Everyone was just as shocked as I was when I got knocked up at 15 years old. Yay for abstinence education, ya’ll! Everyone blamed my mother, of course. She was a single mom, gone all the time, working two jobs. I was a very angry teenager, left to babysit a younger brother (whom I absolutely loathed), more often than not.
I was super smart, but I dropped out of school 3 months in to 9th grade. I’ve always had anxiety, so it was no surprise that I couldn’t handle the pressure of actual high school. Once I dropped out, I homeschooled myself. Homeschooling left lots of time to do other things, like chat online and hang out with older kids (other drop-outs, of course). I had a job, but it was just in the evenings, so my days were a free for all. Anger, confusion, lots of free time, no father, no adult attention or discipline. No wonder I got pregnant. Meh.
Anyway, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about building self-esteem in your teenage daughter. Isn’t that a scary phrase? You remember what it was like to be a teen. Did any of us have self-esteem? I know I sure as hell didn’t.
I was 16 when Nell was born. I didn’t want to hold her, touch her, be near her. I made sure they cleaned her off before she came anywhere near me. I wasn’t ready to be a mom. 9 months wasn’t enough. I had always hated babies, hated kids. What the hell was I doing?
I looked down at my
pink wrapped bundle of joy cone-headed, smushed face baby, covered in ick. I didn’t know what to think, really. I was sixteen years old and had never held a baby before. I cringed when I heard the evil little things crying in a store. Again, what in the hell was I doing?
It took me several years (and a few more kids) to realize that I was doing an alright job. When I realized that Nell was growing up right before my eyes, I knew that some day I would be living through her teen years. I just didn’t expect them to come along so fast, you know?
And now, here we are in a world much different from the one I lived in while I was a teenager. My daughter (all of them, actually) faces many different issues than I did. I’m watching her struggle through being on her first sports’ team, and unfortunately the girl that used to be bubbly and full of hope and light is now dealing with low self-esteem and anxiety. Fortunately, the issues literally only stem from volleyball, and from a coach that couldn’t give a shit less about being a positive male influence in her life, so it hasn’t been as big of an issue as it could’ve been. Unfortunately, I know how easy it is for those issues to spread to other areas in her life, so it’s something I’ve kept an eye on like a hawk. She’s 14 1/2. Literally one year past this age, I was pregnant. Pregnant.
It seems that girls these days are not allowed to be children past their 10th birthday. By 11 they are already comparing their prepubescent bodies to the fully formed and airbrushed models they see in magazines. They are already daydreaming about what it might be like to have a baby and star on a reality T.V. show at the age of 16 or to go “naked dating”.
It also seems as if the cliques are tighter and the separations wider between children of different family makeups. Children have always been vicious, but in today’s society, their words are just as sharp as the weapons they carry. The same goes for teachers, church leaders, and yes, even volleyball coaches. Our teen girls look up to these adults. We spend years telling our girls how amazing they are, and one shitty coach or teacher can threaten to crumble it all to the ground.
As a mom, I want to protect my daughter from as much pain as I can. Raising her to have a healthy dose of self-esteem was always my plan, however, now that we are at this stage of the game, I see that it is a dire necessity. I have also found that it is a little more complicated than I thought it would be. I spend weeks telling her she’s a wonderful, amazing, beautiful human being.
Tonight, Nell got to play for literally only 45 seconds in one of the volleyball games. She was so excited, she almost cried. She was so proud of herself, getting the ball OVER the net and not screwing anything up. Even though she was only in for less than a minute, she held her head high – until coach put his 2 cents in and acted like she did something wrong with how she hit the ball over the net. She was crushed. She waited 55 minutes to play in the game, cheering her teammates on the entire time, watching several of them screw up and cost the team many points, and she wasn’t mad. She was happy to be IN the game for even just a minute, but of course that’s ruined, so quickly.
What the hell was the coach thinking? Oh, I wish I knew. Coach, do you realize how fragile a teen girl’s self-esteem is? The same goes for the other girls on the bench, I’m sure their self-esteem was literally low as the dirt after this season of never getting to play or be acknowledged. We put so much faith in teachers and coaches. I know they’re only human, but it’s so disappointing when they let us down in such a big way.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am that Nell respects what I tell her, and spending every day building up her self-esteem has paid off because this volleyball could’ve been a much bigger blow than it was. I know it bothers her, but we’ve reassured her that this has nothing to do with how good she is at volleyball (because she’s actually decent lol); it has nothing to do with anything she has control over. Coach just doesn’t care to rotate players. (Which, side note is super ironic. The two or three games he rotated players in, they won. The rest, they lost. The one thing all the winning teams had in common? They rotated players when the girls got tired.)
