We recently did a blog post about 13 Things to Teach Your Son Before 13. So, naturally, we wanted to do a companion piece on raising daughters and the 13 things to teach your daughter before she turns 13.
While many items on this list will mirror what boys should be taught, some will be different, because girls face different pressures and challenges than boys do. Please let us know what you think about raising girls — we need advice too!
1. How to feel beautiful.
Teach your daughter that she is beautiful because of who she is in her heart and mind, not because of how she looks or how she dresses. Point out that, as cheesy as it sounds, real beauty does come from within. Help her understand that trying to be sexy won’t make her beautiful, because she is already beautiful without amping up her appearance. Build her confidence in who she is apart from her looks and explain to her that confidence translates into beauty.
But since research shows that girls in their pre-teen and teen years start showing more dissatisfaction with their bodies, you’ll need to be careful about even implying that she needs to change the way she looks. Engage in surface beauty changes for the fun of it — getting a new haircut, learning to use makeup, exercising — not to improve her appearance. (Make sure Dad is telling her how beautiful she is too!)
2. How to understand her hormones.
Help your daughter understand that getting a period is an amazing part of womanhood because it’s her body transitioning to the ability to have children. But also address hormonal changes realistically and tell her that the monthly cycle of hormonal activity can make her feel irritable, tired, or sad. Teach her to identify these states as being linked to her cycle so that she can be prepared for them. Teach her coping skills so that hormonal activity doesn’t derail her.
3. How to handle emotions.
Girl drama isn’t a given. Explain to your daughter that she can choose how to express herself calmly and maturely. Teach her how to reconcile differences with others. Teach her that she is the boss of her feelings and actions. This post about getting inside the mind of your tween daughter will help you understand her emotional take on life.
4. How to protect herself.
Give your daughter the information she needs to protect herself physically and emotionally. Give her age-appropriate lessons on safety. When she’s in preschool, talk about strangers. As she gets older, tell her about staying safe if she’s away from you at school, at a friend’s house, or if she’s confronted by someone who threatens to harm her physically or interact with her in an inappropriate way. (If your daughter’s dad is active in her life, here are 3 ways he can protect her too.)
Give your daughter the information she needs to protect herself physically and emotionally.
5. How to stand up for herself.
Studies show that girls are encouraged by both parents and teachers to be sweet and conciliatory. And while we don’t want to send our daughters into the world with a chip on their shoulder and their fists raised looking for a fight, we need to let them know that it is okay to stand up for themselves and voice their beliefs and opinions.
So tell your daughter that she can express herself strongly, but respectfully. And, if someone is mistreating her, empower her to say, “I don’t really like the way you’re treating me, so I’m going to go now.”
6. How to make realistic choices.
Our daughters have as many educational and career opportunities as men. But unlike men, our reproductive years are limited. So, inspire your daughter to follow her dreams, but also have her look at her choices realistically. Yes, she can choose to have a career, but if being a wife and mom are important to her too, she’ll want to make that a priority as well.
Take it from me, someone who didn’t get married until 38 and had my first child at 39 and the next at 40, I did not understand that in saying yes to some things, I was putting others on hold.
7. How to make choices about sex.
Before you can teach your daughter to make good choices about sex, you’ll need to talk to her about sex in general. Keep sex from becoming a taboo topic by referring to it without embarrassment. Teach her about sex in the context of your family’s values. As she gets older, tell her the truth about sex and its consequences. Sadly, you’ll need to address oral sex, as often teenage girls see this as a way of getting intimate with boys without having “real” sex.
8. How to value boys.
Teach your daughter that she has great value, not just because she is a girl, but because she is a person. The same goes with boys. Boys are not better or more valuable than girls; they’re valuable because they are people. Help her understand that it’s not an us (girls) versus them (boys) world. Boys shouldn’t be put down or challenged just because they’re boys.
9. How to understand boys.
Boys and girls do have differences when it comes to their brains. Boys are more visual. Boys have more testosterone than women. These biological facts make boys and girls think differently, and approach life and problem-solving differently.
10. How to deal with the online world.
Help your daughter see that the online world is not the real world. Be sure that she’s spending more time with you and your family than with her online community. The more time that she spends online, the greater her chances of feeling discouraged about what other girls have that she doesn’t — be it their clothes, their bodies, or their boyfriends. Have a no-phone rule at meals, in the car (yes!), and in her bedroom overnight.
11. How to deal with pornography.
While men, being visually oriented, are more prone to use pornography, girls can fall into the pornography trap as well. So, be frank with her. Tell her, as you would a boy, that our bodies are wired to be interested in sex and stimulated by sexual content. But tell her that viewing pornography will take her down a path that is not healthy to her emotionally or spiritually.
Also point out that the images shown in pornography are often extremes, and that she should not feel that this is the standard for her sexuality. And as more boys view pornography, teach her that she can say no to boys, and she doesn’t have to agree to things in the sexual area that she’s not comfortable with and that may be pornography-inspired.
12. How to work hard.
Help your daughter understand that working hard is the key to moving forward in life. Reward her hard work with praise. Point out the link in her own life between her hard work and success.
13. How to have faith.
A strong faith will help your daughter navigate the challenges of life. It will serve as the basis for her standards and the choices she makes. Teach her about the power of faith. Teach her how to strengthen her faith. Pray with her. (Not sure how to shape your child’s faith? Here are five ways to get started.)
What else are you trying to teach your daughter?