I loved my all-girls school

Despite the lack of flashy promposals, all-girls schools offer a unique and valuable educational experience, writes Alex Riklin. (Photo: Pexels)

By Alex Riklin on November 18, 2019

Stanford Daily

When I tell people I attended an all-girls school since age 4, I’m met with expressions of either confusion, shock, curiosity or some combination of the three. I get the same responses ad nauseum: Why? Was it horrible? But how did you meet boys?

Contrary to what many people immediately assume, judging from their looks of sympathy, I really enjoyed going to an all-girls school. Sure, there were times when I envied the promposals and homecoming dances I saw in movies and on American friends’ Instagrams but never actually experienced myself. But apart from that, going to a single-sex school shaped me in many valuable ways and allowed me to forge amazing friendships. 

Many myths still need to be debunked when it comes to talking about single-sex education. First, I reject the idea that being in a single-sex environment renders one unable to interact with members of the opposite sex later in life. Despite this  popular belief, everyone I knew at my school and other single-sex schools not only knew how to interact smoothly with members of the opposite sex, but they were also able to form actual friendships with those people outside of school time. 

Although the majority of my close friends were girls, I wasn’t constantly cooped up away from the outside world. Being in a single-sex environment also encouraged me to make more friends outside of school and socialize outside of my fairly small school bubble. These experiences gave me invaluable skills, many of which I have used in my first few weeks here at Stanford in making friends and building relationships. 

Another common belief about all-girls schools in particular is the overwhelming presence of drama and hostility between students. There is inevitably going to be drama in all schools and close-knit communities at some points, but I never noticed a correlation between single-sex schools and drama when talking to friends who went to coed schools. I would say that drama doesn’t depend on whether you’re at a single-sex or coed school, but rather on the personalities of the people you surround yourself with.

Coming to Stanford, I thought I would immediately notice intense differences between my 700-person, single-sex school in London, England and this 7,000-person coed college. I assumed  it would feel really weird to be in classes with boys for the first time in my life.

Despite what I suspected, once on campus, none of these thoughts even crossed my mind until a few days ago. Out of the blue, I started to think about the fact that I’ve never been in a learning environment with boys before. It is sort of strange to consider that I basically learned everything I know purely surrounded by girls for 16 years of my life, despite the fact that in working environments and most other situations this will mostly not be the case. I will be forever grateful for the experiences I had and the relationships I formed in my all-girl school environment, but I’m equally so happy to be where I am now, experiencing new things every day and growing more and more in the process.

Contact Alex Riklin at ariklin ‘at’ stanford.edu

Reflecting on Lisa Damour’s New Book About Stress and Anxiety in Girls

April 29, 2019

By Deborah Offner

As I read Lisa Damour’s latest book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, I felt as if she had swooped into my counseling office and the schools where I consult to speak candidly about the girls I know. As a psychologist who specializes in adolescent girls, I counsel some patients whose symptoms—shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, rapid heartbeat, migraine headache, abdominal discomfort—are so debilitating they often spend extended periods in the nurse’s office or miss school altogether.

If you teach, advise, coach, or live with adolescent girls, then you are familiar with their unprecedented levels of stress and anxiety. According to Damour, 31% of girls and young women experience anxiety compared with 13% of boys and young men. Under Pressure puts anxious girls’ otherwise perplexing behavior in context. It is a pertinent sequel to the 2016 bestselling Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood. This time around, Damour—who is consulting psychologist at Laurel School (OH) and executive director of Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls—integrates her deep understanding of girls’ inner lives from her counseling work and immersion in school life with her facile knowledge of empirical literature on adolescent psychology.

After reading her book and seeing her speak about it, I noted some key takeaways for educators and school leaders.

Stress and anxiety. Stress is necessary for growth. And school, Damour notes, is actually supposed to be stressful, in the healthy way; it challenges students in order to facilitate their intellectual and emotional development. Pushing students beyond their comfort zones—academically, athletically, and socially—is what the most thoughtful independent schools do well.

“Stress becomes unhealthy,” Damour says, “when it exceeds what a person can absorb or benefit from.” The point at which that occurs is different for everyone. “Whether stress becomes unhealthy depends upon two variables: the nature of the problem and the person upon whom the problem lands,” she writes. This explains to all of us who work with students why some whose lives seem so privileged and secure might struggle emotionally while others in “objectively” difficult personal situations may seem calm and content.

