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Six Ways to Boost a Girl's Self-Esteem

By Catherine Dee

Do you know a teenage girl who has low self-esteem? Chances are that you know several. According to groups such as the Commonwealth Fund and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), girls entering junior high school feel less self-confident than they do in elementary school, and they become less assured with each successive year of school. In contrast, boys become more confident with each passing year.

Parents, teachers, counselors, mentors, and other concerned adults can have a significant impact on how girls see themselves. Here are six concrete things an adult can do to help a girl:

1. Focus on the person she is instead of her appearance. are harshly judged by other girls, as well as written off by boys, if they don’t fit within the bounds of our society's narrow definition of beauty. As a result, a girl's body becomes her focal point. This is borne out by two startling statistics: One out of every 5 girls between the ages of 12 and 19 has an eating disorder, and one-fifth of cosmetic surgery performed in the U.S. is on teens. To help a girl develop a healthier self-image, compliment her for her achievements, thoughts, and actions. Remind her in various ways that she is a smart, valuable person with great ideas and lots of potential.

2. Call her attention to media deception. One reason girls feel so negative about themselves is that they are continuously barraged by picture-perfect images of girls and women in magazines and on television. Teens compare themselves to these images, either consciously or unconsciously, and feel dissatisfied when they inevitably don't “measure up.” One way to help a girl feel better is to expose unrealistic media images for what they are: retouched, computer-manipulated photos of models—a group that makes up only five percent of the population. As supermodel Cindy Crawford admits, “Even I don’t wake up looking like Cindy Crawford.“ Once a girl knows that most people look like the ones she sees in her everyday life, she will likely feel more satisfied with her own looks.

3. Give her a journal. experience many conflicting emotions during their preteen and adolescent years, and expressing their thoughts and feelings by writing ina diary or journal is a proven way for them to cultivate esteem. According to Mary Pipher,(Reviving Ophelia), “In their writing, [girls] can clarify, conceptualize, and evaluate their experiences . . . and strengthen their sense of self.” You can simply give a girl a blank book—there are many decorative ones available—or present her with a more structured journal that asks her to answer open-ended questions. These can be found in the teen issues section of local bookstores.

4. Encourage her to share her thoughts and opinions. Studies show that girls are more frequently interrupted than boys. Over the course of many conversations, they get the message that what they have to say is not necessarily as compelling or valued as what boys have to say. Compounding this conditioning is the fact that boys often feel threatened by smart, outspoken girls. It's no wonder some girls clam up when they enter their teens. Adults can help them stay verbal by conveying that their thoughts are important and that their unique viewpoints should be shared. If a girl learns to use her voice confidently on a regular basis, and people listen and respect her, she builds self-confidence.

5. Encourage her to take risks. People develop self-reliance when they're given the space to solve problems and make mistakes in the process. What happens with girls? Researchers have found that teachers are more likely to intervene and solve problems for girls than they are for boys. In addition, girls are rewarded for being good and behaving well, as opposed to being adventurous in their thinking, as boys are. need to be given time and permission to creatively complete what they start. We can praise them for considering new problem-solving options, allow them to make mistakes, and refrain from “rescuing” them.

6. Suggest that she get involved in a sport. Research shows that female athletes are more self-reliant, and get better grades and higher test scores, than girls who don't participate in sports. Being on a team or playing an individual sport is also a way for a girl to divert some of the energy focused on appearance to healthy physical activity and personal achievement.

With the right kind of support and encouragement from key adults, girls can potentially avoid many common problems (such as low motivation and underachievement) that are rooted in low self-esteem. Commenting on an accomplishment, making an observation about her skills, or giving her an opportunity to push through frustration and solve a problem on her own can start the ball rolling. In many small ways, we can help girls transform the ways they think about themselves so that the end result is one big shift in their confidence.

Copyright by Catherine Dee

Catherine's latest book is The Girls' Book of Success, which is part of a series that includes the award-winning Girls’ Guide to Life and Girls' Book of Wisdom. For more information, visit the Empowering Books for Girls web site,

The (Girl) Power of Quotations

By Catherine Dee

Think back . . . when you were growing up, did a trusted woman such as your aunt ever offer an observation or piece of advice that ended up shaping your perceptions or expanding your thinking? My mother used to tell me: "If you don't like something the way it is, change it.” Simplistic though it sounded, this little mantra helped me develop a proactive, can-do attitude that has served me well throughout my life.

As role models for girls, women are in a prime position to pass along observations and advice that could have a substantive long-term impact. Moms, in particular have an impact: Accordint to Inc., 99 percent of girls surveyed said their mother was the person they admired most because of her advice. But teachers and others (aunts, mentors, friends) are also highly influential.

The right encouragement at the right time can be absolutely life changing. It can help girls switch tracks if they're heading in the wrong direction, and get them to envision themselves at higher levels of success than they've ever imagined.

Here are three ways you can provide ideas that your daughter, niece, students, mentee, or young friend may take to heart.

Encourage her to take healthy, adventurous risks.

are generally rewarded for good behavior instead of venturing “outside the box.” Encourage them to take positive risks such as trying out for the lead in the school play or signing up for a backpacking trip. Read them one of my favorite quotes from computer programming language inventor Grace Murray Hopper: "A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." This embodies the spirit a girl should embrace as she moves into her future.

You can also discuss with her that it’s the process of taking the risk that matters most, and that she's sure to learn something valuable from every risk she takes. Cite actor Geena Davis as an example. A famous media personality, Davis could have rested on her acting laurels, but instead she is continually honing new skills. For example, she tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in archery. When she didn’t make it, she said: “I think I did well. I was very happy,” and added that she'd try again in four years.

Help her open the lens wider when taking a snapshot of career possibilities.

One way to do this is to encourage her to attend an event correlated with the Ms. Foundation's annual "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" (the fourth Thursday in April). This annual event was begun so girls could get real-life views of how they might thrive in the world of work.

Another way to give a girl career “soul food” is to teach her that a career should be fun. When I was selecting quotes for the “Careers” chapter of The Girls' Book of Wisdom, the advice I found ran unanimously in favor of finding work one enjoys. Entrepreneur Nanci Mackenzie explained: "I enjoy working like other people enjoy taking vacations.” And Princess Diana said: “People think at the end of the day that a man is the only answer [to fulfillment]. Actually a job is better for me.”

We can bolster girls' career development by helping them see that a good job holds numerous rewards. Suggest she pay attention to what she most likes to do in her spare time. The skills she develops in hobbies could well be the ones she ends up translating into a career.

Sound off about self-reliance.

Even though we're in a new century, many girls are still hoping and dreaming that when they grow up, their "prince" will emerge and take care of them financially (and in other ways). However, for most women this is not likely to happen, or, if it does, it won't last a lifetime. Your girl mentee may not initially “get“ Virginia Woolf's “A woman must have money and a room of her own," or Katharine Hepburn's “As one goes through life one learns that if you don't paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.” But she may store these reality checks for future examination, ultimately embracing them at a key moment in her development.

If you plant the right seeds, they could very well someday sprout. The wisdom you offer girls now could prove transformational for them as they move into young adulthood and beyond.

Copyright by Catherine Dee

Catherine's latest book is the second edition of The Girls' Guide to Life (2005). For more information, visit the Empowering Books for Girls web site,

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