Sexual harassment among teens is pervasive. Here’s how parents can change that.

The Washington Post

October 16, 2017

 

In the spring of 2016, a group of students at a Boston-area high school staged a walkout to protest what they said was daily misogyny and sexual harassment at school, including instances of sexual violence among students. Girls, they said, were called “bitch,” “whore” and “slut” in class. Boys catcalled and groped girls in the hallways and stood near water fountains leering at them as they leaned over to drink.

The previous month, in Colorado, girls from a sex-segregated Jesuit high school walked out to protest the school’s inaction over severe online harassment from boys at their school, including rape threats on Twitter and jokes about sexual assault. Two boys from the school were suspended after the protest.

Stories like these are often underreported, but the fact is that misogyny and sexual harassment are stunningly common in young people’s lives — in the music and media they consume, in school hallways and classrooms, and on college campuses.

In other words, this isn’t just happening among Hollywood actresses and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. Harassment isn’t contained to adult workplaces. It’s happening among our children and we are doing shockingly little about it.

As one 16-year-old told us while we were researching our recent report, “The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment“: “One thing that I think all girls go through at some age is the realization that their body, seemingly, is not entirely for themselves anymore … the unfortunate thing is that we all just sort of accept it as a fact of life.”

As part of the report, Making Caring Common, the project we lead at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, conducted a national survey of 18- to 25-year-olds in which 87 percent of respondents reported they had been the victim of at least one form of sexual harassment. This harassment included being catcalled (55 percent), touched without permission by a stranger (41 percent), insulted with sexualized words by a man (47 percent) or by a woman (42 percent), having a stranger say something sexual to them (52 percent) and having a stranger tell them they were “hot” (61 percent).

Yet the same survey indicates that most parents have failed to address and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment in their children’s lives: 76 percent of survey respondents — 72 percent of men and 80 percent of women — reported that they never had a conversation with parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others. Similar majorities had never had conversations with their parents about various forms of misogyny.

As parents, we need to do better. We need have specific conversations with our teens about what misogyny and sexual harassment mean, why they are so harmful, and how to combat them. Below are six tips for parents for engaging in meaningful, constructive conversations.

  1. Define the problem.

Why? Many teens and young people don’t know the range of behaviors that constitute misogyny and sexual harassment. Adults need to explain what these violations mean and provide specific, concrete examples.

Try this. Start by asking your teen or young adult to define misogyny and sexual harassment and to give you examples of each of these violations. Clarify any misunderstandings and provide common examples of harassment and misogyny, such as commenting on someone’s clothes or appearance when those comments might be unwanted. Ask teens to carefully consider what it might be like to be subject to comments like these. You can use our data to explain, for example, that while many men think catcalling is flattering to women, many women are frightened and angered by it. Make it clear that boys and girls can harass, and that even if the words or behaviors are intended as a joke, they risk scaring and offending others.

  1. Step in and stick with it.

Why? If you’re the parent or guardian of a teen, chances are you’ll encounter a sexist or sexually degrading comment from them or their friends or peers. Yet too many adults stay silent when this happens. Passivity not only condones these comments, it can also diminish young people’s respect for us as adults and role models. Even if teens can’t absorb or act on our words in the moment, they often still register our words and internalize them as they mature.

Try this. Think about and consult with people you respect about what you might say if your teen uses a word like “bitch” or “hoe.” How might you react in a way that really enables your teen to absorb your message? You might ask questions that any thoughtful human is hard-pressed to answer affirmatively: “Why is this a way that you and your friends bond?” Consider what you might say if your teen says, “We’re just joking” or “You don’t understand.” You might explain how these types of jokes can come to infect how we think and act towards others and be interpreted by others as permitting and supporting sexual harassment and degradation. Talk to young people about the importance of listening to and appreciating their peers of different genders as a matter of decency and humanity, and work with them to develop empathy from a young age.

  1. Teach your child to be a critical consumer of media and culture.

Why? Many young people are raised on a steady diet of misogyny and sexual degradation in popular culture but have never critically examined the media they consume or the cultural dynamics that shape their lives. You may be with your teen in the car and hear sexually degrading song lyrics or be together when you learn about an episode of sexual harassment in the news. It is vital that we speak up and help our children become mindful, critical consumers of this information.

Try this. Ask how your teen interprets something you’re hearing or watching that you find sexually degrading. Does your teen find it degrading? Why or why not? If you disagree, explain why you think the portrayal is harmful. Point out how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can be so common that they seem normal and can begin affecting our relationships with others in harmful ways. If you’ve had an experience similar to what you’re listening to or watching, such as being harassed on the street or in your workplace, and it’s age-appropriate to share with your teen, discuss it and talk about how it made you feel.

