also, studies show that girls whose mothers work outside the home may have an economic advantage. No matter how your family does things, make sure to talk often (and in a positive way!) with growing girls about career exploration.
Raising happy and healthy girls obviously doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a process that takes years of helping them nurture their minds, learn to work hard, have new learning experiences, and prepare for their future. I encourage you to consider how you can be a good influence on the young women in your life—in ways big or small.