Want to Raise Fearless Daughters? 5 Things to Do (Including a Big One This Weekend)
This weekend, you’ve got a great chance to make sure your daughter embraces a fierce female role model.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Are you the parent of a daughter? If so, lucky you. I'm proud to be part of that crowd--and I'm sure that like me, you want only the best for your daughter. Before almost anything I do, I find myself asking, "How will this affect my little girl?"
Last year, Caroline Paul, one of the first women to pursue a career as a firefighter in San Diego, and the author of The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, reflected in the New York Times about people doubted her courage--and how in her experience, people expected women to be fearful.
"This fear conditioning begins early," she wrote. "Many studies have shown that physical activity ... is tied to girls' self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk."
So, as a parent, how do you combat this and encourage your daughters to act fearlessly? Here are some of the specific, practical things Paul recommends--and to start it off, one you sort of have to do this weekend.
1. Find (and support) brave female role models.
The number-one movie in America right now is the DC superhero flick Wonder Woman, with almost universally great reviews (93 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). If you have a daughter, it's basically your patriotic duty to go see it with her.
It took decades for studios to even consider a Wonder Woman movie, and then 21 years for this version in particular to get out of "development hell." You can write your own script as to why--but the point is that if you want more brave fictional role models, you've got to support them when Hollywood actually puts its muscle behind them.
As a 40-something man, I remember vividly when my dad took me to see The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which are why my early idea of manhood was formed by Harrison Ford. Make similar memories for your daughter that celebrate strong, female heroes.
2. Model bravery, fear, and failure.
Whether you're a mom or a dad, your daughter looks to you for guidance. The more you can show her that courage means facing and overcoming your fears--not denying them to begin with--the more likely they are to demonstrate bravery themselves.
Related: Show her that you face failure like an entrepreneur--as proof that you had the courage to try something new, and learn from the experience.
3. Give her freedom (but not unlimited freedom).
Kids, and perhaps especially girls, need room to make their own decisions, take their own risks--and often, learn from their mistakes. Obviously you don't want to abdicate your responsibility as a parent, but remember that we learn as much in life from learning to solve problems, as we do from the solutions themselves.
Related: The mistakes we make as kids often have less serious long-term effects than what we mess up when we're older. It's better to let kids--especially daughters--learn from smaller mistakes while they're still young.
4. Teach her to tackle small problems.
The easiest way to take on a big, seemingly insurmountable challenge is to break them down into a series of smaller challenges. Competing in sports or achieving academics at a high level can seem daunting, for example, but things are more manageable if you can teach your daughter to break these goals down into a day-by-day series of tasks that she needs to overcome to reach her goal.
Related: Make some of those challenges about serving others. Selflessness ultimately rewards the selfless.
5. Include the boys in your program for girls.
"Boys should read this book, too They'll like it because it's about adventure. And they need to see that girls are kick-ass," Paul writes.
Related: Take your sons to Wonder Woman, too. (And hat tip to Katie Arnold at Outside, without whom I might never have found Paul's book.)