She also describes how anxiety can serve as an important signal or warning sign. Damour tells a story of a patient who found herself inexplicably anxious at an ill-fated house party. In response to her nervous feelings, she (uncharacteristically) accepted a shot of liquor along with the beer she was already drinking, as she thought it would help her calm down. She ended up getting so drunk she landed in the emergency room. Damour explains how she helped the girl see that her anxiety at the party was acting as an ally, not an enemy, signaling to her that she was not in a good environment and needed to find an excuse to go home.

I’ve found that teen and even tween girls are remarkably good at understanding what might be driving their anxiety. But to use their anxiety as a friend and informant, girls need adults to be curious with them and to assume there’s probably a reason for their feelings. Using health class or advisory time to help girls reframe stress as important information encourages them to listen to themselves and restores them some control.

Coping strategies. Damour notes that while girls should avoid some situations that are truly dangerous, running away from situations that simply make them anxious is not helpful. She explains, “Everything we know in academic psychology tells us that avoidance only makes anxiety worse.”

My advice to schools is that when students have panic attacks, they should be given a space (the nurse’s office or infirmary, an advisor’s office) to let the physical symptoms such as racing heart, shaking, sweating, and dizziness subside. Once that’s happened, students should move right back into their usual routines. Otherwise, their avoidance of the place where the attack happened—a classroom, the gym, or cafeteria—can turn into habit. The fear of having another attack can become a reason to stay out of class, off the playing field, or away from school altogether. 

At one school where I consulted, we assumed it best to send one student home when her panic attacks wore her out physically and emotionally (and distracted her friend group from their studies). After speaking with her outside psychologist, however, I learned that their treatment plan prescribed staying in school after panic attacks. We quickly reversed the school’s practice, and the therapist’s advice worked.

Negative stereotypes. Sometimes when members of a particular social group perform poorly on a task, it isn’t because they lack proficiency or knowledge but because they’ve internalized a negative stereotype about their group’s abilities. For example, if girls believe that they are, by virtue of their gender, not strong in math or science, they may undermine their own performance out of fear of confirming this negative stereotype. Girls often don’t know they’ve internalized the stereotype. Naming the phenomenon, Damour says, and even sharing ample evidence that contradicts the stereotype, can reduce its power over female students.

Sharing scientific evidence debunking this myth with faculty (and parents) can be useful as well. I encourage schools to assign psychologist Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi as a faculty summer reading book and to structure some conversations about how Steele’s research and concept of “stereotype threat” apply within the school community. I also recommend that schools offer a parent forum on the topic, with attention to how it affects girls and students of color in particular.

Sexuality. Damour encourages parents and teachers to talk candidly with girls about their sexuality. Talking to girls about their wishes and needs makes them less, rather than more, vulnerable to sexual coercion, she says.

High school (and some middle school) girls in my own practice describe boys requesting nude photos and sending unsolicited ones of themselves as a routine occurrence. Damour challenges schools to create technology policies that prohibit students from sending nude photos and requesting them.

I also recommend that schools include substantial technology training in a health and wellness class or advisory. This unit should detail the interpersonal and sexual aspects of digital communication and must be updated regularly, as this is a rapidly shifting and complex landscape. Keeping these conversations grounded in the complex dynamics of peer-to-peer relationships is important. According to Damour, “Experts note that adolescents aren’t enthralled by the technology—they’re enthralled by the peers at the other end of the technology they happen to be using.” I often remind parents and educators that students’ daily lives remain every bit as complex and challenging as they were before Instagram or cell phones existed.

Acknowledging that widespread anxiety affects at least one-third of female students’ ability to learn, work, and play can seem overwhelming for students and school administrators alike. Gaining a basic understanding of its mechanisms and effects can help school leaders support anxious students more effectively. Schools are uniquely positioned to help girls confront their fears and anxieties and to ensure they can utilize the stress they encounter to enhance their self-protection, motivation, and growth.

Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office

The New York Times

Hard work and discipline help girls outperform boys in class, but that advantage disappears in the work force. Is school the problem?

Lisa Damour

By Lisa Damour

Ms. Damour is a clinical psychologist.

CreditWenting Li
Image
CreditCreditWenting Li

From elementary school through college, girls are more disciplinedabout their schoolwork than boys; they study harder and get better grades. Girls consistently outperform boys academically. And yet, men nonetheless hold a staggering 95 percent of the top positions in the largest public companies.

What if those same habits that propel girls to the top of their class — their hyper-conscientiousness about schoolwork — also hold them back in the work force?

When investigating what deters professional advancement for women, the journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found that a shortage of competence is less likely to be an obstacle than a shortage of confidence. When it comes to work-related confidence, they found men are far ahead. “Underqualified and underprepared men don’t think twice about leaning in,” they wrote. “Overqualified and overprepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect.”