  1. Talk to your child about what they should do if they’re sexually harassed or degraded.

Why? Many teens don’t know what to do if they’re harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs, whether it’s being called a “slut” or “bitch” jokingly by a friend or being harassed by someone they don’t know. It’s vital for us to help our children develop strategies for protecting themselves and reducing the chances of the offender harming others.

Try this. Ask your teen if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualized words or actions and how they’ve responded. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do in different situations. Does this differ from what they think they should do? We don’t always do what we should. Discuss how they can get from “would” to “should” by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies for responding. Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counselor, or talking to you or another respected adult? Consider role playing so they can explore strategies. Brainstorm with your child ways of responding in various contexts.

  1. Encourage and expect upstanding.

Why? As ethical parents, we should expect our teens to protect themselves when they’re harassed or degraded, but also to protect one another. Because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to witness harassing behaviors and often have more weight than adults in intervening with peers, young people are often in the best position to prevent and stop sexual harassment and misogyny among their peers. Learning to be an “upstander” is also a vital part of becoming an ethical, courageous person. Yet upstanding can be risky — perpetrators can turn on upstanders. That’s why it’s important to brainstorm strategies with young people for actions that protect both them and the victim.

Try this. Talk to your teen about the importance of being an ally to peers who are subjected to harassment or misogyny. You might start a conversation by asking, for example, what they would and should do if a friend is the target of different types of harassment. What about a peer who is not a close friend? Talk about what might stop them from intervening in these situations, brainstorm various strategies, or do a role play. Think through the specific words they might use.

  1. Provide multiple sources of recognition and self-worth.

Why? Young people can be especially vulnerable to degradation and harassment if they’re highly dependent on romantic and sexual attention and on peer approval. Many young people are also vulnerable because they have lower social status or are marginalized among their peers. LGBTQIA youth may be especially vulnerable in this respect.

Try this. Ask how your teen interprets something you’re hearing or watching that you find sexually degrading. Does your teen find it degrading? Why or why not? If you disagree, explain why you think the portrayal is harmful. Point out how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can be so common that they seem normal and can begin affecting our relationships with others in harmful ways. If you’ve had an experience similar to what you’re listening to or watching, such as being harassed on the street or in your workplace, and it’s age-appropriate to share with your teen, discuss it and talk about how it made you feel.

  1. Talk to your child about what they should do if they’re sexually harassed or degraded.

Why? Many teens don’t know what to do if they’re harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs, whether it’s being called a “slut” or “bitch” jokingly by a friend or being harassed by someone they don’t know. It’s vital for us to help our children develop strategies for protecting themselves and reducing the chances of the offender harming others.

Try this. Ask your if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualized words or actions and how they’ve responded. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do in different situations. Does this differ from what they think they should do? We don’t always do what we should. Discuss how they can get from “would” to “should” by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies for responding. Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counselor, or talking to you or another respected adult? Consider role playing so they can explore strategies. Brainstorm with your child ways of responding in various contexts.

  1. Encourage and expect upstanding.

Why? As ethical parents, we should expect our teens to protect themselves when they’re harassed or degraded, but also to protect one another. Because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to witness harassing behaviors and often have more weight than adults in intervening with peers, young people are often in the best position to prevent and stop sexual harassment and misogyny among their peers. Learning to be an “upstander” is also a vital part of becoming an ethical, courageous person. Yet upstanding can be risky — perpetrators can turn on upstanders. That’s why it’s important to brainstorm strategies with young people for actions that protect both them and the victim.

Try this. Talk to your teen about the importance of being an ally to peers who are subjected to harassment or misogyny. You might start a conversation by asking, for example, what they would and should do if a friend is the target of different types of harassment. What about a peer who is not a close friend? Talk about what might stop them from intervening in these situations, brainstorm various strategies, or do a role play. Think through the specific words they might use.

  1. Provide multiple sources of recognition and self-worth.

Why? Young people can be especially vulnerable to degradation and harassment if they’re highly dependent on romantic and sexual attention and on peer approval. Many young people are also vulnerable because they have lower social status or are marginalized among their peers. LGBTQIA youth may be especially vulnerable in this respect.

Try this. Encourage and support your teen in engaging in activities that build their confidence that don’t involve romantic or sexual attention or approval from peers. These activities might involve the arts, sports, or service to others. Talk to young people about solidarity and taking collective action against harassment and degradation. Sometimes girls and young women in particular can demean and undercut each other in the context of romantic and sexual relationships, and it’s important to underscore the power of standing together. This can be another important source of self-worth.

Richard Weissbourd is a senior lecturer and director of the Human Development and Psychology Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the faculty director of Making Caring Common. Alison Cashin is the director of Making Caring Common.

The Bad News on ‘Good’ Girls

Photo

CreditRose Blake

At a backyard barbecue when I was about 10, my little sister and I overheard my dad talking to another father. “You know, I think if they were boys, I would probably let them play a little farther down the street,” my feminist-minded dad said, in a moment of father-bonding frankness. My sister and I were incensed, and when we got home, we let him have it — how dare he suggest he would treat us differently if we were boys?

