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Confidence Coaching for Adolescent Girls

If we can't stop the mean girls, maybe we can make the nice girls stronger.

Key points

  • Boosting confidence can prevent your daughter from being the target of bullying.
  • Puberty has a much more negative affect on a teenage girl's self-confidence than on that of a teenage boy.
  • Encouraging adolescents to take risks can help boost self-esteem.
  • Help your teen to set appropriate, achievable goals in order to build up her inner strength.

As the end of the year approaches, and the majority of our children have returned to in-person school, many moms of daughters have been jarred back into the reality of the cattiness and competition fills the hallways in whispers and screams.

Covert gossip, overt threats, and insults about physical or intellectual attributes are petty power-plays that will likely continue for years to come.

"Bullies" often display a heightened level of aggressiveness, a need to dominate others, positive attitudes toward violence, and little empathy (Olweus, 1992). The problem with interventions that focus on the aggressor is that bullying is usually a personality trait, and has been found to be stable over time (Dumas, Neese, Prinz & Blechman, 1996).

Brittany Burns/Unsplash
Help your daughter choose to be kind
Source: Brittany Burns/Unsplash

A 2005 study by Clay, Vignoles, and Dittmar looked at 136 females in the U.K., ages 11-16. They found that exposure to ultra-thin or average size magazine models lowered body satisfaction, especially among the older girls.

Also, girls with average self-esteem (as reported in a self-esteem questionnaire) posted more provocative photos on Instagram, while those with high self-esteem or mildly low self-esteem posted pictures that were goofier, and often used filters to enhance their looks (Sanders, 2015).

Limit and regulate your daughter’s exposure to social media and moderate the effects of unrealistic expectations of what the female body should look like by discussing body positivity.

In adolescence, children’s self-esteem is much more strongly influenced by how others see them. Feedback from peers can negatively affect self-esteem, especially because of the increased importance of being accepted.

Puberty and Self-Esteem

There is a large difference in how puberty affects the self-esteem of males versus females.

Between the ages of 8-14, adolescent girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 %, while boys of the same age remain 27% higher (Kay, Shipman & Riley, 2018).

But, why?

The authors of the book The Confidence Code for Girls, point out that thanks in part to the differences between the male and female brains that become more apparent during puberty.

At age 14, boys are surging with testosterone and adrenaline which encourage risk-taking behavior. But, taking risks boosts confidence. And as boys go through puberty, growing taller and stronger can boost self-esteem.

At almost the exact same time, the increased estrogen in females contributes to a rise in emotional intelligence, making females more observant – but also more cautious.

Being cautious should be a good thing in ensuring our safety. But, when it comes to building self-esteem, increasing confidence, and fostering resiliency, the picture is quite different.

Taking risks, or trying new things, allows for the opportunity to fail – or succeed. Which is a huge opportunity for self-growth.

But, the female brain is programmed to avoid risks, which limits opportunities to boost confidence.

Encourage your daughters to try new things, to take risks whether it be by speaking up for themselves or others, and taking on more independent tasks at home.

If it’s a win, provide praise. If it’s not a win, support her brave attempt.

Another way that your daughter's brain is temporarily sabotaging her confidence is through the anterior cingulate gyrus, which is more developed in the adolescent female brain.

This part of the brain aids in emotional processing, helps with effective communication, and the ability to plan emotionally appropriate actions and responses.

But... too much planning and processing is part of what results in your brain replaying the movie reel of your most embarrassing moments at 3 AM.

We need to tell our daughters to think less about what other people might or might not think about them and to resist the urge to engage in all or none thinking.

Remind her that one bad grade does not mean she is stupid. One party she is not invited to doesn’t mean that no one likes her.

When your adolescent starts obsessing or ruminating, encourage distraction such as going for a walk, listening to music, or reaching out to a friend who is not part of their local group.

Also, encourage her to have friends outside of the school, or community. Those friends provide a reminder that the world is a lot larger than it feels when you are thirteen.

Do we believe we can accomplish a certain goal and does our expectation meet our belief?

Self-confidence can also be reduced to a more task-oriented, win/lose perception (Kanfer, 1993).

Help your child set reasonable expectations by choosing an appropriate goal. This means taking into account the skills your child currently has, as well as the amount of time in which your child expects to accomplish this goal.

For example, my daughter wants to be an actress, singer, veterinarian, and possibly the president of the United States -- one day.

But, she can't achieve all of this by tomorrow.

Instead, she and I have discussed what she can do to achieve these goals. She takes singing lessons. She tries out for the school play. She annoys the cat by checking his eyes, ears, and paws.

By helping your child identify “baby steps” towards their goals, you also teach them the idea of an internal locus of control: the understanding that their actions, in part, can determine their success.

If you want to do well on a test, you have to study. If you don’t do well on the test, it's not because the test wasn’t fair. It is because next time, you have to study differently.

When your child does succeed, shower her with praise – but accurate praise. Participation trophies or false praise are less helpful than you think.

In order for your child to know what they are good at, they have to also know what they are not quite so good at.

It is this knowledge that provides them with an accurate barometer so that she can self-monitor what she needs to do differently in order to achieve her ultimate goal.

When you achieve your goals, you feel more confident, no matter how old you are.


Olweus, D. (1992). Bullying among schoolchildren: intervention and prevention. In R.D. Peters, R. J. McMahon, & V. L. Quinsey (Eds.), Aggression and violence throughout the life span (pp. 100-125). NewburyPark, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Dumas, J. E., Neese, D. E., Prinz, R. J., & Blechman, E. A. (1996). Short-termstability of aggression, peer rejection, and depressive symptoms in middle childhood. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 24, 105-11.

Corno L, Kanfer R. Chapter 7: The Role of Volition in Learning and Performance. Review of Research in Education. 1993;19(1):301-341.

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