If there is one thing true about parenting it’s that the rules are always changing.

I have yet to meet a parent who can keep up with the advice of the day. It’s as if as soon as you jump on to one parenting bandwagon another rolls into town lamenting how the other one is heading in the wrong direction.

So don’t feel bad if the three lessons I am asking you to “unteach” today are things you used to swear by. These were popular lessons when I was growing up, and they have merit – but are misguided.

Let me explain: We all want our girls to be strong. We don’t want them to put up with harm, bullies, bad relationships, or crap partners.  We want to ensure they have a healthy social and romantic life ahead of them and we know that to ensure that, we have to make sure they have a solid self-esteem.
The three lessons I will share with you below were designed to do just that. However, overtime we have seen that they have negative consequences that actually detract from our goals of keeping girls empowered and socially strong.

Lesson 1: How can you expect anyone to love or respect you if you don’t love or respect yourself first?

The goal of this statement was to teach girls to love and respect themselves. To stand up for themselves and to assert themselves. I love a lesson that recommends girls take up space in the world and to fight for what they deserve.

Unfortunately, the way most tweens and teens read this lesson is “I won’t ever find love because I am still struggling to feel good about myself” and, even more worryingly, “Therefore it is Ok that people treat me like crap right now because I haven’t yet developed self-love and respect”

Tweens and teens are still figuring themselves out and dips in self-worth, and questions about their value, are common and normal. What we don’t want to teach them is that they shouldn’t expect love and respect until they have developed their own bulletproof confidence.

Instead, tell them: no matter how you feel about yourself, you deserve love and respect. Also tell them that even if they are struggling to love themselves, it doesn’t mean other people don’t see the brilliance and joy in them and love them very much.

Lesson 2: He’s teasing you because he likes you

The goal of this statement is that she shouldn’t feel bad or take it personally if a boy is being unkind to her. In fact, she should be flattered. The hope is that she won’t be harmed by his treatment of her and that instead she will realize she is desirable and thus feel good about herself.

The first problem with this lesson is that it has the complete opposite effect: it teaches girls and women to put up with negative treatment and to see it as a sign of love, instead of what it is: bullying, teasing, disrespect, and violence.

Further, it doesn’t hold boys and men accountable for poor treatment of women and girls, leaving the girl in the position of having to demand better treatment and convince the boy she is worth more.

She shouldn’t have to fight to be treated with dignity and respect.

Instead, it’s critical we call things what they are: If a boy is being mean or teasing her, we should say “that’s not kind behaviour” and then ask her how we can support her in being respected and safe.

We should also teach our boys that this behaviour is unkind. Many boys have also heard this lesson and have misunderstood it to mean that the way to flirt with a girl and show her you like her is to be mean to her.

(The same goes for the common lesson that her friends are only being cruel because they are jealous. Even if that is why her friends or peers are being cruel, by telling her that they are jealous we are essentially saying “put up with it, or worse, be flattered by it. Instead, we need to help her walk away from people who can’t appreciate who she is or what she has. We need to teach her that real friends – good friends – even if they feel envy from time to time, would never treat her with disrespect).

Lesson 3: That she shouldn’t let people treat her poorly

The goal of this lesson is to teach her to be assertive and to stand her ground. I love strong women. I believe in girls having a voice. However this statement puts the responsibility of respect on girls’ shoulders. It fails to hold others accountable for how they treat girls and women.

Further, it shames girls who are mistreated. It makes them feel it was their fault if someone was unkind and that they are “weak” because they let it happen. Or, that the only way for them to be treated with respect, is to demand it first.

We need to normalize the idea that respect should be a given, not something that is earned. She shouldn’t have to feel like people will only treat her better if she is stronger.

Girls struggle to assert themselves as is. Their developmental stage is precisely to figure out who they are and to navigate that amongst social crowds. It is incredibly intimidating as a teen to speak up and speak out, especially when you don’t feel you are standing on solid ground just yet.

Instead we want to teach her that people shouldn’t treat her poorly, full stop. Also, that it’s not her fault if they do, nor is it her responsibility to fix their behaviour.  

The bottom line is we should never let our daughters believe that the only way she can be treated with respect and love is if she demands it and behaves in a certain way that invites it. Instead, we should always teach her that respect should be the default treatment and if anyone withholds it from her that she should walk away and never look back.