5 Tips to Help Teen Girls Deal with Today’s “Compare and Despair” Mentality

In a culture in which mass media promotes doctored and unrealistic images of beauty, girl-against-girl bullying is prevalent, and social media encourages a “compare and despair” mentality, how can we protect and promote our girls’ self-confidence? How can we combat the negative social influences acting on the next generation?

True confidence can come from adopting various self-esteem boosting habits over time. Try some of these tips to help your daughter thrive:

1. Frame nutrition, exercise, and sleep as the foundation for a life of happiness and accomplishment.

In great part because of media’s influence, girls are often more focused on the beauty benefits of nutrition and exercise rather than on their health benefits. Have conversations with your daughter about the true benefits of self-care. Explain that eating well, sleeping well, and exercising, while they do have beauty implications, provide the building blocks of physical and mental strength every girl needs to be her best self, face the world, and make her dreams come true.

2. Instill a goal-oriented sensibility.

When worries about social status, physical appearance, and rocky romances get a girl down, focusing on goals can help teens drown out the noise while providing them with consistent confidence-building opportunities. Have conversations with your teen about her hopes for the near or distant future. Does she want to get her driver’s license? Learn how to cook? Become a writer? Do what you can to support her drive toward accomplishments–make a schedule for driving practice, enroll her in a cooking class or teach her yourself, suggest websites and magazines featuring teen writers. Importantly, also set interim goals with her to help her experience smaller triumphs on the way to achieving a desired goal. Eventually, she’ll experience a big cycle of overcoming challenges and feeling successful.

3. Encourage the growth of supportive social circles.

All girls have moments of wondering whether they’re “good enough.” Do what you can to make sure your daughter is hanging out with the right crowd, one filled with accepting peers and supportive mentors. The freedom for girls to be themselves can make them feel better about themselves. If your daughter is having trouble connecting at school, try researching volunteer opportunities, jobs, or other extracurricular activities that could allow her to find her people. You can also introduce her to older mentors and role models who can set positive examples and remind her of her own potential.

4. Encourage girls to balance their “media diet.”

We all know the media can undermine anyone’s self-esteem. But this doesn’t mean we have to make our girls give up all their favorite shows, websites, and magazines. (How could we possibly stop them all together!) Discuss the realities of media with your girls (airbrushing, the scripting of “reality” TV, etc.) to help her think more critically about what she is taking in. Talk to her about how media representations can affect one’s own body image and how too much “screen time” can actually get you down. Simply raising her awareness can lessen media’s negative effects and inspire her to take in less of the shows that could dampen her mood.

5. Help her change her attitude.

Low confidence is often connected to false, negative beliefs about oneself. Keep an eye on your daughter’s moods. If your efforts to support her seem to be falling short, she might benefit from a therapist.

Remember, one great way to instill these habits and values for your daughter is to set the example yourself.

Sources & More Information: 

Michigan State University. “Multiple media use tied to depression, anxiety.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 December 2012.

University of Chicago Press Journals. “How do consumers revise their unreachable goals?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 August 2011.

University of Toronto. “Moderate exercise not only treats, but prevents depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2013.

Published on: June 25, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed.

Kimberly is the Founder of Girlmentum.com, an online platform delivering integrative health, beauty, and lifestyle information to adolescent girls. Meeting girls "where they are," on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops, Girlmentum offers girls opportunities to explore their most pressing and private questions on topics including mental health, sexual health, relationships, and body image.

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