7 Ways You Could Be Holding Your Daughter Back

Young girl wearing princess tiara in parkWelcome to the second of our LV Moms Panel stories, brought to you by Dove.

What's that, you ask?

Throughout the summer, we'll ask five amazingly accomplished moms to chime in on the topics that are near and dear to all moms' hearts. Last time we asked them to weigh in on bullying. Today, they'll be discussing the inadvertent things we all might be doing, or saying, that could be holding our girls back from reaching their full potential.

Meet our moms below, hear what they have to say about their kids' (and their own) take on the topic, then get to know them better by joining the discussion here!

Someday you want your daughter, niece, goddaughter and best friend's little girl to grow up and have the option of being a firewoman, a writer, an Olympic gold medalist in boxing, a sergeant, a celebrity chef, the president ... or whatever else her little heart desires.

And you want her to get paid the exact same amount for the same work that her male colleagues do.

While equal pay has been in the news a lot lately, research hasn't quite pinpointed why women don't make as much as men in the workplace. Some say it's because we don't negotiate enough. Some say it's because when we do negotiate, we get turned down or are deemed too aggressive. Others think it's because we have a tendency to get saddled with all the family responsibilities. Maybe all of these are true.

But maybe, just maybe, it also has something to do with ideas that have been subtly ingrained in us since we were very young.

Proof That What Parents Say (and Do) Matters

In fact, a new study shows just how easy it is to persuade kids into believing they aren't good at something. In a nutshell, the study sought to prove that kids easily adopt beliefs they hear about their gender, which in turn can affect their real-life performance. For example, telling a boy he's bound to be good at math because he's a boy could encourage him to give up trying, while telling a girl that girls aren't good at math could actually make her believe that she is, in fact, bad at math, and cause her to be worse at math because of it.

As predicted, the two experiments in the study showed that the performance of 4- to 7-year-olds was impaired when they were told that another group (e.g., "boys are good at this game") was successful at the same task.

When dealing with gender and what's "right" and "wrong" when it comes to raising girls to their full potential, it seems there's a lot to learn ...

A Steep Learning Curve

Children start to understand gender roles starting at 30 months, and start developing social prejudices--including gender-based prejudices--starting in preschool. The us-versus-them mentality reaches its apex between 5 and 7 years of age before slowly waning.

As parents, we've never told our daughters that there are "girl-specific" jobs, or that the key to happiness and self-worth is marriage. (Of course, we can't help the messages they might see when we're not around.) But there are other ways in which our daughters, and the other little girls in our lives, could be learning life lessons from us that will lead them to shy away from "challenging" subjects like trigonometry and engineering, take the first low salary offered to them out of college or get burned out before age 30.

We asked Anea Bogue, M.A., an acclaimed self-esteem expert, educator, certified life coach and creator of REALgirl® empowerment workshops, to share some of the ways you might be holding your daughter back from her full potential without even knowing it.

1. You teach her to be polite and quiet.

There's a fine line between being well-behaved and being a doormat, and it seems that all too often girls are pushed into territory bordering on the latter.

"The ‘girls are sugar and spice and everything nice’ adage that [society is] programmed with leads us to raise girls who are what I call ‘pleasers,'" says Bogue. "We teach our girls in a variety of ways that being nice, avoiding conflict, not upsetting others and not challenging the status quo are all part of being a likeable, desirable, successful girl--and one day woman."

What this could mean for her future: It's easy to see how this mindset could lead to the kind of behavior where women don't negotiate for higher salaries, because they don't want to offend a potential employer, or they don't speak up in class, and eventually meetings, for risk of being seen as not nice.

How you can avoid this: While we all want well-behaved children, don't forget to teach your daughter that it's okay to debate, disagree and negotiate--respectfully, of course--and especially with her peers. Encourage her to speak up in class, from preschool to college, and state her opinion, and then be ready and willing to defend it. 

2. You buy her gender-specific toys.

By only handing her pink playthings for the first three years of her life, your child may decide pink is her favorite color because "that's what girls like." In fact, researchers think that parents and other social factors lead children to prefer gender-specific toys, not innate genetic predispositions.

What this could mean for her future: This is important because a 2009 study found that 31% of "girl" toys are all about appearance, involving plastic makeup and dresses. Meanwhile, toys targeted to boys encourage invention, exploration, competition, mobility, problem solving--all skills associated with highly desirable employees and leaders.

How you can avoid this: Try to avoid walking exclusively down the Barbie and doll aisles at stores, and instead provide your child with games and toys that encourage scientific discovery, competition, exploration and problem solving. We like these picks.

