We’re glad you asked. As a matter of fact, a father is positioned to play a vital role in this respect. As you may know, opposite-sex parent-child relationships – father-daughter and mother-son – are extremely important to the healthy development of any youngster, especially during adolescence. This is true in a very broad and general sense, but it bears special application to issues such as dating, sexuality, modesty in dress, and anything else connected with boy-girl, girl-boy relationships during the teen years.
For a girl, Dad is usually the man in her life for many years. How he treats her will affect her relationship with other men throughout her teenage and adult life. She looks to him for affection, respect, and affirmation of her femininity. If he provides these things for her, she will usually expect the same type of treatment from the males in her life later on – in other words, she won’t be likely to tolerate men who treat her disrespectfully or abusively. If, on the other hand, she has become accustomed to living with neglect, criticism, and abuse, she may spend decades enduring the same from men who are self-centered, irresponsible, and predatory.
All of this implies that a father has a huge influence upon a daughter both in terms of the way he shows his appreciation for her femininity and in how he encourages her to express it. As you say, he can either help her tremendously in this area or embarrass her to tears. What he says about her appearance, how she dresses, and the way she presents herself to the world can either cause her to blossom as a woman or crush her spirit and doom her to a life-long struggle with low self-esteem.
Playing this role effectively calls for a great deal of artistry and nuance. In particular, it’s worth noting how Dad’s role differs from Mom’s when it comes to teaching girls the basics of appropriate attire. In this case, it’s the mother who needs to lay down the law and make the absolute rules. She’s the one who catches her daughter going out the door in the morning and says, “No way are you wearing that to school, Missy! Now turn around, march back inside, and put on something decent!” By way of contrast, Dad needs to draw his child to himself in a situation like this. His job is to affirm his daughter, show her that he’s there for her, and help her understand the rationale behind the rules. He and his wife must always be on the same page, of course, but he gets to play “Good Cop” to Mom’s “Bad Cop.”
Why is this so important? Because a girl desperately needs to know that her father cares about her (somehow she doesn’t require so much reassurance on this point from her mother). She needs to be convinced that he’s acting out of a desire to protect her – that he’s not just cramping her style because he’s a prude. This suggests that Dad should also be watching for those occasions when his daughter does it right. If she comes downstairs in a pretty new dress, he needs to make a big deal of it. He needs to understand that she thrives on his compliments. Equally important is to affirm her beauty in natural and everyday settings – such as when she’s helping around the house or playing in the backyard.
On the other side of the coin, when your daughter gets it wrong, you have the ability to come alongside her and ask, “Why did you choose to wear that? What do you think it says about you, your womanhood, and how you view your own femininity?” Speaking strictly from the male perspective, you are also in the position to say, “You know, I was a teenage boy myself once, and I know that guys look at girls differently than girls look at guys. You can easily attract a guy’s attention by dressing provocatively, but I can assure you that it won’t be the kind of attention you want.” At the same time, you can talk about respect between the sexes and the kind of clothes and behavior that nurture it. You can draw your daughter’s attention to girls who dress modestly and still look good. When a girl goes by in an outfit that’s obviously intended to titillate, you can say, “Do you really want to be that person?” In short, you can turn the world into a classroom and avail yourself of every opportunity to teach your daughter what it means to respect herself and to communicate that respect to others through the way she dresses.
If you’d like to discuss your question at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.
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