As a psychologist who works with teenagers, I hear this concern often from the parents of many of my patients. They routinely remark that their sons do just enough to keep the adults off their backs, while their daughters relentlessly grind, determined to leave no room for error. The girls don’t stop until they’ve polished each assignment to a high shine and rewritten their notes with color-coded precision.

We need to ask: What if school is a confidence factory for our sons, but only a competence factory for our daughters?

This possibility hit me when I was caring for an eighth grader in my practice. She got terrific grades but was feeling overwhelmed by school. Her brother, a ninth grader, had similarly excellent grades, but when I asked if he worked as hard as she did, she scoffed. If she worked on an assignment for an hour and got an A, she felt “safe” only if she spent a full hour on other assignments like it. Her brother, in contrast, flew through his work. When he brought home an A, she said, he felt “like a stud.” If his grades slipped a bit, he would take his effort up just a notch. But she never felt “safe” enough to ever put in less than maximum effort.

That experience — of succeeding in school while exerting minimal or moderate effort — is a potentially crucial one. It may help our sons develop confidence, as they see how much they can accomplish simply by counting on their wits. For them, school serves as a test track, where they build their belief in their abilities and grow increasingly at ease relying on them. Our daughters, on the other hand, may miss the chance to gain confidence in their abilities if they always count on intellectual elbow grease alone.

So how do we get hyper-conscientious girls (and boys, as there certainly are some with the same style) to build both confidence and competence at school?

First, parents and teachers can stop praising inefficient overwork, even if it results in good grades. Gendered approaches to learning set in early, so it’s never too soon to start working against them. Recently, as I read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to my 8-year-old daughter, I stopped at a passage in which Hermione — the fictional poster child for academic fastidiousness — turned in an essay that was “two rolls of parchment more than Professor Binns asked for.” Hermione, I pointed out, doesn’t make great use of her time. She’s a capable student and could probably do just as well without working so hard. “Right,” my daughter said. “Of course she could!”

We can also encourage girls toward a different approach to school — one that’s more focused on economy of effort, rather than how many hours they put in. Whenever one of the academically impressive and persistently anxious girls in my practice tells me about staying up until 2 in the morning studying, I see an opening. That’s the moment to push them to become tactical, to figure out how to continue learning and getting the same grades while doing a little bit less. I urge my patients — and my own teenage daughter — to begin study sessions by taking sample tests, to see how much they know before figuring out how much more they need to do to attain mastery over a concept or task. Many girls build up an incredible capacity for work, but they need these moments to discover and take pride in how much they already understand.

Teachers, too, can challenge girls’ over-the-top tendencies. When a girl with a high-A average turns in extra credit work, her instructor might ask if she is truly taken with the subject or if she is looking to store up “insurance points,” as some girls call them. If it’s the former, more power to her. If it’s the latter, the teacher might encourage the student to trust that what she knows and the work she is already doing will almost certainly deliver the grade she wants. Educators can also point out to this student that she may not need insurance; she probably has a much better grasp of the material than she gives herself credit for.

Finally, we can affirm for girls that it is normal and healthy to feel some anxiety about school. Too often, girls are anxious even about being anxious, so they turn to excessive studying for comfort. We can remind them that being a little bit nervous about schoolwork just means that they care about it, which of course they should.

Even if neither you nor your daughter cares about becoming a chief executive, you may worry that she will eventually be crushed by the weight of her own academic habits. While a degree of stress promotes growth, working at top speed in every class at all times is unhealthy and unsustainable for even the most dedicated high school students. A colleague of mine likes to remind teenagers that in classes where any score above 90 counts as an A, the difference between a 91 and a 99 is a life.

To be sure, the confidence gap is hardly the only thing keeping women out of top jobs. Women also face gender bias, sexual harassment and powerful structural barriers in the workplace. But confidence at school is one unequal advantage that we can address right now. Instead of standing by as our daughters make 50 flashcards when they were assigned 20, we can step in and ask them why. Many professional men brim with confidence because they have spent years getting to know their abilities. Women should arrive in the work world having done the same.

Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist in Shaker Heights, Ohio, is the author of the forthcoming “Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.”

Parents and Teachers Pass On Math Anxiety to Kids Like a Virus, Especially to Girls

“Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math?” laments Petra Bonfert-Taylor, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College. “Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading.” After seeing one too many examples of adults “passing on [mathematical anxiety] like a virus,” Bonfert-Taylor has an important message for math-phobic parents and educators: “We are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics… [and] as a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.”

