Friday, September 27, 2013

Thoughts on Motherhood from a Non-Mom: Raising Smart Girls


Today I encountered this article from Psychology Today called "The Trouble with Bright Girls" and it blew my mind. Not because it was a difficult concept to grasp, but because I felt like I had finally been handed the key to door that I had been clawing at for years. Why, as an intelligent woman, who was once an intelligent girl, do I constantly talk myself out of doing things that don't come easily to me?

In the article, the author exposes to her readers that at a young age, bright girls (who are also generally well behaved) are told "You're so smart!" "Good girl!" and "You got it!" They are, perhaps not wrongfully, praised for their ability to "get" material quickly and easily.

Boys, however, Dr. Heidi Halvornson points out, are "a handful." If you've ever even met a little boy of any intelligence level you know that they're basically either asleep or acting nuts in some capacity*. As a result, in order to get them to do anything we constantly tell them, "Pay attention! If you just do it, it will get done!" "You just have to try harder!" "Keep going! You're almost done!"

As a result, when these smart little girls blossom into smart women, when faced with challenges that don't come easily to them, they immediately think they are stupid and think poorly of themselves. Boys, on the other hand, are trained to see any challenge as something they can overcome.

Light bulb moment? Yeah, me too.

I've talked before about the dangers of only telling little girls "You're so pretty" and praising their looks over the abilities, but this really throws a monkey wrench into my whole plan to encourage my someday daughters** about their abilities so I can at least do my part in helping them to grow up in an environment free from gender-related hang ups that hold them back.

So what is a parent supposed to do about little girls who are smart, well behaved and high functioning?

To me, the answer is simple. Challenge them harder. No, don't go Leopold Mozart on them and lock them in closets demanding they perfect the instrument you have chosen for them (it should be noted, I'm not 100% sure he ever did this, but I wouldn't doubt it). Let your daughter be a kid, but challenge her at something she isn't naturally good at. If she's a nerdy-ballerina type (like I was) she may never be an WNBA Star, but she'll learn a valuable lesson for figuring out how to dribble a basketball even though her lack of hand-eye coordination makes it hard for her!

It appears, as an outsider, that parenthood is often about finding the balance between building up your child's self-esteem and simultaneously building up their skillset, character, and ability to function. (Mad props, moms and dads.) However, hopefully this article caused you, as it did me, to think a little bit more critically about what your kids can handle and how the pre-conceived gender roles that we bring into the mix can affect the development of our children as they move into adolescence and adulthood.

I think because women in our society have been underestimated since birth, we all tend to underestimate not only our peers, but our little girls. I hope that if I'm lucky enough to be blessed with children that I will remember the importance of challenge and supporting my daughters during their most formative years in a way that the rest of the world may not.

How about you, ladies and gents?
What did you think of the Psychology Today article?
Are you a mom (or dad) who is raising a daughter? What are your thoughts?

Do you have a little girl in your life that you think you need to challenge more? What would that look like?
Are you a grown woman who sometimes sinks into self-hatred when something doesn't come easily? Is there something you would have changed about your childhood?


*I babysat two boys several times a week after school for two years of college. This was as close to parenting as I ever got and even though I loved them for all of their precious moments, I now understand why mothers of boys always look so tired.
**I WILL have a daughter, even if I have to adopt one.  

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