This past Sunday I had an interesting conversation with my friend Jill, who runs a successful choral program in a public school. We were discussing the new school year, the current challenges of the pandemic, and the effect that remote learning had on the kids, particularly the ones who were at transitional stages (starting middle school or starting high school), and the different ways that students are handling being back in person. I can personally attest that after a year of not being around people much, I feel like my social skills have become more…awkward. We spent a year looking in the direction of a screen, rather than making actual eye contact. We could mute ourselves or stop the video when we felt like it, and goodbyes were a quick wave and a click of the “end meeting for all” button. Now we’re back (mostly) but are we acting like we should or like we want to?
Jill is a wonderful teacher; she is a very accomplished musician, an experienced educator, and a kind, compassionate person with a great sense of humor. She’s everything you want in a person teaching music to high school kids. In her single-gender ensembles (young men’s and young women’s ensembles) she often asks older students to mentor the younger, less experienced kids. This is a great way to foster relationships between kids of different ages, help the students to develop leadership skills, and improve the musicality of the group by having more people improving the quality. This concept has taken on even greater meaning this year since so many of the kids didn’t have a true freshman year in person. We now have 9th and 10th graders who are on similar footing, getting a grasp on high school.
As a life coach for teen girls, I’m always fascinated by the dynamic between the different age levels and genders so I asked her about the boys and their willingness to mentor, expecting her to say that getting the boys to do it was like pulling teeth. Her answer shocked me: the boys are more compassionate and giving than the girls.
We generally think of girls and young women as being more socially aware, placing strong emphasis on friendships and on being helpful. But then I thought about it more: many girls struggle with competition and self-esteem, particularly as tweens and teens. Recently, I asked a few of my clients if they raise their hands in class when the teacher poses a question to which they know the answer. Each girl I asked (about 6 of them) gave me an emphatic “No way.” I was surprised but reframed it to this: You 100%, absolutely without doubt know the answer. You are right. Now will you raise your hand?” They still said no. When I pressed further, they admitted that they still don’t trust that they are correct, they don’t want people to look at them, and they don’t want to be judged. I asked if the boys raise their hands and yes, they do. Of course.
How does this play into the fact that boys are more willing to help their peers than girls? I believe it has to do with self-confidence, self-esteem, and competition. Boys are not as affected by being “wrong” or having an incorrect answer; they have an ability to shrug things off more easily. Boys tend to assume they are right and blow it off when they aren’t while girls wilt and think everyone is judging them. The self-worth of boys generally isn’t dependent on what others think of them. Girls and young women are painfully concerned about their image.
You know how boys can have a disagreement and 3 minutes later it’s like it never happened and they’re happily playing or joking around again? Not so with girls. That stuff lingers, the girls replaying it over and over, ruminating about what they should have done or said, and projecting how it will play out in the future.
My theory is that the girls are less interested in helping other girls because of the following:
- Fear of the competition from the other student (“What if she ends up being a better singer than me?”).
- Fear of being wrong (“What if I help her do something and it ends up not being what the teacher wanted?”)
- Fear of leadership coupled with insecurity (“Who am I to help this other student when I’m not very good myself?”)
As a life coach for teen girls, my job (and my passion) is helping girls recognize their strengths and talents, while coaching them to have the courage to use them. I help girls find their inner wisdom, compassion, and proper verbiage to contribute to the world the way they want to but haven’t yet developed the skills to do it. We’ve all seen the internet meme proclaiming “Your circle should want to see you win. Your circle should clap loudly when you get good news. If not, get a new circle.” Until girls and young women are secure in who they are and their value or worth in this world, they won’t be truly able to help others rise. We women can teach our girls better.