Many people will recognize what Bonfert-Taylor calls “damaging myths” that adults perpetuate when they call themselves bad at math: “math is inherently hard, only geniuses understand it, we never liked math in the first place and nobody needs math anyway.” And while well-meaning adults may think they’re encouraging kids by sharing their own math fears, research has shown the opposite — “Anxiety over mathematics has been recognized as a grade killer.” Research has found that the problem is particularly significant for girls, who “are especially affected when a teacher publicly announces math hatred before she picks up the chalk.” Moreover, as Bonfert-Taylor explains in a Washington Post article: “A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that female — but not male — mathematical achievement was diminished in response to a female teacher’s mathematical anxiety. The effect was correlated: the higher a teacher’s anxiety, the lower the scores.”

Parents’ anxiety about math can have a similar effect on kids’ achievement and their attitude toward the subject. According to Bonfert-Taylor, “children who received math homework help from mathematically fearful parents showed weaker math achievements than their peers, which in turn resulted in increased math anxiety for the children themselves.” New research on math anxiety confirms that these parents unintentionally teach kids to expect that math will be beyond their capabilities. As Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and president of Barnard College, explains in an NPR piece, “A parent might say, ‘oh I’m not a math person, it’s okay if you’re not good at math either’… [which] can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed.”

Fortunately, Beilock’s research has found a surprisingly easy way for parents to stop passing on math anxiety and build their children’s math confidence — and it doesn’t require overcoming their own fear of the subject. For the study, researchers gave Chicago-area families an iPad filled with math-themed stories for parents and children to read together. From first to third grade — the years when children tend to solidify their fear of math — the families read stories that included fun math facts, like the size of the world’s largest cupcake or information about walking frogs, and then kids would answer simple questions about the content. By the end of the first year, parents didn’t feel more confident in their own abilities with math, but they did feel more confident in their kids’ math potential — and equally importantly, they valued math skills more. This had a direct effect on their children’s achievement: when the kids’ math skills were tested at the end of the study, children of math-anxious parents who had participated in the program performed just as well as the kids of math-confident parents.

The most important finding from the study for parents is the importance of normalizing math at home in a way that’s relaxed and playful. While Beilock’s research used math-themed books and stories, there are many other ways to do it, from playing with math games and toys to cooking together. Bonfert-Taylor agrees, arguing that we need to teach kids that “working on mathematical skills is not unlike practicing a sport. Neither can be learned by watching others perform the activity and both require encouragement and effort… You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes.” So the next time you’re sitting down to talk math with a Mighty Girl in your life, Bonfert-Taylor urges you to “try to have fun and give reassurance that perseverance will yield results. Numbers are always simple, clean and beautiful — and nothing to be afraid of.”

Link between social media and depression stronger in teen girls than boys, study says

CNN

Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University

NCGS

Author(s): Tiffani Riggers-Piehl, Kyungmin Lim, Karen King
Institution: Higher Education Research Institute
Year of Study: 2018
Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to UniversityFostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University focuses a lens on how graduates of all-girls schools today compare to female graduates of coed schools in terms of their academic characteristics and readiness for university. Drawing data from the well-known Freshman Survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles, the researchers used multilevel analyses to separate the effect of an all-girls education from other influences including socioeconomic differences, race/ethnicity, parent education, and the characteristics of the high schools attended. The data reveals a consistent portrait of girls’ school graduates who are more engaged academically and socially than their coeducated peers.

In summary, the researchers concluded that when compared to their female peers at coed schools, girls’ school graduates:

  • Have stronger academic skills
  • Are more academically engaged
  • Demonstrate higher science self-confidence
  • Display higher levels of cultural competency
  • Express stronger community involvement
  • Exhibit increased political engagement

For deeper insight into the findings, listen to our PEP Talks: Podcast on Educational Possibilities interview with the principal investigator Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Piehl:

7 ways parents can teach girls to build one another up, instead of tearing one another down


(Kara Somberg/for The Washington Post)

October 30, 2018

When Ashley Eckstein, an actress and entrepreneur, started performing professionally in fifth grade, the other girls in her class taunted her relentlessly. Now 37, Eckstein recently brought her 13-year-old niece to a girls leadership summit to show her a different dynamic — hundreds of girls celebrating one another’s accomplishments in fields including writing and social activism.

“The cheers, hugs and high-fives literally gave me goose bumps,” said Eckstein, author of “It’s Your Universe: You Have the Power to Make it Happen.” “Something very right was happening in that room full of confident girls all doing their own thing.”

The girls may not have realized it, but they were pushing back against a powerful tendency for girls and women to view one another as threats, rather than allies or part of a support system.

