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  • How Telling Your Daughter to 'Be Nice' Teaches Her to Put Her Needs Last

    They may be well-meaning but phrases can preserve outdated ways how girls should look and act.
    by Kate Borbon .
How Telling Your Daughter to 'Be Nice' Teaches Her to Put Her Needs Last
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Raising children to be level-headed and well-rounded individuals can be tough business. Raising daughters, in particular, can be a big challenge, given the many expectations and standards of society try to impose. Even the words we say to our daughters that we think boosts their self-esteem and confidence may actually serve to perpetuate old standards and norms, affecting how our girls think and treat themselves in the future.

    What are some of these frequently-used phrases that we need to stop using when talking to girls?

    “Boys will be boys”

    This phrase excuses boys’ missteps and lets them off the hook to own their mistakes. When girls are told this phrase, they may feel they are powerless and unable to set boundaries when it comes to how a male peer treats them.

    “That message tells girls that if they set boundaries with a boy — like if they don’t want to be chased on the playground — that boys don’t need to listen,” Dr. Laura Froyen, Ph.D., a family therapist, tells Fatherly. “Boys should have the same expectations for responsibility taking as girls. It’s really harmful to girls to consistently let boys off the hook for their behavior.”

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    In a column for Psychology Today, Elizabeth J. Meyer, Ph.D. also writes that saying the phrase ‘boys will be boys’ prompts children to form ‘unconscious biases’ and gender stereotypes. These internalized attitudes and beliefs, in turn, can influence how the child interacts with others, and even how she sees herself.

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    “Be nice” or “Be a good girl”

    We should teach our kids to be kind and considerate of the feelings of others but not to the point that it disrespects a girl and justifies inappropriate behavior, among others.

    “We teach girls early on to put their feelings, their wants, and their needs last,” says Froyen. “That creates young adults and women who don’t want to rock the boat, stand up for themselves, and who don’t want to ask their parents for what they want or feel confident in setting boundaries with the people in their lives, because we’ve socialized them so early to be nice.”

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    “He’s being mean to you because he likes you”

    When young girls tell their parents about male friends or classmates who repeatedly hurt, tease, or even bully them, it is not uncommon to hear this one sentence given as a response: “Maybe he likes you.”

    However, experts caution parents from saying this to their daughters. The reason: doing so can cause a young girl to think that aggressive behavior is an expression of affection.

    “Depending on the child’s age, we can add some explanation of why some kids might punch, hit, etc.,” psychologist and life coach Dr. Lisa Kaplin tells Babble. “We would explain that that is about control, not liking or caring for someone.”

    One more reason this phrase is so dangerous is it might be a way of dismissing your daughter’s distress and excusing the boy for his bad behavior. As a result, she might think that she shouldn’t take any steps to put the aggression to a stop and just put up with it.

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    “You’re too fat” or “You’re too skinny”

    Many girls are often the target of different remarks and comments about their physical appearance, such as their weight. But no matter how well-meaning the comment, researchers caution parents against making any sort of commenatry about their children’s weight, whether it is to point out how thin they are or how much weight they are gaining.

    A study published in the journal Eating & Weight Disorders found that parents’ careless comments about their kids’ weight usually become precursors to the development of unhealthy dieting practices, binge-eating, and various eating disorders, and even end up reinforcing negative stereotypes about weight. Since kids, especially young girls, are so exposed to specific standards of beauty, it can be easy for them to internalize those messages, especially if their parents don’t actively challenge those messages.

    “You’re so pretty”

    This is yet another seemingly harmless comment — after all, isn’t every child beautiful to his or her parent? The trouble comes when parents overuse it that can serve to emphasize looks as more valuable instead of her other non-physical qualities.

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    “These innocent comments to a daughter can make her think her self-esteem is linked to certain traits or attributes,” Sarah Newton, author of Help! My Teenager is an Alien: The Everyday Situation Guide for Parents, writes in an article for The Guardian. “She may grow up valuing being pretty more than being strong and independent. This might lead to her apologizing for her intelligence, her outspoken nature, or any other quality about her that is seen as undesirable for a girl.

    “When we think our self-esteem is linked to something external, it becomes very hard to build ourselves up when we are feeling low or down, and therefore, we become depressed more easily.”

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    “You should kiss your grandpa or uncle”

    In Pinoy culture, pagmamano is a show of respect for elders. But the seemingly innocent request of relative (male or female) that your child give a kiss on the cheek — and insist on it when your child hesitates — can send a wrong message.

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    Psychologist, school consultant, and author Catherine Steiner-Adair tells Fatherly, “You’re chipping away at your daughter’s belief that she can choose what to do with her body.” In other words, it sends her the message that she has no control over her body, who she can touch, hug, or kiss, and who can do the same to her.

    Furthermore, forcing a child to show affection to a relative may cause her to feel that she is expected to be physically affectionate to others whenever they are asked to do so. Eventually, she might find it difficult to refuse people who make advances toward her.

    “Don’t be angry”

    Along with “be nice,” girls are usually told that they should not get angry, that it is not becoming of a young lady to express anger or become hysterical, even when she is in situations where she has the right to feel that way. Girls are told always to be calm, composed, and agreeable, while boys are allowed to get angry and sometimes even excused when they lash out.

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    At a young age, girls end up having to bottle up their emotions, resulting in issues that never really get settled. And according to Healthline, these unresolved issues can cause a whole array of consequences to health, including anxiety and depression.

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