As parents, we are often trying to encourage our girls to support their friends, to lift each other up and to not see each other as competition all the time. Phyllis Fagell, a professional school counsellor, spoke with a variety of experts for a recent Washington Post article to find out why girls are prone to see one another as competition — and how parents can encourage them to build empowering friendships that lift each other up instead.
Part of the reason girls are prone to compete is that they worry about losing out on opportunities, which in turn, could also lead them to believe that their own success will be limited." A recent survey by Plan International USA showed that 30% of teenage girls felt they had fewer opportunities at school than boys do, particularly when it comes to sports and leadership opportunities. That means that girls may conclude that losing one chance to another girl means they'll never get another one, says business leader and pro basketball pioneer Donna Orender: "Unfortunately, it’s been communicated to us over the years that there are fewer spots for women — a limited inventory."
What can we do to help our girls?
An important first step is to help your daughter to grow her own confidence. We know from many studies that confidence tends to drop significantly in girls as they reach the tween years, so it is up to us to help them build it back up again. Show your daughters positive images of confident girls and women standing with strength which helps reinforce confidence messages. In summary, show them role models that they can really relate to.
If you have heard of or seen the Fearless Girl sculpture in New York it is a great example of a confident girl. She stands strong with her feet apart, her hands on her hips and is boldly starting down Wall Street. This is what we need to show our girls.
It's also important that parents teach their kids to value personal mastery and improvement over their performance relative to others. For example, if she's a runner, instead of asking herself if she ran further or faster than others, she can ask herself if she ran further or faster than she did yesterday. Help them to focus on achieving their personal best. It is possible to be competitive without thriving on doing better than someone else.
Moreover, encouraging girls to join a team — not necessarily just a sports team, but any group with a shared goal which helps them learn how to invest in one another's success and build each other up. It is fair to say that not many of us achieve greatness in isolation.
Of course, competition can also be beneficial to girls as well and help them build confidence and assertiveness, as long as she knows that there is a respectful way to do it. "We’ve been so militant about getting girls to be nice, they don’t even know there’s such a thing as healthy competition. Encourage girls to do their best in competitive situations, but emphasise the importance of good sportsmanship and empathy throughout.
Another way that girls can help lift one another up is by using social media for the power of good. While surveys have found that many girls believe that society most values their physical appearance, encourages girl to change this dynamic by celebrating one another's substantive achievements on social media.
Positive relationships and role models are everywhere. Just when you were looking online to find a role model for your own daughter, just remember that you are one. Take her by the hand, build her confidence and show her how to achieve her personal best as well as celebrating the success of her friends.