Several years ago, I received an e-mail from a concerned mother and pastor’s wife who had recently discovered her 12-year-old daughter was cutting. The discovery came as a complete shock to the mother who said it was out of character for her daughter to engage in such a risky behavior. She was a straight-A student and involved in extracurricular activities. In addition to having two loving and engaged parents in the home, she also had many close friends and was involved in her church youth group.
The mother went on to share that after several counseling sessions, the root of the problem had been discovered. They had recently allowed their daughter to use a popular social media app with some time limitations and protective boundaries in place. She was required to keep her account private and give her mother her login information so her mother could monitor her activity from time to time. Even so, the mother didn’t notice any unusual activity that might have triggered her daughter’s cutting.
And that was the problem. There were no comments that implied bullying. Nor was there any contact from a stranger making inappropriate requests. Her daughter confessed to the counselor that she began cutting herself because she felt worthless when she compared herself to everyone else’s highlight reel. The triggers weren’t obvious, but at the same time, they were out in the open for all to see.
Her daughter struggled to understand why some of her friends’ pictures got more likes than her pictures. Or why some of the girls she thought were her friends didn’t mutually follow her back. She was stressed over pictures of girls who she perceived to be prettier and more fashionable and had the comments and likes from the popular boys to prove it, or the pictures of some of her friends hanging out together, without her. She began to obsess over perfectly timed posts with witty status updates that might garner her more likes and followers, but it never seemed to be enough. The more time she spent on the app, the more worthless she felt.
So, what’s a parent to do? How can we help our daughters reject the culture’s shallow standards for defining worth and raise them to see themselves through God’s eyes?
Here are three things we can do to help:
- Take an honest assessment of the messages you are sending in your own home when it comes to worth. Do you put an unhealthy focus on outer appearance, body image, name brands or fashion? Are talents, awards and achievements emphasized in your home more than character qualities? Do you allow extra curricular activities to be a priority over church and other faith-based activities? What has a greater influence on you: what others think or what God thinks (or what his Word says)? The truth is, we’ve all been guilty of basing our worth on the world’s standards and for most of us, it will be a constant, life-long struggle to reject the lie. By admitting to our own vulnerability to define our worth according to the culture’s standards, we meet our daughters on common ground and are able to fight the battle together.
- Take advantage of teachable moments. Your daughter will be bombarded day in and day out with messages that support the culture’s shallow definitions of worth. Whether it’s the lyrics to her favorite song, an ad encouraging her to cultivate her sex appeal for male attention or the steady stream of her friends’ and classmates’ seemingly perfect pictures and posts on social media, there will be no shortage of opportunities to point out the lies and remind her where true worth can be found.
- Tell her where true worth can be found. Make a list of scripture verses that will help encourage your daughter to base her identity in Christ and refer to them on a consistent basis. (*See below for verses to help jumpstart your effort.) Commit to memorize some of the verses together or post them in key places to serve as a daily reminder (the bathroom mirror, her locker or as the background on her phone or tablet). Encourage one another with the verses when either one of you are exposed to messages that run contrary to God’s standards regarding true worth and value.
It is impossible to protect our daughters completely from being exposed to the culture’s damaging lies regarding worth. However, it is wise to draw boundaries that would help limit their exposure to situations they aren’t emotionally ready to handle. If we are faithful to teach them where true worth can be found and model a commitment to those truths both in our homes, as well as our own lives, our daughters will be less likely to look to the world when it comes to defining their worth.
Verses that encourage worth in Christ: Psalm 139:14; 1 Samuel 16:7; Proverbs 31:30; 1 Peter 3:3-4; 1 Timothy 4:8; Genesis 1:27; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 John 3:1-2; Colossians 3:1-3; Romans 12:2; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 1:10; John 12:43; Colossians 3:23; Galatians 2:20