How to Compliment a Teenage Girl Without Being Weird

It can be done.

Teenage daughters — especially pubescent ones — are often wracked with insecurities. It’s natural for parents to want to help boost their daughter’s self-esteem during this tough and very weird time. To do so, they’ll want to express to their kids how much they are valued and loved. But many parents worry that they could make their self-conscious kids feel even worse. The emotional landscape of a teen girl can feel daunting to enter, particularly for dads. So how can a parent positively talk to a daughter without making her feel embarrassed, awkward, or frustrated?

Parents have options. “I think that actions speak louder than words sometimes,” says Dr. Dana Dorfman, a psychologist who has been working with families and their teens for more than 30 years. “Although words are often very important and powerful.”

When using those important words, parents should make sure compliments are inclusive of their daughter’s whole being: their humor, their wit, and their interests. It’s also helpful to acknowledge that a daughter has a mind and what’s happening in that mind is valuable.

How to Compliment Your Insecure Teenage Daughter

  1. Compliment daughters on all aspects of their personalities, and ask them their opinions on things. This will make them feel valuable.
  2. Continue to hug and be affectionate with your daughter.
  3. Compliment them physically, but be very specific. Mention how their dress brings out the color of their eyes, or that you like their hair the way it is because you can see their face easier.
  4. Never ever mention if you think they have lost weight or that they look thin.
  5. Be honest. Tell them you would never compliment them on something you don’t think is true.

“Fathers need to talk to their girls about things, engage their brains in different ways by asking them what they think. That’s a way of conveying value to a teenager. It also shows that a father respects, and is interested in, their daughter’s mind and being,” says Dorfman.

Dads should also be demonstrative about their affections for their daughters. It’s very normal for dads to withdraw from their daughters during pubescence. But while they may begin to feel alienated by their daughter’s physical changes, they should refrain from backing away. Girls can often perceive distance from a father as disappointed in them for growing up, or even fear.

“Continue to hug and put your arm around your daughter. You can even ask, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ It’s important to maintain a physical and emotional closeness, especially during this time, because dads are incredibly influential,” says Dorfman.

And just because dads shouldn’t focus only on their daughter’s looks when they compliment them, that doesn’t mean they should never bring it up at all. In fact, by avoiding all physical and appearance-based compliments, daughters sometimes understand the omission as a sign that they aren’t pretty. “How someone looks is a dimension of their overall being,” says Dorfman.

The key is to get very specific about physical compliments. Generalized compliments about being pretty don’t really land as much as a focused compliment. “It’s nice to be specific in the same way that we encourage parents to be specific in their praise of younger kids,” explains Dorfman. “Say things like: ‘That dress really makes your eyes look so blue,’ or ‘I love your hair in that style. You can see your face. It looks so pretty.’”

Parents should remember when complimenting their daughters is to keep weight or body size off the table. It should be considered a taboo subject, as bad as swearing. “I would strongly advise against statements like, ‘That makes you look thinner,’ or ‘I can tell you lost weight,’” says Dorfman.

Instead, when complimenting their daughter’s bodies, parents should always focus on function, not form. “If you are talking about bodies, just say, ‘You’re really strong.’ or, ‘You run really fast.’ That’s a way to comment on something that her body can do, but it’s not a judgment on how her body looks,” says Dorfman. It also helps girls recognize that the value in her body is not appearance-based.

And, when the inevitable “You’re just saying that because you have to/you love me/you’re my dad/mom,” comes out of a teen girl’s mouth, parents should get really honest with their kids, says Dorfman.

“It’s helpful to say to kids [if they don’t believe your compliments]: ‘It wouldn’t benefit me to lie to you. I don’t want to give you a false sense of yourself. It’s not helpful to lie to somebody, so if I didn’t think it, I wouldn’t say it.’”