By Phyllis Fagell
Washington Post 14.2.2017
Here are seven tips parents can give middle school girls to help them keep their confidence at a vulnerable time and develop skills they will need for the workplace.
Don’t try to be perfect
Girls’ desire to please can backfire. Rachel Simmons, author of “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence,” explains that when girls focus on winning approval, they shy away from risks. “If you’re a quintessential good girl, you experience failing as letting someone down. Instead of saying, ‘I missed that goal in the soccer game,’ it’s that everyone will hate me.” She urges parents to emphasize performance rather than relationships and to help girls avoid ruminating, which amplifies the impact of the setback.
Girls also may be more likely to attribute failure to lack of ability, while research shows that boys tend to blame external factors, such as not studying. Simmons notes that parents can counteract this mind-set by focusing more on progress than results.
For Claire Shipman, co-author of “The Confidence Code” and the mother of an 11-year-old girl, understanding that failure helps kids develop resilience was liberating. “Instead of obsessing, I am able to quickly say, ‘Okay, life lesson,’ and focus on helping her move forward.”
Parents can encourage girls to get in the habit of connecting with mentors they respect, whether they are teachers, coaches or supervisors at an after-school job. This is a deceptively simple task that requires judgment, and it will be a critical skill in the workplace.
Mentors can help by encouraging girls to embrace their differences as strengths instead of failures. Janine Shelffo, the mother of a 14-year-old girl and co-head of technology, media and telecommunications at UBS Investment Bank, says she benefited from role models early in her career who had the confidence to embrace their own idiosyncrasies. They reinforced for her that there was no single blueprint for career success. Mentors don’t have to be the same gender, Shelffo says, adding that men with daughters have been some of her most impactful mentors. She notes that they often have greater appreciation for the subtle obstacles to female success in the workplace.
Own your success
It’s important that parents encourage girls to take credit for their work. Shipman says that girls are more likely than boys to be self-deprecating or to attribute their success to luck or other people. She explains that girls worry about coming across as arrogant and just want to fit in, but the problem is that they start to believe their own rhetoric and experience self-doubt.
Parents can reassure girls that it’s not immodest to have confidence and to know their own worth. As Shipman says, “Teachers and employers want to be associated with talented, passionate people.”
Manage your money
As girls begin to make their own money, parents can help them open a bank account and learn how to make their earnings grow. Shelffo frequently tells stories from her work to illustrate basic financial concepts for her daughter, such as the relationship between risk and reward, the time value of money and the pitfalls of excessive leverage. She hopes this understanding will provide a strong foundation for making good decisions down the road about saving for the future and investing wisely.
Strive for self-care
Parents can help girls learn how to evaluate their commitments, prioritize and recharge. “I think a lot of this has to come from the mom,” says Simmons, a single parent by choice. She has consciously tried to avoid leading a crazed life. “Moms need to model saying ‘No, I can’t pick you up right now.’ ” The prototypical “good mother” can never do too much for her child, she explains, and that sets a really destructive example, particularly for girls.
Although it’s important for parents to model balance, it’s also important for mothers to communicate that a career can be satisfying. “I’ve known too many moms who feel so guilty about being away from their kids, they are apologetic and fail to convey . . . that their careers are intellectually stimulating and fulfilling,” Shelffo says. Parents can have a lasting impact by modeling partnership at home. Shelffo sees a direct link between her daughter’s intolerance to gender stereotypes and her husband’s willingness to serve as primary caregiver when her daughter was young.
Stick up for yourself
Parents can coach girls to solve problems on their own, whether they need academic support or want more responsibility at an internship. They can encourage them to look for opportunities to use their voice. This may mean actively contributing to class discussions, joining a debate team or championing a cause.
Don’t let anyone define your goals
If parents want girls to dream big, they need to underscore the importance of a support network, whether it’s family, peers or future colleagues.
No one can be successful at everything, and parents can encourage girls to stay optimistic and to believe in their intrinsic value even when they stumble. If they don’t experience failure, girls may never discover their inner strength and resolve. It’s exhilarating when they realize they can triumph after a string of setbacks.
At every step of the way, parents can ask girls questions to help them formulate a plan. What do they hope to accomplish? What fills them with passion? Whether they follow a choreographed path or take unexpected detours, their journey will be smoother if they feel confident in the driver’s seat.