International Women’s Day is March 8 every year, and it’s a great opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of women and girls both in our lives and across the world. Though our society has made incredible progress towards gender equality in recent decades, girls today still receive harmful messages from peers, the media, and other sources that can deeply affect their self-worth. Here are some great strategies you can use as a parent to counter these messages and raise an empowered young woman.
- Praise and encourage her interests, intellect, and talent, rather than her beauty. Instead of telling her how pretty she looks today, ask her what she is learning in school or how her favorite after-school activity is going. Encouraging natural strengths can foster confidence that reaches into other areas of life as well. And while it is always nice to tell a girl that she is beautiful, it’s important to place more emphasis on other aspects of her character.
- Ask her opinion! Ask your daughter what she thinks about topics ranging from what to make for dinner to current events, social issues and more. Girls are told too often, both directly and indirectly, that they should be passive and not too outspoken. Show your daughter that her opinion matters by engaging her in discussions. Ask her why she believes the things she does, and don’t be afraid to gently disagree—she should get some practice defending her opinions, too.
- Make her aware of media pressures, including social media. Talk with her about unrealistic images of women in the media—this video depicting how drastically women’s appearances are altered in ads is a great way to start a discussion. Start a dialogue about how women are portrayed in books, television, and movies, too (“I wonder why that movie shows the girl waiting for the prince to save her? I know lots of girls who could do that themselves!”) Social media can be a forum for making girls feel small and disempowered as well, so monitor these interactions as best you can.
- Give her great female role models, including yourself! As a mother, make sure you aren’t criticizing yourself and especially your weight or appearance around your daughter. Point out and introduce her to women in her life, in the community, or in the news who are doing work they love and making a difference in the world.
- Give her the opportunity to try new things. Mastering a skill that you were once afraid of or unable to do is a great way to build confidence. When she is having a hard time learning something new, remind your daughter of another time she experienced an obstacle but overcame it.