Commentary: Raising Strong Daughters Inside and Out

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Commentary: Raising Strong Daughters Inside and Out

Girl power?

By Tracey Or | 4 March 2021

“We must kill this love
Yeah, it's sad but true
Gotta kill this love
Before it kills you, too...”

The stage lights shine head-on upon the silhouettes of four poised young women as they emerge to dominate the stage against a fanfare of trumpets.

Surrounding them, an adrenaline-thumping backdrop of screaming young millennial girls, mouthing to the lyrics and bopping to the beat of female empowerment.

It is plain to see how K-Pop girl group BLACKPINK, in all of their alpha-girl swag and model-like looks, has captured the hearts and admiration of our teenage girls.

Their music sounds the clarion call to young girls to be strong, confident females who can unapologetically embrace their true selves, ready to face the world.

Strong outside, fragile within

While pop culture has a way of emblazoning a vision of the “strong girl” that resonates with young teen girls today, we wish that it could as simply, manufacture the same confidence in its consumers. Alas, this is not so.

Steve Biddulph in his book Raising Girls describes a "sudden and marked plunge in girls' mental health" over the past decade, where predominance of social media in the growing years has fuelled anxiety, narcissism, and an increased exposure to sexuality and pornography even at a young age.

In Girls on the Edge, Dr. Leonard Sax shares stories of girls who look confident and strong on the outside but are fragile within. His research shows why a growing proportion of teen and tween girls are experiencing what he terms as the “new crisis for girls”.

These include:

  • Sexual identity – Oversexualisation in media and the world tells our daughters that in order to be accepted, they have to express their sexual identities in physically attractive and often provocative ways.
  • Cyberbubble – Social networking and increased online activity have driven girls into their own unfulfillable worlds where they seek connection and affirmation but find nothing of substance.
  • Obsessions – While it is an enviable trait for girls to go to great lengths to succeed at their talents, many go as far as to risk injury and their wellbeing.

    How good is good enough? Some girls and their parents don’t know so they never quit.

  • Environmental toxins – This may have a link to early puberty and predispose girls to a greater risk for substance abuse, eating disorders and delinquent behaviour.

Call to parental engagement

Rather than have our daughters navigate these uncharted waters of modern adolescence alone, parents will need to move in knee-deep and deeper still. What does raising “confident and strong” daughters really mean within this culturally-saturated and media-rich generation?

  1. Model body love and acceptance
    Like it or not, mothers are a huge influence on their daughters in terms of their body image. Many women struggle to be proud of their post-pregnancy bodies and can lapse into a self-critical mode in front of their children. Refrain from asking out loud: “Does this dress make me look fat?” and saying things that put down your appearance.

    Instead, intentionally go beyond appearances and emphasise inner attributes and personality traits as part of the complete picture of who they are.

    Make the effort to match every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance with at least two compliments about who she is and what she’s done.

    Expose your daughter to opportunities and activities that are independent of appearance, such as sports, theatre, music or art, and that allow them to express themselves apart from what they wear or what they own.

  2. “Chew and spit” method of media consumption
    More than just being media purveyors, we need to train our daughters not merely to consume media wisely but to develop a critical eye to decode and filter media messages.

    Scrolling mindlessly on Instagram or binging off the latest Netflix series can be harmful if we do not teach them the skills to process these images and their messages.

    “All media (movies, books, music, art) HAS a message.” Hillary Morgan Ferrer, author and founder of Mama Bear Apologetics, says we must teach our daughters to “exercise discernment in response to everything we hear and see”.

    Filtering media content according to its message and values is not unlike eating our food. In explaining how we should teach our kids to spit out those aspects of media that are not good for them, Ferrer describes it well: “If I bit into a broccoli and it had the texture of a pudding, I would spit out that nastiness immediately!” says Ferrer,

    “We must teach them how to interact with contemporary culture, swallow what is good and spit out what is bad.” Make it a natural habit to watch what your daughters watch, and engage in discussions that teach them how to differentiate what’s good and what’s not.

  3. Don’t raise a “people-pleaser”
    The act of people-pleasing is extremely tiresome and tricky to navigate amongst young women grappling to find their own footing on self esteem. Usually, those who participate in it will not get their needs met and often compromise their values and behaviour to please others.

    Research suggests that people who often engage in people-pleasing will find their efforts to be self-destructive and damaging, and are also more susceptible to peer pressure and emotional abuse because they desperately want to fit in.

    Encourage her to stand up for what she needs and wants and understand that saying “no” can be a way of protecting her values, boundaries and her own well-being.

    Teach her to value her voice and trust her instincts. She can learn to speak up respectfully for what she stands for and be true to herself.

  4. Fathers…be present!
    From early on in childhood, the rough-housing with dads – jumping off the couches and being tossed in the air – helps children practise risk-taking within safe boundaries, managing stress and self-regulating one’s reactions.

    Anea Bogur, author of 9 Ways We Are Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop, recommends that fathers avoid treating their daughters like damsels in distress, waiting to be rescued. Girls too can be given opportunities to fix a tire, engage in physical work if they enjoy it, and make mistakes and get back up on their own feet.

    Recent research shows that fathers, more than mothers, appear to have a greater impact on how daughters navigate some of the key events of their teenage and early adult life; notably, their success in school, career, first romances and mental health.

    Fathers play a pivotal part in modelling attributes that your daughter will look for in a love and in a life partner.

At the end of the day, our daughters need to know they are enough and that they don't ever need to feel like they can’t “measure up”.

Parental love and empowerment is such an important driving force that can help her cut through disturbing narratives and help her find her inner strength and virtues in the long road to adulthood.


  1. Steve Biddulph's Raising Girls, Harper Collins, 2013
  2. Girls on the Edge, Leonard Sax, MD, Basic Books 2020
  3. Anea Bogue, 9 Ways We're Screwing Up Our Girls and How We Can Stop: A Guide to Helping Girls Reach Their Highest Potential, Dunham Books, 2014
  4. Hillary Morgan Ferrer, Mama Bear Apologetics ®: Empowering Your Kids to Challenge Cultural Lies, Harvest House Publishers, 2019


© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.


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