The way our society implicitly teaches young girls how to behave and think about themselves is messed up. Just see Miss Representation or observe the focus the White House places on boosting the percentage of women in STEM fields (24% in 2009).
The solution to this problem begins with how we talk to these young girls. I enjoyed a Huffington Post article a few years ago on this topic, which influenced me to shift focus from praising girls (and women) for their appearance (“cute” being a prime example) to praising them more for other more substantial parts of their personality.
I recently saw another piece on the topic, a KQED report from April highlighting the research of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck. Dweck’s research is on how best to praise kids so that they persist with difficult tasks, and one of her findings is most true for young girls:
What we’ve shown is that when you praise someone, say, ‘You’re smart at this,’ the next time they struggle, they think they’re not. It’s really about praising the process they engage in, not how smart they are or how good they are at it, but taking on difficulty, trying many different strategies, sticking to it and achieving over time.
That makes a lot of sense! It’s great finding out about little ways we can change our behavior to move away from being “part of the problem” and toward being “part of the solution”.