When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a musician, a dancer, a mom, a poet, and an explorer. Only three years later, the bright future I’d imagined for myself seemed unattainable. By the age of thirteen, I’d become acutely aware of the limitations our culture places on women and girls. Even though my parents never told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, I felt the weight of the patriarchy pushing me down.
As a teenager and young woman, that weight seriously undermined my confidence. In my early teens, I still played music, wrote songs and poems, took dance lessons, and went on trips, but as I got older, I absorbed society’s message that unless I was better than everyone else, especially boys, I might as well give up. That hit to my self-esteem took years to overcome.
The problem of girls losing confidence in early adolescence is better understood today than when I was a teen, but it still accounts for high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harming behavior. Today’s teen girls must cope with pressures unheard of during my adolescence: social media, texting, and never-ending images of Photo-shopped beauty.
I was encouraged when I read “Girls’ Confidence Plummets Starting at Age 8: Here’s How to Keep Her Confidence Strong” at one of my favorite websites, A Mighty Girl. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written The Confidence Code for Girls (HarperCollins, 2018), a book that “teaches girls to embrace risk, deal with failure, and be their most authentic selves” (quoted from the book’s description).
Here are some key points, which I’ve quoted from the article:
- Risk-taking: “It’s impossible to build confidence staying in a comfort zone, only doing what you are already good at doing.”
- A social media compromise: “Parents should insist that their daughters follow four women who are working in areas that interest them and then see where that takes them.”
- For fathers: “We’ve learned that dads are better at accurately gauging their child’s confidence than moms are, regardless of gender.”
- Be an imperfect role model: “Show your daughter what it means to screw up and then recover from it. If we are busy trying to be perfect, that is what our daughters will most notice, no matter how many books on confidence we hand her.”
- Positive thinking: “Curbing rumination, catastrophizing and negative thinking is equally essential.”
The good news is that girls can and do recover from their adolescent confidence deficits. For example, once I accepted that I didn’t need to be perfect, I tried all kinds of things, from making my own videos to writing books to starting a business. I made huge mistakes, had amazing adventures, and succeeded—but not all, or even half of the time. I learned the most from my mistakes.
As the authors of The Confidence Code for Girls state, “Confidence hinges on action. And that process, which usually involves some struggle and failure as well, is what creates more confidence.”
What new thing will you try today?