On Parenting: Haley Kilpatrick talked about raising confident girls

Jun 04, 2014

Haley Kilpatrick, author of "The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School--Bullies, Body Image and More," joined On Parenting's Amy Joyce to talk about seeing girls through the awkward tween years.

Hello, all. Amy J here, ready to discuss raising confident girls, talking about issues early and more with Haley Kilpatrick, founder of Girl Talk. She started the organization when she was just a teen herself, after she realized more tweens needed help and guidance from those who went before them. She's now reminding moms that they need to be confident in order to raise confident kids. Here's a Q and A I did with her earlier this week.

Alrighty, then. Let's talk!

Good morning!  I’m Haley Kilpatrick, the founder and CEO of Girl Talk, Inc. and author of The Drama Years. After twelve years in the trenches with middle and high school girls of all backgrounds, I am convinced that children, when given the opportunity to reflect, give the most insightful solutions for parents.  This past year, I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated with the undeniable link between confident moms and confident daughters. When I couldn’t find the answers or published research I was seeking, I decided to go on my own search.  After 720+ hours of interviews with girls ages 6-18, I’ve learned so much and look forward to sharing. What I didn’t expect to learn is that your kids are monitoring you – your social footprint affects them. They want you to know that even if you think they aren’t paying attention…they are. Looking forward to sharing some insights of what we have learned in hopes that together we can contribute to raising more confident girls!

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Hi Haley: Thanks for your time today. I'm a mom of 2 girls, ages 5 and 8. I can feel us barreling towards the tween years with my 8-year-old but I also know she is always watching me and incredibly curious about what I'm doing, thinking, talking about. Can you share with me one of the biggest insights you've gained from talking with so many tween girls & what lessons/insights us moms can take from it? Thanks!

Your girls are lucky to have a mom like you, who understands the importance of starting early! The first thing I want all parents to know is that research consistently demonstrates that a child’s most preventative years are ages 6-10 years old. These are the years where children learn healthy, balanced behaviors. Their most formative years are ages 9-14. These are the years where children learn what it means to be a friend, decide what is right from wrong, and develop a high or low self-esteem. After 720+ hours of brutally honest conversations with girls ages 6-18, we’ve learned three key things you should be conscious of modeling to both of your girls:


1) Be Consistent:  

Be my role model at home, at work, online, on the phone, when you’re out with your friends, and  when you are with me. We are monitoring you…whether you know it or not.

“My mom is confuses me a lot.  She is one person to me, and a very different person in front of her friends (she says mean things about people). I don’t think she knows it, but I read her texts and look at her Facebook profile from my aunt’s phone and it confuses me and makes me sad.”  –Savannah, 10 


2) Talk Early: Talking to Me Before Someone Else Does:

No matter how awkward, they would rather learn from you, about social media boundaries, dating and sex, and alcohol and drugs, than from anyone else. Be confident in the choices you make, so you can feel confident being honest with them. #TalkEarly (www.talkearly.org) has great resources on how to have those age appropriate conversations!

“We learn about those things way earlier than you think. Plus if it comes from you, we can handle it and feel safe asking questions.” –Nia, 18


3) Loving Yourself First:

-“Take care of you, so you can be there for me.” If you don’t feel beautiful, and are constantly pointing out what you don’t like about yourself, she is inevitably going to struggle with loving herself.


“My Mom always gets mad at me when I point out something I don’t like about myself, but she does it all the time! She sees me as beautiful, and I see her as beautiful, but it is so weird that we can’t see ourselves as beautiful. –Asatta, 16

As my tween daughter grows older, I get concerned that I'm not doing enough to talk to her about ways to resist peer pressure when it comes to things like sex, drinking, drugs, etc. What should I be doing now to help her during those years?

The absolute best thing you can do is have those conversations early. It may feel awkward and they may act embarrassed or act as though they are not listening, but girls want you to know that they are listening! They appreciate knowing they can come to you- no matter what. They would rather hear from you! By initiating the conversation before they are exposed to it, makes it much easier for them to come to you to get the answers they need. Daughters need their moms- at all ages.   

Hi Haley. I love the work you're doing. But I also have a son. Are you doing any research on those lines? What have you learned that can work for parents of boys as well?

Thank you! Although we serve girls, we have found that the issues that teens face at this age and stage of life are universal. So start the conversations early! If you can open the lines of communication at an early age they will remain open when the time comes for more serious conversation. Boys deal with the same self-esteem issues and bullying situations that girls face. Build up your son's confidence by encouraging him to do things that he excels at and also giving him the courage to try new things! #TalkEarly

My ten year old daughter is the sterotypical "bossy" girl. She likes to be in charge, she likes to tell others what to do and how to do it. It does cause her some problems at school and it really hurts her feelings when the kids call her bossy. How can I encourage her to be true to herself, but use her leadership powers constructively?

