by Clare Reynders, MEDIAGIRLS volunteer
We get it, it’s hard. Your little girl is growing up, and suddenly she seems to be spending more time with her phone than with you. How are you supposed to compete? What could you possibly say that’s more interesting than her Instagram feed? Well, as they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Despite what you may think, father-daughter bonding can take many forms. It doesn’t have to be a nature walk, or Scrabble, or whatever your go-to activity is. In fact, the most effective way to bond with her may be through the very screens you’ve been competing with. Young girls’ worlds are surrounded by all forms of media, and bonding through her favorites might help you see the world from her perspective.
Tip 1: Don’t just send reminders and logistics over text – send her a little notes of kindness!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that texting isn’t just for scheduling; it’s a great way to connect with friends and family. A lot of young girls check their phones constantly, only to be bombarded with unrealistic beauty standards on social media. It would likely make your daughter’s day to hear from someone she admires, like her father! Send along an article about a woman who is remarkable in a field that interests her, a GIF of her favorite strong female celebrity, or a motivational quote on day she needs a little boost. A simple text when you’re apart is a great way to connect and make your daughter’s days a little better. Get in the habit of sending once once a week, or even every couple weeks.
Tip 2: Take her to a movie she wants to see, and kick off a conversation about it.
Seeing a movie is a perfect father-daughter bonding activity, and this summer comes with a few perfect choices: Wonder Woman, Step the Movie, and, for older girls, Band-Aid (which boasts an all-female crew). But go one step further, and and open a conversation beyond “did you like it?” after the credits role. Let her know you want to hear her thoughts on the storyline, specifically on how women are represented. A cool “game” you can play during the movie is to see if it passes the Bechdel Test: Do two named female characters have a discussion about something other than a man? You can look for this during the movie, and then discuss whether it passed the test or not. This will help you both think more critically about how women are shown on screen, and show her how much you care about women being respected.
Tip 3: Compliment her on things that have nothing to do with her appearance.
Sure, we all love getting complimented on our looks sometimes, but it makes a huge difference to receive a compliment about something more meaningful. The best part about these types of compliments is that they’re never generic. Compliments about someone’s creativity, intelligence, or any personality trait are always more thoughtful and go deeper. Spend a little more time thinking about a compliment tailored especially to your daughter. As the No. 1 man in your daughter’s life, you set the example for how she expects to be treated by men. Through compliments like these, you’ll show her that future partners should value her for more than just her beauty. You’ll also be fighting the harmful media images that she sees all the time, insisting self-worth comes from unrealistically thin Instagram models to overly-Photoshopped selfies from friends on Facebook. You have the power to make a big difference in your daughter’s self-esteem and confidence.
Tip 4: Ask her about her favorite YouTuber and watch a little with her without rolling your eyes.
YouTube is definitely a go-to for many tween and teen girls right, especially DIY (do it yourself) videos. Chances are, your daughter waits for her favorite YouTuber to release videos each week- whether she learns life lessons from the Vlogbrothers, listens to Dodie Clark’s original ukulele songs, copies Zoella’s makeup tutorials, or laughs at Grace Helbig’s creative pop-culture commentary. If you show interest in finding out more about some of her favorite stars, she’ll be more than happy to show you. Ask her to show you her favorite YouTube video this month? What was the last video she watched that made her laugh? What’s a video she thinks you would like?
Tip 5: Be proactive when you watch TV ads together.
A lot of advertisements between shows, or even the shows themselves, rely on lazy, harmful stereotypes. For example, how many times have you seen an attractive woman in an advertisement with no actual substance or personality? How many times have you seen TV characters make jokes about a woman’s looks or weight? When you notice things like this, discuss them with your daughter. How do those moments make her feel? On the other hand, which qualities does she look up to in the female characters she sees? What kinds of characters does she most look up to these days?
Clare Reynders is a junior at Vassar College majoring in Media Studies with a minor in Women’s studies. She loves singing in her a cappella group, reading books, and, of course, empowering young women!