Q&A: Teaching my pre-teen about self-image


My daughter is entering the “tween” years, and I’m concerned about her self-image. The other girls in her peer group are so focused on being thin and wearing the right clothes. But my mum always told me, “Pretty is as pretty does.” How can I get that same message across?

Answer: Without question, our culture tends to define women by their appearance. Some of the worst offenders include popular music and movies. And ironically, magazines aimed at women and girls often send the message that a woman must be physically beautiful in order to have worth. Even relatively conservative publications airbrush the images on their covers.

In this toxic environment, it’s up to parents to counter these damaging messages. It’s all about finding a healthy balance between affirming your daughter’s physical appearance and nurturing her character. According to author Vicky Courtney, little girls naturally want to be told they’re pretty. If we don’t tell them at all, they could end up having an unhealthy craving for male attention later on. But we don’t want to go overboard and send the message that their worth is based on what they look like, either.

As daughters get older, parents need to emphasise virtue and character over appearance. “Pretty is as pretty does,” indeed! When girls are exposed to negative stereotypes, we need to help them realise that images of models and celebrities who appear to have found the fountain of youth are not real. Most have been prepped by hairstylists and makeup artists,  plastic surgery—and then airbrushed after the photos are taken.

Having a tween girl isn’t easy. As you noted, many of your daughter’s peers have already bought into the lie that appearance is all that matters. But with a little guidance and a lot of love, parents can defuse our culture’s negative messages about femininity, and help their daughters develop a healthy self-image.

© 2018 Focus on the Family.  All rights reserved.  Used by permission.




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