School and life achievement patterns for girls and women differ considerably from those of boys and men. When parents and teachers are sensitized to gender issues relative to achievement, they are better able to encourage lifelong achievement for all. Some of the main concerns for girls and boys follow in this article.
RAISING AND TEACHING
GIRLS FOR SUCCESS
Although career opportunities for women have gradually expanded, women are often unprepared to take advantage of those opportunities. Low self-esteem, a lack of mathematical skills, the tendency to avoid competition and risk taking, and the emotional and time conflicts related to pursuing a career while raising a family are all factors that prevent women from selecting high-level careers. The following sections are suggested for parents and teachers as ways to teach girls how to overcome these problems. These findings are based on my See Jane Win research on the childhoods of over 1,000 successful women.1
Parents' praise statements set expectations for their children. Girls typically set impossibly high self-expectations that are internalized translations
of extreme praise they often receive from their parents and teachers. Girls' self-esteem suffers if they do not accomplish what they had expected of
themselves. Praise that emphasizes girls' initiative, good-thinking, creativity, perseverance, intelligence, beauty, brilliance, and perfection sets
more appropriate and realistic expectations for them.
Girls tend to get caught up in trying to be perfect. Try not to overuse the word "perfect" at school or home. Although perfectionism seems to encourage girls in elementary school, that same perfectionism causes them to avoid challenge and risks from middle school onward.
The future workplace that offers girls equitable opportunities will not award them high-status jobs based on appearance alone. High-challenge careers require initiative, skills, creativity, intelligence, and risk-taking. If your praise statements convey those values, girls are more likely to be prepared for the work world.
VARIETY IN PLAY
Children learn through play. Spatial abilities that later affect mathematical skills are initially learned during the preschool years. Blocks, Legos,
building toys, music, and board games seem to increase spatial abilities. However, little girls are rarely found in the block corners of preschools
and kindergartens, and they should be encouraged to try some building activities. Parents, and especially dads who feel comfortable with building
projects, ought to include their daughters along with their sons in these projects.
Mathematical and scientific games, toys, and computer games should be encouraged for girls. Of course, dolls and dress-up are fine too. Though they certainly encourage imagination, too much emphasis on fashion dolls leads girls to put too much value on their own appearance. Although that's fine in moderation, women who have high aspirations will, hopefully, be judged mainly on what they do and not on how they look or dress.
SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE
Foster exploration, adventure, and risk-taking throughout childhood to help girls enjoy taking risks in later years. Although it's tempting and sometimes even necessary to be cautious with little girls, try to avoid overprotection. Parents and teachers surely need to keep children safe but also have to find reasonable opportunities for little girls to take chances. Fear of failure easily prevents women from exploring adult opportunities. Teach girls to learn from their failures and to try again. Resilience was very important for the successful See Jane Win women.
Although parents should encourage reasonable social skills, too much emphasis on early dating and pleasing boys distracts girls from school achievement and academic self-confidence. In middle school, girls' grades, test scores, and interest in school tend to decline as the pressure to meet expectations from peers, and especially boys, increases. Being most popular and having the most and earliest dates is a short-lived value and does little to enhance girls' long-lasting self-esteem. Their self-esteem becomes tied to whether they can please boyfriends instead of what they can accomplish themselves. Most of the successful women in See Jane Win had either average or below-average social lives, and they often talked about paying a social price for their high grades in school.
Girls often avoid competitive activities and prefer cooperative and more social enterprises. Although these are appropriate for them, many employers expect employees to be able to survive in highly competitive environments. Team sports and contests permit girls to learn to function in the kind of competition they will likely encounter in their careers. Girls shouldn't be allowed to always win by being given an advantage or they will fear losing. Some practice in coping with losing as well as winning is appropriate for building confidence and psychological strength. Many successful women in See Jane Win remembered winning in competition as the most frequent, positive experience of their childhoods. Success has the effect of setting expectations for further success, which can cause feelings of pressure that girls must also learn to cope with. Success is motivating and exhilarating to children. Learning to recover from losing experiences in childhood will provide some practice for those difficult losses ahead.
MODELING FOR ACHIEVEMENT
Girls should see their mothers and the other important female adults in their lives derive satisfaction from careers while managing to balance work and
family life. Of course, that is a tall order and indeed, at times, may seem impossible. However, daughters who see their mothers constantly frustrated
by their own overload may fear taking on such challenge for themselves.
Girls will view adult women as models not only by what they say about themselves and how they act, but also by what their husbands say about them. If fathers want their daughters to aspire to good careers, they not only need to be supportive of their wives, but they should also openly admire them for their intelligence, efficiency, and their balancing of the mother-wife-career relationship. (Moms, are you cheering?)
ALL-GIRL SCHOOLS AND CLASSES
Girls take more math and science courses at all-girl middle and high schools. In one high school study, girls in single-sex schools learned 50% more
in science compared to girls in coeducational schools. They also had better self-concepts and higher educational aspirations.2 Ten percent
of the See Jane Win women attended all-girl high schools, and 13% attended women's colleges.
You don't need to choose an all-girl school for your daughter, but you can consider recommending some all-girl classes for your school. If you are a math or science teacher, you may want to at least experiment with some all-girl classes at the middle and high school level. The American Association of University Women found that girls were often shortchanged in coeducational classes and that boys continuously receive more attention from their teachers.3
Research has shown that graduates of women's colleges take more leadership positions in careers after graduation compared to women who graduate from mixed-gender colleges. Although there are many considerations in choosing a college, the success of women from all-female colleges is an important one.
