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Empowering Our Teen Girls To Thrive

Adolescence is a time of change. Bodies change, minds change, and adolescents’ views of themselves and comparisons to their peers change as well. This is a period of self-evaluation. Self-esteem is having a negative or positive outlook on oneself. In all adolescents, with the exception of African-American girls, there is a significant drop in self-esteem for both girls and boys during this period of time, but for girls the decline is more severe.

A positive self-esteem is critical to the development of a healthy individual. Research and literature in the field of education and child development overwhelmingly demonstrate the connections between self-esteem and:

  • academic performance,
  • the formation of healthy beliefs and living skills,
  • and basic happiness.

The culture in America is highly competitive and encourages “comparisons that lead to positive or negative appraisals of self-worth (Brown, 2009).” Girls are focused on acceptance from their peers, through their appearance and their attractiveness to boys (Choate, 2008, p. 90). This is not the case for teen boys. Appearance was not nearly as important an indicator for self-esteem for boys.

Low self-esteem can contribute to mental health problems, depression, and eating disorders.
During adolescence, girls are going through puberty at different rates. The body size of women in the media is often more than 20% underweight (Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999)—exceeding a diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa of 15% underweight (DSM-IV-T). Not only do they compare themselves to their peers but they compare themselves to the teenage girls of the World. They are surrounded by images in the movies, TV, magazines, and internet. Many of these images show a kind of beauty that is unattainable. Airbrushing, digital alteration, and cosmetic surgery further increase the unrealistic nature of media images of women as standards for self-evaluation (Thompson et al., 1999).

Teenage girls gain awareness of societal attitudes, then internalize them. The girls make a social comparison, deciding on their own body satisfaction. Once again, body satisfaction is a high indicator of self-esteem at this age.

The Mother-Daughter Relationship With Self-Esteem

Girls can be heavily influenced by their mothers. Often, if the mother has a high self-esteem and good body image the girls will too and visa versa. By the time girls reach adolescence, the mother is no longer only a caregiver. The mother-daughter relationship has grown into a friendship. Mothers and daughters who are supporting one another are helping to increase each other’s self-esteem. Women build self-esteem through relationships and feelings. “With increasing responsiveness to one another’s feeling states, mothers and daughters can reach a point of mutual empowerment, where both are caring for each other and the relationship.” (Brown, 2009) If this kind of empowered relationship does not occur, the girl may feel shame, guilt and lowered self-esteem.

How can parents help their teen girls thrive?

Parents can do many things to raise their daughter’s self-esteem.

  • Dad needs to take an active role in her life. He should attend school and sports activities but Dad should also have more intimate, one-on-one time with her. Take her out to dinner or go hiking.
  • Parents should be careful to monitor their own self-talk and criticism. Don’t put yourself down in front of her.
  • Parents should encourage their daughters to speak up, play sports and to pursue careers in many areas. It’s awesome to be a teacher, but why not the principal or superintendent?
  • They should not fall into the trap of stereotypes for themselves or their daughters.
  • Limit what girls watch on TV, movies, and the internet. It is beneficial but a difficult task since in today’s world, girls are surrounded by these images.
  • It is most important that parents point out to adolescent girls that often times the images they see in the media have been re-touched, and photoshopped. It is critical to point out that it is unhealthy to be 20% below the recommended body weight and that the majority of girls do not look like that!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used to raise a teenager’s self esteem. CBT can teach someone to recognize the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT can help a person recognize automatic negative thoughts. A goal of CBT is for the person to rewrite their negative thinking into a more balanced, positive way. Using a Cognitive Behavioral Approach, counselors may want to use homework, worksheets, games, or videos to better reach their clients. Teens can feel better about themselves when they explore topics such as their life story, their core beliefs, journaling, and keeping a gratitude journal. They should focus on their positive traits and the positive activities happening in their lives.


Thriveworks Counseling in Charlotte offers Thrivegirls, a program where girls:

  • have a safe place to share their thoughts
  • will learn to appreciate the power of their bodies
  • can be comfortable with their identity and feelings
  • will discuss coping and communicating with the outside World
  • learn how the media and social media affects them
  • Learn strategies to withstand peer pressure, and

The adolescents of today deserve to feel good about themselves.! Teens who are “feeling personally strengthened, confident, and stimulated to act” will participate mutually, be dedicated to a cause, and will give attention to relationships. (Brown, 2009) When having these mutual relationships, it will heighten senses of self-worth for the individuals in the relationship, by raising self-esteem in adolescents. It not only affects the adolescents but families and society as well.

Written by Kim Matone, MA and Owner of Thriveworks Counseling Charlotte. As a Certified Substance Abuse Prevention Consultant, Kim has been helping youth empower themselves for the past sixteen years. She facilitates Thrivegirls, an empowerment group for teen girls.

Thriveworks Charlotte is offering a girls group, Thrivegirls! For more information, click here:


Brown, N. (n.d.). Dissertations & Theses – Gradworks – Early Adolescent Girls in the Middle School Environment: Enhancing Self-Esteem Through Relational Development. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Choate, L., & Anderson, K. (2008). Girls’ and women’s wellness: Contemporary counseling issues and interventions. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Tools of the Trade. (2010). In I’m Special: A Program for Third and Fourth Graders (p. 11). Charlotte, NC: US Library of Congress.

Nielsen, D., & Metha, A. (1994). Parental Behavior and Adolescent Self-Esteem in Clinical and Nonclinical Samples. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Self-Esteem Worksheets for Adolescents | Therapist Aid. (2015). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Spettigue, W., & Henderson, K. (2004, February 1). Eating Disorders and the Role of the Media. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

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