“She needs the pink sparkly one.” “Stop wrestling around with her like she’s a boy.” “That’s a boys’ toy.” These are all comments that I have received over the past couple of years. And if you have a daughter, the odds are that you’ve received comments like this, too.
In the midst of all the challenges that women today face, it has become apparent to me that raising a strong daughter, full of moxie and grit, is not a choice but a necessity. Raising a young daughter in today’s society is a complicated moving target. Media now celebrates women for their accomplishments more than ever before, but the association between self-confidence and appearance is also at an all-time high.
When researching this topic, I found two very interesting studies. A 1991 study by the American Association of University Women concluded that the majority of 9-year-old girls feel confident and have positive feelings towards themselves. However, by the time they get to high school, that number is less than one-third. A study executed by the American Psychological Association 26 years later supports the same drop in confidence and positive feelings – but now at age 10. This is the age that many girls stop basing their self-image on accomplishments and happiness and start focusing more on their appearance.
I know I have little control over the exterior influences that will be working to negatively impact my daughter’s self-esteem and confidence. So, my goal as her father is to spend these first nine or so years building her confidence as much as possible and making her believe that she’s as amazing as I know she is. To do this, I am focusing on four objectives:
Believe in her
My wife and I are still in that fun stage of finding out who our daughter is: what she likes, what she’s good at, what her passions are. Whatever they are, I believe she will be great at them, and I will make sure she knows that. A girl who believes in herself and her abilities does not shy away from challenges, and the world surely isn’t lacking in challenges to throw at her.
Let her fail
This is one of the most difficult things to do for millennial parents. We try to protect our kids from the agony of failure so much that they often miss out on the opportunity to learn from it. I’ll give my daughter plenty of opportunities to show she is capable of learning from disappointments and letdowns. Letting her fail helps her deal with adversity, and the more adversity she faces, the better equipped she will be to handle it as she gets older.
Focus on her character, not her appearance
Society will always be there to remind my daughter about her physical attributes. Instead, I’ll focus on what’s really important: who she is. I care much more about how my daughter treats her friends, family and those she doesn’t know than I do her appearance. Those are the traits that will impact her formative years when she is trying to figure out what is important.
Be a role model
Simply put, my daughter is looking at me as the standard. Dads are the biggest influence on how their daughters see the world, and more importantly how they see themselves. Are you doing things that will help her take on the world or are you protecting her so much that she won’t be able to protect herself?
I’m not saying that these things are guaranteed to help me raise the next Sheryl Sandberg or Oprah, but I know these efforts will help my daughter prepare for a bright future. No matter what life throws at her, there are three things she can always count on: that I unconditionally love her, that my belief in her will never waver, and that I believe she can accomplish anything she wants. Good luck world, she’s coming for you with a smile and grit.