The father and daughter relationship plays a significant role in how successful the daughter will be as a teenager and an adult.
“I am not interested in talking to people. I like to be alone.”
“I don’t want to learn Karate. It is too hard.”
“I don’t want to compere for the school’s annual day.”
“I am ugly.”
Does this sound like your teenage daughter?
As a mother, you might have dismissed her fears and self-doubt as normal. You may have even labelled her as ‘shy’ or ‘scared’ or ‘uninterested’ or ‘vain’ or ‘fussy’ or simply ‘impossible.’
Your teen daughter may or may not be all those labels you gave her. Or she might be dealing with issues of low self-esteem typical of so many other teen girls her age.
Most teenage girls’ self-esteem indeed plummets during puberty. Your spirited 7-year-old daughter, who was roaring with confidence, is now a mellowed-down teen, much like a wounded tigress who stands defeated in a big jungle battle.
Such seemingly innocent statements as the above will eventually lead your daughter to doubt her actions and capabilities. If left unchecked, it will slowly but surely turn into low self-esteem. Unfortunately, these negative thought patterns will keep resurfacing and haunting her well into her adulthood.
Self-esteem is a major determinant of success in life – be it personal or professional. It is defined by how you evaluate your value and worth. How you feel about yourself is reflected through your behaviour, words, and actions.
Are you paying attention to your teen daughter?
A teenage girl with high self-esteem is usually independent, takes on responsibilities and challenges readily, tolerates frustration fairly well, handles emotions maturely, and always helps others.
On the other hand, a teenage girl with low self-esteem does the drastic opposite. She shies away from challenges and responsibilities, blames others for their failures, pretends to be emotionally strong and indifferent, self-deprecates their worth and talents, feels neglected and unloved, and cannot tolerate even the slightest frustration easily susceptible to peer pressure and influence.
Your teenage daughter may fall anywhere in this spectrum of high and low self-esteem. Where do you think she lies at this point in time?
The Surprising Secret To Build Your Teenage Daughter’s Self Esteem
There have been increasing research studies to prove the connection between a healthy father and daughter relationship and your teenage girl’s self-esteem.
In our society, the spotlight has always been on mothers and their undisputed supremacy in parenting. And rightly so because the entire burden of parenting has always fallen upon women! But this haloed spotlight is unfair to both the mother and the child, and it comes at the critical cost of the father’s role in parenting.
There is a largely prevalent misconception that the role of a father is a non-issue. And that his absence from his children’s life is completely justified, especially for his daughters.
Dr. Linda Nielsen, an adolescent psychologist and author of ‘Between Fathers and Daughters,’ has been studying father-and-daughter relationships for more than 15 years. She says,
“It is the society that sends the message that mothers are ideal for raising daughters and fathers should focus on their sons. In comparison, the father-daughter relationship is viewed as secondary to the mother-daughter relationship. The father-son relationship is universally seen as important, where the boy needs his father as a positive role-model as he grows into a man. But his relationship with his daughter is just not viewed as important as with his son.”
At the same time, it is also true that today’s fathers are more ‘hands-on’ than ever before in their daughter’s lives. Be it changing her diapers, brushing her hair into pigtails, pushing her in the pram, teaching her to swim or play basketball!
However, once his daughter attains puberty, it is the mother’s turf now. Unfortunately, many fathers make the crucial mistake of backing off after their daughter’s puberty, failing to realise that it is in the adolescent stage that they are most needed in their daughter’s life.
How a father has the greatest impact on his daughter’s success
Several scientific studies have proven that the father’s active role in his teenage daughter’s life affects how her nervous system is wired.
A father’s presence significantly contributes to his daughter’s overall health – physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.
Here are specific areas in which a father majorly impacts his teenage girl’s life.
When your daughter sees that her father treats you and all the women in his life with respect, love, pride, and joy, he is essentially teaching her to perceive her self-image in a similarly positive way. They see their mirror image in their father’s eyes. Loving, respectful, and supportive husbands subconsciously and automatically reinforce their daughters’ self-worth as a woman.
2. Body Image
Different from self-esteem, body image is how we view ourselves physically.