“Scarcity theory might lead young girls to believe that there are limits around how many good things can happen to any one person, which could also lead them to believe that their own success will be limited,” said Caroline Adams Miller, a positive psychology expert and the author of “Getting Grit.”

When Miller speaks to groups of female professionals, she often asks: Does anyone feel like one of the biggest challenges isn’t just how men have treated other women, but also women shooting one another from inside the tent?

“It’s not half the room raising their hands — it’s 100 percent of the women,” she said.

“Unfortunately, it’s been communicated to us over the years that there are fewer spots for women — a limited inventory,” added Donna Orender, the author of “Wowsdom! The Girls Guide to the Positive and the Possible.” And teens have their own concerns. A recent survey by Plan International USA, an organization fighting child poverty, and PerryUndem, a public opinion research firm, found that 30 percent of girls ages 10 to 19 see fewer opportunities at school for them than for boys, particularly in sports.

Girls who perceive that it’s a zero-sum game are less likely to support one another, but experts say that if girls band together, they can expand their options. Here are seven ways parents can raise empowered girls who support and encourage each other.

Urge them to use social media for good

Expectations and options for girls are rapidly expanding, but the PerryUndem survey found that girls still believe society most values their physical appearance. Girls also reported feeling tremendous pressure to avoid bragging or seeming overly confident.

Miller started an initiative, “#Share222,” to change that, by encouraging women to share one another’s substantive achievements on at least two social media outlets. This is something teen girls can do, too, replacing selfies and party pictures with shout-outs for friends who have reached personal goals. This kicks off a positive cycle. Girls want to reciprocate kind gestures, and they learn that true friendship and tenacity matter more than popularity or appearance.

Help them use expansive body language

When girls feel strong, they see one another as allies rather than predators, said Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and the author of “Presence.” Even simple changes in posture can build their sense of empowerment. Cuddy notes that when girls are young, they stand with their feet apart and their chests out, but by the time they hit middle school, they start to display shrinking behavior.

Cuddy recommends that parents tell their daughters that they deserve to take up space, and that poor posture will affect their mood and sense of self-efficacy. Ask, “How do you feel when you’re ­sitting like that?”

“Feeling powerful activates what we call the behavioral approach system and makes us more optimistic, generally happier, and more confident and willing to take risks,” she said. On the flip side, “Powerlessness can be really dangerous and make it hard to know who to trust.”

Parents also can show girls images such as the Fearless Girl sculpture, which depicts a girl facing down the Wall Street Bull. “I get pictures from parents of girls all the time who want to be photographed with their chins up and chests out just like the fearless girl,” Cuddy said. “When I went to see it, there were probably 60 girls there. That’s what they want to see, and what we need to be showing them.”

Normalize giving and seeking help

Teach your daughter the importance of identifying sources of support. Orender regularly organizes formal mentor walks to pair tween and teen girls with women working in their fields of interest.

One time, Orender paired all the girls with women who were 65 and older. After the walk, the older women read letters to their younger selves, and the girls read letters to their older selves. “It was such a powerful way to show the girls that they’re not alone, and that intergenerational connection is a two-way street,” she said. At the end of every walk, Orender urges the girls to continue reaching out to their mentors for help and advice, stressing that girls can continue to build one another up throughout their lives.

Emphasize mastery instead of performance

Instead of focusing on whether your daughter ran more laps than everyone else, ask her to articulate a specific goal. The question can then be, “Did you run more laps today than yesterday?”

The organization Girls on the Run helps girls focus on doing their best rather than beating someone else, said Allie Riley, the organization’s senior vice president of programming and evaluation.

“You can be competitive without thriving on doing better than someone else,” she added. “Otherwise, it’s, ‘I can do well or you can do well, but we both can’t do well.’ ” At 5Ks, the members of the team pace themselves to run in with a girl who is struggling, or two girls will try to cross the finish line together. Girls can transfer these lessons about empathy and mutual support to other areas of their lives.

Identify fierce but kind female characters

Girls often struggle with healthy aggression, but competition helps people accomplish goals they otherwise wouldn’t complete. Being competitive and supporting others aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. “We’ve been so militant about getting girls to be nice, they don’t even know there’s such a thing as healthy competition,” says psychologist Lisa Damour, the author of “Untangled.”

When Marina Passalaris, the founder of Beautiful Minds in Australia, conducts confidence-building workshops for girls, she emphasizes that you can be a good person with goals without harming anyone. “Socially, we have this weird idea that a nice girl is quiet and submissive and doesn’t chase her dreams,” she said. You can bring fierceness to competitive situations, then return to being a good sport and friend. Damour points to Mulan as a good example. Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in animated Star Wars shows, refers to Hera and Sabine, powerful female characters in that universe.

