6 Ways to Raise Strong Girls


It’s always something when it comes to media and the influence that it allegedly holds over children.  Always.  For some reason, people love to gloss over that whole thing about video games and aggressive behavior and video games and addiction, but put a former Disney star in an inappropriate outfit (if we’re actually calling it that) and get her up on stage for what is notoriously one of the most inappropriate nights in television history (year after year, because history is always being made) and parents go wild.  They take to Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media outlet with their concerns about these so-called role models for our daughters.  I can’t speak for you, but no pop star will ever serve as a role model for my daughter.  Why?  Because she’s too young to watch them, for one thing.  She’s too young to actually want to launch a music career.  And she’s too young to dress like a twenty-year-old.

Do we need to address the fact that the inappropriate night of television comes with a TV14 rating?  Not so much intended for little kids.  Just a thought.  And if your teen did watch that performance, I sincerely hope that you sat through it with her and discussed it beginning to end.  Confronting inappropriate content in the moment is the best defense, after all.

But it’s not just the pop stars who take the heat.  The world is still complaining about Disney…how they changed the new strong princess into a more feminine looking (and a little more wimpy) princess to fit in with the others.  Whoa.  The social media parents went crazy on that one.  And it worked.  But here’s the thing:  It was a bit of an overreaction.  You know what a lot of little girls like? Princesses!  You know why?  Because it’s fun to pretend!  It’s play.  It’s not real.  But it opens the door to a world of feelings and gives little kids a place to escape and just be little.

I must admit, I was never much of a princess kid.  I was more into Strawberry Shortcake.  And I’m not too pleased with the latest version of my old friend Strawberry.  First of all, she used to be surrounded by fruity smelling friends.  The collecting was half of the fun!  Now there are only a handful of options.  Second, although she reportedly runs the most popular cafe (also the only cafe, as far as I can see) in Berry Bitty City, she doesn’t seem to eat her delicious creations.  This new hip and happening Strawberry is minutes from a feeding tube, if you ask me.  You know who loves these dolls?  My daughter.  You know why?  Because together we get lost in play.  We make up endless story lines of friendship and learning.  We laugh, we bond, and we spend time together.  And it’s just pretend.  So I’m not really worried that my daughter will one day want to emulate her beloved (but emaciated) Strawberry Shortcake.

But I do want to raise a strong and confident girl.  I want her to know that kindness and happiness are everything, and that strength (physical and emotional) will get her through the hard times.  I want her to walk tall into this world and follow every dream she dreams.  And I want her to look every mean girl and not-so-nice boy she encounters right in the eye and say, “No thanks, I’m better than that.”

So how do we raise strong girls when negative influences seem to lurk around each corner?  We talk. A lot.  We don’t wait for bad to find them, we build them up to guard them against bad.  And we start when they’re very young…

Let them be kids:

I know you’ve heard this from me before, but it’s worth repeating.  Kids should be kids.  They should laugh, play, run, learn, make a huge mess and “forget” to clean it up, and simply be free to explore their worlds through the eyes of a child.  It sounds simple, I know.  But apparently it’s not.

I can’t tell you how often I see kids wearing clothes much too mature for their age.  They wear shoes to mimic mom’s favorite heels and skirts and shorts that are so very short that they can hardly be classified as skirts and shorts.  They wear tube tops and string bikinis.  They look like mini Taylor Swift’s running all over the place and no one stops to cover them up.  And those “Pop Star” shirts?  Talk about a mixed message!

They listen to countless pop stars singing mature lyrics meant for an older audience.  Just because a song doesn’t include foul language doesn’t make it right for a ten-year-old.

Kids need to be kids.  In their play, their clothing, and their musical choices…they just need to be kids.

Rid your house of celebrity gossip:

I get it, everyone needs a guilty pleasure.  Mine happens to be literature and reruns of FRIENDS, but I get it.  Sometimes Keeping Up with the Kardashians gets you through a rough day.  No judgment here.  Just keep it away from your daughters.

We know that “reality TV” isn’t actually real and that TMZ, OMG!, US Weekly, and every other celebrity gossip house is just that:  Gossip.  For reasons I can’t quite understand, people really want to know that stars are “just like us!” – which seems to mean that they eat ice cream cones and frequent Starbucks.  The problem with all of these magazines and websites is that they aren’t real.  They send mixed messages to kids who don’t understand, and who really shouldn’t be reading about the Hollywood dating scene.

We need to either keep that stuff from our daughters, or describe it as it really is:  A pack of lies.  Just be prepared to answer 7,000 questions about the reason for the lies, why the pictures are airbrushed, and why that scantily clad girl is being followed in the first place.

But quick question before we move on:  Do you want your kids to grow up thinking that gossip is acceptable?  Because that’s the lesson they will get from all of that stuff.  Think long term before you let your little girl flip through the next gossip magazine that enters your home…

Talk about body image:

The following conversation took place in my car the other day:

“I got so tall this summer.”

“You sure did…all of your clothes are too small!”

“Look at my legs – they’re so skinny.”

“They’re strong, kiddo.  You’re legs are strong.  You spent the summer biking, swimming, and running around.  Your legs are super strong.”

“Is strong good?”

“Strong is great.  Strong is healthy.”

It’s important to teach them the importance of strong versus thin and healthy eating versus dieting.  It’s not so much about the actual words we use as it is about the message we send.  Strong and healthy girls grow into strong and healthy adults.  Kids begin to hear about and think about body image as young as Kindergarten these days.  Avoiding these discussions creates confusion (and sometimes even shame).  Talk about it.  Ask questions.  Answer questions.  Educate your daughters about healthy choices.  Work through these feelings together.

Praise them:

If you want to raise strong girls, you have to help them find their strengths.  Build them up.  Praise their hard work and effort.  Be specific in your praise so that they can begin to see what you see every day.

Set a good example:

Everybody has good and bad days.  That’s just life.  But if you’re constantly beating yourself up in front of your daughters…they will internalize it.  They will learn to look for flaws and engage in self-criticism.

Be strong.  Be independent.  Make healthy choices and take pride in the choices you make.  Show your daughters what it means to be a strong girl.


Sometimes it’s hard to be a kid.  The world is an overwhelming place and kids are constantly confronted with new, and sometimes confusing, information.  Take the time to really listen to your daughters.  Resist the urge to brush off what might seem like a superficial concern because what might seem small to you probably feels very big to your daughter.

Listen.  Empathize.  Provide unconditional love and support.  And just be there for them every step of the way.


About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)