Monday, August 29, 2011

Find something other than appearance to compliment little girls on. Or you will do them harm in the long run.

Sadly, thoughtful articles like this one are a rare sight on The Age these days. I will vent my frustration about that some other day.

I have blogged in the past about why I think compliments on appearance are never a good idea (unless looking good is actually the recipient’s profession). Now Lisa Bloom explains why we should refrain from complimenting the appearance of little girls as well. Regardless of how adorable they might look.

This may seem like a bit of a harsh way to convince little girls that their minds matter, but Lisa kills that misconception by sharing with us her heart-warming interaction with little Maya. Looks didn’t have to come into it even once.

That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows. “Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too,” she said in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good-girl voice.

“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

“I love books,” I said. “Do you?”

Most kids do.

“Yes,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself!”

It really isn’t hard to think of something other than appearance to talk about. Little girls are three dimensional, there are so many things that interest them. Find some common ground and go for it.

“But little girls like to play grown-ups! They love it when I talk to them about makeup and high heel shoes..”

There are so many other things that are “grown up”. Stop being lazy and choose something else. Seriously. Reading is a fantastic example. Lisa was right, contrary to popular belief, kids these days love reading. Thank the many fantastic children’s novelists that have popped up in the last few years after Harry Potter entered the scene.

As a general rule, kids love doing what they are good at. If girls get compliments on their appearance more than everything else they will re-focus their attention in that direction. About 1-2% of those little girls will grow up to be successful models and thanks to us ignorant adults the rest of those little girls will just grow up disappointed.

Little girls are all beautiful. Not telling them about it doesn’t change that fact. You can’t make a little girl less beautiful through neglect. I’m not saying never compliment her. Nor am I suggesting you criticize her. But realistically her genes have made her look the way she does and nothing short of an unexpected bus will change that. But guess what, you can mentally sabotage a very smart little girl by making her think her intelligence is not important. There are plenty of excellent studies out there that prove low self esteem about intellectual capacity can cripple a girl’s science career. No bones about it, by ignoring her brilliant, growing little mind you are hurting her. Avoiding focus on her looks will probably do very little harm. Less than if you shone a spotlight thats for sure. I think its obvious which is the smarter option (pardon the pun).

The final paragraphs in Lisa Blooms article really struck a chord with me.

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it. Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why? There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.

For older girls, ask her about current issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand? You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favourite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

Its sad that little girls are not used to being asked about their minds.

It’s such a simple thing to do, compliment a little girl on her pretty dress, neglect to consider the ramifications. It is equally simple to mentally stop ourselves, think a little longer, and become a true role model.



Feasibility is an engineering based blog designed to reach other STEM people. Non-STEM people are also welcome! I try to give good advice and well-reasoned opinions but please don’t hesitate to disagree with me. This blog exists because I realised that I live in a metaphorical bubble and that simply wont do. Nup.


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