Today’s girls are tomorrow’s female leaders and entrepreneurs. In order for society to achieve more equality and fairness, more than ever we want our girls to grow up possessing the skills to take on the world and succeed in our increasingly competitive market.
But how can parents, family members, and teachers support girls’ growth so that they believe in their ability to achieve their full potential? It’s all about helping them develop into strong and confident young women. And that means ensuring they gain the fortitude and tenacity to never shy away from challenges.
Fortunately today we no longer need to guess about how that’s done. Experts and researchers have been studying girl power for years. Let’s take a looks at some of their best suggestions for helping girls develop into tomorrow’s empowered women.
Have high expectations
While it isn’t much fun pushing a girl to get good grades, avoid pregnancy and achieve in life, apparently your messages do get through—even though you might experience a lot of eye-rolling and sulking in the process. Recently, results of a University of Essex study involving 15,000 British girls ages 13 and 14 over a 10-year period revealed that teenage girls were more likely to succeed if they were nagged by their primary parent.
These girls were less likely to get pregnant. And by their early 20s, they were more likely to be attending college and less likely to be stuck in low-wage jobs or experience long periods of unemployment. So, while you can’t guarantee that your girl will grow up to become the next Marisa Mayer, you can be pretty sure she’ll have made it through her teen years and be living a life in her early 20s in which anything’s still possible.
Teach her to tune out detractors
Role models are great. And who doesn’t think it’s an awesome goal for a girl to emulate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg? So, what better person to offer her insights into the best things she has learned over her 83 years about raising mature, fierce, and high-achieving women? While she offered seven tips in a recent interview, the ability to avoid reacting to harsh words stood out as particularly noteworthy.
In fact, Ruth’s advice is actually something she was told by her new mother-in-law on her wedding day in 1954, who said: “In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” While she found it definitely helped in her marriage, Ruth ended up applying it to all aspects of her life: “I have employed it…in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
While parents and family members often want to step in and protect young girls from hurt, this approach can backfire according to Carole Lapidos, coordinator of the University of Michigan’s It’s Great to Be a Girl mentoring program. In order to become an independent, trailblazing woman, girls must learn to be strong and confident enough to take big risks despite the possibility of failure.
This won’t happen if you’re rushing in whenever she gets hurt. The best thing you can do is support her when she makes decisions on her own. And if those decisions lead to unanticipated or negative outcomes and cause her pain, instill in her not only the ability to reach out for support but also to self-soothe and find ways to positively handle defeat.
Give her the opportunity to make mistakes – and overcome them
If you want a girl to be ready to take on the world, you not only need to teach her resiliency in the face of hurt, you also need to help her bounce back from defeat and become victorious despite the odds. But none of this will happen if she’s unwilling to take chances.
According to Rachel Simmons, the author of The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence: “A lot of girls feel enormous pressure to please others and be perfect in everything. They become risk-averse because they worry that they’ll make a mistake.” In order to help a girl develop leadership potential, you need to give her opportunities to show you what she’s capable of. Moreover, you need to help her detach from outcomes, which she may or may not be able to control. Then, follow that up with praise for her abilities.
Praise her problem-solving skills
While praising girls for their innate talents and intelligence is a great way to give them an entrepreneurial edge, it’s also important to emphasize hard work and effort. After all, according to research by Lin Bian, a psychologist at the University of Illinois, after the age of six, girls are more skeptical about their gender’s innate intelligence.
According to research by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, a better way to build a girl’s self-confidence is to praise how she approaches problems, and the strategies and processes she uses for overcoming difficulties. That way, you short-circuit any questions she might have later about whether she’s smart enough to become an entrepreneur. You’ve already instilled in her the belief that she can tackle any challenge and come out on top.
Encourage her to take on physical challenges
On a daily basis, girls might not consistently face situations that require them to problem-solve and overcome the odds. If you want to help them build the strong internal self-esteem that will ensure they succeed in the business world, you need to provide them plenty of opportunities for proving themselves. That’s the beauty of sports.
JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., author of Girls Will Be Girls, says: “Girls who avoid risks have poorer self-esteem than girls who can and do face challenges. Urge [girls] to go beyond [their] comfort zones — for example, encourage a girl who’s scared to ride her bike downhill to find just a small hill to conquer first.” Even if a girl isn’t athletic, it’s important for her to develop some physical confidence and competence early in her life through either team or individual sports. She’ll carry those feelings into adulthood, and later into the boardroom.
Help her think critically about the media
Today’s girls are bombarded by media that communicates the importance of their appearance and consumerism. Young girls simply don’t have the critical thinking skills to process and resist the media’s pervasive stereotypes. Unless you help her understand what she’s seeing, she’s likely to internalize some of those messages, which will ultimately hamper her ability to believe in herself and her ability to reach the top of her field.
“Help her avoid the narrow focus on appearance and consumerism that often dominates the media,” says Diane Levin, Ph.D, author of So Sexy So Soon. A great way to get her thinking about the subtle messages is to wonder aloud about general patterns you see in movies and advertisements. Then ask her to give you her own ideas about those patterns and whether she thinks they’re really true. Like, doesn’t it seem that in movies the prettiest girl is often the most successful, and does she think that’s true? Or, point out how women are often criticized in the media for their appearance rather than praised for their achievements.