Our 14-year-old son is built like me, thin and wiry, while my 12-year-old daughter is the picture of her father – stronger and heavier with very broad shoulders. Unfortunately, she’s getting unwanted attention about this from so-called friends and family members. Where do I start with this one?
Start by being present. Find out how your daughter is feeling about having a body type that mirrors her father. She may surprise you! If you jump to conclusions and offer a lot of advice and suggestions, you may just undermine the confidence she has already developed to handle this on her own. Take it from me – a recovering fixer – sit in her room and just listen to how she feels. You can tell a story of your own as well, but keep it brief (I’m talking under a minute), so you don’t hijack the conversation. I remember how my mother knew just when to throw in a quick story about her own disappointments or victories, so that I knew she understood and I was not alone. Her stories almost always got me laughing.
Next, balance use of social media. Being a tween/teen female in this culture is super challenging. At this tender age, her standard of beauty can be skewed by unrealistic bodies and impossible images everywhere. It is now clear that overuse of social media increases the risk of anxiety and depression in children, both boys and girls. Limiting social media in exchange for fun and supportive live interactions can help.
Here’s an idea: Check out WaitUntil8th.org. This national movement encourages parents along with their kids to pledge to wait until eighth grade before giving their kids a smartphone. The 21,000 families who have signed up are showing their children how to set boundaries and develop a healthy sense of self, despite peer pressure.
Take an interest in what she loves. Is it reading? Writing? Making art? A sport? Is it scanning the night sky for planets and stars? Slow down and find a way to lose time together, or with like-minded friends, doing what she loves best.
What are you modeling? If you are constantly checking the mirror and making negative comments about your looks, so will she. Try some positive, upbeat self-talk about your own appearance like, “I’m rockin’ this sweater today” or “This color is just fun, isn’t it?”
Surround her with strong female role models. Movies, books, and the news are thankfully replete with strong and secure women from Melinda Gates to Michelle Obama, and from Elsa to Hermione. One of my favorite animated movies is Moana. I had a great time watching this with my grown daughter. There was plenty of movie talk as we compared notes on the courage that comes from discovering and liking who you are.
With these ideas, you can help your daughter recognize early on that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and that her body type does not define her – or anyone!