Helping Bright Girls

13 Mar

I wrote a bit about how goals change in Everyone an English Teacher, but this article, The Trouble with Bright Girls adds another nuance to the discussion.

I’m really struck by this theory, which Halvorson writes after talking about how smart girls tend to give up when faced with obstacles and difficulty.

“The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren’t ‘good’ and ‘smart,’ and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

We continue to carry these beliefs, often unconsciously, around with us throughout our lives. And because Bright Girls are particularly likely to see their abilities as innate and unchangeable, they grow up to be women who are far too hard on themselves — women who will prematurely conclude that they don’t have what it takes to succeed in a particular arena, and give up way too soon.” 

I think about this a lot as I plan how I’m going to raise my daughter. Nurture Shock, the book, also discusses how (certain methods of) praise backfires in kids’ success and learning to reach goals. If these theories are all true, how help girls over this hump? One, to be recognized for excellence when they deserve it, and two, to also be willing to ask for help, look less-than-smart while trying new things, and just plain fail sometimes?

I go back to the excerpt above, and hope to teach my daughter the attitude our paths in life are not static and predetermined by our earliest successes and interests. I try to steer away from telling her she’s going to be an engineer because she stacked the blocks, for example. I’m not an English teacher just because I loved reading, even though that’s what everyone told me forever. I think it’s healthier for her to explore everything as she checks off developmental milestones, without identifying so strongly with something externally defined for her. This applies to us as adults, too. Challenges make us smarter, more nimble, more alive.

We are all too hard on ourselves. It upsets us to think of not making the most, winning the most recognition, not to mention the tasks we think of as daily failures instead of opportunities to learn. In my post about not turning out an English teacher, Rachael commented that she felt guilty about the time she’s taken to figure out what she wants to do.

Instead, let’s look at our professional and creative and personal lives with some renewed interest. I hope that’s what I can help with by sharing these stories. I have two new interviews lined up and can’t wait to share them with you.

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