During the formative teenage years, fathers have enormous power to positively shape their daughters’ self-esteem, emotional well-being, body-image and interpersonal skills. Fathers can assume a protective role not merely through defending their daughter’s physical safety, but also by addressing the emotional, moral and spiritual dangers lurking out there.
Sexuality and Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time where dads and their teenage daughters both have to confront the girl’s accelerated physical and emotional development. During this vulnerable phase, young girls are bombarded with advertisements and a popular culture that promotes unrealistic standards of physical beauty, which can lead to shame, anxiety, low self-esteem and eating disorders.
Dads should make efforts to be aware of and point out negative influences from the media. They can also consider limiting how many fashion magazines their daughter is allowed to read, and suggest alternatives such as books that reveal alternatives to the usual notions of beauty and self-image in mass media.
Dads can also counteract the effects of advertising by teaching their daughters to think critically about what they see. Pose questions such as: How does this ad make you feel? What do you think the company is aiming to achieve?
It is also important for dads to create a healthy home environment where girls are encouraged to enjoy wholesome foods, be physically active, and lead a balanced lifestyle. Imposing strict diets or making comments such as “don’t eat too much or you will get fat” are likely to backfire and increase the risk of causing disordered eating patterns.
Dads should remember to focus on good health over physical appearances so that their daughters learn to value their bodies for what they can do instead of only what they look like.
Since a daughter’s relationship with her father is usually her first male-female relationship, it is where she learns to form a sense of a female identity and self-concept. In early childhood, self-esteem is derived from receiving respect and approval from others. By displaying comfort with his daughter as a girl and as a person, fathers can help her to experience, view and accept herself in a more positive light.
Dads can also convey affirming attitudes about who his daughter is and what she can become. If dads appear uncertain or dismissive about her future, they rob her of her confidence and enthusiasm about life. Instead, dads should pay attention to a daughter’s talents and dreams, as well as caution her against anyone else who attempts to put her down. Be consistent in offering her the encouragement she needs to thrive.
Father-daughter relationships are also a key place for girls to learn how to negotiate fairly and compromise. When fathers are rigid, harsh, imposing and rule with an ‘iron fist’, daughters quickly learn to rebel and treat men as the enemy.
A daughter’s aggressive reactions actually stem from a sense of disempowerment and helplessness. As such, it is crucial for dads to listen carefully to their daughters and appreciate their views, even if they disagree.
Daughters also gain insight about what to seek out in a partner from observing interactions between Dad and Mum. For example, if fathers are violent and abusive towards their partners, daughters perceive men as people who are allowed to get out of control and be hurtful. If parents treat each other respectfully, daughters learn to expect this as the norm in relationships.
Girls often develop close relationships with their peers, which they might want to keep secret from their fathers. Fathers need to gain their daughters’ trust by acknowledging her growing need for independence and privacy.
Dads can prepare their daughters to handle dangerous situations by equipping them with the necessary survival skills. They can help their daughter think through appropriate responses in various scenarios and prepare her to handle an uncomfortable dating situation, or with an adult who behaves inappropriately.
An important skill girls need to learn is how to say “no”. If a father strives to be a good listener to his daughter when she is sharing her thoughts and feelings, she will value and take pride in her opinions. In turn, she can develop the self-assuredness to stand her own ground against others who might cause her harm.
Additionally, daughters generally reciprocate good listening from Dad: they will subsequently be more likely to listen to and obey their dads when restrictions are set to ensure her safety.
Adolescence is often marked by emotional intensity and mood swings. Daughters whose fathers participate more in the emotional side of parenting, such as comforting, learn to develop more resilience and strength to cope with negative emotions than those with less involved fathers.
Fathers can teach their daughters to navigate the turmoil of adolescence by encouraging the open expression of emotions at home. Dads should not shy away from displaying their own emotions or misguidedly assume that emotions are only for mums and actions only for dads.
A father’s role as a protector of his daughter during the pivotal development phase of adolescence should not be understated. When a father steps into his daughter’s life and imparts clear values, she gains a strong and lasting sense of emotional, physical and psychological security, even without her father’s actual presence.
- Canfield, K., (1992). The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers, Tyndale, USA.
- Hoffman, L. (2011). “A Father’s Importance for Children: Thoughts for Father’s Day”. Beyond Freud.
- Meeker, M. (2007). Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, Ballantine Books, New York, USA.
- Rosen-Grandon, J. R. (1995). “Father-Daughter Relationships”. Dr. Jane’s Notebook.
- Tartakovsky, M.. (2009). “Dads, Daughters and Body Image”. Psychology Central.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.
First published on 29-06-2011.