I believe there are many approaches to instilling healthy self-worth in girls, but it begins within the security of a loving family. Specifically, it depends on a caring and affirming father. Moms are vital in countless ways too, but self-worth for girls hangs precariously on their relationship with their dads.
That understanding is spelled out in another wonderful book that I hope you’ll buy and read (after you have finished reading mine, of course ☺). It was written by pediatrician Meg Meeker and is entitled Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. Here is what Dr. Meeker writes about the way girls are made:
I have watched daughters talk to fathers. When you come into the room, they change. Everything about them changes: their eyes, their mouths, their gestures, their body language. Daughters are never lukewarm in the presence of their fathers. They might take their mothers for granted, but not you. They light up—or they cry. They watch you intensely. They hang on your words. They hope for your attention, and they wait for it in frustration—or in despair. They need a gesture of approval, a nod of encouragement, or even simple eye contact to let them know you care and are willing to help.
When she’s in your company, your daughter tries harder to excel. When you teach her, she learns more rapidly. When you guide her, she gains confidence. If you fully understood just how profoundly you can influence your daughter’s life, you would be terrified, overwhelmed, or both. Boyfriends, brothers, even husbands can’t shape her character the way you do. You will influence her entire life because she gives you an authority she gives no other man.
Many fathers (particularly of teen girls) assume they have little influence over their daughters—certainly less influence than their daughters’ peers or pop culture—and think their daughters need to figure out life on their own. But your daughter faces a world markedly different from the one you did growing up: it’s less friendly, morally unmoored, and even outright dangerous. After age six, “little girl” clothes are hard to find. Many outfits are cut to make her look like a seductive thirteen- or fourteen-year-old girl trying to attract older boys. She will enter puberty earlier than girls did a generation or two ago (and boys will be watching as she grows breasts even as young as age nine). She will see sexual innuendo or scenes of overt sexual behavior in magazines or on television before she is ten years old, whether you approve or not. She will learn about HIV and AIDS in elementary school and will also probably learn why and how it is transmitted. . . .
You need to stop in your tracks, open your eyes wider, and see what your daughter faces today, tomorrow, and in ten years. It’s tough and it’s frightening, but this is the way it is. While you want the world to be cautious and gentle with her, it is cruel beyond imagination—even before she is a teen. Even though she may not participate in ugly stuff, it’s all around her: sexual promiscuity, alcohol abuse, foul language, illegal drugs, and predatory boys and men who want to take something from her.
I don’t care whether you’re a dentist, a truck driver, a CEO, or a schoolteacher; whether you live in a 10,000-square-foot home in rural Connecticut or a 1,000-square-foot apartment in Pittsburgh—ugliness is everywhere. Once upon a time ugliness was somewhat “contained”—gangs, drug pushers, and “the bad crowd” stayed in defined pockets, in certain neighborhoods and schools. No more. The ugliness is all around. . . .
You will make the difference in your daughter’s life. You have to—because, unfortunately, we have a popular culture that’s not healthy for girls and young women, and there is only one thing that stands between it and your daughter. You. Fathers inevitably change the course of their daughters’ lives—and can even save them. From the moment you set eyes on her wet-from-the-womb body until she leaves your home, the clock starts ticking. It’s the clock that times your hours with her, your opportunities to influence her, to shape her character, and to help her find herself—and to enjoy living.8
Dr. Meeker’s perspective is brilliant, including her unsettling reference to the “ugliness” in today’s world. Indeed, the culture is “cruel beyond imagination” and threatens the emotional and physical health of this generation of girls. It is aimed squarely at female sexuality, beginning in early adolescence (or even earlier) and continuing into adulthood. Without their fathers to protect and defend them, girls are often on their own against formidable forces. In short, the influence that dads wield for good or harm in their daughters’ lives touches every dimension of life. Especially, it shapes and stabilizes girls’ senses of worth and keeps alive their tender spirits. I urge all parents, but especially fathers, to work at building your daughter’s self-concept throughout her childhood. Tell her she is pretty every chance you get. Hug her. Compliment her admirable traits. Build her confidence by giving her your time and attention. Defend her when she is struggling. And let her know that she has a place in your heart that is reserved only for her. She will never forget it.
Posted In: Family Institute