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Girls’ Confidence Plummets Starting at Age 8: Here’s How to Keep Her Confidence Strong

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Katty Kay and Claire Shipman are on a mission: helping tween girls keep their confidence so they can be resilient, empowered adult women! As authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know, they’ve helped millions of adult women understand how to build their own confidence, but they frequently heard from women who wanted to know how they could help their tween and teen daughters. Kay and Shipman worked with a polling firm to learn more about the issue and were shocked to discover that girls’ confidence drops by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. “Right until age 8, there’s really no difference [between girls and boys] in confidence levels,” Shipman says. “We were surprised at how quickly, how deep that drop is.”

They decided to address the problem head-on, and the result was The Confidence Code for Girls, a book adapted for girls ages 8 to 12. Full of graphic novel strips, quizzes, tips, and stories from real girls, The Confidence Code for Girls was an instant best-seller. Kay and Shipman followed that book up with the publication of The Confidence Code for Girls Journal, a companion journal they co-wrote with JillEllyn Riley for ages 8 to 12, which helps girls build confidence-boosting skills they can apply for the rest of their lives.

A Mighty Girl: In the A Mighty Girl community, we have a lot of supporters with young girls of 5, 6, or 7 years old who share stories of how confident and self-assured their daughters are. But, that narrative often shifts for parents of tween and teen girls who wonder what happened to their previously confident daughters and why they now seem so full of self-doubt. Can you discuss what your research has found about changes in girls’ confidence at different ages and what you believe drives these changes?

Kay, Shipman, and Reily: Our research and the poll we commissioned about a year and a half ago make plain what we’d already seen — tween and teen girls are experiencing a severe confidence shortage. Working with Ypulse, a polling firm that focuses on teens and teens, we surveyed 1300 girls between the ages of 8 to 18, and their parents. What we found confirms what girls are telling us: confidence levels are evenly matched for boys and girls until the age of 12. But between the ages of 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels nose-dive by 30 percent.

As girls approach adolescence, that openness to risk and failure becomes buried under an avalanche of biological and cultural signals telling them to be careful, value perfection, avoid risk at all possible costs. Parents and society reinforce a lot of these messages and behaviors at the same time that girls’ brains are being flooded with estrogen, which heightens emotional intelligence and curbs risk. Not because we are bad, but because there is such a premium on “doing well,” especially today.

This emotional intelligence allows them to better read the emotional landscape around them, but also makes them more observant, more cautious, less likely to TRY.

There are regular reports about how many young people are spending vast amounts of time on social media. How is social media use affecting girls’ confidence and, given its strong influence on many kids, what do you recommend to parents regarding their daughters’ social media use? 

Social media has many benefits. It can provide connection and community to isolated people and it can allow kids to virtually explore their interests all over the world. But because it’s so ubiquitous, it can also shake their confidence tremendously. It’s hard for them to get away, so problems with friends or frenemies can escalate in the blink of an eye. And, of course, perfectionism feeds on the Instagram-worthiness ethos.

Parents should encourage their daughters to:

  • Take a Screen Vacation
  • Impose the 24 hour rule
  • Talk Face to Face
  • Apply the Grandma Test
  • Use it for Good

Also, recent research shows that when girls follow high-achieving women on social who share their interests, their world views are expanded markedly. They are able to see possibilities that they hadn’t imagined before and it helps to get them out of the narrow focus on friends, appearance, celebrity, etc.

So, instead of fighting the uphill against smartphones and social media, parents should insist that their daughters follow four women who are working in areas that interest them and then see where that takes them!

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Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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