Lesson Tutor : Girls, Role Models, and Self Esteem

Girls, Role Models, and Self-Esteem
by Marissa K. Lingen

Every week there’s another statistic in the news, which then makes it into a commercial of some sort. Girls who play sports are less likely to have teen pregnancies, low self-esteem, etc. Same goes for girls who play a musical instrument. The latest one I saw was from Crayola, that kids who get involved in art are better off, too.

Every time one of these studies comes out, some pundit or another decides that it means we should encourage more girls to get involved in whatever activity is being touted, in order to solve all of our society’s ills. If you believe their proposed course of action, every little girl would be in a scheduled, organized activity from the moment she hits kindergarten until her high school graduation, safely drug-free and baby-free.

But they’re missing something. Whenever they do one of these studies, they’re looking at girls who were still in whatever activity–music, art, sports, whatever–when they reached the end of high school. (By the way, I think the same statistics and conclusions apply to boys–but they get less preaching time, probably because they can’t get pregnant.) In short, they study the girls who have discovered that they are at least moderately good at something and have stuck with it, usually with at least a little encouragement from people who are good at it, too.

That’s the key. Forcing your bookworm daughter to play soccer or your tomboy to take ballet lessons won’t help her self-esteem if she hates it and is no good at it. Helping her find something she’s good at and adults who will encourage her at it? Now you’re talking. Your daughter is just learning to define herself. If she only has the opportunity to do things for which she has no particular gift, she will see herself as a mediocrity, a nobody. If she does have a gift, but nobody outside the family recognizes it, she may not give herself credit for doing something important.

Girls have more diverse female role models today than they ever have before, ranging from Mia Hamm to Margaret Geller. (Hamm plays soccer. I bet you knew that. Geller discovered most of what we know about the large-scale structure of the universe. I bet you didn’t know that.) But it’s also even more important for a young girl to have someone who knows her, specifically, and believes in her, specifically. In athletics, that’s obviously part of what the coach should be doing–but it’s important no matter what your daughter’s interests and talents are. Every kid should know that her parents love her and think she’s wonderful just for being herself. A “coach” can provide more objective support and criticism.

It may be harder to find some girls’ niches than others’. If your daughter is a good student, a natural athlete, or musically gifted, you will (or should) have all kinds of options. If she’s theatrically inclined, don’t be afraid to investigate community theatre productions when she’s old enough to care but not old enough to be in the high school plays. If you’re in a remote area (or even if you’re not), 4-H may be your best bet. It’s not just about raising cattle and baking contests any more. There are more projects than any person could get through, ranging from traditional “home-ec” stuff through genealogy, photography, and more. If your daughter’s most outstanding trait seems to be a kind heart, let her get involved at the local hospital, nursing home, animal shelter, or whatever touches her most. Don’t be afraid if you don’t know any other kids who are doing what your kid is doing. They’ll try to force her to be the same as everyone else in school. Your job is to help her shine as herself.

Most of all, listen to your kid. If she says she likes softball, ask her if she wants to sign up for another season. If she can’t stand painting lessons, don’t make her keep taking them, even if her teacher says she’s really talented. Don’t be afraid if she wants to try everything and settle on nothing. A spirit of adventure and discovery will serve her well, too.

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