In her essay “The Trouble with Bright Girls,” Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson talks about the idea that we might just be our own worst enemies. She refers to studies conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, a social psychologist and a professor at Stanford University (as well as Dr. Halvorson’s graduate advisor) who found out that smart fifth-grade girls were quick to throw in the towel upon encountering a difficult problem. Their boy classmates, however, fought to rise above the situations they found themselves in.

While most people might regard this as a simple case of gender wars, Dr. Dweck learned that the majority of bright girls believe their intelligence is unchangeable and innate and that encountering difficulties proves otherwise. This leads them to immediately give up, believing that their brains are just not cut out enough for advanced problems. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to believe in hard work and effort, so they’re
more open to challenges than their female counterparts.

How does this occur? According to Halvorson:

Girls, who develop self-control earlier and are better able to follow instructions, are often praised for their "goodness." When we do well in school, we are told that we are "so smart," "so clever, " or "such a good student." This kind of praise implies that traits like smartness, cleverness and goodness are qualities you either have or you don't.

Boys, on the other hand, are a handful. Just trying to get boys to sit still and pay attention is a real challenge for any parent or teacher. As a result, boys are given a lot more feedback that emphasizes effort (e.g., "If you would just pay attention you could learn this," "If you would just try a little harder you could get it right.") The net result: When learning something new is truly difficult, girls take it as sign that they aren't "good" and "smart," and boys take it as a sign to pay attention and try harder.

But this attitude isn’t something set in stone—we can and should do something about it. Here are five ways to give your smart daughter that much-needed paradigm shift and confidence boost, so she’ll learn to tackle problems head on rather than buckle under pressure.

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