I don’t have a daughter, but I did have Melissa living with me for long time. That made me feel a little bit like she was my daughter, and when she left, she made herself a page on my site, which I love to look at when I’m feeling nostalgic.
She also left me with a sense that there are some things that girls definitely need to learn before they go out into the world, so they can make better decisions for themselves.
1. Teach girls they have choices. Not everyone has to earn money.
Every week I coach women who are trying to decide what to do with their career as they turn 30. And nearly all women have the same problem: Why did I get all this education if I’m just going to stay home?
I want to tell you how to change the world: Raise girls who think it’s fine to go to school and get a great education and then spend their days baking cookies with their kids. The biggest problem with that idea is that we’ve all been brainwashed to think that staying at home is a disappointment. Be a revolutionary by showing girls a world where smart kids grow up to be housewives.
Also, please please pay attention to your daughter’s personality type. Girls are most likely to have the personality types that are not rewarded in school: care-taking, for example, is a proclivity one is born with. But there is no outlet for that in the world that values more and more education.
Once you know your daughter’s personality type, you can help her find things to do that are consistent with her natural values and not necessarily what society values in children. Or in adults.
2. Teach girls how their brains work differently from those of boys.
They should celebrate that difference instead of faking it. If you tell girls their brains are the same as boys then the girls think there’s something wrong with them when they see the stark, clear evidence that they are different.
First teach girls that our different biology means we want different things. Men go to work for power, women go to work for recognition, according to research published in the Harvard Business Review. Once girls understand that, they might not be so upset to see the boy with a lower test score making more money than they do.
Men like high stakes tight deadlines. Women don’t. This is not conjecture—brain scans show that men get more competitive under time pressure, while women get less competitive under time pressure.
3. Teach sex education. Because no one else is going to teach it.
Time magazine reports that in the Age of Internet, school sex-ed is as good as non-existent. Eighty percent of kids have sex before receiving any responsible information about sex. So instead of hearing about contraception, STDs, and oral sex, kids hear only about abstinence, which leaves them largely clueless.
Also, having a talk about sex with their kids is difficult for parents because kids are exposed to so much more than parents were at the same age. Time magazine rounded up experts who agree that YouTube is a great tool for sex ed: “Laci Green has made a name for herself by providing frank and funny videos that answer common questions young people have and dispel myths. Her approach is not for everyone; two of her more popular episodes are You Can’t POP Your Cherry! (Hymen 101) and Sex Object BS.”
If you want your daughter to be in control of her destiny, help her get control of her sexuality. The barrier between sexuality and career issues quickly becomes murky.
Camille Paglia says sex education focuses on mechanics without conveying the real “facts of life,” especially for girls: “I want every 14-year-old girl . . . to be told: You better start thinking what do you want in life. If you just want a career and no children you don’t have much to worry about. If, however, you are thinking you’d like to have children some day you should start thinking about when do you want to have them. Early or late? To have them early means you are going to make a career sacrifice, but you’re going to have more energy and less risks. Both the pros and the cons should be presented.”
4. Teach girls to ask for help.
We have this crazy culture where kids get help from teachers, but there is no encouragement for kids to get help from people who are not paid to teach them. The problem is that in the real world, you have the most success by getting the most effective mentors. And women have a harder time than men getting mentors because people like to mentor someone who is like them.
This is why it’s important for you to push your daughter to seek mentoring from other people—outside of your friends and acquaintances. When Melissa was at my house, she was so good at asking me for help. She was great at deciding she wanted something and then every time she was stuck, she’d ask me how to get unstuck. I was probably not a parent figure to her as much as a mentor, one that was very invested in her success.
While Melissa was at my house, I realized that one of the hardest things about getting a mentor is being good at asking questions. It’s a difficult skill but one that Melissa had down cold at a very young age. (Probably because she was homeschooled!)
5. Teach girls how to manage how people perceive them.
We know that women are penalized for negotiating salary and men are rewarded. This is not because the world is evil or life is unfair. It’s because people perceive men and women differently and we can’t overcome millions of years of evolution in one generation. So teach girls how to deal with reality. For example, ask for a better job title instead of a higher salary. The higher job title can make up the salary difference in the next set of negotiations, and you won’t be penalized for asking.
Another example of managing perception? How women dress. Of course you know that people judge women on how they dress much more harshly than they judge men. Don’t pretend the world is a perfect place; teach your daughter to navigate an imperfect world. Show her how to dress in a way that is right for her. Carol Tuttle’s online course Dressing Your Truth shows women how to figure out their energy type and then dress in a way that authentically expresses their energy type.
I like that approach because it teaches girls how to both follow rules and make those rules fit themselves. And really, that’s what making our way through life is all about—learning the rules so we know which ones feel right to us and which cross our personal boundaries for decency. It’s a complicated, difficult lesson that is best introduced through concrete things like condoms, careers, and clothing.