Praising Girls, Or How to Raise a Country of Smart Folk

Hold on to your hats, folks, because I’ve got an idea that will blow your mind: parents should praise their daughters for more than just their looks. I know, right? Genius.

This wisdom comes from an article I read a while back that suggested parents should praise their daughters for other qualities and accomplishments so that girls would grow up to value other qualities in themselves as well (with the implication that this would lead them to embrace the STEM fields). The article seemed to suggest this like it’s some sort of groundbreaking idea. Encourage girls to consider more than just pretty pink dresses and their little curls? WHAT DEVILRY IS THIS?!

I was shocked that this could be considered eye-opening to anyone because to me it feels so incredibly obvious. Maybe it’s because I was born outside the US and raised in a different culture (for all the things the Soviet Union did horribly, horribly wrong, they did have more gender equality, with women becoming top engineers, physicists, and doctors, and generally being taken seriously), but intelligence was always one of the most valued traits in our household (besides my adorable baby cheeks, of course). I was often reminded how much my male siblings read and encouraged to do the same. So, I want to take a moment to collectively yell at everyone in the U.S. who hasn’t considered that their daughters have other qualities besides being adorable and liking pink: WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? DO YOU WANT TO RAISE AN ARMY OF BORING, SHALLOW HUMAN BEINGS WHOSE SOLE PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO PERFECT MASCARA APPLICATION?! OR DO YOU WANT YOUR CHILDREN TO HAVE RICH, FULFILLING LIVES? HUH? WHICH ONE IS IT, BUD?!

Ok, I’ve calmed down. You can put the tazer away. Where was I? Oh, yes, praise your daughters for other qualities too. Hell, don’t stop there. Encourage both girls and boys to be intelligent human beings. Nourish their sense of curiosity in the world and help them become people with depth and soul.

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And maybe so they don’t become sadistic little dictators.

Encourage Reading

I often say that education can solve every problem in the world (quote me on that. Do it.) but by that I mostly mean education in the form of reading literature. Reading in general is a great habit to have but reading literature is absolutely integral to developing the brain muscles people  need to think about problems analytically and to think critically (even though I hate that term). I sense myself about to go on a rant about literature that is best reserved for another post, but let me just say that the fastest way to expand your mind (aaand now I sound like Morpheus) is to read literature and read lots of it. That’s why little girls (and boys) should be encouraged to read from a young age.  And that task falls to parents, who should set an example by doing rather than by telling. Start reading more. Read in front of your kids. Show them that it’s not just something nerds do, but something that everyone can and should do. Make it a normal thing. Have reading time with your family. Do whatever it takes to get your kids reading regularly. Then maybe we can have a culture where kids aren’t picked on for reading.

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Or a culture where kids actually know how to use books.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

One of the earliest videos of me has me at age 4 or so standing next to my mom, who is asking me questions (not sure why, though). At first viewing, I was amused by my lisp and my mom’s excellent ’80s hairstyle. By the second viewing, I realized that my mom was asking me really open-ended questions, which, with some time and thought, I answered. Then I realized that by doing so, my mom was encouraging me to find proof for claims, to analyze what I’d seen or experienced, to remember things we’d talked about, and basically to get used to thinking about things. I credit this strategy with teaching me to think for myself and making me the hyper-intelligent being I am today. Ahem.

Don’t Stop Praising Looks

Some people have decided to let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction and they’ve stopped praising their children’s appearances entirely to avoid letting their children think looks matter. Sorry guys, but that’s just not true in our world (would that it were) and your kids are going to have a rough time of it when human nature and emotions get in the middle of your utopian plan.

I’m gonna say that I haven’t always considered myself to be a divine manifestation of beauty like I do today. Ahem hem. And if it weren’t for my family’s praise of the way I looked, I would have been an even more awkward, insecure teenager than I already was and might have made more (and worse) mistakes along the way. I certainly wasn’t getting that praise anywhere else, so I might have just reached the conclusion that I’m unpraiseworthy and that’s something no child should feel. School and teen years are bad enough on your self-esteem without that hanging over your head. Don’t be hyperbolic, but don’t deprive your child of the unconditional love they deserve in the name of over-correcting past mistakes.

What else do you think we can do to nurture children’s intelligence? Let me know in a comment!

–Tatiana

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