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A New Look at Self Esteem: Teens

Guiding Our Kids through Adolescence

The What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys

The What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls

Girls, Sports and Self-Esteem

by Christine Ratliff

What parent doesn't want their daughter to grow up strong - mentally as well as physically? Through participation in sports, our daughters will come to appreciate their bodies for reasons far more substantial than just looking good.

In the book, Gutsy Girls, by Tina Schwager and Michele Schuerger, 25 young women share their personal stories about determination, persistence, courage and hard work. One gutsy girl, Rachel Cook - 1998 Teen Athlete of the Year, whose hobbies include basketball, track and field, softball, and cheerleading, says: "Because I'm an athlete, I've learned how to stay focused. This helps me at school because I get more out of my classes (which beats filling up a notebook with doodles). I've come to understand the value of teamwork and self-reliance, and how to balance the two. I've also discovered the importance of having a positive attitude, even when things aren't going my way."

As parents we all know how valuable these qualities are and how they will enrich the lives of our daughters. So, how do we get our daughters to embrace them?


  • Research shows that girls gradually lose self-esteem as they reach adolescence.
  • In elementary school, most girls have strong self-esteem and aren't afraid to voice their thoughts. But once they hit their teens, their self-confidence can go down the drain.
  • In elementary school, 45 percent of girls indicate that they have self-esteem, saying that they are "good at a lot of things." But in middle school, only 29 percent of girls say this.

Ramona Rogers, a teacher, math competition chairperson and swim coach at Rickards Middle School in Oakland Park, FL, believes we all have an inner voice telling us we may not be good enough.

  • Defeating negative voices. This comes from our insecure inner self. We all try to hide it, push it away or say it doesn't exist. The truth is that it does exist in us all. Some of us are just better at defeating it than others. Some of us are just better at ignoring it than others. And some of us are just better at compromising with it than others.
  • Instill positive ideas, traits and deeds into the minds of these young girls.
  • Build confidence through books, videos and seminars - all centered on accepting and believing in themselves.
  • Praise their positive attributes, strong upper body, nice shoulders, and well-proportioned legs.
  • Encourage your daughter to believe that she is a wonderful person with wonderful traits and not to allow insecurities to overshadow her possible athletic abilities.

What if your daughter is a couch potato, an online addict or generally uninterested in anything physical? What can you do to motivate your child?

  • Athletics give adolescents a way to get involved and be part of a group.
  • Sports are a great way to find your place and discover your strengths.
  • Explain why getting fit is so important. You cannot force your child because then she’ll just want to quit or get a bad taste in her mouth for it.
  • Help your child find enjoyment in whatever it is she decides to do
  • Talk to your child.
    • Does she want to compete against herself or does she want to compete against others?
    • Does she long to make new friends?
    • To lose weight?
    • Does she prefer being indoors or outdoors?
    • Does she want to increase her strength or gain flexibility?
    • Is she still young enough to enjoy exercising with you? If she is, jump at the chance - it will be good for both of you.

If low self-esteem is the hurdle your daughter needs to get over, joining a team could be just the boost she needs. If body image is a problem, encourage your daughter and inform her that there is no such thing as a perfect body.

Or is it? We all want to teach our daughters the importance of commitment, the value in following things through to completion. Inevitably, though, from time to time, children may want to quit.

Discuss each scenario:

  • If your child is on a team, there is a commitment and she should follow through. But if she wants to quit, you have to take that into account.
  • Find out why. It could be that your child is afraid to compete and fail. Or she could be afraid of some skill she may be expected to learn down the road or there may be some kind of intimidation going on.

When the going gets tough…
We've all heard the expression, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." How do we help our children to hand in there when things get difficult?

  • Instill in your child the motivation to press on
  • Remind her that she will have good days and bad days, but on the bad days you must never think that you've failed
  • Tell her to ignore people who try to discourage her.
  • Encourage her to associate with positive people
  • Encourage your daughter to find the inspiration she needs by reading books about other female athletes, books about overcoming fears, or by hanging affirmation posters around her room.
  • Remind your child that courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is going ahead and doing whatever it is you want to do, despite the fear.

The Girls' Guide to Life, Catherine Dee, Little Brown and Co., 1997
Throw Like a Girl, Beyond Words Publishing, 2000,
Gutsy Girls by Tina Schwager and Michele Schuerger, Scholastic Inc., 1999
American Association of University Women

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