The dead leaves that pile up in the yard this time of year always remind me of one of my fondest memories with my twin brother. Do you know those plastic electric Jeeps for kids? One of our favorite pastimes as kids was zipping through the yard in our little Jeep, a spray of leaves in our wake. My brother always drove, but I never minded being a passenger princess; I was just happy to be spending time with him. He, on the other hand, enjoyed this pastime for the action, whipping the Jeep in the tightest, fastest bends he could manage without his twin sister flying off the seat.
That was just one of the many ways in which my brother and I were different, and a lot of those differences can be attributed to our different genders. Growing up with a twin brother gave me a unique perspective on the differences between boys and girls—how they are raised and how they experience life growing up. I experienced firsthand the difference in parenting styles that my mother and father exhibited with both of us. My parents did an amazing job raising us, but I can understand the unique challenges a father faces when raising a daughter compared to a son.
As a father, raising a daughter can be a rewarding yet challenging journey. Your daughter faces unique challenges and experiences as she navigates the complex world. To be the best father you can be to her, it’s essential to approach her upbringing with empathy, compassion and an understanding of her specific needs and struggles. In this article, we will explore the key aspects of raising daughters, how they differ from raising sons and provide practical strategies to nurture and support your daughter’s emotional development, self-esteem and overall well-being. As the daughter of a father who did a pretty great job raising me, my twin brother and our two younger sisters, I hope that I can provide some valuable advice.
Raising daughters is a distinct journey compared to raising sons, and it’s important to recognize the differences to provide the best support. Based on my personal experience as well as recent studies, here are just a few ways in which girls are different than boys in their adolescent years and how you as a father can best support your daughter. Understand that these are generalizations and do not apply to every adolescent girl or boy.
Understanding Societal Norms and Building Self-Esteem
Society often imposes unique expectations and pressures on girls, from appearance standards to behavior. This is especially evident in modern day’s use of social media and the presence of sexualized images online.
A recent study conducted by BMC Women’s Health, in which girls aged 14-17 years were interviewed about social media’s influence on their body image, found that, “Appearance comparisons were perceived to exacerbate adolescent girls’ appearance-based concerns… The importance of awareness and education from a younger age about social media and its influence on body image was emphasized, as was the need for strategies to promote positive body image and counteract negative body image.”
Fathers can play a vital role in educating their daughters about social media’s impact on body image. Encourage open discussions about social media, body image and self-esteem. Help them understand the often unrealistic nature of online images and emphasize the importance of self-acceptance. Teach them to discern between real and idealized representations and remind them of their intrinsic worth beyond appearance. By nurturing their self-esteem, you can empower your daughter to navigate these challenges with confidence and resilience.
Growing up, if someone in the house was crying it was more often than not me or my sisters—in fact, I can’t even recall a specific instance when my twin brother was the one with an emotional outburst. From my experience, girls tend to express their emotions more easily and audibly than boys.
One personal struggle I dealt with as a shy girl growing up was feeling like I was alone. When I was feeling down, my father’s simple acknowledgment of my mood change was often times enough to make me feel better. A simple, “I can tell something is bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?” made me feel seen and cared for. When I didn’t want to talk about it, my father would follow up with, “Do you want to go do something together?” I don’t recall ever turning down an offer to get ice cream with my dad or go for a walk in the park.
You may find it more difficult to pick up on your daughter’s emotional cues while you are on the road as a professional driver. Her cues may be subtle, but they are there if you pay close enough attention. Is she quieter than usual? Are her responses short or long-winded? Is she having trouble telling you how her day was? These can all be signs that she is in need of an understanding father. Keep in mind that if your daughter comes to you with a problem, she is not always looking for a solution. First provide emotional support by validating her feelings and telling her you understand why she is upset. If you suggest a solution, do not take it personally if she is not receptive of your advice. Sometimes your support is all she needs.
It is important to note that although boys are not prone to express their emotions as often or as obviously as girls, boys still experience the same emotions and should be encouraged to express them. Tips on how to help your son express himself in healthy ways will be provided in the second article of this month.
I may be a statistical anomaly in regard to this topic: My brother was more social than I was growing up. Even still, my social connections were more important to me than my brother’s were to him. For example, when I hung out with my friends the concern was never what we’d be doing together, but who we’d be doing it with. Conversely, my brother’s concern was not necessarily who all was going to be at the social event, but what they’d be doing. That said, girls are typically known to be more communicative and social than boys, so fostering positive social connections is vital. Understand that your daughter’s familial and social relationships are important to her. Spending quality time together and using words of affirmation will mean a lot to her.
You can be a positive role model by fostering your own healthy friendships with people she can look up to and trust. When she sees you being a good friend and respectful to others, she will follow in your footsteps.
Another way you can connect with your daughter while you are on the road is by practicing active listening. Show that you are a safe and non-judgmental confidant by avoiding interrupting, using verbal cues to confirm you are listening and asking follow-up questions. If you are on a video call, make eye contact and nod in agreement. Being an active listener will assure your daughter that you are listening and care about what she is saying.
It’s important to recognize that your daughter may not always share the same interests as you, which may be more common for fathers and sons. My dad was my brother’s baseball coach for most of our childhood years. They also went hunting together every year. Although they shared those unique experiences and hobbies together, I never felt jealous of my brother because our dad always made an effort to connect with his daughters and support our own interests. He was always one of the first to read my stories and comic books; he attended every dance recital, rehearsed lines for the school plays and always requested a fashion show after us girls spent the day shopping. Because I saw the effort my dad put into supporting my own interests, I naturally did the same for him. I went on a few hunting trips (my favorite part was the snacks and a nap in the tent) and cheered at baseball games.
While your daughter may not be enthusiastic about fishing or football, there are numerous ways to forge strong bonds and create cherished memories together. Dedicate time and effort to connect with her and understand her unique interests. Engage in conversations, ask questions and show genuine interest in what captivates her. By doing so, you can build a deeper, more meaningful relationship and create lasting memories based on her passions and hobbies.
When you put in the effort to connect, chances are you will find that you are more similar than you realize. For instance, I may not have ever known just how much I love the outdoors if not for the effort both my father and I made to connect. I may not have been passionate about hunting or sports, but I did love camping, hiking and spending time outside. My father might not be so passionate about the arts if not for his children who have all been involved in anything from music, dancing, acting, writing and painting. These shared passions helped to foster meaningful connections among all of us.
Raising a daughter is a distinctive and fulfilling experience that calls for fathers to offer empathy, support and active participation. By comprehending the nuances in emotional development, societal expectations and communication styles, fathers can equip their daughters with the tools they need to flourish. As a father, you serve as a guiding force, nurturing both independence and emotional intelligence. You play a role in shaping expectations she will have for all the men in her life.
Whether you’re on the road or at home, your unwavering love and involvement remain essential, providing her with the foundation for a confident and empowered future. Embrace the challenges, treasure the moments and know that your presence, wherever you may be, is a precious and lasting gift.
I am incredibly lucky to have both my twin brother and father who have set the standard for men in my own life. You can do the same for your daughter by giving her the unconditional love that she deserves, both at home and on the road.
Papageorgiou, A., Fisher, C. & Cross, D. “Why don’t I look like her?” How adolescent girls view social media and its connection to body image. BMC Women’s Health 22, 261 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12905-022-01845-4
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Haley joined the Good Dads team as a Communications Assistant to provide support for our marketing department. She is a graphic designer with an educational background in public relations and a professional background in marketing and communications. She started her freelance business in 2020 and has been designing logos, branding and websites for her clients ever since.