Dr. Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist and author of the book ‘Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters and the Pursuit of Thinness’ clarifies-
“Daughters of fathers who are emotionally distant are more likely to struggle with issues around food and weight.”
Usually, fathers are uncomfortable talking to their daughters about anything related to their bodies, leave alone discussing body image. As a result, most fathers feel incompetent and inadequate talking about the subject. But fathers must break that mental block and approach this subject fearlessly and normally.
It is a good idea for you to pitch in at the start to support and guide your husband. You can tell your husband to avoid commenting negatively about you, your daughters, or other women. Make it a family norm to avoid references such as ‘that fat woman’ or any form of body shaming. More importantly, pay attention and bring to his notice the way your husband views and talks about his body.
3. Behavioural and social traits
Teenage daughters of loving and appreciative fathers exhibit positive behavioural traits. They usually grow up to be well-adjusted, balanced, and confident women. On the other hand, women who take the path of depression, substance abuse, and psychological problems may be the possible outcome of negligent fathers.
Studies have proven that daughters who communicate regularly with their fathers in a healthy, positive way are freely able to articulate and express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions with others as well. In addition, they can communicate socially with both men and women with equal adeptness and ease with no fear or hesitation.
4. Love and relationships
Adolescent psychologist Dr. Linda Nielsen says,
“The quality of a daughter’s relationship with her father is always affecting her relationships with men – either in good ways or in bad ways. When a woman doesn’t trust men, can’t maintain an ongoing relationship, doesn’t know how to communicate, or is co-dependent, this is probably because her relationship with her father lacked trust and/or communication.”
Your daughter would seek qualities of mutual love and respect in her own relationships if her parents shared a similar bond. Fathers set the tone for their daughter’s relationships with all the other men in her life – friends, colleagues, lovers, spouse, etc. It helps her gauge her relationships with men, including the platonic kind, the healthy boundaries to maintain, how she views men and expects to be treated by them.
5. Academic and professional excellence
Daughters with a strong bond with their fathers score higher in complex subjects such as advanced math and science and excel overall in academics. In addition, their academic confidence and self-motivation levels tend to be usually high.
Women who have broken the glass ceiling barriers and are in top leadership and management positions across the industry, academia, or are top performers in sports give credit to their father’s role in their success story. They cite their fathers for having been their mentors, raising them to be tough and assertive individuals who can sustain and thrive in a highly competitive environment.
Top tips for fathers to improve the bond with their teen daughter
One of the most common traditional fathering styles is the ‘authoritative parenting.’ Think of one of the popular Hindi father and daughter songs Baapu sehat ke liye tu to hanikarak hai from Dangal film. This fathering style is loving and warm yet comes with strict accountability to authority, rules, and responsibility.
But, fathers make the most effective parents when they share a close relationship with their daughters, evolving and maturing with time. Yet maintains that delicate balance of setting appropriate rules and granting the power of freedom that comes with responsibility.
An involved father playing a central part in his daughter’s life is important for her self-esteem as she grows up. Here’s how the father of daughters can get involved in their adolescent lives for their wellbeing and success.
1. Show up and listen without judgement
Get involved in your teenager’s life right now.
Don’t pass the responsibility to her mother all the time. Your daughter needs to know that you are present in her little big achievements – her school performances, parent-teacher meetings, or sports events.
You can make a huge difference by doing something as simple as showing up. Give her the opportunity to ‘show off’ to you when you ‘show up’ for her. Let her bare her soul to you whenever she falters to move on.
The act of listening to your daughter is priceless. Practise the art of active listening without voicing your opinions and judgements.
Your teen girl needs to feel that she can trust you with her problems, and you will understand and empathise with her. Doing so will help her trust her gut, build her self-awareness and raise her confidence.
2. Find and encourage her mojo
Give your teenager the freedom to explore, experiment, enjoy whatever she gravitates towards in life—her mojo.
What is your teenager naturally drawn towards?
What is her mojo that keeps her truly happy, passionate, and satisfied?
As fathers, you can help your daughter find her mojo and explore avenues to help her utilise her natural gifts. It will tremendously boost her self-esteem and confidence. It is crucial for your daughter that you, her father, acknowledge her interests and passion. Else, she might start doubting her own strengths, talents, and abilities.