I would say to start with the "Golden Rule" conversation, it's so important to learn at an early age to treat people the way we would like to be treated. Confidence and assertiveness are strengths that should be celebrated (especially in girls!) but they must be tempered with humbleness and grace. Encourage her to continue sharing her ideas but to always be sure to listen to others! 

I thought we were raising a confident girl. She came across confident with peers and grown-ups. She got excellent grades and did well in sports. Then, the summer before 9th grade, we learn that she was suffering from Anorexia. Anyone that has never dealt with that has no idea. We had no idea how low her self-esteem was and her high school years were very difficult. Fortunately, she came out of it much stronger than before, and most importantly, understands the signals to know when she might be having issues again so she can address them before they become a problem. So, how do you really know what is going on inside the head of your daughter?

I whole-heartedly believe in peer mentors aka an adopted older sister! We’ve witnessed the power in it. Someone who is a few years older than your daughter that she can look up to. Someone who can understand and walk alongside her. Think of you and your daughter each on one side of a bridge. A peer mentor can help walk alongside her, and she crossed the bridge to you. Research shows that her primary influencers are her peers (vs adults)- and as scary as that is for most parents, but having a peer mentor will ensure that she has someone giving the right advice until the is old enough to know that you are there and have her best interest at heart. It is important that you have a line of communication with her peer mentor and can reach out to each other during times of need.   

How can parents feel confident about themselves to be able to raise confident children?

As Pollyanna”ish” as it may sound- my answer comes straight from the girls themselves -- accept yourself for who you are! Your children will learn to love and accept themselves if you do. Perfection isn’t what your kids are looking for- they love you unconditionally. They learn and grow more, by observing how you handle struggles and disappointment. Most girls shared that they were most proud of one of their parents when they were able to see them “be real” and allow their kids to be exposed to the tough times. They want to learn from you and how  you handle the bad days/times just as much as the good. Remember, their love is unconditional…but the best unconditional love you can show them, is showing them you can get to a place where  you can show yourself that love!   

I'm so pleased to see this topic, as it's been on my mind a lot lately. I'm expecting my daughter in October. She's my first child and I'm, frankly, terrified that I'll pass on to her the self-esteem issues that I've struggled with my whole life. Most people in my life wouldn't know it because I'm really good at hiding it, but I've pretty much loathed myself for most of my life. My mom had the same kinds of problems and she and I have discussed it before. She thinks of it as one of the great failures of her life, that she wasn't able to figure out a way to give me the confidence she lacked, but as she put it, how do you teach something you don't know? So how do I do this for my daughter? It's very easy to say that confident mothers raise confident daughters, and I'm sure that's true, but how do you get there?

Congratulations!!!! What an incredible time this is for you! First, let me say that you have already taken a huge step just by acknowledging this area. Learning to love yourself is the next step and it's going to be a process. What are the things that make you unique? What things do you excel at? What are your special gifts that you bring to the world? Those things will help in the process, but you also have to grow to just love yourself for just being you, regardless of what you do, say, or accomplish in life. Just being you is enough! Just being you makes you worthy of love. I have no doubt that the love you will have for your daughter when you hold her for the first time will change the way you understand love.

Then be an intentional parent. Tell your daughter early and often that you love her, that she is important, special, worthy, and that their is a purpose for her life! #TalkEarly

Amy here:

Can you tell readers here what your association with the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility is? Why did you partner with them and what do you hope to accomplish?

Girl Talk’s association with FAAR is transparent and simple - we understand the importance of talking early and want to be sure our girls hear from their older peers the importance of making good choices. We want them to be informed about the choices and consequences of underage drinking. FAAR has vast resources, materials and evidence based research and we asked if we could incorporate those into our curriculum. For the past 8 years, they have generously shared their resources with us and together we have made a measurable difference.


As I embarked on my personal journey of Confident Moms & Confident Daughters research, I learned about the incredible work that they were doing through their #TalkEarly program (www.talkearly.org). I knew my most recent research only supported the mission of that program, and I knew there would be meaningful ways to collaborate. It is important to me that you know that I am not paid by FAAR to be a part of this conversation. It is a conversation that is very close my heart.


I’m proud that together, we’ve been able to create an incredible campaign called #RefreshYourFunny (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bBI_QLGBYY), that is a two minute video challenge to parents to understand the impact their social media channels have on their children…whether they know it or not. I hope that parents will share the #RefreshYourFunny video with their friends and join us in just refraining from sharing these types of jokes - as we consider that our online behavior really does matter and impacts our kids. I also strongly encourage parents to follow @TalkEarly on Twitter and/or Pinterest.



