Teenage relationships: is your daughter’s love life ruining her self-esteem?

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Teenage relationships: is your daughter’s love life ruining her self-esteem?

We all know how important your daughter’s first love is and how much influence it can have on her self-esteem. As a parent, how can you ensure your daughter’s self-worth stays intact, even if her relationship doesn’t?

The real damage of bad teenage relationships

A recent study called “Caught in a Bad Romance: Adolescent Romantic Relationships and Mental Health” found that bad relationships have a negative impact on mental health (Soller, 2014). Girls are at a greater risk of severe depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts the more their relationships deviate from what they imagined. This study of 5,300 high-school students found that young girls are judging their own worthiness on their success in achieving “the perfect relationship.” Conversely, the study found that for boys, there were no signs that a relationship not living up to its expectations contributed to poor mental health. Why are our young girls getting so caught up in defining themselves through their relationships?

The Cinderella Complex and teenage relationship problems

Back in 1981, Collette Dowling, author of The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence, stated in an interview: “Males are educated for independence from the day they are born. Just as systematically, females are taught that they have an out, that someday in some way women are going to be saved. That’s the fairy tale, the life message women have interjected, as if with mother’s milk.” Looking at this latest research, her statement appears to ring as true today as ever, though perhaps Cinderella has been replaced by Kim Kardashian and Katie Price. Nineteen-year-old Lauren Galley, president of Girls Above Society, puts a modern spin on this complex saying: “We see the glamour and drama of a relationship through the numerous apps and entertainment news items on television that send a skewed perspective of what a respectful relationship should be. A teen relationship in today’s society is largely based on looks and sex, not on the ability to get along, have wonderful conversation or have general interests in common. The obsession of looking perfect distracts girls from the importance of the right qualities to look for in a boyfriend, as well as the right reasons to have a boyfriend.”

Why girls often blame themselves in teenage break-ups

The media can be seen to objectify girls more than boys. “My peers feel under constant pressure to be prettier, thinner, fashionable, sexual and perfect,” Galley continues. Is it any wonder that when their relationships don’t measure up to their expectations, girls blame themselves rather than the situation? “When relationships break down, girls immediately feel that they are not good enough, their emotional state shakes their world into a frenzy and their self-esteem plummets as they ask themselves the question, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” So what can we do as parents to make sure our daughter’s first bad romance doesn’t become the first step in a downward spiral?

Praise your daughter on her qualities rather than how she looks

Annie Fox, parenting expert and author of Teaching Kids to Be Good People, says: “When parents praise their daughter for her good character traits, her choices and her accomplishments, they help her develop self-confidence and self-esteem. She’ll internalize a message of personal power: ‘I am proud of myself because I’m a girl who can do many things well.’ But if our comments are focused on our daughter’s looks, we reinforce the message that her value, as a person, is judged by how pretty, thin, sexy or popular she is. Not what we want to teach our girls!” Remember to also be specific with the praise you offer. When we use generic phrases like “good girl,” we are often subliminally teaching our children to conform, do well and please. It’s possible they may then go on to want to please others by having the perfect relationship, the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend and become so tied up in being a good girl that they forget to be a real girl.

Talk to your daughter about friendship and teenage relationships

Annie Fox reminds us that boyfriend and girlfriend both have the word friend in them and we should talk to our teenagers about what kind of friend they want in their lives and what kind of friends they want to be. “Teach your daughter that friendship is a two-way street,” she says. “It’s based on mutual respect, honesty, shared values and open communication. When we teach them how to be a good friend and a good judge of character, they’re more likely to have good friends.

When we teach our daughters to be a good friend first, to like themselves first, they are more likely to begin to see a boyfriend or girlfriend as a value add rather than a necessity.

Lauren Galley’s advises parents to “explain to your teen daughters that their romantic relationships do not define them. Emphasize that boys will come and go. When a girl enters a relationship with this mindset, it is much easier to handle a breakup.”

When a girl feels good about herself, she is likely to be more realistic with herself and her expectations; she won’t be looking to be saved and expecting the fairy tale. Find any opportunity you can, every day, to let your daughter know how amazing she is on the inside and what a strong, independent young woman she’s growing into.

The best piece of advice I was ever given by someone older and much wiser than me as a teen was that a real boy will love you because of your imperfections, not despite them.

Author: Lisa Lister,founder of Sassyology.com, writer and author

Action checklist:
Get her questioning what makes a healthy relationship

  • When your daughter swoons over the latest celebrity wedding dress, ask her what she thinks makes a good marriage.
  • When your daughter talks about a boy, ask her what she likes about him other than the way he looks.
  • When she talks about someone’s relationship, ask her what she thinks makes a good relationship; why does this relationship work
Help her question the myth over reality at every available opportunity.

What next: action steps to help your daughter maintain a healthy attitude to teenage relationships

  • Start a conversation with your daughter. What does she think makes a good relationship? Talk to your daughter about what you think makes a relationship empowering and discuss with her what she thinks.
  • Praise a quality every day. Find a unique quality to praise your daughter for every day. Maybe it is a great personality trait you see in her, something she has accomplished or a good choice she has made. Building her self-esteem can help to give her the strength and confidence to be herself in a relationship.
  • Be a good role model. Be honest and take a look at the messages your daughter is getting from you regarding relationships. If you need to adjust them, do so now. Be mindful that you may be the person she is most looking to for advice.
  • Focus her attention on herself. If your daughter has started “seeing someone,” or would like to, talk to her not just about what that person is like, but how they make her feel. Gently and tactfully help her appreciate that it is the latter that is important in a relationship.
  • Has she started to change? If your daughter has started changing a lot — in how she dresses, her interests or who she hangs out with — since beginning a new relationship, ask her about these new aspects of her life. Show that you are interested in her life, but don’t automatically assume the changes are bad (her new relationship might be bringing her out of herself in a positive way). Make sure that the new things are choices she’s made, rather than things she’s doing to try to please someone else.
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