Back in May, I posted an article called Unstoppable! Self-Esteem, Boy and Girl Style. In the article I took a self-esteem program aimed at young women and flipped the genders to see how the encouragement felt when aimed at boys.
At the beginning of this article, I asked you to think about what an empowerment or self-esteem program for boys might consist of. You probably imagined something like the Boy Scouts or Outward Bound. Young men test their limits, practice a sport, enjoy the outdoors, discover skills they didn’t know they had. In short, they do.
When we try to “empower” girls we tell them to think positive and feel pretty. If it is “empowerment” it is a strange use of the word “power” because it is entirely passive. The program focuses entirely personal qualities that make one attractive, not achievements and actions.
Today I was reading the BPS Research Digest and I came across a study that bolsters my subjective point of view.
Laboratory research pioneered by psychologist Carol Dweck has shown the short-term benefits of praising children for their efforts rather than their inherent traits. Doing so leads children to adopt a so-called ‘incremental mindset’ – seeing ability as malleable and challenges as an opportunity to learn. Now a new study co-authored by Dweck and led by Elizabeth Gunderson has made the first ever attempt to monitor how parents praise their young children in real-life situations, and to see how their style of praise is related to the children’s mindset five years later…The key finding was the more parents tended to praise their pre-school age children for effort (known as process praise, as in “good job”), the more likely it was that those children had a “incremental attitude” towards intelligence and morality when they were aged seven to eight. This mindset was revealed by their seeing intelligence and moral attributes as malleable. For example, such children tended to agree that people can get smarter if they try harder, and disagree with the idea that a naughty child with always be naughty…Finally, the study revealed that parents tend to use more person praise with girls and more process praise with boys, echoing similar results in earlier research. In turn, later on, boys tended to express an incremental mindset more often than girls. This tallies with the picture painted in the developmental literature that girls more than boys attribute failure to lack of ability, especially in maths and science.