About #TalkEarly: It is an original and powerful program designed to partner leading and influential parenting bloggers, who are experiencing these challenges every day with their own kids, with experts, and to then share these lessons and insights with their readers - so that all parents can feel empowered to talk early and often with their kids about tough subjects. 

I have two tween nieces who I absolutely love, however disagree totally with how they are being raised. i.e. not letting them have a key to the house, yelling on the phone, complaining all the time about money, I never say anything to the mother, I do the best I can when I am with them, any more suggestions?

I think you are doing the best thing for your nieces by simply being a consistent figure in their lives. Kids are forced to grow-up too fast sometimes but it doesn't mean that they can't still grow to become their best self. After 2,000 hours of research while writing The DramaYears I have found that by putting 3 key things in place, you can counteract much of what teens are dealing with in various areas of their life. The first is finding an anchor activity- something they can enjoy and excel at that will build their confidence . The second is finding them a peer mentor- someone to be a safe sounding board for the issues they are facing. If you don't know anyone who could be their mentor, please go www.mygirltalk.org and check our chapter locator to see if their is a Girl Talk chapter in your area. (It's totally free!) Third, get them involved in community service. Doing something to help someone else always brings your life back into perspective! 

How young are girls really absorbing the behavior of their parents? Are girls as young as 6 & 7 tuned in to adult behaviors, like drinking, and should we be proactively talking with them about these difficult conversations so young?

Yes, children pick up on their parents behaviors at all ages, even as early as 6 or 7.  They are not processing the behaviors the same as older girls, but they do absorb what is happening.  Talking to young girls, even if they are difficult conversations, helps to open and establish the lines of communication at an early age.  Having this type of communication early helps as they get older to be able to continue difficult conversations.  FAAR has great resources on these types of conversations.

Hi Haley & Amy - Thanks for hosting such an important topic. Can you talk more about the social footprint and what the girls are saying? I try to be mindful of how much time I spend on my phone when the kids are around but that's difficult because I work at home - so the lines are blurred. Do you mean they are watching how much time we spend online? Thanks!

Great question! Thank you for making a concerted effort to gauge how much time you are spending on your phone when your kids are around! Your children are absolutely watching how much time you spend online. Several of our girls joked that their parents don’t even look up from their own phones or tablets when telling their children to put theirs away! I think the #RefreshYourFunny video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bBI_QLGBYY) gives a glimpse into just how young our kids (both boys and girls) are paying attention.


Two things that have really stood out in our research thus far regarding your social footprint:

1)      Your kids are passionate about what you post about them on your social media channels. A group of girls said if they could create and enforce one Social Media Law it would be, “That parents cannot post anything this isn’t positive about their children from the day they are born, until the day they die!”.  They are easily embarrassed about what you share, and no matter how long ago it was- they are convinced that their friends will be able to find it.


2)      They are passionate about what you post and reveal about your own life (which they are a part of!). They want to be proud of you as a parent, and they want you to know that what you post impacts them. They care. They want to be proud of what you post – and know that it reveals (and is consistent with) the person you say you are to them. 

I'd like to hear more about your comment about consistency. I think most people have many different "faces" - depending on who they are with or is what the situation is - are girls finding this confusing with their moms? How can we guide them in this area? Sometimes as a parent, I need time to decompress, be it with my sisters on the phone or checking Facebook.

Kids crave consistency. Your kids love all of you- the honest you, the stressed you, etc. They want to be able to learn how to be consistent in  your values through all the emotion of life and they learn that by what you model. Don't waiver from your values when you are on the phone, posting a status (Not simply checking FB). 

Decompressing, having a conversation with a friend, etc. are not the same as putting something unkind about another person on social media. We all adjust to situations, but it's important to stand by what you say to your daughters. The feedback we get from kids is that their issue is when their parents are one way to them as parents, and then totally different person in their own life.  You have nothing to worry about if you are already conscious about this area! 

Haley had a ton of great questions today. Thanks to all for joining us and reading the discussion. And thank you, Haley, for taking the time to discuss these important issues! 

We'll keep the conversation going with Meghan Leahy next week, same time, same place.

Thank you to the talented Amy Joyce, The Washington Post,  and all of you who joined today!  We had so many wonderful questions!  Thank you for being parents who care about raising confident daughters, we need more parents like you.  For continued resources and findings please follow @girltalkinc and @haleykilpatrick, on FB/twitter/instagram/pinterest.

In This Chat
Haley Kilpatrick
Haley Kilpatrick is the Founder and CEO of the national nonprofit organization, Girl Talk™ and the author of the bestselling book "The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School--Bullies, Body Image, and More." She has been named one of Glamour Magazine’s “20 Young Women Changing the World Now.” She lives in Atlanta with her husband.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for OnParenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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