A few years ago, I started to see research that says a girl’s self-esteem peaks at 9 years old.
Sadly, that is third grade.
While I’m glad to hear that little girls feel good about themselves, it breaks my heart that big girls do not.
What causes the shift? There are many factors are involved, but I believe a big one is self-consciousness. As little girls grow up, they become keenly aware of what people think. They begin to tune into cues and reactions, caring deeply about people’s opinions of them.
And since relationships are very important to girls (and friendship is essentially oxygen to them in the teen years) girls often sacrifice what they really like – or who they really are – to fit in or belong.
This is why an academically gifted girl may want to take regular classes to be with her friends.
Why a fifth grader may stop playing with American Girl dolls because someone called her a baby.
Why middle schoolers dress like clones.
And why your daughter may delete silly old videos because she’s embarrassed by how awkward or childish she used to be.As your daughter hits adolescence, you may see a shift in her self-esteem. You may wonder:
How can I help her be confident in who she is?
How can I encourage authenticity?
Why does she worry so much about what people think?
Why does she exhaust herself chasing approval?
How can I teach her to think for herself?
Who is she trying to impress? Doesn’t she realize she has nothing to prove?
Teen and tween girls often care more about what their friends think of them than what they think of themselves. They let the world tell them who to become and then bury the best part of themselves.
But God designed your daughter (and the rest of us) to grow into His image. He wants your daughter to live for His approval, not the world’s approval, and find her identity in Christ. The closer she gets to God, the more unique she’ll become because God made her different for a purpose, to serve her generation like no one in the universe has ever served before.
The saints illustrate this concept well, because they were all holy yet original. As C.S. Lewis said, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.”
How does your daughter find her identity in Christ? The first step is to make Jesus her rock, the center of her universe, and to know that He is the only One who will never let her down.
Overnight, she can lose everything the world tells her to base her identity on: her beauty, her talents, her wardrobe, her place in a friend group, her place on a team, her achievements, her material possessions, her grades, her attention from boys, even her Instagram account. She can be stripped of every earthly trapping that we humans put our faith in.
But what nobody can take away is her status as a child of God and the promise of heaven she is given through a relationship with Jesus. In Him, she has the hope of eternal life and a joy to cling to in all circumstances. Even if her worst nightmare came true, she’d still be standing with Christ as her foundation.
When discussing identity, you can tell your daughter:
- She is special because she exists – period. Nothing can change God’s unshakable love for her. Even at her worst, He loves her at maximum capacity.
- She has inherent worth and dignity as God’s child. She was made in His image and is His masterpiece.
- The best part about her is God’s spirit inside her. The same spirit that rose Jesus from the dead is what God uses to draw her heart to His.
- She is meant to run her own race, to live authentically and not identically to anyone.
- Her real identity is built from the inside out, beginning with Jesus in her heart.
- What God creates – God loves. And what God loves – He loves forever.
Your daughter will spend a lot of time in the teen years figuring out who she is as an individual and as part of a group. She’ll want to be true to herself yet also fit in.
Be patient as she wrestles, and remember how most of us build identities on what the world applauds us for. Many of us need a wake-up call to realize our mistakes (find my story here). Your daughter may need to lose the center of her universe — her friends, her boyfriend, her status as a star — to realize how she built her identity on quicksand. She may need to struggle with insecurity to find lasting security through God.
When my priest was in 4th grade, his teacher told him, “Every morning when you wake up, I want you to look at your reflection in the mirror and say, Thank you, God, for making me beautiful.” To this day, he repeats this affirmation daily, not in a vain way, but in appreciation for the fact that he is God’s masterpiece.
Anyone can benefit from this habit. And since your daughter lives in a universe where girls often express confidence with an egotistical, I’m-better-than-you attitude, it’s a reminder to stay humble and see her blessings through God’s lens.
Little girls have a wisdom that many big girls can learn from. They are more in tune with their genuine selves, which is a huge part of their appeal. As your daughter grows up, and as she feels the need to reinvent herself, prove herself, or test-drive identities to see what attracts the most attention, remind her that living for human praise will exhaust her, but living for the quiet peace of pleasing God and growing into His image will lead to deep and lasting inner joy.
And should your daughter forget who she really is or what she honestly loves to do, it may help her to tap into her 9-year-old self, remembering that confident little girl who once believed in herself, her abilities, and her big dreams for the future planted intentionally in the depths of her heart.
On Aug. 18, my new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter releases. It’s gaining fantastic early buzz, and by pre-ordering now, you’ll receive amazing incentives like downloadable prints and prayers. Simply redeem your receipt here. Pre-order through Amazon, and you’re guaranteed the lowest price between now and Aug. 18.
I’ve also written books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, used widely across the U.S. for small group studies. To keep up with future posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram, and the Girl Mom podcast
Posted by Kari on June 15, 2020