Like many middle-class millennial daughters, my sister and I embodied a new model of the “good girl”: well-behaved, college-bound A students who played sports, had a full roster of extracurricular activities and were expected (by our parents and ourselves) to be moving toward successful careers.

What girls like us didn’t realize — what too often our own parents didn’t realize — is that the entrenched and often invisible gender biases of the adults around us would indelibly shape our paths and often set us on a different (harder, less fruitful) course than the boys in our orbit.

Girls today receive two conflicting messages: Be mighty and be good.

Now-pervasive “Girl power” messaging declares that girls can be anything they want. But in practice, the more subtle rewards for compliant behavior show girls that it pays to be sweet and passive. The sexual harassment revelations that have come to light over the past few months show just how dangerous this model can be.

Routinely, victims of harassment and assault didn’t challenge their abusers or immediately file complaints not just because they didn’t want to endanger their own careers (although there was that, too), but because women have been conditioned for acquiescence to authority and male power their whole lives.

Men, on the other hand, have been raised to embrace risk-taking and aggression. Girls are taught to protect themselves from predation, and they internalize the message that they are inherently vulnerable; boys move through the world not nearly as encumbered and certainly not seeing their own bodies as sources of weakness or objects for others’ desires.

While girls are being told to protect themselves, too many boys are growing into the men they need to be protected from.

This is not the world most parents want for their children. But ideas of how girls and boys (and men and women) should be run deep. Fathers today largely say that they want their daughters to be intelligent, independent and strong, but many men also seem to prefer sons. Although they may not mean to, parents and other adults do treat girls differently from boys — often to the long-term detriment of daughters.

Girls are more likely to be praised for being good, while boys are commended for making an effort. Being a “good girl” today means sitting quietly at school, following instructions, completing tasks and getting good grades. At that, girls have largely succeeded, which accounts for much of the gender achievement gap in education — if a decade-long pattern holds, more young women than young men will walk out the doors of their college in the spring with a degree in hand.

Girls are also generally raised to be more emotionally intelligent and verbal than boys. Dads sing to daughters more than sons, and the language they use with their girls is more analytical and emotive, something researchers suspect contributes to girls’ higher achievement in school. With boys, dads are more physical, and more likely to roughhouse. And at the toy store, girls are still tracked toward the “pink aisle” of baby and princess dolls suited for quiet, care-taking play.

This good behavior gives girls an advantage inside the classroom, but it can cost them outside of it later on, especially in high-earning fields like technology that value assertiveness and creativity and entrepreneurial roles that reward risk-taking. Biology certainly plays a role in development and may also influence gendered preferences, but we are fundamentally social creatures who form identities in relation to our families and communities; whatever natural differences do exist are magnified, and often totally invented, by how we’re nurtured.

While girls are being taught to be emotionally competent, they also learn to be responsive to the needs of others — not a bad thing in theory, except that it can cross over into subservience. When boys aren’t learning the same, it’s adult women who end up serving as caretakers for adult men, both in their homes and in their workplaces.

In the workplace, being seen as helpers rather than bosses undercuts women and their perceived competence. These gendered expectations cut the other way as well: Women who refuse to take on the helper role are seen as difficult, which also impedes their success.

And then, of course, there is the harassment too many women endure at work, a dynamic largely driven by male power and entitlement, and enabled by expectations of female obedience.

So what are parents to do if they want to raise both their sons and their daughters to avoid, or dismantle, these traps? Raising children without gendered roles and expectations seems to serve those children well, but that’s tough to do outside of Sweden — in an age of “gender reveal parties” and the princessification of American girlhood, asking a sales clerk for help buying a baby shower gift brings the automatic response, “For a boy or a girl?”

One place to start is looking within. Many parents say they want their sons and daughters to be treated as equals in and outside of the home, but their actions don’t seem to match their words. In more than a quarter of American families, the mother is the full-time caregiver for the children; the husbands in these families are less likely to promote female co-workers, and when the sons of stay-at-home moms grow up, they’re less likely to pitch in around their own homes. Young men seem to have gotten the message: Nearly half of them think it’s better if men are breadwinners and women stay home.

When children see the men around them in positions of power in the office and relaxing at home while the women are packing lunches, planning birthday parties and scheduling appointments, they internalize the message that men lead and women help. According to one study, nearly a quarter of teenage girls and 40 percent of teenage boys said men make better political leaders than women; just 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys said women are better leaders. But both boys and girls preferred women in traditional female roles, such as caring for children.

What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls — fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home. While parents and other adults teach girls to protect themselves against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, that doesn’t do much to stem the tide of Weinsteins. Raising our boys differently would.

