How to encourage confidence and self-esteem in young girls and pre-teens
By Olivia Leahy – Volunteer Writer at not only pink and blue
Here are the hard facts: after the age of just eight years old, the confidence of young girls drops by 30%; between their tween and teen age years girls’ confidence that other people like them plummets from 71% to 38% – a mammoth 46% drop. We have to ask ourselves, why is this happening at such a young age? How have we allowed this to happen so dramatically? How can we stop this from taking place? Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take in order to boost your young girl’s confidence and prevent this sudden decline in confidence from manifesting. Unsurprisingly, many of the solutions lie in the abandonment of detrimental gender stereotypes that cloud the lives of young children. This concept is at the core of our beliefs here at not only pink and blue.
In 2018, Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, alongside YPulse, conducted a study into the fall of confidence in young girls and preteens – the result was the study, The Confidence Code for Girls. Their findings, however disheartening, unfortunately were not startling. Just some of the vast data pointed out that “girls are 18% less likely than boys to describe themselves as ‘confident’” and “nearly 8 in 10 girls want to feel more confident in themselves.” What does this say about our society, that girls as young as eight are already putting themselves down and feeling insecure?
The Pressure to be Perfect
The study further revealed a horrifying insight into the pressure of perfectionism and the prohibition of failure that young girls experience from primary school. According to Shipman and Kay in an article with The Atlantic, “at an early age, parents and teachers frequently encourage and reward girls’ people-pleasing, perfectionistic behaviour, without understanding the consequences.” The study exposed that between the ages of 12 and 13, the percentage of girls who say they’re not allowed to fail increases by 150%. Alongside this, more than half of teen girls feel pressure from family, friends, school and society to be perfect. The cruel societal restraint put onto girls from primary school is causing this decline in confidence because girls are made to feel that it is their duty to please others. Girls are made to feel that it is not their place to fail or to be moderately good at something. Perfection is what they are taught – both consciously and subconsciously.
The destructive effect of gender stereotypes on girls’ confidence is abundantly clear: girls are put on this pedestal of perfection – something that no person can ever achieve. Whatever girls achieve never seems enough, or as good as what their male classmate achieves. Stereotypes crush confidence, and this is no more clear than in The Confidence Code for Girls.
Social media too reinforces the message of perfection to young girls, preteens and teens. The constant highlights reel of social media, with filters and photoshop make it nearly impossible for girls to exist in the online space without having their confidence smashed into fragmented pieces. In the aforementioned piece from The Atlantic, social media’s “ill effects might hit girls harder than boys. The internet can multiply social stresses astronomically. In the past, girls could have an overwhelming day at school … but go home and get some distance. There’s no distance anymore – only constant, instant, and public condemnation and praise.”
The Confidence Gap
If you didn’t think that the findings from Shipman and Kay’s study could get any more alarming, the study’s final exposure is of the long-lasting and disastrous effects that girls’ lack of confidence has on them as they grow into adults. A clear confidence gap appears between young boys and girls, from children to teenagers to adults – and girls never catch up to their male peers. This results in women taking less risks, because of their fear of failure, due to their lack of confidence and lack of supportive spaces to fail in childhood. Women continually undervalue themselves, as they lack the confidence to take risks. Taking risks and seeing the payoffs builds confidence in adults, and with women avoiding risks to avoid failure, they are not stockpiling confidence for their futures like men are.
Girls’ lack of confidence and desire for perfectionism comes out in their choices of roles and tasks to carry out both at home and in the classroom. In his interview with our CEO and founder Clare Willetts, Ger Gaus, Head of Education at Kidzania, said that “girls tend to do activities that are one or two years below their abilities and boys tend to do activities that are around two years above their abilities.” He also stated that this gap does not change between the ages of five and fourteen – the age range of Kidzania. This lack of confidence in girls at such a young age leads them to carry out tasks that they are overly capable of performing, so that they execute it successfully. Further down the line in their careers, this lack of confidence is carried forward so that women only apply for jobs or undertake tasks that they are overqualified to do, due to the fear of failure installed in them from childhood.
According to The Confidence Code for Girls, “the confidence gap leads to women not defining confidence and valuing it well enough for themselves. Biases don’t lessen as they age, leading mums to continue to expect more from their daughters as was expected of them.” Pressure and stereotypes, as hard as we try to shatter them, are perpetuated through the generations, more often than not subconsciously, or because of womens’ unjustified guilt over not reaching perfection themselves.
How to change the pattern
It is apparent that confidence needs to be protected and fostered in young girls in order for confident women to flourish. While this will take some time, patience, empathy and repetition, young girls can slowly rebuild and defend their confidence to bring them forward into a future less restrained by stereotypes. Here are a few tips on how to inspire and preserve confidence in young girls and preteens:
- Let girls have opinions and let them own them – let them have their say and their voices heard (if they get shut down by an adult or a peer, they will see this as a sign that their voices don’t matter and they will not try and express an opinion again).
- Celebrate achievements that aren’t about being “tidy” or “quiet” or “perfect” or “pretty” – celebrate individuality, opinions, successes and failures.
- Don’t always insist on modesty because it is ‘lady-like’ – girls are ALLOWED to be successful, proud and confident in what they achieve.
- Monitor social media as it can be a real toxic environment of comparison, materialism and bullying.
- Don’t raise girls to be ‘people pleasers’ – of course teach them kindness and manners but teach them also that they don’t have to please everyone – teach them to say no to things that they might say yes to if they don’t want to be seen as ‘difficult’.
- Stop insisting on perfectionism (even subconsciously) – let girls fail and support them through it because failure is a part of life and something they need to learn is acceptable – perfectionism causes less confidence in abilities because girls believe that everything they do HAS to be perfect otherwise it isn’t worthy of attention.
- Teach them self-worth and show them they are valuable – they deserve the same success as boys do – they are worthy of opinions – they have a right to take up space in a room, career or debate.
- Acknowledge their fears and insecurities by validating their feelings – and then show them how to OVERCOME those fears by affirming that they are strong, determined and worthy.
- Teach them that ambition is GOOD – it’s not just for boys – ambition doesn’t make you ‘bossy’, ‘stubborn’ or ‘stuck up’.
- Finally, celebrate taking RISKS – they might not always pay off, but often they will and those successes will fuel more confidence than you can imagine.
Girls are capable of anything – we just need to remind them of that and solidify that notion in their brains from a young age. Girls are just as capable as boys, they just don’t believe that and it is our job to teach them their worth and validate both their successes and failures.
Book Recommendations & Resources for inspiring confidence in young girls
Living the Confidence Code by Claire Shipman, Katty Kay and Jillellyn Riley https://www.confidencecodegirls.com/books
Alice Clover Stories https://www.notonlypinkandblue.com/directory/alice-clover-stories/
Butterfly Books https://www.notonlypinkandblue.com/directory/butterfly-books/
not only pink and blue Resources Page https://www.notonlypinkandblue.com/resources/