Recently I was listening to the Tilted podcast produced by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization and the topic was “Raising Confident Girls.” I highly recommend listening to it. Based on research, our young girls’ confidence declines year over year between middle school and high school. So much so, that it can take them three to four times longer to raise their hand in class if they happened to previously give a wrong answer in response to a question. Compared to boys at the same age who will turn around the next day after giving a wrong response and try again.
Why are our girls so afraid of being wrong? No one is perfect, nor does anyone have all the right answers, yet at a very early age they think they are failing or feel embarrassed and start to refrain from even trying. This behavior pattern can become detrimental to their growth and sense of self - worth.
Now, I wasn’t always a confident person, in fact I was an incredibly shy child. To make matters worse, I was overweight and had a PE teacher who called me “hopeless.” True story. Let me tell you, that had a major impact on my self-esteem and self-worth, starting at the age of eight and since that same teacher continued to be the PE teacher at my elementary school, I endured it until I left for middle school at the age of 11 (at the time they were called Junior High School and started at 7th grade.) Also, it was socially acceptable in his class for other kids to call me by that “nickname” and laugh. I’m not making this up, it’s one of the chapters in my life story.
So, what helped me crawl out of my shell? A friend. It was a friend’s suggestion to try something new. I did it and wanted to do more of it. My parents supported it and the next thing you knew I was on the speech and drama team at my middle school.
She helped me take a chance, to try something new, and my parents fully backed the idea. Thank goodness since they had no idea the P.E. teacher called me “hopeless.” See I was so shy, that I didn’t speak up, not even to tell my parents a teacher was verbally hurting my emotional well-being (granted at the time I didn’t even know what well-being meant!)
As a mother, I am horrified at my own childhood experience in a public school. Last year I mentioned something to my mother about this and she was absolutely shocked and asked why I never told her. I was so shy, I didn’t know how to speak up for myself and also assumed since this happened in school, with a teacher, that somehow it must have been okay or otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. Our kids are supposed to be safe in school, right? Physically and mentally. My mother insisted if she would have known she would have said something to that teacher and the school administration. Instead, upholding my silence, the verbal insults went on for four years without intervention until I ‘graduated’ and moved onto middle school.
Whether you’re a parent or not, we can all participate to encourage our girls to speak up for themselves and to keep trying even when they are wrong, because they will become more confident if they keep trying things and practicing until they become proficient. Also, when they speak up for themselves it helps them experience a level of confidence. If a girl is wrong about something and completely shuts down, how long will it take for her to get speak up again, if ever? Think about it. Why do we fall? To learn how to pick ourselves back up. If a girl has a little stumble, we as adults need to first have the awareness that it has happened, help her and encourage her to try to pick herself up.
How can we help our girls be more confident? I have a few tips to share.
3 Ways to Help Girls be More Confident
What does it mean to be a safe person? A person that will actively listen, without judgement while keeping reactions in check. I think this can be challenging for some parents, since it can be common practice for parents to project onto their kids. Take a moment when a young person is trying to tell you something, if you need to, take a breath and wait before you respond. Ask questions, encourage dialogue. By having at least one adult a girl feels like she can really talk to about anything could make a huge difference in her life. Someone values her, believes in her and that can surely help produce a confident feeling.
How can we provide opportunities for girls to speak up? We need to ask them more open ended questions and not assume what they think, feel or want. Give them time to respond if they don’t want to supply all the information at once. Seek their opinion on topics, give them choices and let them weigh in on discussions whether it’s at home, with friends or a community group. Find opportunities where you as an adult may make a choice that affects a girl and instead let her make a choice.
What does the girl like to do and what does she excel at? Encourage the further development of her strengths, everyone has strengths regardless of age or gender. Help her focus on her strengths, these are things she is naturally good at and most likely spends some of her free time engaged doing. I wish someone would have told me to focus on my strengths at an early age. How much time would have been saved? I wasn’t exposed to the idea of my “strengths” until I was in my thirties!
To wrap up this story, what changed my life was a friend recommending I try something with her – speech and drama. Getting involved with drama truly changed the trajectory of my life and remember, I was in middle school. What if we as a community, as individuals, as parents, as an aunt, an uncle or friendly neighbor, made suggestions to our girls that could make a radical difference in their lives, having a positive impact and potentially to set them up for success?
When it comes to inspiring girls, there is no “best time” other than now.
Who inspired you when you were younger? Think back, reflect and share it. Who was it and what happened? Feel free to share you story on the Comments.
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