Bringing Up Girls
by Dr James Dobson
Little girls want to know: “Am I lovely?” The twirling skirts, the dress up, the longing to be pretty and to be seen – that is what that’s all about. Some of you may ask, what can we parents do about this ‘unanswered question’ within our daughters. How can we raise them to be confident women? Is there a way to preserve their softness and femininity while strengthening their sense of personhood? I believe there are many approaches to instilling healthy self-worth in girls, but it begins with security of a loving family. Specifically, it depends on a caring and affirming father. Moms are vital in countless ways too, but self-worth for girls hangs precariously on their relationship with their dads. When you teach her, she learns more rapidly. When you guide her, she gains confidence. If you fully understood just how much you would be terrified, overwhelmed, or both.
The dad’s influence
Many fathers (particularly of teen girls) assume they have little influence over their daughters – certainly less influence than their daughters’ peers or pop culture. Even though she may not participate in ugly stuff, it’s all around her: sexual promiscuity, alcohol abuse, foul language, illegal drugs, and predatory boys and men who want to take something from her. I urge all parents to work at building your daughter’s self-concept throughout her childhood. Tell her she is pretty every chance you get. Hug her. Compliment her admirable traits. Build her confidence by giving her your time and attention. Defend her when she is struggling. And let her know that she has a place in your heart that is reserved only for her.
The value of the family unit
Mom, it is your job to bring out the best in your little girl’s nature. To both mothers and fathers, let me share a suggestion that you may not want to hear: good parenting almost always requires sacrifice. Let me acknowledge that successful family life is difficult to achieve. You may be a single parent with very limited financial resources. Perhaps you suffer from illness, disability, or addiction.
Or maybe you have strong-willed kids who are tough to handle. The last thing I want to do is add to your pressures or sense of frustration. Nevertheless, if there is any way you can give priority to your children amid those limitations, you will not regret giving it to them.
This might mean staying married when your impulse is to divorce. It could cause you to make choices that will handicap you professionally. It might mean financial hardship for the family because Mom is staying at home with her children. What I’m saying is that from where I sit today, children are worth everything they cost. You need to know what your children are thinking, and they need the pleasure of telling you about it. Even though some loquacious kids will “talk the horns off a billy goat” and you come home too tired to listen, it is imperative that you tune in – especially to your girls.
Communication is key
There will come a time when they will be talking primarily to their peers, and the missed opportunities for understanding and intimacy today will be costly down the road. This is why we should engage our kids in activities that encourage conversation, including eating together as a family, playing table games, inviting friends with kids to dinner, cooking together, building things, adopting a lovable dog or cat, cultivating mutual interests, or learning a sport such as skiing or tennis as a family. Your girl’s successes or failures in many of life’s endeavours will depend on the quality of the relationships you share during their childhood years.
Don’t stop hugging your girls!
One of the cornerstones of human relationships is embodied in a single word: conversation. Girls and women connect emotionally through spoken words. Touch is another point of connection that is essential to girls. Just like their mothers, our daughters need to be hugged regularly, perhaps every day. Hugging is easy to do when girls are young. However, with the arrival of puberty and evidences of sexual maturation, fathers often feel uneasy and tend to avoid physical contact.
Girls can read that discomfort with the accuracy of a laser. Here’s a suggestion, another simple one that is still effective: Dads who want to connect with their little girls, and even those who are not so little, need to spend one-on-one time with them. Take your daughter somewhere she will like, such as out to breakfast or dinner. Put these activities on the calendar, and do not let the dates get cancelled or postponed. Never leave kids wondering why you didn’t show up and didn’t even call. That can be more painful to a girl than not promising in the first place.
Wise words of advice
Girls whose fathers provide warmth and control achieve great academic success.
- Girls who are close to their fathers exhibit less anxiety and withdrawal. Parental connectedness is the number one factor in preventing girls from engaging in premarital sex and indulging in drugs and alcohol. Girls with good fathers are less likely to seek male attention by flaunting themselves
- Never ever make fun of her
- Be home for dinner on time
- Ask her about her day, every day
- Keep her secrets
- Let her teach you. About what she learned in school today. About the pilgrims, or multiplication, or manatees
- Never argue with her mom in front of her
- Never permit her to talk back rudely – to you or her mother. Or anybody else, for that matter
- Encourage her to be kind. Even to the girl nobody likes
- Drive the car pool. You’ll learn firsthand what she’s doing each day
- If you don’t approve of the way she looks before she goes out, send her back to her room to start over. Be gentle but firm
- Drag her to church…every week. She may not share your enthusiasm, but after 18 years, the message will sink in
- Teach her to pray for her enemies. This could possibly include a rotating cast of classmates and ex-boyfriends
- Teach her how to look a boy in the eye and say “No”
- Wait up for her. Knowing Dad will be greeting her at the door has a very positive effect on her decision-making process.
Ten practical steps every parent should take
Given the media’s tremendous power to teach and influence thoughts and behaviours, how can you train up your daughter to plot a safe course through today’s entertainment and technological land mines?
I have put together some ideas:
- Make media decisions based on God’s view of entertainment. It’s not about what people think. It’s about what God thinks
- Teach the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ principle
- Instill media-related Biblical principles. Though the Bible seems largely silent about entertainment, it does offer sound principles such as Prov 4:23 and Col 2:8, Psalm 101:3. Find appropriate Scriptures and teach them to your children
- Model it. Nothing undermines your teaching about righteousness more than when your daughter observes you not applying the same principles
- Get your youth pastor on board. Encourage your youth pastor to have a parent/teen night and encourage discussion about hot topics
- Develop a written family media covenant
- Encourage positive alternatives
- Consider ‘movie nights’ with your family, showing wholesome films
- Encourage your daughter to develop a buddy system for media accountability
- Teach divine hatred (of what is evil). Teach the fear of the Lord.
Dr James Dobson, is a leading author and expert on raising children. This article is extracted from his book, ‘Raising Girls’ published by Tyndale House, available through CUM book stores.
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