3. You tell her she's pretty ... to the exclusion of everything else.

Yes, she's an adorable pumpkin who looks so cute in curly pig tails that you want to squeal. But she's also really good at writing poetry, is an architectural whiz at constructing complex pillow forts and loves singing along to The Beatles and strumming her air guitar.

What this could mean for her future: "We live in a very appearance-conscious society, and unless you can commit to completely cutting your daughter off of all forms of media and interactions at school, she is going to have a sense that her appearance counts," says Bogue. "However, by making a concerted effort to reward, acknowledge and show a genuine appreciation for her non-appearance based achievements (academic, sport, musical, etc.), we will start to send clear messages that her value does not begin and end with the way she looks."

How you can avoid this: Bogue advises you to "challenge yourself to match every compliment you give about your daughter’s appearance with at least two compliments about something non-appearance based."

4. You indoctrinate her into the princess cult.

Most real-life princesses are actually quite accomplished. They can speak several languages, have excellent diplomacy skills and we know at least one who graduated from an esteemed British university. But your little girl doesn't know that. All she knows is that the key to living happily ever after is being able to sing well enough to attract a prince to rescue her from her troubles.

What this could mean for her future: "Princess culture encourages girls to be damsels in distress whose role it is to look good and wait for a handsome prince to swoop in, ‘save her’ and bring value to her self and her path," says Bogue. "Unless we are going to start encouraging ‘warrior princess’ mentalities and behaviors (active, heroic in her own right, in charge of her own destiny), we are going to keep our girls stuck with the feeling that they are not really relevant and valuable in and of themselves, but only in their attachment to men."

How you can avoid this: It's an almost impossible task to shield your daughter from princess culture altogether, and with the right messaging, there's really no reason to. What you can do is redefine for her what a being a princess means. Take her to see "Brave" this summer, a movie about a princess who bucks expectations to save her kingdom herself--no man required. Or revisit "Tangled," a story about a princess who doesn't want or need the help of a prince, and could care less when her pretty blond hair gets cut off. If your daughter has already fallen in love with traditional princess stories, be sure to point out all the fabulous things the heroine is doing all on her own (Look how Belle loves reading. Ariel sure is a fabulous swimmer ...)

If you'd like to have a little extra fun with the whole princess thing, take our quiz to find out which Disney Princess is your financial twin.

5. You give Dad all the physical tasks around the house.

It might be easier to let the man of the house open the pickle jar or fix the squeaky door, but we bet you could do these things too if you put your mind to it.

What this could mean for her future: "It’s important for parents to consciously challenge typical gender-specific tasks," says Bogue. "Especially those that communicate that women are weaker than men, and that they are ‘caretakers’ rather than ‘doers,’ ‘fixers’ or ‘providers.'"

How you can avoid this: Demonstrate for your daughter that you handle important financial tasks--like these that every mom should do--and that you can cut the lawn and open pickle jars (run it under hot water and tap the lid on the counter--works every time). Also avoid handing out chores according to gender. Assign mowing the lawn and taking out the trash to your daughter, while asking your son or husband to do the dishes and vacuum the living room.

6. You only let her spend time with other girls.

While sending your daughter to an all-girls school isn't the only place where this issue could play out, it's still worth mentioning that there have been studies pointing both directions on whether single-sex schooling is actually more effective for girls. One study showed that graduates of single-sex schools had higher SAT scores and confidence, and better academic engagement. But another report published last fall upended the status quo, finding that all-girl schools not only don't graduate more accomplished students, but that single-sex schools breed children more likely to believe in gender stereotypes.

What this could mean for her future: It's not just about whether your daughter attends an all-girls school or not--the issue extends into her life outside of school as well. Studies actually show that not only do preschool-age children tend to self-segregate by sex, but that segregation leads to the development of different sets of social skills, styles, expectations and preferences--none of which will help her someday break into the board room.

How you can avoid this: If your daughter is surrounded by tons of girlfriends at school, with nary a boy in sight, try encouraging friendships with boys outside of school, with neighbors or kids of your own friends. For young children, especially, it's important to arrange play dates with boys as well as girls, invite boys to your child's birthday parties and other outings and unleash her on the neighborhood basketball court or a co-ed sports team. She'll learn that she can do everything boys can do ... and more.

7. You criticize your own body, and/or other women's bodies.

Eating healthy is a must for every mom and her daughter (which is why we have healthy recipes for you!), but you don't want to cross the line into body criticism.

What this could mean for her future: By talking in front of your daughter about your diet, how you need to lose a few pounds or criticizing other women's clothing choices because of their body shape, you communicate that a woman's body needs to look a certain way in order for her to be considered likable and successful.

