Relax! What a refreshing word in this mad world! But it is an important word, too—especially in raising a daughter (or a son). Savor these years. Don’t just endure them. Release your stress. Have fun with your daughter. Your role is certainly serious, but don’t take it so seriously that you destroy your enjoyment of this time—or perhaps hurt her. She is your child. Take great pleasure in this!

While it can be unnerving to watch your little girl grow up in America’s sexual culture, take heart and remember that when it comes to influencing children, you have the advantage. Teachers, youth workers, media, peers, church—none of these can rival the influence that is given to parents who are with their children year after year. In one sense, this long-term relationship earns parents the right to communicate values to their children. Further, parents can take into account their adolescent’s particular personality and sensitivities, as well as maturity—socially, emotionally, physically, and morally.

The better your relationship with her, the more confident she will be in her foundation when the inevitable storms of life come. Consider these ideas for building your relationship with your daughter by protecting her and setting her trajectory toward a bright future.

Communicate: It is important to talk to our girls—about anything and everything. As they get older, our conversations can and should cover big decisions, including sex. Multiple studies show that good communication correlates with less risk of a girl initiating sex at a young age. One study finds that children who communicate with their parents about sexual issues more than once feel closer to their parents and more able to communicate with them in general and about sex specifically.[i],[ii]

Build Her Self-Esteem: Healthy self-esteem in a girl probably reflects her understanding that she, including her body, is valuable and, as with anything of value, worth protecting. This includes using her body the way she wants to use it, not the way someone else might want to use it. Good self-esteem can give your daughter the self-confidence to make good decisions and to stay in control. It can help her smoothly transition through the years when she has acne, when other girls develop sooner or are considered more “popular.” Positive self-esteem can give her the strength to withstand the constant sexualization of teen girls and other unhealthy social pressures.[iii]

Dads, Get Involved: Dads are vital to the healthy development of girls. Girls who experience good relationships with their fathers are more likely to have fewer boyfriends, more likely to postpone sexual involvement, and more likely to feel badly about having premarital sex.[iv] Dads are in a unique position to contribute to their daughter’s self-worth. And unfortunately, if you don’t, she will go looking for a guy who will.

Set a Positive Example: Before we talk about what to discuss with your daughter, we ought to briefly examine the environment in which these conversations take place. If your attitudes, words, and behavior supports what you say, your words will be buttressed. If they conflict with your words, your children can be confused and your verbal message weakened. As young people watch, they are etching in their own brains a repertoire for emotion, for behavior, and for how the world works. What an opportunity and what a challenge for us, who must model healthy behaviors and mature decisions and avoid hypocrisy.

Set Clear Family Standards: Young people often do not know what we expect of them about sex and sometimes feel that they are getting mixed messages. For example, if their mothers discuss birth control, they may think that their mothers approve of their having sex. So it is important that parents be clear about their expectations. If they expect their child to be abstinent, they need to state clear and specific guidance such as, “Parties and alcohol are off-limits” or, “Remaining a virgin until marriage is realistic, and it is the standard of our home.”