“They’re part of a crew who work together to overcome the empire,” Eckstein said. “They’re girls working together, overcoming, doing great things.”

Urge them to be loyal

Girls can commit to having one another’s backs even if they drift apart or develop different interests. As Cuddy pointed out, “We make romantic commitments, so why not make friendship commitments?”

That said, parents should help their daughters choose friends with care. “Focus on the people in your corner, and only bring new people into your life who cheer you on,” says psychologist Lea Waters, author of “The Strength Switch.” “It’s okay to befriend someone who’s willing to fight it out with you in the arena, but avoid the ones in the stands throwing things at you.”

Encourage them to join a team

When girls play sports, they learn to set their egos aside and invest in one another’s success. Sports also may buffer them against that deflating posture. “When you’re on a team and social status is based on your strength, power and ability to do well for the team, that becomes what’s valued,” Cuddy said.

Girls who aren’t interested in sports can join another group with a shared vision. Consultant Jon Gordon, author of “The Power of a Positive Team,” recommends activities such as drama club or marching band.

“In theater, you have to make it about what’s best for the performance, and in a marching band, you have to trust that the person next to you won’t hit or step on you,” he said. “It’s all about being better for each other — no one achieves greatness in isolation.”

Phyllis L. Fagell is the counselor at Sheridan School in the District and a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda. She tweets @Pfagell and blogs at phyllisfagell.com.

New Study Finds Positive Correlation Between Team Sports and Mental Health

Women’s Sports Foundation

Researchers, including the team at the Women’s Sports Foundation, have long underscored the positive physical benefits that come with playing sports. A recent study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal advanced the conversation by further analyzing the effects of sports on mental health.

Reviewing data from more than 1.2 million responses to a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey, the researchers concluded that “physical exercise was significantly and meaningfully associated with self-reported mental health burden.” The report asserts that exercise can ease the burden of a variety of mental health issues, including mild depression, anxiety, panic attacks and stress.

To conduct the research, the authors of the cross-sectional study looked at data from CDC surveys given to adults 18 or over in 2011, 2013 and 2015. The study, which concerns survey responses derived from a one-month period, compares the number of self-reported bad mental health days between individuals who exercised and those who didn’t.

The conclusion? All exercise is good for mental health, but some forms are more beneficial than others.

The report indicates that “individuals who exercised had 1.49 (43.2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise but were otherwise matched for several physical and sociodemographic characteristics.”

“Even just walking just three times a week seems to give people better mental health than not exercising at all,” Adam Shekroud, an author of the study and Yale University psychiatry professor, told CNN. “I think from a public health perspective, it’s pretty important because it shows that we can have the potential for having a pretty big impact on mental health for a lot of people.”

Not all exercise is created equal when it comes to mental health though, the study found. Team sports had the largest association with a lower mental health burden, with a 22.3% reduction. Cycling and aerobic and gym exercises were next, at 21.6% and 20.1%, respectively. The best amount of time to exercise in terms of mental health is approximately 45 minutes three to four times per week, according to the report.

The study was published in August 2018, but has seen the most traction in the media in the last two weeks. In a climate where mental health is becoming increasingly destigmatized — particularly in athletics, where athletes have begun speaking out about their battles with mental health issues — the research is more relevant than ever.

How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence

The Atlantic

In their tween and teenage years, girls become dramatically less self-assured—a feeling that often lasts through adulthood.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN, KATTY KAY & JILLELLYN RILEY
SEP 20, 2018

The change can be baffling to many parents: Their young girls are masters of the universe, full of gutsy fire. But as puberty sets in, their confidence nose-dives, and those same daughters can transform into unrecognizably timid, cautious, risk-averse versions of their former self.

Over the course of writing our latest book, we spoke with hundreds of tween and teen girls who detailed a striking number of things they don’t feel confident about: “making new friends,” “the way I dress,” “speaking in a group.” In our research, we worked with Ypulse, a polling firm that focuses on tweens and teens, to survey more than 1,300 girls from the ages of 8 to 18 and their parents. (The sample was broadly representative of the country’s teen population in terms of race and geographic distribution.) The data is more dramatic than we’d imagined: The girls surveyed were asked to rate their confidence on a scale of 0 to 10, and from the ages of 8 to 14, the average of girls’ responses fell from approximately 8.5 to 6—a drop-off of 30 percent.

Until the age of 12, there was virtually no difference in confidence between boys and girls. But, because of the drop-off girls experienced during puberty, by the age of 14 the average girl was far less confident than the average boy. Many boys, the survey suggested, do experience some hits to their confidence entering their teens, but nothing like what girls experience. (The Ypulse survey did not break down its findings at a granular enough level to discern if there was any correlation between kids’ race or income level and their self-described confidence.)

