Written by Kelley Holland: As the mother of two teenage girls, I have spent a lot of time thinking about how I can bolster their self-esteem and help them to believe in themselves. I worry about messages my girls receive via ads, music, and social media that suggest women are less capable than men. I want them to believe they can continue learning and growing all their lives, and I try to live that example so they can see it.
Unfortunately, I may be a bit late.
Changing Perceptions of Intelligence Among Children
A study published earlier this year in Science magazine found that at age five, boys and girls are both likely to describe people of their own gender as “really, really smart.” But by age six – six! – both boys and girls were more likely to say that men were the super intelligent ones.
Not only that, but around age six, girls start to steer clear of toys they hear are for “really, really smart” kids and prefer those for kids who “try really, really hard.” When asked about the toys for the smart kids, girls would say that those weren’t toys for them. All this happened even though girls that age tend to outperform boys in school!
Now, I’m all for keeping pride in check. The world would be a better place if there were less swaggering going on. But this is different. These little girls showed that before they hit second grade, they were already identifying boys as having more smarts.
I think we can agree that this is, frankly, awful. But I also think we can do something about it, at least in our own daily lives.
Encouraging Young Girls
Let’s commit to encouraging the young girls in our lives to reach high and take risks. Let’s let them play hard instead of play it safe, so they learn to trust their instincts and pick themselves up after a fall. Let’s teach them about women who have scaled peaks, professional and otherwise. (My younger daughter used to call these “true woman stories.”) And let’s show girls with our own behavior that anyone can be a brave, confident, really really smart woman.
We can teach our girls to be confident with money, too. Let’s let our girls watch us make financial decisions, choosing between needs and wants. Let’s show them how we save for the future and what that makes possible. Let’s show them what reasoned negotiation looks like in our own homes, whether it’s about bedtime or who is taking out the trash. Let’s talk openly about our money values so girls learn that it’s not a subject to be avoided and left to others.
No, these little steps won’t change the world. But they may change the views of some of the girls we love most. That could just set them up to consider more career options dream bigger. Even on a small scale, that’s something.