Unfortunately, that’s just one story of many – and I’m sure you and your daughter have some as well. There will be jerks no matter where we go, no matter what we do. So, how do we improve our teen daughter’s self-esteem?
First, we need to know where self esteem comes from. Most adults know that self-esteem stems from within. In a teenager’s world, though, self-esteem is heavily influenced by the way others appear to perceive them, or even how others treat them. This is where parents can play a huge role.
1. Support individualism. Encourage your daughter to be independent and self-reliant; not overly concerned with people pleasing and gaining the approval of her peers. Nell has issues with wanting other kids to “like” her, so she tends to be somewhat of a follower – not too much so, but some that I’ve noticed. She is the same way with teachers, and her coach. She really, really wants to do what she needs to, to get them to like her – this means working hard, doing extra homework, going to tutoring constantly, etc.
At this stage in her life, it might be one of the hardest things for her to master, but with support, encouragement and a lot of love, it may become a life skill that will serve her well through her adult years.
2. Practice encouragement instead of praise. Many people do not realize the difference between encouragement and praise. Encouragement recognizes the deed (“Good job!”) and the effort put into an activity. Praise recognizes the do-er (“Good girl!”) and on a complete, perfect result. When you encourage your child, you take the focus off of them and whether they did something wrong or right and instead look at their attempt. Spend time doing mother daughter activities together. Have quality conversations. Let her know you love her; look her in the eyes when you talk, and put away the phone.
3. Set an example. It is practically impossible to instill a strong sense of self-esteem in your daughter when you are a doormat yourself. Make sure that she has the opportunity to observe you setting boundaries and demanding respect in situations where it needs to be done. Kids are always watching to see if we ‘walk the walk’ or just ‘talk the talk’. Do you put the money where your mouth is, or do you just hustle some BS that your teen sees straight through?
4. Be quick to listen, and slow to speak. You know how we women like to talk about our problems and then the person we are talking to decides they want to fix it for us? Doesn’t that make you crazy? It makes your daughter crazy, too. And if you try to fix too many things for her, she may just quit talking to you altogether. Now is the time when teenage girls have to start exercising their decision making skills. Most of the time all she wants is a trusted, listening ear to allow her to voice her own thoughts and concerns without worry of being judged.
Nell isn’t quite a “normal” teenager yet, I guess, because she’s still in the phase of wanting me to solve her problems for her. When she was having issues with volleyball, she wanted me to make the decision on whether she quit or not. I told her I absolutely would not make that type of decision. She decided to quit, and then when she went to school all her teammates called her a “quitter” (among other things, I’m sure). She came home crying, and then decided to stick it out since there were just a few more games. I really wish she would’ve quit, earlier on in the season, but that is hindsight. We couldn’t have known it would be this shitty of an experience, and I try to teach the girls to stick things out even when they’re tough.
One more note on this one: don’t call her names. I know this seems like a given, but I’m tellin’ you what… teenage girls will piss you off like nobody else ever could. And sometimes, it’s right on the tip of your tongue to say god only knows what – but don’t. Bite your tongue, and go say it into your pillow if you have to, but please do not say harsh words to your teenage daughter (even if it seems like she is deserving of them at the time!). She will remember your words, long into her adult years, and she’s going to be choosing your nursing home – so choose your words wisely.
Also, on a more serious note, if you’re calling your teen daughter names or saying harsh words to her, you’re teaching her that when someone loves you, that’s how they treat you. You think she won’t find a man that does the same? She sure as hell will, and you’ll be the first one saying how wrong it is. But she won’t listen to you. She will be gone by then… lost, never to come home.
5. Love her unconditionally. It is a rare girl who escapes her teenage years without making a few mistakes. There will be mean girls who hurt her feelings; boys who break her heart, and temptations to go against the values you have instilled in her since birth. The hormones will rage and so will her emotions; yet, through it all she will need one constant supportive fixture in her life. Let it be you. Self-esteem is not something that happens overnight. It is developed over time, through trial and error. With a strong family foundation built with excellent communication skills, patience, and love our daughters will make it through their teens and come out on the other side as assertive, confident, young women.