3. Words are her building blocks
Your teenage girl is graduating into a young woman. Her self-esteem is fragile at this stage.
The words you speak to your daughter leave a powerful and lasting impact on them.
Your words are a reflection of your beliefs about them. What you believe about your daughter shows up in what you say to them and about them. Your daughter internalises everything that you say and starts to believe it.
Use your words wisely to make and not break them. Choose positive words of love, encouragement, and inspiration. Make sure you look into her eyes and mean all those wonderful things you say to her. Remember, your daughter sees her self-worth in your eyes.
4. Love her for who she is and not what she achieves
It is vital to your teenage daughter that you, her father, love her for the person she is and not for her achievements.
The last thing you want is for her to constantly achieve as it’s the only way to receive your love and attention. Irrespective of her achievements in life, she needs to feel valued and loved for the person she is.
While it does mean a lot to your daughter that you appreciate her hard work and performance, it means a lot more to her when you focus on the character traits that stitch her personality.
Praise and love her for her honesty, kindness, congeniality, courage, or ethics. And, she will surely grow up to be a self-assured and resilient person irrespective of the ‘ups and downs’ in life.
5. Push her out of her comfort zone
A girl’s brain is physiologically different from a boy’s when it comes to risk-taking and the fear of failure.
As fathers, you can do your teenage girl a whole lot of good by constantly challenging her to come out of her comfort zone. Primarily through her childhood and teen years because that is when her brain is the most elastic.
Again, a guy thing, men’s interaction style is usually to do something together. This typical quality comes in handy when spending some quality shared time with your teen girl.
Find activities that both of you are interested in. The chances are that the two of you will share many similar interests and likes.
Here is your chance make exclusive dad-daughter memories. Research proves that teen girls who share regular activities with their fathers exhibit higher levels of self-esteem than those who don’t. So dads, listen to music, dance together, go on a fun date, hike, swim, and cook. Your daughter will look forward to your time together with eager anticipation.
Make her ‘Daddy’s strong girl.’
‘Daddy’s little girl’ might sound cutesy. But in reality, overprotecting and treating your daughter like a delicate flower isn’t helping – rather hurting her. Resist the temptation to be her’ knight in shining armour’ each time she falls.
This might sound like a stereotype, but men usually like to be the problem solvers. Resist your manly urge and let your daughter take charge of her problems. Encourage her by asking her how she would resolve her problems and let her figure out possible solutions after weighing the pros and cons.
Teach her to change a car tire, make her financially literate and wise, encourage her to be physically fit and mentally strong, educate her about the dangers of the real world, including sex offenders.
The good news is that this persistent challenge to push her limits will completely rewire her brain structure, enabling her to take more risks later on in life. So, your daughter will confidently take up challenges and risks without the fear of failure.
6. Let her know it’s okay to be the ‘angry young woman’
Dr. Linda Nielsen, an adolescent psychologist and author, insists that it’s high time to dispel the stereotype that women should avoid confrontation at all costs.
Her advice for young girls?
“To accept and embrace their anger and assertiveness.”
“While this does not mean indulging her temper, it’s important that when there is conflict, a father engages with his daughter, instead of allowing the mother to step in as an intermediary. A girl has to be really comfortable expressing her anger and being assertive. If she can’t do it with her dad, she won’t be able to do it with a male boss, boyfriend, and others who are all the way down the line. A father needs to ‘receive’ her anger and assertiveness rather than punish her for it. He can also compliment her for expressing herself honestly and assertively.”
Fathers, don’t raise your teenage girl to be a passive ‘pleaser’. Also, enrolling your adolescent daughter in sports is a wise decision as it will teach her the quality of assertiveness.
7. Make her media literate
Media and technology are a double-edged sword, and our children are born into the technological age.
Several studies have shown how social media causes severe depression, low self-esteem, and body image issues in teen girls. The constant pressure to look happy, strong, sexy, hot, intelligent, independent, in short, ‘look perfect’ breeds a lot of insecurity and anxiety in teenagers.
