08/22/2014 06:08 pm ET Updated Oct 22, 2014

Teach Her That She's Worthy

Cheryl Clarke

My daughter, Tegan, is 2. And she loves boys.

She loves to stand at our dining room window, face pressed to the glass, as she watches the boys next door play basketball. She taps her palms on the window, hands outstretched like starfish, softly clinging. The boys turn and smile. Then she drops to the floor in a fit of giggles, blue eyes twinkling.

"Mommy!" she says, "The boys say hi to me!" She stands up and dances around the dining room, bare feet sliding on the hardwood.

The boys always wave when they see her. They're always polite, always smile. They never let on if they'd rather not have an audience. It's a small gesture, but it means the world to her.

Danny, a boy at her school, is important to her, too.

"I love Danny," she tells me. "Danny my best friend."

She will hold his hand on the playground, tell me "he's a nice boy," that he wore his Mickey Mouse shirt to school today. They play soccer together, run through sprinklers at water play.

At night she will "talk" to him on a play phone, ask him if he had mac and cheese for dinner, if he took a bath tonight, too.

A few nights ago she handed her phone to my husband, Micah.

"It's Danny," she said.

"Hi, Danny," said Micah. "I hear you've been spending a lot of time with my daughter." He looked at her intently. "You have to be very good to her, because she's very special." Tegan stood there for a moment, considering this, then giggled and ran into her room.

I peeked in to see her still talking to Danny, pacing around piles of books, her dolls placed neatly on their bellies, lovingly tucked under blankets and bath towels. "You have to be good to me, Danny," she said. "I'm special."

It's a moment I'd love to replay for her as she ages, as her interactions with boys change. As innocence fades, as the boys take notice of her. I want her to remember that she is special. That she is worthy. That she deserves to be treated with love, kindness, dignity and respect.

I want her to recognize the good guys, the guys who get it, who understand that she is worthy, too. The guys who will not see her as an object. Who will not make her feel worthless, defenseless or scared. The boys who will not stare, grab or catcall. The boys who will not see her as something to be conquered, to be submissive or expended.

And when she encounters the not-so-good guys, the not-so-good attitudes and perceptions, she will know that she deserves better.

I know that Micah and I must remind her of her worth every day. In spite of the song lyrics, the TV commercials, the billboards, the magazines, the continual societal attitudes that will tell her otherwise. In observing how we speak to, love, encourage, support, and respect her and one another.

My greatest hope is that she believes it.