The female tween and early-teen confidence plunge is especially striking because multiple measures suggest that girls in middle and high school are, generally speaking, outperforming boys academically, and many people mistake their success for confidence. But the girls we talked with and polled detailed, instead, a worrisome shift. From girls 12 and under, we heard things such as “I make friends really easily—I can go up to anyone and start a conversation” and “I love writing poetry and I don’t care if anyone else thinks it’s good or bad.” A year or more into their teens, it was “I feel like everybody is so smart and pretty and I’m just this ugly girl without friends,” and “I feel that if I acted like my true self that no one would like me.”

Confidence is an essential ingredient for turning thoughts into action, wishes into reality. Moreover, when deployed, confidence can perpetuate and multiply itself. As boys and girls (and men and women) take risks and see the payoffs, they gain the courage to take more risks in the future. Conversely, confidence’s absence can inhibit the very sorts of behaviors—risk taking, failure, and perseverance—that build it back up. So the cratering of confidence in girls is especially troubling because of long-term implications. It can mean that risks are avoided again and again, and confidence isn’t being stockpiled for the future. And indeed, the confidence gender gap that opens at puberty often remains throughout adulthood.

What makes confidence building so much more elusive for so many tween and teen girls? A few things stand out. The habit of what psychologists call rumination—essentially, dwelling extensively on negative feelings—is more prevalent in women than in men, and often starts at puberty. This can make girls more cautious, and less inclined toward risk taking. Additionally, at an early age, parents and teachers frequently encourage and reward girls’ people-pleasing, perfectionistic behavior, without understanding the consequences. Often, this is because it just makes parents’ and teachers’ lives easier: In a busy household or noisy classroom, who doesn’t want kids who color within the lines, follow directions, and don’t cause problems? But perfectionism, of course, inhibits risk taking, a willingness to fail, and valuable psychological growth. “If life were one long grade school,” Carol Dweck, the Stanford University psychologist who wrote The Growth Mindset, explained to us in an interview for our first book, women “would be the undisputed rulers of the world. But life isn’t one long grade school.”

In fact, later in life, the goalposts shift considerably. “It rewards people who take risks and rebound,” Dweck added. And the boys in our survey seemed to have a greater appetite for risk taking: Our poll shows that from ages 8 to 14 boys are more likely than girls to describe themselves as confident, strong, adventurous, and fearless.

Teen and tween girls are focused instead, according to our polling data, on setting impossibly high standards for themselves: Our polling data shows that the proportion of girls who say they are not allowed to fail rises from 18 to 45 percent from the ages of 12 to 13. In their efforts to please everyone, achieve more, and follow rules, many girls are actually nurturing traits in themselves that set them up to struggle in the long run. Adding to this, many girls are also wise enough by the age of 12 to see that the world still treats men and women differently—that dings their confidence, too.

Social media doesn’t help either, and its ill effects might hit girls harder than boys. The internet can multiply social stresses astronomically. In the past, girls could have an overwhelming day at school, fight with a friend, and get a “bad” grade, but go home and get some distance. There’s no distance anymore—only constant, instant, and public condemnation or praise.

There’s evidence that tweaking the status quo, and acclimating girls at this critical age to more risk taking and failure, makes a difference. Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience. But the same skills can be acquired by participating on a debate team, learning to cook, or speaking up on behalf of a cause like animal welfare—as long as there is a move outside of her comfort zone, and a process of struggle and mastery, confidence will usually be the result.

It’s essential to close the gap, and to do so early, because the long-term effects of these dynamics hurt not only girls, but the women they become, many of whom, within a few years of entering the workforce, experience another confidence drop, and a drop in aspirations. Their rule-following, good-girl methods have been celebrated, rewarded by a structured educational and societal system. It’s a shock to arrive in the adult world and discover a dramatically new playing field: Failure is okay. Risk is worth it. No wonder they struggle: Their whole life, to date, they’ve internalized just the opposite, a societal bait and switch that should be recognized. Girls are adept at learning—they just need the right study guide.

One School’s Conversation About Open Gradebook

NAIS

October 01, 2018

By Jess Hill, Buffy Baker, Armistead Lemon, Jenny Jervis, Maddie Waud, and Adam Wilsman

In the fast pace of what we do in our schools every day, every week, and every year, it is increasingly difficult to carve out time to research or even reflect on any change of policy that may be heading down the pike. We often hear or read about an educational trend or what another school is doing, or we may hear from a few parents that we should do [insert latest trend], too. At Harpeth Hall School (TN), we talk to faculty and to students, if appropriate, and take the time to consider what we think is best for our students within our school culture. Then we make a recommendation whether to change a policy.

