38% of girls ages 8 to 12 told us they’re jealous of the way other girls look.
How to know if your daughter’s interest in boys is really a sign of low self-esteem.
Your 11-year-old daughter dedicates an entire wall of her room to picture collages of Justin Bieber, her favorite teen star. You hear her giggling with her girlfriends about how “hot” or “cute” boys from her school are as she flips through her yearbook. Recently, you notice she’s more interested in texting or calling her “boyfriend” than she is in her schoolwork or extracurricular activities. But it’s normal for a girl her age to become interested in boys, right? While some degree of interest in boys is normal, interest that goes too far may be a red flag that your daughter has low self-esteem.
Girls with low self-esteem may try to find self-worth through romantic relationships. According to Richard Shadick, PhD., director of the counseling center at Pace University, “Girls with low self-esteem often base their self-worth on being in a romantic relationship, despite the quality [of it].”
How do you know if your daughter’s interest in boys is normal and healthy, or a sign that she’s lacking in self-esteem? Here’s how to tell the difference—and what to do if you think your daughter may be at risk.
1. She texts a boy she likes multiple times a day.
Texting in itself is commonplace for tweens. But girls who text too much may come to expect instant gratification and not learn the skill of patience, according to Donna Fish, a licensed clinical social worker. “This can harm their ability to think before they speak or act,” she says. The instantaneousness of texting can teach girls to be demanding with their relationships and can allow them to spend more time thinking about the boy on the other end of that line than anything else.
2. You hear your daughter using suggestive language when talking to a boy. This includes leaving suggestive language on his voice mail, or catching her “sexting” (sending provocative text messages).
Tween girls are just beginning to learn who they are and how to express themselves. Add to that the desire for male attention and the result is sometimes inappropriate. Think your daughter is so young she can’t be engaging in this? Maybe not. A 2009 study by the research and marketing group AK Tween found that girls as young as 10 years old have admitted to “sexting.”
3. She spends too much time (or the wrong kind of time) on social media sites.
Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter make it possible for girls to communicate with lots of people at once—including boys! And sometimes the lack of face-to-face contact and feeling of anonymity online can give people the courage to say things they wouldn’t say in person. If your daughter is using social media sites, make sure you have access to her profile so you can monitor her communications and her pictures to make sure they’re appropriate. (Facebook’s minimum age for users is 13, but it is not uncommon for kids to be on the site regardless.)
4. She is obsessed with male celebrities.
Whether she’s obsessed with the good-looking actors in the Twilight series or madly in love with Justin Bieber, if your daughter is too focused on celebrities of the opposite sex, you may have cause for concern. So how do you know when her celebrity crush has gone too far? Use your judgment on this one—after all, you know your daughter best. But if her fascination begins to interfere with her grades or causes her to lose interest in her other activities, it’s probably time to talk to her. (For more tips on helping a celebrity-obsessed daughter read, “Are Teen Idols Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?”)
5. She wants to dress provocatively, or look too mature for her age.
If your daughter tries to look sexually appealing by showing too much skin or wearing too much makeup, it may be a sign that she’s boy-crazy. Of course, it may also simply mean that she’s trying to fit in with her girl friends or follow fashion trends, so make sure you look at the whole picture before jumping to conclusions. If your daughter is trying to dress sexy for boys, you will probably see other signs that she’s overly interested in boys, too.
Girls who are prematurely interested in boys might be trying to fill a void in their lives, which usually suggests low self-esteem. Here are some ways to raise your daughter’s self-esteem and help her see that she’s great—whether boys give her attention or not!
1. Remind your daughter of her unique talents to reinforce her sense of self-worth. Spend time with her, and make sure she understands that her worth doesn’t depend on whether or not she has a boyfriend.
2. Encourage her involvement in sports, hobbies, clubs, and academics. Keeping her busy will give her a chance to hone her skills and keep her mind off boys.
3. Talk with her about sexuality, sex, and sexual feelings. Let her know she can come to you with her questions and concerns about sexuality without feeling embarrassed. Open communication is important as she heads into adolescence. If she feels she can share her feelings and influences with you, you can help her make healthy decisions.
4. Put the brakes on early dating! Don’t let your daughter date too early—it’s okay to say no to a boyfriend and dating. In fact, she may welcome having an excuse for why she can’t date. Many tween girls start dating because of peer pressure, even though they don’t really feel ready for a boyfriend.
5. Don’t act like interest in boys is “cute.” Instead, encourage your daughter to spend time with girl friends and develop healthy friendships with boys. If your tween daughter talks to you about crushes, boyfriends, or dating, talk openly with her. Then, set clear boundaries so she knows what is acceptable for her age.
If you’ve been wondering “Is my daughter boy-crazy?” it’s probably time to talk to her about what she expects to get from her friendships with boys. Watch out for the signs that her interest in boys has gone too far, and pay attention if low self-esteem seems to be the culprit. (For more tips, read “5 Ways to Boost Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem.”) It may not always be easy to talk to your daughter about boys, crushes, and sexuality, but by keeping the lines of communication open, you’ll be taking important steps toward teaching her to have healthy, appropriate relationships now—and for the rest of her life.
Click here to request your free report, “Self-Esteem in Tween Girls: How to Help Your Daughter Have Improved Self-Esteem.”