How you can avoid this: "It is really critical that we embody the behaviors and attitudes about ourselves that we want our daughters to feel about themselves," says Bogue. Demonstrate what healthy eating looks like: balanced meals chosen for their nutrition and energy needs. Avoid behaviors like buying low-fat, processed foods and skipping meals, which are unhealthy and ultimately unsuccessful ways to lose weight at the expense of your health.


Here's what the LV Moms Panel had to say ...

 

Name: Catherine McCord
Accolades: Founder of Weelicious and author of "Weelicious: One Family. One Meal." (September 18th)
Children: Kenya (5) and Chloe (3)
What She Had To Say: "I was blessed with parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I could run faster, jump higher and do anything I wanted. With my own daughter, I try to put importance on her physical and mental ability, rather than her looks. Although I want to tell her how beautiful she is all day long (doesn't every mother?), I make a point of empowering her from the inside out."

 

 

Name: Jenine Holmes
Accolades: Jenine Holmes is author of the blog The Single Baby Mama--Single By Chance, Mother through Adoption. She also balances a marketing writing career with writing author and book interviews for The Brooklyn Rail. Her essays have appeared in The Detroit News, New York Press and AOL, and her commercial work spans from Pepsi to Dr. Scholl's.
Children: Julia (2)
What She Had To Say: "Since Julia's still working on her ABC's, our talks are pretty one-sided. However, I did notice that once she started spending time at the playground I trailed her like a paparazzi so that if she fell, I'd be right there to pick her up. Then I noticed other parents do this less for boys than girls, and I thought better of it. Sometimes in life there's no one to pick you up but ... you. Now, when Julia takes a little tumble, with verbal encouragement from Mom, I let her find her own way to her feet."

 

Name: Jennifer Perkins
Accolades: Jennifer Perkins is the founder of the blog, book and Etsy store Naughty Secretary Club and is a founding member of the Austin Craft Mafia. Jennifer has worked with HGTV and DIY Network as the host of Craft Lab and co-host of Stylelicious, and is the DIY editor on BlogHer.
Children: Tallulah (3) and Baxter (1)
What She Had To Say: "Lucky for my daughter, she has a lot of successful women in her life. Both her grandmothers hold Ph.D.s, one grandmother is a psychologist and the other is a minister. I have run a very successful online business, written a book and hosted two TV shows. I like to think that she has good examples to follow. I would never tell my children what they could or could not be. The only career advice I remember my parents giving me, that apparently stuck, was about being an entrepreneur. If I sway my children toward any career path, or bias them in any way, it will be telling them that they should consider working for themselves, rather than someone else."

 

Name: Stacy DeBroff
Accolades: Founder and CEO of Mom Central Consulting, the leading social media consulting firm focused on moms. Prior to this, Stacy authored four best-selling parenting books and launched Mom Central, Inc., a company devoted to providing savvy advice to simplify and enrich the lives of busy moms and their families.
Children: Two teens, Kyle and Brooks
What She Had To Say: "Moms need to be aware that it can be easy to give mixed messages to our daughters. We want to instill confidence in them, saying that 'personality trumps beauty,' but then they hear us saying we'd love to lose 5 pounds, that we need to get to the gym and that we've given up dessert. We remain our daughters' primary role models, and we need to remember that our daily actions speak as loudly as the messages we give them directly."

 

Name: Neale Godfrey
Accolades: Neale is the Chairman of Children’s Financial Network. She was one of the first female executives at The Chase Manhattan Bank, and later, the president of The First Women’s Bank and founder of The First Children’s Bank. In 1989, Neale formed Children’s Financial Network, Inc. to educate children and parents about money. She is the author of 26 books on money, life skills and value issues.
Children: Neale has two children, Kyle, age 29, and Rhett, age 26. She also has two grandchildren, Gavin, 4 years old and Bodhi, 18 months.
What She Had To Say: "I've been very careful not to do this with my daughter, but she did come home one day with a 'C' in math, and when I questioned her, she said, as a 10-year-old, 'I'm a girl, I'm not supposed to be good at math.' I of course made skid marks going in to speak to her male teacher, who swore he never said anything to her. I cleared the myth up for her pretty quickly."



Keep the conversation going on the LV Moms Discussion board.

