Q. How do I keep my two teenage girls from fighting/competing with one another? -Maureen, Dallas, TX
A. Negative competition is rooted in low self-value. I strongly believe that when we recognize and are happy with our own strengths and talents, we are less likely to feel that we have to compete to be like or better than someone else. Try to be very balanced in your attention and positive communication to each of your daughters. I would also highly recommend that you spend quality time with each of them separately so you can really focus on communicating to each girl the ways in which you value her as an individual. If their father is in their life, it is equally important for him to communicate very clearly the value he sees in each on an ongoing basis.
Q. What can I do to increase my daughter’s self-esteem? -Barbara, Cleveland, OH
A. From the beginning, the messages your daughter gets from you about how much she is loved and all the reasons why will directly impact her sense of self-love. In addition, your daughter will take cues from you, so the level of respect for yourself and your female body that you express in a variety of ways (in word and action) is paramount to the degree of self-value she experiences. Next, be very aware of the messages she receives about being female through the media in all forms. The media isn’t going away. We don’t necessarily want it to, but it can have enormously detrimental effects on pre-adolescent and adolescent girls if they have not been taught to have an active filter when viewing magazines, television and movies. From the time she is young, be in charge of what magazines come into your home and the type of TV shows she views. Watch and read with her as often as possible and point out that advertiser-driven media makes money by convincing people they are imperfect and in need of various products and services to make them more beautiful, slimmer, more fashionable, etc. This will help her to develop a filter and the ability to discern messages that dis-empower her as a girl. These will be among the most important tools you can give her for living out in the world as a strong, healthy, self-loving girl and one day, a woman.
Q. What should I do about my husband’s tendency to treat our 16 year-old daughter like she is still a little girl? –Sharon, San Marino, CA
A.You’d actually be surprised how often I hear this question. I think the behavior is common, mostly because men feel an inclination (part natural and part socialized) to ‘protect’ girls. It’s also a matter of dads needing to adjust their role from being the father of a little girl to the father of a complex, psychologically developing young woman. Because our children don’t come with ‘How To’ manuals, men will tend to default to what they know –being ‘daddy’ to a little girl.
The best way to inspire your husband to shift his approach to your daughter is by reminding him that he is modeling behavior his daughter will seek in a mate. Ask him what qualities and behaviors he hopes your daughter will look for and then encourage him to be guided by his wish list. Most fathers I speak to say they want their daughter to be strong, empowered and capable of providing for herself so her dependence on her partner would never compel her to stay in an unhealthy relationship. They also express their hope that she will find a man who loves and respects her as a partner (versus a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued).
Q. Is talking to my daughter about sex important if she is taught not to have sex until she is married? -Kim, Los Angeles, CA
A. There are two fundamental realities of human beings to which I would like to refer in order to answer your question. The first is that at the very core of the adolescent journey is the desire to discover and assert one’s self in world. The second is that hormones are more intoxicating than any drug. That is, the desire to love and be loved and the deep, primal need for the life force to perpetuate itself is a powerful draw to love and sex. With these realities in mind, the likelihood of a young person exploring these realms in spite of anything her or his parents may say, is extremely high. This is not to say that you shouldn’t express your desire for your daughter (or son) to wait until marriage to have sex, supported, of course, by solid reasons. However, to send her out into the world without important knowledge that will be essential to protecting herself should she decide to engage in sexual relations of any sort, would be setting her up for danger on many levels. Knowledge is power and protection.