Parents should also shift the ways they teach girls to protect themselves. When we’re young, many of us were told to tell Mom and Dad if anyone ever touched us in a way that felt icky; as we grow up, we are armed with pepper spray and rape whistles, with instructions to always carry cab fare, not leave our drinks unattended at a bar, that no should mean no.

This is an understandable impulse, and some of the advice is good. But what girls don’t learn is how to be the solo aviators of their own perfect, powerful bodies — to happily inhabit their own skin instead of seeing their physical selves as objects to be assessed and hopefully affirmed by others; to feel entitled to sex they actively desire themselves, instead of positioned to either accept or reject men’s advances. Nor are we allowed full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when we are mistreated. No wonder we try to politely excuse ourselves from predatory men instead of responding with the ire that predation merits.

One of the most important ways to move forward at this moment is to simply be aware that these assumptions and prejudices exist, and to deal with them head-on instead of pretending they aren’t there. Here, daughters of conservative men are at a particular disadvantage: Three-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.

Which is why, 20 years later, I appreciate my father’s candor, even if it wasn’t meant for my ears. First, he named his own bias out loud, recognizing that despite his best intentions, he was perhaps predisposed to treat his girls differently from how he would have treated boys. And then he worked not just to protect us, or tell us to protect ourselves, but to push us to walk a little farther out in the world.

Sexting

Screenagers Tech Talk Tuesday

6/25/17

I hear from many pre-teen and teen girls that they or their friends have been asked by boys via social media to send nude pics. In one discussion I had with a 10th-grade girl this week, she told me it “happens all the time” to her. This is so very disturbing.

Now here is the real killer. The guys have been known to make threats if the girls don’t comply. Girls are threatened with social embarrassment on many fronts.

Sexual exploration is a natural part of growing up—and growing up is so much about being seen as cool and desirable by peers. Girls get a lot of attention for their sexy looks, and guys get kudos for interacting with girls – and sometimes that means getting “pics.”

According to a 2016 survey from Statistics Brain, 71% of teen girls and 67% of teen guys say they have sent or posted sexually suggestive content to a boy or girlfriend.  Here is what I find very interesting—”48% of young adult women and 46% of young adult men say it is common for nude or semi-nude photos to get shared with people other than the intended recipient.”

It is imperative that we try to have conversations with our sons and daughters about the pressures, internal and external, of looking “hot” and sending “hot” photos. We need to arm girls with ways to respond to pressures. Talking to our boys about what are the messages of guys on how to be cool, why is there so much asking girls for pics, and what as a culture can we do to decrease this?

For this week’s TTT, start a conversation with your children about pictures and social media. The key is CURIOSITY. Teens will likely be very defensive with this conversation unless we approach it with kid gloves. Teens are at a time when the worst thing we can do is judge them. Being curious about the pictures culture can make for much better conversations.

  • Which celebrities show the most revealing photos these days?
  • Have you heard of girls being pressured into sending sexy photos?
  • What are some reasons guys may be pressuring girls to send them photos?
  • Should health classes discuss these issues or should they just be for home discussion?

For more discussion ideas, you can peruse past Tech Talk Tuesdays. If you are interested in seeing Screenagers, you can find event listings on our site and find out how to host a screening.

Stay in touch with the Screenagers community on FacebookTwitter and at
www.screenagersmovie.com.

Warmly,

Delaney Ruston, MD
Screenagers’ Filmmaker
www.screenagersmovie.com
415-450-9585

Advice on Helping Teen Girls Thrive

The Wall Street Journal

Stumped by a teenager’s mood swings? Read the latest research on helping girls between 10 and 15 years old flourish

New research offers insight into helping teenage girls thrive. 

Screaming, slamming doors and careening from one emotional outburst to the next—all can be part of life with a teenage girl.

Although girls approaching their teens are often years ahead of boys in gaining height, language and social skills, those strengths mask some important vulnerabilities.

Questions about helping teen girls thrive are a source of interest for psychologists and neuroscientists, sparking more than three dozen studies in the past year. Here’s a guide to the findings:

Ages 10 to 11: Early signs of puberty set in sooner than many parents expect. Girls begin staying up later and having their first crushes. Many are beset by strong, volatile emotions, ending a period of relative calm from ages 6 to 11, says Lisa Damour, a psychologist and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

Some girls mature faster and begin menstruating at age 10 or 11, compared with an average of 12 to 13. Early-maturing girls are at higher risk of behavior problems and depression. Girls who look older than their years often attract older peers who may lead them into risky behaviors.

Early-maturing girls who hang out with school friends the same age, rather than older friends from outside school, fare better. Also, those who say they’re close to parents and can talk with them about many things have a better chance of thriving, research shows.

Ages 12 to 13: Girls typically are more skilled than boys at expressing their emotions and interpreting others’ moods at this stage. They’re quicker to grasp nuances of humor.

Girls are also more vulnerable to stress than boys.

ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

A stress hormone that has a calming effect on teen males and adults may make teen girls more anxious, based on research on female rats. And teen girls are more sensitive to rejection, showing a sharper rise in stress hormones when trained peers in laboratory simulations exclude them from conversations, according to a 2017 study of 59 children and teens led by Laura R. Stroud, a senior research scientist at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

Girls whose parents give them strategies for solving social problems—by suggesting they join a school club to meet peers with similar interests, for example—have stronger friendships, according to a 2017 study which surveyed 123 middle-schoolers and their parents and teachers twice over 10 months.

Girls also need help managing strong emotions, Dr. Damour says. One eighth-grade girl screamed in distress after finding out about a bad grade online, as if “she walked into a mass-murder scene,” the girl’s father told researchers in a 2016 study.

Teenage girls are hardwired for drama, according to Family therapist Colleen O’Grady, author of “Dial Down the Drama.” But there are key ways daughters and mothers can find common ground. She offers tips for keeping the peace on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: iStock

Parents should avoid overreacting. “The No. 1 mistake parents make when their kid is in distress is to jump in to solve the problem,” says Michael Y. Simon, an author and school counselor in New Orleans.

Simply helping a girl name what she’s feeling and talk about it can have an almost magical calming effect, Dr. Damour says. Teens who are able to ask for and receive support and problem-solving help from their mothers at age 13 tend to be more independent and better educated at 25, according to a 12-year study of 184 subjects.

Some girls try to cope by sharing too much or attacking others on social media, which tends to amplify bad feelings. Dr. Damour advises curbing social-media use and guiding girls toward face-to-face activities instead.

Ages 14 to 15: Girls’ interactions with parents can take a negative turn, and some become pessimistic in the face of challenges. Boys offered a chance to win rewards in a Wheel of Fortune-like game became excited and motivated, while girls said the challenge made them anxious, says a 2017 study of 167 teens with an average age of 14.

ILLUSTRATION: ROBERT NEUBECKER

Girls tend to have more negative conflicts with parents than boys. A certain amount of arguing helps teens learn to control themselves and negotiate differences, Mr. Simon says. Parents who can listen with respect and disagree calmly make teens feel as if their opinions matter, helping build a sense of identity.

Some teens, however, unconsciously dump negative feelings on a parent so Mom or Dad will feel bad in their stead, says Dr. Damour, author of “Untangled,” a best-selling book on raising adolescent girls. They also tend to make bad feelings worse by ruminating or brooding over them. Rumination is linked to depression in teen girls, who suffer the malady at nearly twice the rate of boys.

If a girl is ruminating on a problem she can do something about, help her get started on working toward a solution, Dr. Damour says. If it’s something she can’t change, help her find a happy distraction. Preteen and teenage girls posted lasting improvements in feelings of mastery and closeness with others after taking part in a one-week mountain-biking program where they were also coached on goal-setting, self-expression and team-building, according to a 2016 study of 87 girls.

Teen girls who embrace goals that involve helping others also have a higher likelihood of thriving. Such teens tend to have parents who trust them and listen when they talk about problems, says a coming study of 207 girls led by Belle Liang, a professor of counseling and psychology at Boston College.

Write to Sue Shellenbarger at sue.shellenbarger@wsj.com

Appeared in the Apr. 12, 2017, print edition as ‘Teenage Girls: An Expert Guide.’

Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart

NPR

Researchers are trying to tease apart the reasons why girls are less likely to become scientists and engineers.

Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says his lab’s previous work showed that women were particularly underrepresented in both STEM and humanities fields whose members thought you needed to be brilliant — that is, to have innate talent — to succeed.

“You might think these stereotypes start in college, but we know from a lot of developmental work that children are incredibly attuned to social signals,” Cimpian says. So they decided to look at kids from ages 5 to 7, the period during which stereotypes seem to start to take hold.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments that included 400 children. In one, they took 96 kids and asked them a series of questions about brilliance and gender. For example, they were told a brief story about a person who was “really, really smart” and then asked to pick the protagonist from four photos, two of men and two of women.

Across the various questions, 5-year-old boys said their own gender was smart 71 percent of the time, compared to 69 percent of the time for girls. Among 6-year-olds, the numbers were 65 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls. And among 7-year-olds, it was 68 percent for boys and 54 percent for girls.

“The surprising thing is that already, by age 6, girls and boys are saying different things,” says Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington who wasn’t involved with the research. “Before they’ve heard of physics or computer science they are getting these messages.”

Another experiment showed that even as older girls were less likely to associate their own gender with brilliance, they (correctly) assessed that at their age, girls were more likely to get good grades in school.

And another experiment asked 6- and 7-year-olds about the appeal of two similar imaginary games, one intended for “children who are really, really smart,” and one for “children who try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested than boys in the game aimed at smart kids but interest was similar in the game for hard workers.

