Eye roll, hair flip, “whatever”. If these three things are occurring in your home more frequently than rinse, lather, repeat, chances are you are living with a teenage girl. While our teen girls may challenge us in ways we thought only happened in movies or to other parents, how can we as parents, counselors, coaches, and mentors help them navigate the ups and downs of these years to become the upstanding women we always knew they could be? The key to answering this question is knowing what’s behind the eye roll and identifying the area where teen girls tend to struggle the most: their self-esteem.
Self-Esteem and Teenage Girls
Counselor Casey Claypool, a child mental health specialist, suggests one cause to the low self-esteem epidemic is due to the way the media portrays women. She explains:
“Within the majority of teen culture, there has not been much of an emphasis on inner-beauty and service to the community; rather, the culture highly emphasizes the importance of outer appearance, sexuality, competition, and conformity. You can see evidence of this on the cover of gossip magazines, the character quality in reality television, and the lyrical content in top-40 radio. Clearly this is not the only factor in the struggle for teen self-worth. This really is a systemic problem.
With the advent of Facebook and Smartphones, girls are now encouraged to post pictures, comment, and gossip about each other. It is common and seemingly culturally acceptable to objectify themselves and each other through these modes. If we are to evolve beyond this societal struggle, we must encourage and teach our young girls to develop their inner-self and to build a foundation that can weather the storm of hormonal upheavals, first break-ups, and speech class. It is not new news that the images they are subjected to are unrealistic and unobtainable. However, these messages still find their way into the subconscious minds of impressionable youth. These messages are some of the primary factors that undermine a girl’s sense of self and worth to society”.
Kim Anthony, a married mother of three girls and the head varsity softball coach at Skyview High School in Vancouver notes the power of the family in influencing girl’s self-esteem:
“So many broken homes equals some broken parents who struggle to make ends meet and don’t have the time to spend with their kids. That missing time can leave holes in some young girl’s lives, causing them to feel they are not good enough.”
Claypool agrees that parents play a vital role in helping girls learn how to value themselves beyond just their looks, “Parents need to be ok with who they are and set a good example. Nothing undermines a child’s self-confidence more than a parent’s own lack of self-confidence. Oftentimes parent’s best intentions can backfire when they spend too much time focusing on their kids while neglecting their own well-being. Parents can set a good example by responsibly taking care of their own body, mind, and spirit.”
Media Awareness is Crucial
With so much talk about the challenges of having low self-esteem, what can be done to help our girls feel better about themselves? Claypool notes that, “We need a better awareness of how media affects us. We can help girls by teaching them to tune in to how certain media affects how they feel about themselves and the world around them. Our kids are being programmed to mimic what they are seeing on TV such as Jersey Shore and The Kardashians.” As a parent and coach, Anthony has a dual role in helping girls. She states, “As a coach, I try to create an environment of hard work along with good relationships. I emphasize not being out worked by our opponents. I believe a lot of pride comes from working hard and controlling our work ethic and attitudes. I want them to realize how much of their life they create. Otherwise they tend to place blame and make excuses, which doesn’t lead to a healthy place. As a parent, I try to remind them often of how proud I am, how beautiful they are, etc. Not just after a game winning hit, but even after failure. When I see them be kind to a teammate or have a good battle against a tough pitcher. Society only sees success in the end result and not in the journey. I try and let them experience both the ups and downs of their journey, and that they know they are loved no matter what.”
Our girls have an uphill battle to face due to the power of the media. However, this power can be swayed back in a positive direction with the right guidance, love, and support from those who care the most about girls: the adults in their lives. Even if our support is met with eye rolls and hair flips, deep down inside there is an emerging, confident young woman who will be forever grateful for how she was supported during her teen years.
Justin Farrell is a married father of two living in Vancouver. He is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and a Child Mental Health Specialist at Real Life Counseling. He is the author of the book, God and Grandpa: Lessons Learned on the Road Trip of a Lifetime. It is available online at Amazon.com.
For Further Discussion with Your Teenage Daughter:
- Do you ever feel bad about yourself for not owning something?
- Have you ever felt that people might like you more if you owned a certain item?
- Has an ad make you feel that you would like yourself more, or that others would like you more if you owned the product the ad is selling?
- Do you worry about your looks? Have you ever felt that people would like you more if your face, body, skin or hair looked different?
- Has an ad ever made you feel that you would like yourself more, or others would like you more, if you changed your appearance with the product the ad was selling?
*Questions Adapted from the Media Awareness Network as found in Dr. Anita Gurian’s article, “How to Raise Girls with Healthy Self-esteem.”