While sitting on the beach last summer, I watched my 5-year-old goddaughter walk over to a little girl she did not know, introduce herself, and ask her to play. Two girls, who never met, becoming fast friends. They would spend the day building sandcastles, sharing snacks, and running in and out of the ocean – not thinking twice about the waves that towered over them. Most likely this is a common story experienced by many beach-goers. Insert a middle school girl into this picture, and the story line completely changes. The middle school girl will never make that initial introduction and will not run in and out of the ocean carefree. Why? Because all those initiatives we easily took when we were young, involve taking a risk. Girls’ capacity to take risks diminishes as they grow older starting around their middle school years.
The Confidence Gap
During the middle school years, many girls hit their stride and begin outperforming boys, academically. This leads many to overlook the decline of girls' self-esteem, a decline that exists despite their successful academic achievement. For years, various psychologists and studies have all concluded the confidence mindset for girls changes when puberty arrives. According to the article, How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence, the tendency for girls to ruminate on negative thoughts, leads to lower confidence. Add in influences of social media and other messaging from society and it becomes clear that more so now than ever, girls are facing a confidence dilemma. During these critical years, girls are not learning the importance of taking risks, failing and recovering. Lack of confidence follows girls and persists into adulthood, where taking risks is essential for personal and professional growth.
Boosting Girls’ Confidence
To help rekindle confidence in girls, Oak Knoll School is offering a new one-week summer program entitled, Confidence Counts! Through daily lessons, discussions and challenges, girls rising to grades 6-8 enrolled in the program will learn essential characteristics to boost their confidence. Each day will focus on a different topic: identifying confidence in role models, confident communicators, failure and recovery, confident thinking, and confident relationships. Interactive lessons and challenges will allow each student to grow as an individual and as a squad. Girls will watch their confidence grow each day as they participate in healthy, fun risk-taking activities. The week will culminate with a final presentation to parents as well as each girl walking away with their own confidence toolbox. All girls participating will receive a copy of the book, The Confidence Code for Girls by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. A guiding principle woven throughout this text is “Action builds confidence. Confidence helps us take action.”
Every afternoon, parents of participating students are invited for a presentation by our Upper School Division Head, Jennifer Landis, who will provide parents with an overview of that day’s program as well as relevant research for developing confidence in middle school girls.
Time for Action
It is time for girls to return to the risk-taking, confident selves they were as children. To take chances, understanding it is OK not to succeed at first, because there will be a second, third and fourth time. To embrace failure, knowing the lessons learned more often outweigh the failure itself. To see how one success, leads to another, then to another, with confidence growing in each action. Finally, to come to the realization that behind every success she has or will have in her future, is her confident self leading the way.
Articles for further reading:
- How Puberty Kills Girls Confidence
- Want to Raise Empowered Women? Start in Middle School
- The Confidence Gap