The research can’t explain how these messages are getting to kids or how they could be changed, says Cimpian. He is planning a long-term study of young children that would measure environmental factors, including media exposure and parental beliefs. That would give a better idea of what factors predict the emergence of stereotypes, and what levers are available to change attitudes.

Research does suggest that role models might “inoculate” women and members of other underrepresented groups. So the movie Hidden Figures, about female African-American mathematicians at NASA during the late 1950s and early 1960s, could inspire girls and teens of color to pursue STEM fields.

But it’s also important to step back and ask what the goal of any intervention should be, says Cheryan.

Girls, after all, were split about evenly in associating brilliance with their gender, she notes. The boys were more likely to make the association with their own gender. So do girls need help in thinking more like the boys, or vice versa? Cimpian says it’s important not to fall into the trap of always assuming it’s the girls who need to change. But he says that girls at this age are usually overwhelmingly positive about their own gender, so any deviation from that baseline may suggest the beginning of negative attitudes.

Another approach is to change the characterization of the academic fields themselves, namely that certain areas require inborn brilliance rather than hard work.

“Stereotypes are all about who has an innate ability,” says Cimpian. If kids were instead exposed to the idea that success comes not because of fixed ability, but because of hard work over time (a so-called “growth mindset,” the idea developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck,) maybe those stereotypes would lose their punch.

Kids might also benefit from being exposed early on to fields like engineering, which aren’t typically studied in high school, to demystify them, says Cheryan.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson.

Teaching Kids About Consent

By Joanna Schroeder, Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt and Alyssa Royse

The ongoing horror of rape in the news, from Penn State to the young women raped and killed in India to Steubenville, has proven to be a wake-up call for many parents. We always knew that rape was a problem, but never before have we been so mobilized to create change.

As writers, educators, and advocates of sex-positivity and healthy consent, the four of us have been inundated with requests from parents for advice on how to help create a future with less rape and sexual assault.

We believe parents can start educating children about consent and empowerment as early as 1 year old and continuing into the college years. It is our sincere hope that this education can help us raise empowered young adults who have empathy for others and a clear understanding of healthy consent.

We hope parents and educators find this list of action items and teaching tools helpful, and that together we can help create a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.

There are three sections, based upon children’s ages, preschool, grade school, and teens and young adults.

Sincerely,
Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder

Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults

1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not.

We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated.

When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78 percent of girls report hating their bodies.
We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance.

Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start.

Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?”

This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes.” Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent.

Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people.

If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings.

Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information — lovingly, honestly and consistently — they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.


 

53 Inspirational Princesses

Goodbye, helpless heroines! Today’s powerful princesses are self-reliant and ready for action.

Angela Zimmerman Editorial Content Manager

Editorial Content Manager

If your kid is into princesses, chances are she’s reallyinto princesses. Whether that means she regularly transforms her bath towel into an Elsa cape or she (or he!) knows every single word to [insert latest Disney princess movie here], there’s no shame in a princess fixation. We’ve come a long way since Cinderella was a princess-lover’s only heroine.

Historically, many princesses in movies and books were reduced to one-dimensional characters: helpless, beautiful, and lavishly dressed. The new crop includes spitfires, brainiacs, and adventure seekers. Plus, they can teach little girls — and boys — a thing or two about being smart, strong, and self-reliant.

Check out some of our favorite princess picks below (with a few classics thrown in for good measure):

16 Princess Books
Pull your hair up, Rapunzel — these ladies don’t need to be rescued. Channel the princess power found in awesome characters such as Princess Smartypants and Part-Time Princess.

20 Princess Movies
Choose between animated classics such as Beauty and the Beast and Sofia the First or live-action gems from The Princess Bride to The Princess Diaries.

17 Princess Games
Damsel in distress? Where? Find a game that puts the power in the princess, such as the magnificent Child of Light or Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus.
Want more ways to inspire and empower your little one? Check out our Smart Movie Girls, Books with Strong Female Characters, and Games with Strong Female Characters.

THE GROCERY LINE, THE SWIMSUIT ISSUE, AND KIDS

Girls Leadership

Simone Marean thinks we can turn Sports Illustrated Swimsuit‘s controversial cover into a powerful, teachable moment with our kids.

Sports Illustrated is doing us a big favor. Next week they are releasing a swimsuit issue cover that showcases such an absurdly unrealistic version image of “beauty” that can serve us adults as a teachable moment for us, and our kids. Because they are making sure that this image is everywhere, everyone will have the opportunity to join in. In her powerful post, Melissa Atkins Wardy shared Brendan Ripp’s intention, “Sports Illustrated has never tried to launch something this big in the experiential space.” Thanks, Brendan.

Given that we will have little choice but to see this cover in the grocery check out line, pharmacy cashier or convenient store, let’s seize the opportunity to help those youth who see this image learn just what this cover is and how it works. This isn’t to shame Hannah Davis for taking this modeling job, that is her adult choice, but rather prevent some of the negative impact that images such as these have on young people, such as the increasing early sexualization of girls.

