How to Raise Girls with a Healthy Self-Esteem

It's within the family that a girl first develops a sense of who she is and who she wants to become. Parents armed with this knowledge can create a climate that will enable girls to achieve their full potential. The goal is to help your daughters avoid developing negative feelings about themselves and grow into strong, confident women. 

Self-esteem is a complex issue.  It's not just about how we look, it's about how we feel about how we look. It's not about how smart others say we are, but how confident we feel about our talents and abilities. It is important to understand the internal and external pressures girls feel and how these pressures affect their self-esteem. 

The following are some alarming statistics about girls' self-esteem and how drastically it changes from elementary through high school.

Girls' self-esteem peaks at age nine, then takes a nosedive.

Boys have a higher sense of self-esteem in elementary school and are better at retaining it over the years.

20-40% of girls are dieting beginning at age ten.

By 15, girls are twice as likely as boys to become depressed.

Among fifth - twelfth graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.

More black girls feel self-confident in high school compared to white and Hispanic girls.

It's true that the media, peers, and pop culture heavily influence children and adolescents. However, parents can have a huge impact on a daughter's developing self-esteem.

Here's how you can make a difference:

Monitor your own comments about yourself and your daughter.

Avoid making comments about looks and beauty all the time.

Don't stereotype:  Let your daughters take out the trash and let your sons help with dinner.

Expose girls to different role models.

Point out differences in people, especially their positive attributes, personality, skills, etc.

Monitor and comment on media messages you see that could be harmful.

Encourage your daughter to speak her mind and ask for her opinions.

Let girls fail - helping and protecting them all the time can translate into a girl feeling incapable.

Get girls involved in sports or physical activities. It can reduce the risk of chronic disease.  Female athletes do better academically and have lower school drop out rates.

Regular physical activity enhances girls' mental health, reduces stress and depression, and helps them to feel strong and confident, which improves self-esteem.

References for statistics: Robin I. Goodmar, Ph.D.
Public Education Projects, at NYU Child Study CenterI