Parenting and Protecting Daughters in America's Sexual Culture

Excerpted with permission from Northfield Publishing, an imprint of Moody Publishers, from chapter nine of Girls Uncovered (Northfield Publishing, 2012) by Joe McIlhaney, Jr., MD, and Freda McKissic Bush, MD with Stan Guthrie. Dr. McIlhaney and Dr. Bush are board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists with daughters of their own.

Relax! What a refreshing word in this mad world! But it is an important word, too – especially in raising a daughter (or a son). Savor these years. Don't just endure them. Release your stress. Have fun with your daughter. Your role is certainly serious, but don't take it so seriously that you destroy your enjoyment of this time – or perhaps hurt her. She is your child. Take great pleasure in this!

While it can be unnerving to watch your little girl grow up in America's sexual culture, take heart and remember that when it comes to influencing children, you have the advantage. Teachers, youth workers, media, peers, church – none of these can rival the influence that is given to parents who are with their children year after year. In one sense, this long-term relationship earns parents the right to communicate values to their children. Further, parents can take into account their adolescent's particular personality and sensitivities, as well as maturity-socially, emotionally, physically, and morally.

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The better your relationship with her, the more confident she will be in her foundation when the inevitable storms of life come. Consider these ideas for building your relationship with your daughter by protecting her and setting her trajectory toward a bright future.

Communicate: It is important to talk to our girls about anything and everything. As they get older, our conversations can and should cover big decisions, including sex. Multiple studies show that good communication correlates with less risk of a girl initiating sex at a young age. One study finds that children who communicate with their parents about sexual issues more than once feel closer to their parents and more able to communicate with them in general and about sex specifically.

Build Her Self-Esteem: Healthy self-esteem in a girl probably reflects her understanding that she, including her body, is valuable and, as with anything of value, worth protecting. This includes using her body the way she wants to use it, not the way someone else might want to use it. Good self-esteem can give your daughter the self-confidence to make good decisions and to stay in control. It can help her smoothly transition through the years when she has acne, when other girls develop sooner or are considered more "popular." Positive self-esteem can give her the strength to withstand the constant sexualization of teen girls and other unhealthy social pressures.

Dads, Get Involved: Dads are vital to the healthy development of girls. Girls who experience good relationships with their fathers are more likely to have fewer boyfriends, more likely to postpone sexual involvement, and more likely to feel badly about having premarital sex. Dads are in a unique position to contribute to their daughter's self-worth. And unfortunately, if you don't, she will go looking for a guy who will.

Set a Positive Example: Before we talk about what to discuss with your daughter, we ought to briefly examine the environment in which these conversations take place. If your attitudes, words, and behavior supports what you say, your words will be buttressed. If they conflict with your words, your children can be confused and your verbal message weakened. As young people watch, they are etching in their own brains a repertoire for emotion, for behavior, and for how the world works. What an opportunity and what a challenge for us, who must model healthy behaviors and mature decisions and avoid hypocrisy.

Set Clear Family Standards: Young people often do not know what we expect of them about sex and sometimes feel that they are getting mixed messages. For example, if their mothers discuss birth control, they may think that their mothers approve of their having sex. So it is important that parents be clear about their expectations. If they expect their child to be abstinent, they need to state clear and specific guidance such as, "Parties and alcohol are off-limits" or, "Remaining a virgin until marriage is realistic, and it is the standard of our home."

Media Choices: You also need to determine, while your children are still young, how media will be used in the home. If the television is always on and you are constantly on cell phones and at the computer, it is quite natural for the children to follow the same pattern. Media can strongly influence children's behavior, and too much media use displaces other interests, such as physical activities. It also makes it harder for parents to monitor what their child is being exposed to. An excellent resource is by Vicki Courtney, titled Logged On and Tuned Out: A Nontechie's Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation.

Encourage Activities: Young people are going to find exciting things to do. Their brains are wired that way. So be intentional about encouraging your daughter toward activities that are both exciting and healthy, such as academics, fine arts, athletics, and volunteer work. Let's face it: They will be involved in something, whether good or bad.

Provide a Positive View of Marriage: If we are going to encourage our daughters to remain abstinent until marriage, we must provide a positive image of marriage. Obviously, the best way is by having a good marriage ourselves. But we need to also remind them that there are countless benefits of marriage. For example, married people are twice as likely as single people or cohabiting couples to say they are "very happy," have more sex than sexually active unmarried people, and are more faithful than those involved in other relationships.

Affirm Second Chances: Even if an older teen has done some things that could really hurt her future, many of the principles we have been discussing still apply. Continue "connecting" with your child. Continue showing unconditional love. Continue offering guidance. If, for example, you learn she has begun having intercourse, talk to her about "secondary virginity" (remaining abstinent from this point forward until marriage). Explain that her life is not over and her body is not worthless, just because she has had sex. You never know: Risky behavior and some of its consequences may cause her to finally listen.

These are some of the things you can do to help your daughter grow into the healthy, mature woman you both want her to be. A final word: Relax. Your responsibility is great. So is your influence.

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