*The full version of the magazine cover is shown below*


Here’s a conversation guide to help turn seeing this magazine cover into an opportunity to co-consume media together and connect through dialogue rather than giving the image power through silence. Please adjust to the age of your child:

ON OBJECTIFICATION:

Question (to ask your child): That’s a weird image. The magazine is called Sports Illustrated. Why would Sports Illustrated put a woman on the cover who isn’t playing any sport?

Talking Points (to weave into your half of the conversation):

  • Sports Illustrated tends to show men playing sports, and more often shows women not as athletes, but as something for men to look at. While the athletes (men and women) are shown doing something they practice, something they are really skilled at and enjoy doing, these images of women just capture what they look like. We don’t know anything about this woman, Hannah Davis.
  • When we look at people like this, we objectify them. Objectify means to degrade something or somebody to the status of a mere object.

Question: What is the difference between a person, a human, and an object, like a toy?

Talking Points:

  • An object is a thing. You can do whatever you want to it. It can be controlled, bought and sold. The difference is that person has thoughts and feelings. Actions impact them. You can’t and shouldn’t buy and sell or control people – this turns them into objects.
ON MEDIA LITERACY:

Question: Does this photo look realistic? How do they make photos look unreal?

Talking Points:

  • This is not a realistic photo.
  • Sports Illustrated used computers and software to change her image. They cut away at the edges of her image to make her smaller, they colored over her skin and face, to remove all her blemishes, wrinkles, and body hair until she doesn’t look like a living person any more. She looks like a doll.
  • Check out Dove’s Evolution video to quickly see how the photo editing process works.

Question: Why would a company, like Sports Illustrated, objectify Hannah?

Talking Points:

  • The more magazines they sell, the more money they make.
  • They believe that if she looked like a human person, people wouldn’t spend $20 to look at her, and that people are more likely to spend $20 to own an unrealistic, objectified image.
ON US:

Question: How does this image hurt girls who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches girls that this is what “beauty” looks like, that this is what they should look like if they want others to find them attractive.
  • Since it is fake, it is teaching girls to see themselves more like objects to be desired (if they are skinny, busty and hairless enough) than like people.
  • Studies have shown that when girls look at photo shopped images like this cover, it takes one to three seconds for them to have a drop in their self-esteem. And, on average, girls are seeing almost 3,000 – 5,000 of these images a day!

Question: How does this hurt boys who have no choice but to see it?

Talking Points:

  • The cover teaches boys to desire girls as if they were objects.
  • This can make it harder for boys to be friends with girls and to understand that girls are people with feelings, interests, and thoughts.
  • It also teaches boys that “beauty” for girls is skinny, busty and hairless — like the magazine made Hannah look in this photo.

Question: So what can we do?

Talking Points:

  • You can see this cover for the laughable image that it is, turn it over so the person behind you in line doesn’t have to see it, not buy it, share your feelings online (#notbuyingit), scrunch up your face so you remember that you are fully a messy human person and go back to the important things in life, like how good that food in your grocery cart is going to be.

All Around The World, Girls Are Doing Much Better Than Boys Academically

Huffington Post

Posted: Updated:
MUSLIM GIRL IN SCHOOL 

Girls are academically outperforming boys in many countries around the world — even in places where women face political, economic or social inequalities.

A new report from Dr. Gijsbert Stoet of the University of Glasgow in Scotland andDavid C. Geary of the University of Missouri found that in 2009, high school girls performed significantly better on an international standardized test in 52 out of 74 studied countries.

The researchers set out to explore the connection between academic achievement and a country’s levels of gender inequality, speculating that girls might do worse on the Programme for International Student Assessment in countries where they are typically treated unfairly. On the contrary, researchers found that girls have been consistently outperforming boys for the last decade, regardless of countries’ treatment of women.

“In a lot of these countries women are not allowed to do a lot of things, but what’s interesting is even in these countries girls are doing better in school,” Geary told The Huffington Post over the phone. The study notes the results extend to strict Muslim countries where there tends to be a “lack of opportunities for girls and women.”

PISA is a test that has been distributed around the world since 2000 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Researchers found that on the 2009 test, girls performed better than boys in reading, math and science in 70 percent of studied countries.

Geary noted that the top male performers tended do better in math on the exam than the top female test-takers, which feeds into a focus on the gender gap in STEM-related jobs. But at the same time, he said, there has been a lack of focus on the fact that girls seem to be performing better on the whole.

“All debate and fretting over STEM stuff, where boys go into STEM fields and do better at math, that is all at the upper end of achievement,” said Geary. “But there’s a whole lot of other kids in the world that are never going to go into STEM. When you look at all of those other 95 percent of the world’s kids, we see boys falling behind girls pretty much everywhere.”

