Confidence in young girls is a fragile thing, and according to Anita Gurian of the New York University Child Study Center, self-esteem plummets right around the time a girl enters junior high. Suddenly, body image becomes all-important and intelligence is seen as something to hide. The American Psychological Association also notes a dangerous trend wherein girls as young as 10 start to feel that their self-worth revolves around their sex appeal -- at this point, many of them begin dieting and dressing as if they were much older. The best way to counteract such behavior and help your daughters grow to be strong, confident women is by staying involved in their lives and being a positive role model.
Show your daughter that you accept your own body as it is, with all its flaws. Constantly obsessing about your own weight and appearance -- or hers -- sends a negative message, that she is only valuable if she is pretty and thin. Focus instead on living a fit and healthy lifestyle, and model healthy eating choices rather than nagging her to lay off the chips and soda. Dress in a comfortable, casual or professional style rather than spending hours obsessing over makeup or shoehorning yourself into tight garments designed to make you look "sexy." As a mother, you are the first and most significant influence on your daughter's behavior as well as her body image.
Allow your daughter to take risks and let her know that failure isn't the end of the world. Encourage her to take risks that are physical or mental -- preferably both. A girl who pushes past her comfort zone learns that her abilities aren't as limited as she may have feared, and can make her feel that she can accomplish whatever she sets out to do. Reassure her that failures are an inevitable part of trying anything new, but that failing -- and then trying again -- is what will eventually lead to success.
Give your daughter plenty of opportunities to be successful. Introduce her to a variety of activities and interests, and follow up on any of these for which she shows a particular aptitude. If she's a whiz on the computer, ask for her help setting up a personal website or looking up information online. If she's athletic, encourage her to find a sport she likes and get her signed up for a team. If she likes to cook, have her help with meal planning and preparation. Succeeding in one area will give her confidence to make wise choices as she grows up.
Let your daughter form her own opinions, even if those opinions are contrary to yours. Help her realize that her thoughts and feelings are valuable, and she is entitled to them no matter what. Learning to stand up to you will give her the strength to resist anyone who may try to exert too much influence on her in the future, such as a controlling boyfriend or an undesirable friend.
Raise your daughter to be media-savvy. Limit her exposure to television when she is very young, so she doesn't form the habit of relying on popular opinion instead of her own. When she is older, watch TV and movies with her, read magazines together and listen to the music she likes. Together, discuss how women are portrayed in the media, and whether these are positive or negative impressions. Teach her to be critical of what she sees and hears so she can determine the real purpose of the message being broadcast.