RAISING AND TEACHING
BOYS FOR SUCCESS
Compared to females, it is not the workplace that has changed for males, but family participation and the potential for new emotional expressiveness. On the other hand, boys have always been disadvantaged in school in that they have suffered more school-related behavior problems than girls. There are more boys in special education classes, more with attention deficit disorders, more who drop out of high school, and many more men than women in our jails. The suggestions below will help parents and teachers decrease male behavior problems and increase their access to emotionally rewarding behaviors and achievement.
AND BEHAVORIAL CONTROL
Mothers take the lead in teaching most early learning for their sons, and primary teachers are typically women. Boys enter schools surrounded by female messages to behave and to learn. Dads can and should get involved. If fathers emphasize school learning and good behavior, boys will take school more seriously. It's especially important for boys to hear their dads saying positive things about their mothers and teachers. A clear message to boys from important male adults in their lives about hard work in school goes a long way in giving them both the confidence and humility to learn from their teachers.
Boys often have problems with early handwriting skills. They rush through their work in an effort to be first, fast, and smartest. Remind them that "smart" can be slow and thoughtful, and that the first one in class who finishes an assignment is not necessarily the smartest. Permit them to "hunt and peck" on computers to type their stories and reports. They'll be more likely to love writing. Encourage them to write family newsletters and sports adventures so their temporary handwriting problems don't escalate to permanent fears about writing.
PLAY FOR BOYS
Encourage building toys, but do reduce the violence-related ones. Omit TV violence that encourages imitation and minimize wrestling with Dad. Boys
generalize the wrestling to the playground and get into trouble at school. Substitue sports instead.
Read, talk, play board games, make up games, and discover the world together. Sometimes parents actually fear their boys playing dress-up because they believe it isn't masculine. Dress-up and drama encourages boys' imagination, and doll play helps boys express feelings. Neither are indications of homosexuality.
Team sports have great value for boys as long as their coaches don't emphasize winning at any cost. Good sportsmanship should be modeled by fathers and coaches. Cheating, disrespect for coaches, and peer cruelty to less coordinated kids are intolerable for children's teams. Parents should cheer kids on only moderately, or they will find their kids showing signs of sports pressure. Don't brag about never missing a game. Instead, miss a few from time to time. It will put your children's sports activities into perspective as something they do for their own enjoyment and not only to please their parents. Sports are supposed to be fun, healthy exercise, and good learning experiences. Remind boys that good sports do their personal best and then congratulate the winner!
MALE ROLE MODELS
Boys will learn to achieve only if they have achieving men to look up to. Dads are the best possible role models as long as they give their sons
appropriate messages and take the time to be with them. When good dads aren't around, moms and teachers need to search elsewhere. Male teachers, church
leaders, coaches, and Boy Scout leaders can be great. Uncles and good neighbors may be willing to help. Biographies of great men in book or film form
can be inspirational to boys.
There are three characteristics that typically determine who children will select as role models. Children will view as role models those adults who are nuturant, powerful, and have characteristics similar to the children seeking role models. Boys will choose poor role models, like gang members, if good ones aren't available.
ALL-BOY SCHOOLS AND CLASSES
Boys' prep and military schools have always been effective in helping boys find role models, discipline themselves, and direct some of their attraction away from girls and toward achievement. Afrocentric all-male academies had barely taken off before the schools were being ruled unconstitutional. In the words of the Marcus Garvey Academy Principal, Harvey Hambrick, "I'm a firm believer that only a man can raise a boy to be a man. A woman can raise a son, but not a man." The academy is continuing in Detroit but has admitted a small number of girls. Although the data is not in yet, the academy seems to be doing well and includes parent involvement and community male volunteers. Significant involvement of good role models is surely an important component of the success of all-male schools.
ENCOURAGING GIRLS TO COMPETE
Early adolescent male-female relationships have changed in many ways. However, girls' fears that intellectual prowess will interfere with their social lives continue to affect their educational goals and, yes, even affect their play. Girls tend to be less competitive than boys in general, and this characteristic may cause them achievement problems later in life.
Teenage girls certainly will benefit by becoming involved in intellectual competition as well as taking the risk of coping with male-female competition. Males, too, would benefit from valuing females as intellectual equals.
Girls' sports provide a wonderful model for encouraging female participation in chess. Start an all‑girl chess team with a woman coach. Help girls learn the techniques of the game, as well as experience confidence in their skills. Playing chess against the computer may encourage girls. After the girls' chess team has thrived for a while, encourage a few special mixed‑gender opportunities. Combine these competitions with a pizza party and fun atmosphere to tempt the middle school girls to risk the
complexity and competitive
challenge of chess.
Chess is a wonderful way to introduce females to the challenge of competition. After all, no guy is worth “playing dumb" for, and many more young men are learning the value and excitement of intelligent women.
How to Parent So Children Will Learn by Sylvia Rimm, (Great Potential Press, Inc, 2008)
Why Bright Kids Get Poor Grades by Sylvia Rimm, (Great Potential Press, 2008)
1 Rimm, S.B. See Jane Win: The Rimm Report on How
1,000 Girls Became Successful Women. New York: Crown Publishing, 1999.
Rimm. S.B. How Jane Won: 55 Successful Women Share How They Grew from Ordinary Girls to Extraordinary Women. New York: Crown Publishing, 2001
Rimm, S.B. See Jane Win for Girls: A Smart Girl’s Guide to Success. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2003.
2 Information courtesy of Hathaway Brown School, Cleveland, Ohio.
3 How Schools Shortchange Girls. (1992) Executive Summary of the American Association of University Women Report.