By Dr. Melanie Drake | Head of St Stithians Girls’ Preparatory School
As a passionate educationalist who has dedicated much research and life-experience in the education of the girl-child, I am more and more aware of the urgent need for society, parents and schools to address the challenge of increased anxiety in our girls. Girls are often left victims to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness in the many complex areas of their lives as adolescents and young adults. As a committed school Head, I am often left wondering what it is about what we teach, role-model and demonstrate to our girls, that sometimes leaves them at a deficit in courage, bravery and confidence, when compared to their male counterparts.
Girls are, at their core, sensitive to external stimuli and are driven by their social-emotional understanding of the world. However, to compete in our world today, it is often these attributes that need to be put aside sometimes to be perceived as relevant, edgy, and someone who is a risk-taker. As my experience in schools and educational contexts over the past 20 years has shown, boys will often ‘jump in’ to any problem, without thinking about it first, and tackle it as they go along; enjoying the ride of unfamiliarity and flexibility. Girls on the other hand, prefer to first take a step back, look at the varying perspectives, do a risk-analysis and get some feedback from authorities on their ‘plans’ before they get on with the job. These ‘girl’ skills are great skills. These are the very future-fit skills society, and the world, is calling for. However, the vulnerability of girls sets them back at the start-line, and sometimes allows for boys to get a head start.
This is where the issue of anxiety comes in. Research from around the world shows that many girls are too self-critical and often hold back before stepping up. However, anxiety is not all doom and gloom. Anxiety is a normal response to a challenging situation. The problem for many girls is, that it prevents them from even trying. They would rather not ‘get into the ring’ and fail, than try without knowing what the outcome will be. Following Amy Poehlor’s website (amysmartgirls.com), my favourite response to an ’ask amy’ comment is:
It is very hard to have ideas. It is very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that, are the dreamers, the thinkers, and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.
Let’s normalise vulnerability for our girls. Let’s teach and mentor girls to understand their anxiety, but to encourage them to ‘get into the ring’. Let’s celebrate the skills and attributes that they hold. Let’s make sure our girls become the dreamers, thinkers and creators, because we all know they have a very special magic to contribute to this world.