The way women are projected in the media doesn’t help build the self-esteem of young teen girls either. That is why it is essential to make your teenager media literate.
You can do this simply by watching TV shows and movies with her, having discussions around them, making her prudent to know the difference between right and wrong. Help her to be a good critic in decoding and filtering media messages. Expose the unrealistic standards of beauty as portrayed in the media, as well as the rampant sexism.
According to Jean Kilbourne, author, and motivational speaker,
“The media, in particular the Western, sends girls harmful messages about beauty and the value of women. There is so much peer pressure on young teenage girls to have that perfect body, and it is so easy for many of them to feel insecure.”
8. Celebrate her mind
Let your daughter know that you see her beauty inside out. Let her be aware that you see her intelligence, skills, talents, passion, character apart from being just a pretty face.
Encourage her to get into the habit of reading. Start with a few minutes a day and gradually increase the time spent reading. Take an interest in her academic learning. Have thought-provoking conversations and discussions around current world affairs, science, and technology, challenge her to solve puzzles and complex math problems, and play a chess game together.
9. Model a loving relationship
The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother. Fathers, model a respectful and loving relationship with your wife as your daughter will expect to be treated the same way in all her relationships.
Also, show your teenager that equality between men and women in a relationship must be the norm and not the exception.
Refrain from any sexist jokes about husband-wife relationships, mother-in-law caricaturing, etc., as it sends a wrong message to young, impressionable minds.
Dr. Linda Nielsen says,
“A father can help his daughter build strong relationships in the future by teaching her to be herself. And not change like a chameleon to try to suit the man she’s with.”
10. Talk about sex and sexuality
As a father, you can demystify the male mind and talk about boys to your curious daughter. You can tell her just how awkward adolescence is for teenage boys, and everyone has their self-doubts, issues, and the emotional need for healthy relationships.
It is important to teach her to respect her body, resisting peer pressure, maintaining her dignity, understanding boundaries, the significance of consent, trust, and fidelity in relationships.
11. Embrace vulnerability
In many cultures, men shedding tears is considered a sign of weakness. Real men don’t cry!
But this comes in the way of the father-daughter bond. Especially when she is going through a rough patch and is highly sensitive and vulnerable, do not bother about societal dictums.
Go ahead and show your vulnerable side to your daughter. Let her see the ‘real’ you. There is no shame in showing your weakness and faults. Life is not perfect, and so aren’t you. Doing so will bring you both closer and make your bond stronger.
According to Santiago Trabolsi, a psychologist, life coach, and dad,
“When you as a father show your own weakness, it gives permission for your daughter to accept her weaknesses. This emotional connection generates warmth, empathy and honest communication between the two of you.”
12. Don’t hold back those hugs and kisses
Just because your young girl is now a teenager, it doesn’t mean you cannot touch, hug and kiss her as you usually did from the moment she was born.
Studies prove that such physical reminders of love aid considerably in building her self-esteem. Adolescent psychologist Dr. Linda Nielsen weighs in,
“Fathers have been told by society that it is inappropriate for them to hug their daughters once they start to mature sexually — past the age of 12 or so. He should ignore this training and give her big bear hugs when he feels like it. It’s important because it’s just one more way of showing her that he is not uncomfortable with her growing up, with her becoming a sexual person or with her maturing body.”
Give her thoughtful gifts. It could be anything, even a handwritten letter expressing your love and support like Prakash Padukone’s loving letter to his daughter Deepika Padukone.
Let her be
Let your special dad-daughter moments add to building confidence in your teenager, who will grow up to be a strong woman. As for mothers, encourage more father-daughter time and honour the importance of a father’s role, perspective, wisdom, and patience.
Finally, please remember that every individual is unique and will respond at their own pace. Be patient with your teenager and give them all the time and space to be comfortable to accept, bloom and flourish in this new phase of life.
Ensure both of you, her parents, are always there for her, keeping the channels of communication open. It is only a matter of time then for your teenage girl to be flying high with her newfound sense of freedom, confidence, and a high level of self-esteem.
In conclusion, I leave you this informational video by Dr. Meg Meeker, renowned psychologist (and one of my personal favourites) titled ‘Good dads — the real game changers.’