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How to Raise Young Girls with Grit – Mentally, Emotionally Strong

After age 9, a girl's feelings of self-worth and confidence crash. Help your daughter realize her full potential, become her best – and mature with moxy – by building these six qualities.

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Pamela Davis-Kean recalls getting frustrated as a 10th grader because she wasn't excelling in her Algebra II class. She'd done well on standardized tests when it came to reading, but struggled in math. Still, she didn't expect her parents to let her teacher in on her difficulties during parent-teacher conferences. The teenaged Davis-Kean was horrified when, in class the day after the conference, her teacher, Mrs. Crickenberger took her aside and explained, "You're just as good as everyone else." The teacher then offered to help her after school.

Davis-Kean didn't like being singled out. "I thought, 'She thinks I'm good at something I'm not good at.'" So Davis-Kean began working harder on her homework. "I literally just started doing my homework all the time," she explains. "Before, when I couldn't figure something out, I'd just give up."

But after the talk with her teacher, she pushed through and worked on math problems until she understood them. And she did. "I learned persistence." It's a quality she says has helped her to become the person she is today: an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. Oh, and she also happens to teach advanced statistics, which is akin to math on steroids.

For decades, studies have shown that feelings like those Davis-Kean experienced – thoughts of self-doubt – are common among girls, especially beginning in pre-adolescence. One of the most significant studies in girls and self-esteem, conducted in 1991 by the American Association of University Women, found that at age 9, a majority of girls were confident, assertive and felt positive about themselves.

However, by the time they hit high school, fewer than a third of girls still felt that way. More than 20 years later, and studies still come to the same conclusion: Girls' self-esteem "takes a nosedive" after age 9, according to a 2007 report from the American Psychological Association.

It's worth noting that historically, boys' self-esteem has also taken a hit by the time they entered high school, but not nearly as much as girls. Why? According to a study from the New York University Child Study Center, one of the main contributors is that at around age 10, girls' focus starts to shift from their accomplishments and abilities to their appearance – and they never measure up to the models they see on TV, movies and ads.

The APA study also cited the sexualization of girls as a key contributor, causing girls to see their self-worth as synonymous with their sexual appeal. The result is that they can become passive, self-conscious, appearance-obsessed and, ultimately, unhappy with themselves.

So, what can parents do to build up a girl's sense of self, while curbing feelings of self-doubt, no matter what her age? Help her develop the qualities of a strong, independent young woman. Raise her to be a Rosie the Riveter of the modern age – a girl who believes in herself and in her abilities, who takes pride in her fortitude and tenacity, doesn't shy away from challenges and takes on new tasks. Here are some key qualities for raising a girl with grit.

Sep 24, 2012 11:25 am
 Posted by  Amy Kuras

Terrific article--I will be sharing this with my friends and the mothers of my daughter's friends. My daughter and her friends are in their last year or so before this big shift comes, so this especially helpful to read right now. Thank you!

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