One month ago, almost 5 million people participated in 673 different Women’s Marches around the world. From the Americas to Zimbabwe, men and women gathered together to “send a bold message…that women’s rights are human rights.” Wherever you may fall on the political spectrum, most people can agree that they want their daughters — or nieces, sisters, granddaughters or other young women they are teaching, mentoring, or coaching — to feel empowered and confident. To have equal opportunities available to them and feel confident that with hard work and dedication, they can achieve whatever they set their mind to. So then, how — beyond the march — can we practically support and empower our daughters throughout the year?
For the past 5 years, I have specialized in working with middle school and high school girls through my work with Blossom & Flourish, a leadership training and confidence building program for that demographic. Based on my experience and research, here are three ways you can empower the young women in your life:
First, listen to her — even if you don’t agree.
There is a sad and common phenomenon known as “loss of voice” that happens to many adolescent girls. Even girls who were strong, confident, and assertive in their childhood can suddenly become quiet, hesitant, and unsure of their thoughts and opinions as they enter middle school and high school. So, listen to your daughters and the young women in your life. Ask them for their opinions, and show them you really care about what they think. Dads, this is especially important coming from you. Whether and how you listen to your daughter teaches her how she should expect a man to respond to a woman. And lastly, listening to your daughter doesn’t mean that you always have to agree with her. But, and here’s the big thing, if you don’t agree, don’t tell her she’s being silly, stupid, unreasonable, or naïve. Discuss and perhaps even debate the issue with her, but don’t debate or diminish her value.
Second, affirm her talents, strengths, and passions.
Research shows girls are most often complimented on their looks. It starts from the moment she’s born — “Look at those eyes! She’s going to be a heart breaker!” and continues throughout her childhood and adolescence. In contrast, baby boys and young men are more likely to be complimented on their actions and behaviors. Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong to tell the young women in your life that they are beautiful, but I am saying that you shouldn’t exclusively or primarily only compliment a young woman’s physical appearance.
When all you hear growing up is how pretty you are, or how nice your dress is, or that you have a great smile, you begin to get the message that how you look and whether or not others think you are beautiful defines — at least partially — your worth. So don’t just tell your daughter, niece, granddaughter, etc. that she looks pretty, but also tell her how smart she is, or how much you admire her work ethic, or that she’s great at communicating and building relationships, or that you love her passion for animals, etc. Encourage her to pursue her interests and research her passions. Ask her about what she enjoyed doing throughout the week, and why that activity was meaningful for her. Remind your daughter that you believe in her and her abilities.
And third, encourage her to pursue leadership roles and development opportunities.
Leadership roles and development opportunities can be both formal and informal. Formal roles can include running for student government, being the Captain of a team, or an Officer of a club. But informal roles matter as well. At the heart of it, leadership is influencing a group of people toward a common goal, and even those without formal titles have the ability to influence others. So ask your daughter, even if she’s not the “Captain," what does she want her role on the team to be — how does she want to interact with her teammates? Does she want to be an encourager? Someone who leads by example? Someone who offers to help when others are struggling? Or perhaps, if she’s a junior or senior, could she mentor the freshmen and sophomores coming behind her? Help her recognize her influence and how to use it intentionally.
Overall, while you may not be able to control the current political or social environment or the type of world your daughter — or other young woman in your life — will step into on her own one day, you can prepare her for what lies ahead. And beyond that, by regularly listening to her, affirming her talents, strengths, and passions, and encouraging her to pursue leadership roles and development opportunities, you can empower her to make a difference in this world.
[If you enjoyed this article, please stay tuned, as I will be discussing the "3 Ways to Empower Your Daughters" in more detail over the next few weeks.]