7 Secrets to Raising Strong Black Girls
Young sisters face so many challenges today: doing well in school, fitting in with peers, and still finding their place in the world. They also come up against some serious social issues–dating, pregnancy, drugs, sexually transmitted diseases, physical and verbal abuse–that not only can alter the course of a preteen’s or a young teen’s life but also can sabotage her self-esteem.
Self-esteem. Fostering a healthy sense of it is one of the most important jobs we face as parents raising African-American girls. For our daughters, the foundation for a strong sense of self is a nurturing and supportive family life.
Talk to your daughter. Ask her what’s going on in school and with her peers. Talk about television, music, and magazines; girls are exposed to so many images from these media that can negatively affect how they see themselves. And even though some studies have suggested that Black girls tend to have stronger body images than White girls, our daughters are far from immune to the insidious messages out there.
Girls often worry about their physical attractiveness, and many aspects of our society do not validate Black girls’ looks. “Our [own] community is still struggling with stereotypes about skin tone and hair texture,” says Derek S. Hopson, Ph.D., a psychologist who, with his wife, Darlene Powell Hopson, Ph.D., operates the Hopson Center for Psychological and Educational Services in Middlefield, Connecticut. The Hopsons are also coauthors of Different and Wonderful: Raising Black Children in a Race-Conscious Society (Fireside; $12).
“You still hear people say, ‘She has good hair,’ referring to wavy or straight hair,” Dr. Hopson notes. “And you’ll hear, ‘She’s dark-skinned, but she’s pretty.’ Pop culture also tends to put a higher value on Black women of a fairer complexion. Because of such statements, we must be sure to remind Black girls about the diversity that exists in our race.”
Positive parenting can do much to offset the influences within mainstream media and our own culture. Here is some practical advice to help keep your daughter’s sense of self strong:
1. Encourage your daughter to value her own beauty. Be proactive in setting and communicating your own standards of beauty, and your daughter will learn to appreciate the uniqueness of each person’s beauty, including her own.
2. Help your daughter to appreciate her own accomplishments. As Dr. Hopson explains, the diverse achievements of Black women have not always been recognized. “They may not get the recognition for their achievements immediately,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean they did not achieve.”
3. Reassure your daughter that she does not have to fit into the stereotyped portrayals of Black women that are seen on television and in movies. “The Black girls that are viewed as ‘OK’ are the ones who seem meek,” says Dr. Hopson. Those on-screen images, Dr. Hopson adds, send Black girls the message that you will be accepted only “if you’re not too confident or too assertive. If you are too assertive, you are seen as aggressive.”
4. Support your daughter’s development and exploration of her own character and opinions. Black girls should be encouraged to place a high value on being accepted and respected for their individual qualities, and should not feel that they need to apologize for their strengths.
5. Teach your daughter that it is not OK for women to be disrespected. Encourage her to stand up for herself and not to accept abuse. Every Black girl should believe that she deserves better than that.
6. Help your daughter develop a positive attitude about her body. Although young girls often endure being teased about their bodies–whether about weight or breast development–“they should embrace those changes as part of womanhood,” Dr. Hopson explains.
7. Make sure your daughter knows that she has a right–and a responsibility–to define what is acceptable behavior and to set limits. All girls should understand that it is OK to speak out if someone else’s behavior is making them uncomfortable. “If a boy has written a letter to your daughter that is out of line, you have to nip it in the bud,” says Dr. Hopson. “Let her know that she has to be all right with her body and personal space. Help her to recognize inappropriate behavior, and understand how to respond.”