Geary said he worried about the study’s implications for an increasingly complex labor market. Especially in non-developed countries, he said, there’s going to be “a lot of boys who are going to become young adults with few employable skills.”

“If you have countries with a large percentage of these types of men, crime rates go up,” he said, including violent crime.

Geary said he hopes the findings bring more attention to the issue of boys falling behind in school.

“The boys’ problems are overlooked,” said Geary. “It’s an important problem and a worldwide problem, and potentially has some serious implications … it just hasn’t been addressed and is not even on people’s radar to even figure out why this is the case.”

Helping a Perfectionist Child Worry Less and Do More

New York Times Motherlode Blog

Photo

CreditJessica Lahey

A question I’ve been getting a lot recently, both via email and in person, is this: How can I help my perfectionist child worry less, and understand that it’s normal to make mistakes?

“Perfectionism,” in its dictionary definition, is simply, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable,” but the word carries a powerful double meaning in our achievement-obsessed culture. Parents shake their heads and sigh with frustration in conferences, describing their children as “perfectionists” with an unmistakable note of pride in their voice.

Aye, there’s the rub — we all know perfection is an unreasonable burden to place on our children, but we also reward them when they strive for that perfection. Whether it germinates in a child’s own mind, is sowed in the high expectations of parents, or grafted on from our larger societal expectations, perfectionism robs children of opportunities to become stronger, more adventurous thinkers.

I first met Victoria Pipas when she was in sixth grade. Tori, as we called her, showed up for school every day nearly incandescent with happiness. She loved school, adored her friends and was genuinely excited about learning. Over time, however, her fear and anxiety about not measuring up — to her own high standards, her parents’ hopes and her peers’ high praise — began to dull that enthusiasm. Her struggles with perfectionism culminated in a near-paralysis in my writing class, social anxiety, and an eating disorder that threatened her physical health and emotional stability in high school. I asked her to describe what it feels like to struggle with unreasonable and unrelenting high expectations:

My perfectionism feels like an assembly-line supervisor whose job it is to ensure that every part of me is flawless, without any sign of weakness. Writing my graduation speech in your class, for example, felt so big, so critical, that it became impossible. When I entered high school, my body felt like the most flawed part of me, so I felt the need to align it with the rest of my “perfect” image of myself. It’s weirdly satisfying to punish yourself with exercise or restricted food while at the same time becoming more “perfect”; it’s a twisted cycle. My perfectionism still gets in the way of forming friendships, too. I set out looking for the “perfect” friend and then act perfect around her so as to create what I think will be an ideal relationship.

I asked Martin Antony, professor of psychology at Ryerson University and an author of “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough,” to give parents and teachers advice on how to help kids like Victoria manage their perfectionism, and develop a healthier perspective on their worries.

In a phone interview, Dr. Antony described two forms of perfectionism. The first type, the kind that manifests as extreme attention to details, lists, order and arbitrary rules, is associated with obsessive compulsive personality disorder. The second type, Dr. Antony said, “is the tendency to set really high standards that you can’t possibly meet, and then judge your worth based on whether or not you meet those standards. The need to get all A’s, or the need to always make a good impression on others, for example. This type of perfectionism is more likely to be associated with anxiety and depression.” If the perfectionism causes significant distress or impairment in day-to-day functioning, Dr. Antony suggested professional help. At more moderate levels, parents and teachers can do a lot to help:

Expose worries. While it can be tempting to avoid upsetting kids, it’s important to get them talking about their worries, and to help them develop an emotional vocabulary about those concerning situations or activities. Once they open up about what makes them anxious, parents and teachers should repeatedly expose them to those triggers. This “exposure therapy” works particularly well for children with social anxiety, Dr. Antony said.

Change perspective. Dr. Antony suggests that parents or teachers help kids change the way they understand their perfectionistic thinking. Help kids understand that the dire consequences they envision are one possible outcome of many. Alternately, practice looking at worrisome situations from other people’s perspectives. Ask “What would Dad think if his pencil broke while he was working?” or “How might your friend Eli react if he got some of his homework problems wrong?”

Examine the evidence. Once kids are able to view their dire predictions as guesses or from the perspective of other people, help them gather evidence about the real-life consequences of those anxiety-fueled predictions. One way to do this is through engaging in what Dr. Antony calls “behavioral experiments.” He explained, “some people are convinced that if their towels aren’t straight, or their books aren’t in alphabetical order, or they pronounce something the wrong way, that something terrible will happen. So we’ll have them go out and try that, see what happens, to challenge that perfectionistic thinking.”

View failure more broadly. Try to help kids see mistakes “as an opportunity to improve performance, or even to learn that a particular activity is not for you,” Dr. Antony said. “Sure, there are some cases when you make a mistake and there are negative consequences, but there are also a lot of cases in which scary, worrisome predictions may not come true.”