Girls Fear Failure. Let’s Fix That.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know that I’m a proud and loud feminist. And no, that’s not only because I’m raising two tiny female humans. It’s because I want to live in a world where everyone has equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

By now we all know that dads are important, but they are extremely important in the lives of their daughters. Science has shown that girls who are raised with involved fathers are more confident, self-reliant, and stronger academically than those who aren’t. All of us know at least one woman or girl who struggles in one of the aforementioned areas due to the relationship (or lack thereof) she has with her father.

Let’s talk about why that is important here.

The good folks at Always and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls hosted the Fueled By Failure Summit that reviewed in detail how little girls struggle with adversity and failure. Check it out below (pro tip: The video starts at the 1:02 mark). I highly recommend that you watch the entire video with your daughters, because it’s extremely powerful.

Panelist Amanda Hill mentioned that 7 out of 10 young girls are afraid to try something new due to a fear of failure. That’s a much higher rate than that of young boys. There are so many ways that dads can help, and here are a few thoughts.

#1: Believe in yourself. Always.

I coach an all-girls 1st grade basketball team called the HERricanes (great name, right?!) and it’s truly the highlight of my week.

My squad, the HERricanes

My squad, the HERricanes

Before every practice, I sit in a circle with the girls and ask them each one simple question:

Can you tell me one thing you did that made you happy this week?

On the surface it may not seem like much, but it has a profound impact on the girls. In a world filled with misogyny, I want my team to know there are men outside of  their families who care for them and are genuinely interested in their lives. By having each girl share their feelings and thoughts with the group, it lets every girl know that she matters. A simple act like that helps build the girls’ confidence and sets the tone for practice and their lives. And yes, I coach a very confident group of girls.

Men, we need to take the time to listen to our girls and let them know how important each of them are. Not half-listening while we’re staring at our smartphones, but being 100% engaged. For some reason, we’re not doing enough of it, and that needs to change.

#2: Watch our mouths around little girls.

No, I’m not talking about cursing. Building our girls’ confidence is one thing, but oftentimes we take away from the progress we’ve made with the language we use (I’m also a culprit). Little boys are described as tough, powerful, and smart. The main superlatives we use for girls? Pretty and cute.

Going back to coaching for a minute, during games I constantly hear parents in the crowd describe my players as cute or adorable. Not once have I heard them be called tough or fierce. That’s a problem, because as they’re trying to learn a new sport or a new skill, they’ll believe they’re only good at it if they look good doing it. In other words, when they fail (and they will fail), they will focus on how bad they looked while failing instead of learning from it and improving.

Let’s use different words to prop up our daughters that aren’t based in how they look.

#3: Embrace failure.

If you pull all of the girls aside in any kindergarten or first grade classroom and ask them who the fastest girl in the room is, almost all of them will raise their hands. If you try the same exercise in a room filled with fifth and sixth grade girls, very few girls will raise their hands. In some classes, nobody would raise their hands at all.

That’s because they’ve lost a race and now they don’t want to go back out on the field.

Little girls, you will fail — oftentimes in embarrassing fashion, but that’s OK. It should be used fuel to improve instead of an excuse to quit or not try something new. So when someone asks if you’re the fastest girl in the room, you should always raise your hand. Not because you are the fastest girl in the room, but because you’re not afraid to try.

The women on the panel will always have their hands raised.  Credit: JP Yim  - pictured, Christina Diaz, Dr. Knatokie Ford, Meredith Walker, Amanda Hill, Laura Brounstein

The women on the panel will always have their hands raised.
Credit: JP Yim – pictured, Christina Diaz, Dr. Knatokie Ford, Meredith Walker, Amanda Hill, Laura Brounstein

In closing, as a black man, I know that just like we need good white folks to help us achieve racial equality, we need good men to step up to achieve gender equality. I’m more than happy and willing to do my part to help.

Again, take an hour out of your day to watch the video I posted above with the young girls in your life that you care about. You will be glad you did.

This post is made possible with support from Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls and Always. All opinions are my own.

 

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