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How to Encourage Girls to Lift Each Other Up, Instead of Tearing Each Other Down

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Too often, girls and women are taught to think of other girls and women as competition or even threats, not as allies. In fact, Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert and the author of Getting Grit, says that when she asks female professionals if they feel like one of the biggest challenges they face isn’t just how they are treated by men but also getting torn down by other women, “It’s not half the room raising their hands — it’s 100 percent of the women.” When girls are empowered and confident, however, they can learn how to team up in ways that encourage and support one another, making it more likely that all of them will find success! Phyllis Fagell, a professional school counselor, spoke with a variety of experts for a recent Washington Post article to find out why girls are prone to see one another as competition — and how parents can encourage them to build empowering friendships that lift each other up instead.

Part of the reason girls are prone to compete is that they worry about losing out on opportunities: “scarcity theory might lead young girls to believe that there are limits around how many good things can happen to any one person,” Miller says, “which could also lead them to believe that their own success will be limited.” A recent survey by Plan International USA showed that 30% of teenage girls felt they had fewer opportunities at school than boys do, particularly when it comes to sports and leadership opportunities. That means that girls may conclude that losing one chance to another girl means they’ll never get another one, says business leader and pro basketball pioneer Donna Orender: “Unfortunately, it’s been communicated to us over the years that there are fewer spots for women — a limited inventory.”

So what can parents and educators do to help girls understand that it’s not a zero-sum game? An important first step is helping to grow her own confidence, which tends to drop significantly in girls as they reach the tween years, since confident girls are more likely to see one another as allies rather than threats. One way to do this is by encouraging girls to use expansive body language, says Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, since she observes that girls often start showing “shrinking behavior,” where they try to take up less space, around middle school.

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-Katherine

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