• Puberty is a time of huge change, affecting a young person's relationships and mental health, as well as their body

  • Jess Harriton, editor of Growing Up Powerful, offers her tips to parents for protecting their daughter's confidence at this time

  • We have therapists who work specifically with adolescents – find them here

Between the ages of 8 and 14, girls are expanding their social circles, figuring out what they love to do, and finding their voices. It’s an exciting time! But this is also the time when girls report feeling a major drop in their confidence. Studies show that by the age of 14, girls are 30% less confident than boys, while eight out of ten girls say they want to feel more confident. 

Bridging this confidence gap is at the heart of everything we do at Rebel Girls. That’s why we created the book Growing Up Powerful, a bold, big-hearted guide to girlhood written by Nona Willis Aronowitz and illustrated by Caribay Marquina. As the editor of this book, I want to share some helpful takeaways for parents and caregivers of tweens and teens as they navigate the joy and messiness of puberty. 

1. Help her appreciate her growing body

During puberty, a surge of hormones prompts a girl’s body to change. Her shape might become curvier as her hips widen. She might gain weight or have a growth spurt. Her breasts will start to grow. All of these changes can certainly be jarring, and every girl's experience is different. For all of my sixth grade year, I remember wearing baggy sweatshirts to hide my growing breasts, yet in almost every tween movie I saw, girls my age were stuffing their bras with tissues. It was confusing!  

What I wish I knew when I was constantly crossing my arms over my chest is the idea of body neutrality. Unlike body positivity, body neutrality doesn’t mandate girls to love their bodies all the time. Instead, it encourages girls to respect what their bodies can do as opposed to what they look like. If your daughter is an athlete, point out how much stronger her body is becoming. If she’s getting taller, comment on how cool it is that she can reach the top shelf now. And always guide her toward focusing on traits that have nothing to do with her physical appearance, like how kind, smart, and funny she is. 

While creating Growing Up Powerful, we asked girls what they wanted to know about puberty. Of course, many girls asked about their periods, specifically exactly when they would get it. Alas, no one has a crystal ball, but you can ease your daughter’s anxiety by helping her prepare. One way to do that is by creating a period kit. Simply fill up a travel case with the following essentials: a few pads, a fresh pair of underwear, and her favourite sweet treat—exciting milestones like this should be celebrated! 

2. Encourage her to take care of her mind too

As hormones do their thing, you might notice your daughter feeling more anxious, irritable, or teary. Powerful moods are totally normal, but they don’t have to be debilitating. 

Just like any other body part, brains need some TLC, especially when it comes to handling big feelings like anxiety. Mindful breathing is one way to unravel anxiety quickly. Try this with your daughter: Take a deep breath in while counting to four, hold for four seconds, then let it out while counting to four again. Repeat as needed!  

Lastly, remember this: Actions change first, then thoughts, then feelings. It’s impossible to just think our way out of a bad mood. So if you notice your daughter is having a rough day, go on a nature walk, break out the arts and crafts supplies, or blast some Taylor Swift tunes and have a dance party—the sillier the moves the better!

3. Guide her toward fostering healthy relationships

As your daughter grows up, it’s natural for family relationships to become a bit more complicated. But there are ways to deepen your bond even during what can be a tricky time. Ask each other questions like these at the dinner table, in the car, or during a lazy weekend afternoon:

  • What’s your idea of a perfect day?

  • What’s something you’d like to learn how to do this year?

  • Tell me about a time you felt super proud of yourself. 

Specific yet open-ended questions like these are more likely to create meaningful conversations with your child, rather than simply asking “how are you feeling?” and getting the standard “fine” in response. 

Friendships during the puberty years can certainly ebb and flow. Guiding your daughter toward participating in activities she enjoys—like sports, dance, theatre, or art classes—is a great way to help her find a circle of supportive, like-minded friends. Encourage your child to stick with whatever it is that lights her up! 

Social media is, for better or worse, a big part of many tweens’ worlds. If your child is on these sorts of apps, be sure to set some ground rules with her, like these:

  • When posting, she should practice the same core values she would online as she does IRL. That means being polite, inclusive, supportive, etc. 

  • She should feel free to unfollow or block any accounts that make her feel bad about herself.

  • Never share any private information—that means keeping her location, phone number, and travel plans off of social media. 

  • Ditch the devices after one or two hours of screen time per day.   

4. Support her big dreams

Your daughter has plenty of time to figure out what she wants her future to look like—but it can be fun to start imagining the possibilities! One way your tween can do that is by creating a vision board. Vision boards can be made with poster board, glue, and pictures from newspapers and magazines or on sites like Canva and Pinterest. Have your daughter find a mix of these images: 

  • Inspirational quotes or lyrics 

  • Real women she considers heroes, like activists fighting for causes or writers telling important stories 

  • Pictures of places she’d like to visit

  • Inspiration for her life right now, like a fashion trend she wants to try 

As your daughter looks toward the future, helping out in her community can also be empowering. If she’s a math whiz, perhaps she can tutor younger kids after school. If she plays an instrument, maybe there’s a retirement community looking for musicians to play for residents. Using her superpowers to give back is an excellent confidence booster. 

Now is the time when your daughter is forming her world view. Paying attention to current events will help her figure out what issues are important to her. Check out kid-friendly new sites like BBC News Round and Time for Kids together. And when scary things happen, talk about what’s going on. Highlight the people and organisations who are trying to help, rather than those who are stoking the flames. This is the world your child is growing up in, and it’s important to show her how beautiful it is and how much more beautiful she will make it. 

Jess Harriton is the editor of Growing Up Powerful

Further reading

How parents can manage anxiety around teenagers becoming independent

7 ways to improve your relationship with your teenager

What do teens today understand about sex and consent?

The benefits of therapy for young people: telling your story

3 steps for raising confident girls