"You can become anything you want," we often tell our daughters — and yet, our own actions sometimes send a slightly different message.
A number of studies have found that parents tend to raise their daughters differently than sons. One way we do this is through the words we use when speaking to them.
In a report published in Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers found that parents were more likely to use analytical and polite language with their daughters (i.e., "much" and "better"). With sons, they were more likely to use words related to competition (i.e., "win" and "top").
This can give young girls the impression that they should be polite and follow rules. Little things like this can prevent girls from growing up to be mentally strong women.
I address all these issues in my book, "13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do." Because we raise girls a little differently, we inadvertently encourage them to engage in unhealthy habits that could limit their potential — and those habits begin in childhood.
But it doesn't have to be that way. What if you could raise a daughter who revolutionizes an entire industry? What if she became one of the most generous philanthropists in the world? What if she became the next Bill Gates?
Ironically, many of the skills, tools and strategies that helped shape Gates' career are the exact things that girls are often discouraged from doing.
Here are four things you can do if you want to raise a mentally strong daughter who could become the next Bill Gates:
In a TV interview with BBC, Gates said his parents took him to see a psychologist at age 12.
"I was a bit disruptive," he said. "I started early on sort of questioning were their rules logical and always to be followed, so there was kind of a bit of tension there as I was kind of pushing back."
It's not surprising to learn that Gates was a rule-breaker. Studies show kids who break the rules at age 12 are actually more likely to become rich. Perhaps it's because these kids aren't afraid to disrupt industries and pave new paths.
Teach your daughter that some rules are meant to be broken. After all, if all women had followed the rules, we wouldn't have the right to vote today. Show her that she can break gender norms and do things a little differently. A girl who questions some of the rules — and knows it's OK to break them — has a good chance of going very far in life.
Taking huge risks is often glorified — and while it works out for some, there are many stories of people who fail. But Gates didn't adopt the "go big or go home" mentality. Instead, he focused on growing his company one tiny step at a time to avoid making any fatal mistakes.
Teach your daughter how to calculate risk. More importantly, show her that the level of actual risk isn't associated with the level of fear she feels (it's a mistake too many people make). Giving a presentation in front of the class, for example, likely feels scary. But it's much less risky than riding in a car.
Teach her how to calculate the risks associated with taking action, as well as the risks associated with doing nothing. This can help her decide when to face her fears, and when to push herself to overcome obstacles.
The people you surround your daughter with can greatly influence how she sees herself, other people and the world around her. Expose her to those who feel capable, confident and inspire her to make a difference in the world. Teach her about well-known people who are doing (or have done) things to improve the way we live and work, and let her know that she can grow up to do the same.
Gates is a self-proclaimed introvert who planned on having a career as a math teacher. But, his long-time friend and business partner Paul Allen challenged him to go into programming. And while there is much talk about their relationship being contentious at times, Allen and Gates have often referred to one another as "partners in crime."
Your daughter doesn't need to be popular. Whether it's a best friend who isn't afraid to tell her that she's selling herself short or a coach who sets her expectations high, go-getters often bring out the best in people.
Another thing parents often do is tell girls they need extra support in math and science — and it can be very discouraging. So instead of telling them they need to be better at these subjects, surround her with math-related puzzles that might pique her interest. Work through the answers with her and then ask her to explain why those answers make sense. Turn it into a fun game.
The sad truth is that girls really do need to increase their knowledge in math and science. The gender achievement gap across the U.S. is huge. A 2019 "State of Science Index" report from 3M surveyed 14,025 people globally in 14 countries to explore attitudes toward science and STEM around the world. Nearly two out of three women expressed low confidence in their knowledge of science (many even said they "know nothing" about the subject). Only half of the men felt that way.
Let your daughter know that she doesn't have to become a mathematician or scientist, but that learning those things can help her in many aspects later on in life, like making her a better problem-solver. It can also help her to better understand the world, as well as the foundations of business and money management.
Katie Couric, former TV host and journalist, even wrote in an op-ed published in Fortune, "Watching mom always doing household chores or tossing out throwaway lines like, 'Ask your dad, I'm bad at math,' might seem harmless enough, but these actions reinforce stereotypes that can prevent a girl from becoming the next Ginni Rometty."
Amy Morin is a licensed clinical social worker, a psychology instructor at Northeastern University and a psychotherapist. She is the author of the national bestseller "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" and "13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do." She was named the "self-help guru of the moment" by The Guardian. Follow her on Twitter @AmyMorinLCSW .
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