Why your teenager doesn’t believe you when you tell her how great she really is.
As a parent, it can be hard to see your teenage daughter struggle with low self-esteem. When you look at her, you see a bright, caring, beautiful young woman. And no matter how many times you share that with her, or try to build her up, her self-esteem and self-confidence seem to remain shaken, on unsteady ground.
You might think to yourself, “Why is this happening? Why can’t she see what I see?” There are likely a number of reasons, from small, individual things all the way to large, societal things.
You may not know it, but there is a shift that happens for girls in their self-perception.
Around ages 9 and 10, girls start to view the world in a different way. The perfect embodiment of this shift is captured in the phrase: throw like a girl. Generally, before age 9 or 10, a girl might hear that phrase and think, “I throw and I am a girl.” There is no negative connotation or any indication that to throw like a girl means she does something less than or worse than a boy. However, around age 9 or 10, throw like a girl has that negative spin. A girl hears that and thinks, “I am less than because I am a girl.”
And this is only the beginning. Research has shown that even in high school, teachers – especially in math and science classes – typically call on boys to answer their questions, not girls. Even if a girl’s hand is raised. So, when you tell your daughter how great she is, and she doesn’t seem to hear you, it is likely because her experience in other facets of life has taught her otherwise. It’s as if she has a “negative girl” SnapChat filter permanently on.
What is perhaps the most frustrating as a parent is the fact that this negative influence is insidious.
Chances are you never told your daughter that she couldn’t throw well because of her gender. Chances are you have spent much of her childhood rearing her to develop into a strong and capable woman. And at the same time, messages from peers, teachers, and from society, in general, have seeped into your household. Negative notions have been streaming in through TV, through social media, telling your daughter that she is not good enough or that she is lacking.
You could try and make the messages stop, but your chances of success are slim. Unfortunately, negative female messages are really everywhere, as they are deeply embedded in how our society views, talks about and values women. What we know is that girls with positive female role models and positive peer relationships have more resiliency against these messages. We also know that there are strategies and tools we can arm your daughter with, so she can overcome and fight these messages, enabling her to see herself the way you see her.
*Speaking of throwing like a girl: See how this young lady is breaking the stereotype: