The Confidence Gap in Girls

By: Neil Mufson
Research shows a drop in self-confidence in girls between the ages of 8-14, and Mr. Mufson details the reasons why this is important and what we can do about it.
A few parents last week wanted to make sure I had seen a recent New York Times article entitled "The Confidence Gap for Girls: 5 Tips for Parents of Tween &  Teen Girls." We all know that adolescence can be an intense time of questioning, redefinition, attempting to fit in, and trying out independence. The authors of the article, based on their forthcoming book The Confidence Code for Girls, cite a major piece of fallout of this developmental period and one of the key results of their research: “Between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels fall by 30 percent. At 14, when girls are hitting their low, boys’ confidence is still 27 percent higher. And the effects can be long lasting.”
While the article goes on to outline how to “spot the signs of this confidence plunge” and remediate it, I found the authors’ suggestions reflective of good parenting for any age and any gender. Essentially the authors — Claire Shipman, Katty Kay, and JillEllyn Riley — recommend encouraging “risk, failure, recovery, and mastery, or more action and less thinking” as the keys to building confidence in girls. A willingness to accept failure, not avoid it, and not succumb to it, along with a bold willingness to move forward, are the key attitudes for parents to attempt to instill.
The writers’ “confidence cheat sheet” gives concrete suggestions on how to build confidence. Trading one’s “comfort zones for danger zones”; taking the fear out of failure; retraining teenage girls’ brains away from their natural tendency towards rumination; parental modeling and open discussion of personal experiences with failure; and embracing “the bumps” are the steps that get fleshed out in the article.
Girls clearly face challenges boys don’t as they approach and enter early adolescence. Yet a willingness to see failure as a friend from which to grow — and not as a foe to be avoided — is a strategy for healthy development not limited to one’s gender.

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