I think I have to count myself as lucky. While I cannot say I did not have any self-esteem issues while experiencing the growing pains of a young girl, I do believe my self scrutiny fell within the “normal” range. My parents gave me enough positive reinforcement that I was able to develop a rather balanced view of myself. However, I realize in today’s society it’s not that easy for parents as the competition for influence consist of very powerful images, which are readily available for young girls to absorb.
Beauty displayed in magazines, billboards and advertisements are not new, except now everything from cheekbones, waistlines, complexion and the sizes of nose, lips, eyes, breast, and buttocks is digitally improved. Who can compete with that in the real world?
Television shows are based on young women competing: some for the attention and affection of only one man, others for a modeling contract, which for all of its merits, still subjects the young women to a panel of judges who openly discuss her short comings before she is rejected. Of course, one of the worst offenders is the music industry, with its twenty-four hour videos, unabashedly glamorizing the degradation of all women, while our children, boys and girls, seemly accept this portrayal of women as normal.
The NYU Child Study Center reports that a girl’s self-esteem begins to decline at age nine and one reason sited is the influence of the media. In addition:
• 20-40% of girls begin dieting at age 10
• Eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression are the most common mental health problems in girls
• Among 5-12th graders, 47% said they wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
Other studies report that a women’s self-esteem is directly related to how her boyfriend or husband views her, so unfortunately, self image problems can and do last far beyond the teen years. However, there are ways that parents can get involved to help boost their daughter’s self-esteem and overall confidence, and hopefully, this involvement will make a lasting impact as well. Here are a few tips to get you started:
• Resist stereotypes. They can be very powerful and difficult to overcome. This includes household chores, sports and education. If your daughter exhibits an interest in science or math, basketball or fixing the car, encourage her to show that nothing is out of bounds for her.
• Get positive male role models (hopefully their fathers) involved in their lives. It’s important that a young girl is shown how she is supposed to be treated by the opposite sex. Sometimes an honest, age appropriate discussion about relationships from a male point of view can be eye opening when it comes from a trusted male source.
• Become a media critic offering insight to portrayals of women in television, music and in magazine. Watch the same television shows that your children do in order to be able to discuss the characters and their behavior and the images that they project. Do the same type of critique for magazines and music videos. This is an exercise that should be done with boys as well. In addition to criticizing, you should also be prepared to take action to restrict objectionable shows, magazines or video channels.
• Offer balanced praise. It’s great that your daughter hears how nice she looks but it’s extremely important that she gets just as much positive reinforcement on her ideas and her abilities.
• Reach out to organizations for more information. There are many programs available to help guide you in parenting this very serious issue. Girl Scouts Uniquely Me has downloadable booklets and age appropriate programs available to help girls create, accept and appreciate a better self image. Also, Dove sponsers Girls Only Interactive Self-Esteem Zone where girls can get a variety of information, take quizzes, watch inspiring movies and even create their own online magazine! It’s all geared towards improving a young girl’s self image. Parents are provided information as well.
• Look for signs of self-esteem issues such as avoiding challenges, making excuses and making self critical comments (“I’m stupid” or “I’m ugly and fat”). Reaching out as early as possible is important for correcting any issue that involves our children and this one is no exception.