In our wonderfully diverse coalition of girls’ schools, we espouse many different paths to reaching the summit of engaging, educating, inspiring, supporting, and mentoring our girls and young women. It comes as no surprise that the mention of an open gradebook—giving each student and parent online access to all of a student’s grades in a teacher’s gradebook, all of the time—is concerning to some girls’ school administrators. To others, it is something they incorporated years ago and are now off to consider newer trends and best practices. This topic was a clear fork in the road for us.

As one of only two girls’ schools in Nashville, with a robust community of independent, magnet, charter, and public co-ed schools, Harpeth Hall may be the only school that doesn’t have an open gradebook. We believe that considering this question within the context of our mission as an all-girls school is essential and a decision not to be taken lightly.

The Pros and Cons of Total Transparency

On the surface, a system that provides both students and parents uninhibited access and feedback on a student’s letter grade would appear to be an improvement. Students can keep track of their assessments and can easily see each grade and whether they have any missing or late assignments. There are no report card surprises; rather, the parent and student can always be aware of the student’s average and take action accordingly. An open gradebook allows for conversations between parents and students, and gives both parties an up-to-date view of the student’s achievements in each class.

Such ease of access and total transparency mirror the 24/7 online world that we live in. An apt parallel might be online banking: Log on anytime to learn your balance. The critical difference is that at Harpeth Hall, and most likely any all-girls school, we know a student’s numeric average at any given moment will never provide the whole picture of her educational journey. We have many high-achieving students, and we must consider whether such a system would best serve our particular community, or whether it would undermine our goals as an institution.

For the student who experiences anxiety about any uncertainty with regard to her grades, an open gradebook will allow for a superficial level of control via constant transparency. What might be the cost of this transparency? Right now, teachers are aware of their students’ specific anxieties because of the one-on-one conversations that happen around grades. Students can already ask for their average, grade, or test result at any time and be accommodated. More importantly, when students ask teachers directly, critical face-to-face conversations often reveal nuances for a teacher about how a student is processing an experience or developing in a class. The current system, while technically old-fashioned, preserves the teacher-student relationship and still allows students to have ownership. At this time, we can find no research showing that open gradebooks have improved students’ grades or helped teachers know their students better.

Minding the Confidence Gap

We do, however, have plenty of research on girls and confidence. Over the past four years, our school has focused on this research, namely the disconcerting truth that girls and young women who perform well in school do not always meet with the same success in the workplace. In order to address this confidence gap, we have identified several primary inhibitors we see in our students. Three of these five inhibitors could be exacerbated by an open gradebook.

Perfectionism: High-achieving students with perfectionist tendencies are more likely to equate their self-worth with their grades. Grades become powerful extrinsic motivators for these students, who begin to value successful performance over learning. Over time, the joy of learning diminishes as they focus narrowly on the numbers and improving the numbers. We are concerned that an open platform will drive students’ focus further toward numbers. At Harpeth Hall, we never want a student to define herself by a number.

Comparison: Equally concerning is the possibility of promoting an obsessive-compulsive behavior focused on results. Teenage girls are already online all the time, checking the number of likes on Facebook and Instagram. Refreshing the open gradebook page is an added reality for many girls across the country today, and we might spare our students from this option by giving them the space to think about something more than their grades. Tendencies toward perfectionism exist without an open gradebook, and we think they would worsen without the intervention of teachers should we go to an open system.

Fear of failure: Research shows that girls are especially prone to the fear of failure because of “good girl” conditioning. Girls avoid risks and value image over learning, and this avoidance diminishes confidence. Yet we are learning that college admission is becoming increasingly more interested in a prospective student’s ability to handle disappointment, adversity, and struggle rather than just seeing a grade point average. Girls who develop perseverance, tenacity, and a healthy sense of risk-taking are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety. This leads to a more successful experience in college and beyond. We hope our girls will have healthy, successful life experiences, and thus we want them to take safe risks in our classrooms, to have an opportunity to experience and recover from failure, and to develop skills that allow them to persevere.

Every day our faculty members are on the frontlines of our students’ emotional health and well-being. Harpeth Hall remains a progressive school with innovative teachers, and yet we hesitate to adopt the latest open gradebook trend. Based on our research and experience teaching girls, we question how an open gradebook would benefit our students’ well-being and emotional health or increase their ability to own their successes and failures, take risks, or succeed dramatically better in the classroom or more importantly, at life.