A new poll found that teen girls’ confidence plummets nearly 30 percent during puberty, which can often lead to a decrease in risk-taking, which can ultimately lead to a less successful adulthood. Uplifting stuff all around!
The poll, a joint effort of polling firm Ypulse and The Atlantic, surveyed more than 1,300 girls between the ages of 8 and 18, asking them to rate their confidence on a scale of 0 to 10. From the ages of 8 to 14, girls’ responses tumbled from 8.5 to 6, with the drop off point seeming to happen at age 12.
So what exactly happens at 12? The Atlantic has some takeaways:
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.
Other contributing factors are that teen girls are setting unrealistic standards for themselves, with the percentage of those saying they are not allowed to fail rocketing from 18 to 45 percent between the ages of 12 and 13.
Social media, of course, is also playing a role. In the past, girls could suffer a setback at school, but go home and create some space from it. Not anymore! Now it follows them around in the form of a constantly buzzing iPhone, denying girls (and everyone) a much-needed reprieve.
In order to instill in girls the confidence they had when they were young (or that boys seem to maintain into adulthood), girls need to be taught from an early age that it’s okay to fail. As The Atlantic says:
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.