Top 10 Ways to Preserve Girls’ Self-Esteem, Part 1

Mother and daughter doing arts and crafts together at home in living roomResearch shows that girls experience a significant drop in self-esteem around puberty — often during the middle school years.  They internalize negative messages they hear from others and the media.  Messages about the ideal body type or ideal beauty can leave a girl with fractured self-esteem and an abundance of self-doubt. The damaging effects of chronic low self-esteem can surface at any time in her life, wreaking havoc with her relationships and happiness.

It’s never too early to start helping your daughter create counter-balance in her world.  This is your job as parents.  Your home should be a safe place for her to question and explore her feelings, right?  The problem is that many girls stop sharing with their parents around puberty and they engage more with friends — through social media or texting.  Oftentimes parents find themselves on the outside looking in and feeling helpless.

Here is my top ten list of ways in which parents can help to preserve their daughter’s self-esteem during the often emotionally-turbulent years of middle school and high school.

  1. Praise her efforts and accomplishments.  Everyone has a unique talent, if not many.  Many of us, me included, did not discover this until well into adulthood. Help your daughter discover her talents be they academic, sports, art, music, communication skills, or whatever it may be.  We live in a time where being athletic can be seen as the end-all, be-all — leading to a first class seat in the popular group.  If your daughter is not athletic, help her find a place/group where she feels accepted.  We all need to be a part of something.  Early on you can guide her in a positive direction.
  2. Talk about self-image.  The media and fashion industry thrive on female insecurity.  Body shame and eating disorders are at an all-time high.  Help your daughter recognize and also reject harmful messages about her body.  Encourage her to define beauty for herself.  Talk about the temptation to compare and the desire to be popular.  Help her realize her value is not in her looks.  I believe that there is great value in each person.  How do you define value?
  3. Discuss social media traps.  Teach your child to use social media with care. Remind her that people often brag on social media and they tend to put their lives in the best light.  What they are seeing may not reflect reality. Having too many friends (such as on Facebook) can easily lead to social comparison.  Great questions to ask her:  What do you notice about other people’s status updates?  How much time do you think you spend on social media and is it balanced with your other activities?  How do you want to show up on social media?  One of my teen clients recently shared with me that social media causes her so much anxiety, but she can’t stop.  In other words, she doesn’t want to miss out.  FOMO is the fear of missing out and it is a real issue for teens.  Be especially aware of or Instagram’s “rate me” posts.  This can be the perfect platform for bullying and dangerous rumors.  Yet at the same time they can be so tempting to girls.
  4. Give her permission to be herself.  A girl needs to feel unconditionally loved and that she is “good enough” as is. I am talking about her physical appearance as well as her emotional world.  I realize there may be concerns that you may need to deal with such as a difficult personality or possibly getting braces to help her feel good about her smile.  All of us will strive for improvement if we genuinely feel accepted the way we are.  If your daughter is having difficulty fitting in with her peers, you may want to seek counseling for further insight and advice.
  5. Nurture positive friendships.  Your daughter will experience a variety of friendships throughout her school years.  Think back to the friendships you had when you were a teen.  Some were likely positive and healthy while others were negative and hurtful.  Some lasted and some did not.  Help your daughter understand the sometimes changing-nature of friendships and to resist the urge to hold on too tightly.  Discuss what constitutes a good friend and healthy relationships.  Help her distinguish between being treated rudely and misinterpreting a situation.  Friendships that cause her pain are not necessarily negative.  Many girls tend to see relationships in black and white.  Either they are good or bad.  The reality is that there are many possible categories for friendships.  Ask her to come up with some of her own categories.  You can also ask her to reflect on what type of friend she is to others.  I often see parents who struggle in this area.

That concludes the first half of my list.  I’ll share the rest with you in my next newsletter, so be sure to watch for it in two weeks. In the meantime, I encourage you to work on the topics listed above.

If you feel that your daughter will benefit from speaking one-on-one with a counselor as she enters these uncertain teenage years — or if you would like to learn how to guide her —  please contact me via email or phone 703.505.2413 to arrange an appointment.


Michelle Kelley

Michelle Kelley Licensed Counselor, Owner, Girls Stand Strong

Licensed counselor and founder of Girls Stand Strong Michelle Kelley, LCSW, helps girls and women of all ages develop and improve their self-image, self-esteem, relationship and communication skills, emotional understanding, coping skills, the ability to handle difficult situations and people, and resiliency to create a brighter, better and more successful tomorrow. For more information about Michelle’s coaching and counseling services, call (703) 505-2413 or email

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