What motivates girls to take up sports and physical activity? Research by the Melpomene Institute for Women’s Health Research, which studies connections between female self-esteem and physical activity, shows that a highly influential factor is a father who plays with his daughter when she’s young. When a father bounces his baby on his knee, horseplays with his preschooler, kicks a ball around with his kindergartner, plays catch with his 7- year-old, and shoots baskets with his 12-year-old, he increases the odds that she’ll stay physically active as a teen.
And her physical activity, in turn, substantially lowers the odds that a girl will get in trouble during adolescence. Among older teen girls, those who engage in sports and other physical activities are least likely to drop out of school, get pregnant, develop eating disorders, put up with abusive relationships, smoke, drink, do drugs, or develop breast cancer as adults. They are also the ones most likely to have a dad who was physically active with them when they were much younger.
We fathers are often more willing to let our children take physical risks than their moms are, even when they’re infants. And that’s good. It stretches our kids, helps them deal with fear, and makes them feel more competent. So if you’re not already doing so, start to crawl, wrestle , and run with her, build things together, toss the football, and treat her as a whole person, rather than as a fragile vase poised to fall and break.
We want our daughters to learn that they have bodies not for how they look, but for what they can do. Every day from infancy through adolescence contains opportunities for you to draw attention to your daughter’s multiple dimensions.
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