  • Cat Olson

    I think it helps us that we had two boys before our daughter was born – she naturally chooses to play with toy tools (and lately she’s really into monster trucks and dinosaurs) even if she’s dressed in frills and ponytails.  And she’s the only toddler on the playground who’s mom is NOT following right behind her (she’s learned stairs so fast!)  My parents had only girls, yet they both made sure to take us canoeing, made us rake the yard, and let us play with cars and mud.  I may have grown up to be a home-maker, but I chose that life because I love it, not because I feel like it’s what women are meant to do.  Also, I went to an all-female high-school and I think that for someone who is shy like I am, it was absolutely the right move.  I learned to kick a soccer ball (when in public school the boys always stole them), got to be decent at math (I fell through the cracks in public school) and learned confidence I never could have in mixed company.  And my girl-friends certainly didn’t throw princess parties after school – we were just as nerdy as could be! :)

  • Guest

    Maybe women-geared site, like Learnvest, should do more articles and interviews with women who ARE in an Math/Engineering/Science career. Not to downplay the accomplishments of the Moms Panel, but it’s
    interesting that none of them have science/engineering/math backgrounds. I myself am a Civil Engineer working in Construction Management. I played with Barbies,princess things, and makeup the whole time I was growing up (I was even in a couple of beauty pageants!). I get pretty tired of reading articles like this, written about how there are “no women in science/engineering” from the perspective of writers, who themselves are not in science/engineering/math.  And, for the record, I have worked at 3 different engineering firms in my career, all of which have equal, if not more, women than men in the office (not including the admin staff). Rather than discussing the problem on repeat, let’s highlight women who ARE in those fields. I think you’ll find there are more of them than is sometimes perceived by those outside of the industry.

    • UmIsThisThingOn

       This is true. My Wife worked at a cpl of Engineering firms and there are quite a few Confident, Capable Women that run circles around the rest of em…

      Let’s see some *real* stories about empowering our future generation!

  • Kim

    I’m always surprised by the “princess culture” bashing.  There are so many lessons to be learned from the princess movies beyond waiting for your prince to come “rescue” you that I am always shocked that women don’t take time to make sure our daughters don’t learn these lessons.  Like Belle (in addition to being an avid reader) is also smart enough to not fall for the hot jock that all the girls are swooning over.  She knows that how a guy treats her and treats others is more important.  She’d rather remain single than marry a self-absorbed cretin! Hmm…would that more girls learned this lesson!  How about Cinderella?  She works her fingers to the bone with nary a complaint remaining ever kind, respectful and full of hope.  While her vain and selfish step-relatives who are pampered and have it all do nothing but complain.  Why not take a moment to discuss happiness coming not from how much you have but from being content with what you’ve got?  Isn’t that a worthwhile lesson for this society that is ever focused on getting more, more, more? 
    Yes, there is the love story aspect.  But as in real life, you can choose to make that the focus or make it the icing on the cake.  I want my daughter to find love (and maybe marriage) but my hope is that it comes on top of finding happiness in herself and her life choices…those lessons are in the princess movies as well.  Take the time to point it out to your daughters.  Otherwise it is the parent teaching the child to expect the love and happy ending…not the movie.

  • Guest

    Great article

  • UmIsThisThingOn

    As a still-new Father for the first time, I have to say I got a little verklempt reading this article… Bebe Girl is 5 months and I see so much potential already. My Wife and I are aware of the ‘Princess’ complex, and she (Wife) is a very independent Woman as it is. I want to make sure Bebe is prepared for the World at Large and I may have Delusions of Grandeur, but this helps me to figure it out a touch more.

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • Ironic3500

    I agree with many of the comments below!  Though I am not a mother yet, I completely see how mothers are our best examples and words from parents make such a difference.  Although my parents had my sister and I rake the yard along with kitchen chores, we always saw my mom drink her special skim milk, skip breakfast, and talk about flattening her tummy.  Those signals spoke to us just as much as the chores we had.  Additionally, when I developed acne at age 12 (and had until age 24), my parents went overboard with derm appointments, creams, antibiotics, laser therapy, you name it! They were so “embarrassed” to have a daughter with such bad skin, and this probably had the largest effect on associating my looks with my self worth.  I am working hard on dissociating the two, but it would have been much easier if I didn’t grow up with the notion that I would be a laughingstock if i had acne or love handles despite my 4.0.  Teach your daughters to take pride in their appearance, but not associate their value in the world with it!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/5Z2CUJA7CJI3M7MUMQOVJDB3XQ Christine

    I was the first child and grandchild on both sides of the family, quickly followed by cousins of both gender. I had a range of toys including Barbies, Matchbox cars, Legos to play with. My grandpa consistently quizzed me on math problems from when I was little. I loved my Disney princesses and then would go work with Dad in the yard. I think the key is balance. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be good in science and math and now I hold a PhD in Microbiology.

  • Pie

    As a dad, with an only child being a great girl, I think this article kind of misses a point with respect to a girl that is raised with a father or father figure in the house.  What dad wouldnt naturally do the things mentioned above?  I mean my little girl, who is only 4, can ski, is a pretty mean fishing pole caster, knows how to fly a remote helicopter, helps dad clean salmon, etc etc…Why would a dad promote or be party to promoting gender specific nonsense?