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Article: "How Puberty Kills Girls’ Confidence"


JumpyTheFrog
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https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/09/puberty-girls-confidence/563804/?utm_campaign=the-atlantic&utm_content=5beff4bb9ac564000106a8e6_ta&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2eci-W6PUEWrYpAWT6Sn2hP3JUm0c0876B5F6O_k57xVVDCW9Nq8bI5OU

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Until the age of 12, there was virtually no difference in confidence between boys and girls. But, because of the drop-off girls experienced during puberty, by the age of 14 the average girl was far less confident than the average boy. Many boys, the survey suggested, do experience some hits to their confidence entering their teens, but nothing like what girls experience. 

 

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The female tween and early-teen confidence plunge is especially striking because multiple measures suggest that girls in middle and high school are, generally speaking, outperforming boys academically, and many people mistake their success for confidence.

 

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The habit of what psychologists call rumination—essentially, dwelling extensively on negative feelings—is more prevalent in women than in men, and often starts at puberty. This can make girls more cautious, and less inclined toward risk taking. Additionally, at an early age, parents and teachers frequently encourage and reward girls’ people-pleasing, perfectionistic behavior, without understanding the consequences. Often, this is because it just makes parents’ and teachers’ lives easier: In a busy household or noisy classroom, who doesn’t want kids who color within the lines, follow directions, and don’t cause problems? But perfectionism, of course, inhibits risk taking, a willingness to fail, and valuable psychological growth.

 

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In their efforts to please everyone, achieve more, and follow rules, many girls are actually nurturing traits in themselves that set them up to struggle in the long run

 

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There’s evidence that tweaking the status quo, and acclimating girls at this critical age to more risk taking and failure, makes a difference. Some of the most compelling data links participation in sports to professional success. A study from the accounting firm EY and espnW, ESPN’s women’s site, found that 94 percent of the women currently with C-suite jobs in the U.S. played competitive sports. It’s not only through athletics that young girls can gain confidence; sport is simply an organized and easily available opportunity to experience loss, failure, and resilience. 

 

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...the women they become, many of whom, within a few years of entering the workforce, experience another confidence drop, and a drop in aspirations.

 

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If you are referring to the title of the article, I agree that it doesn't really explain how puberty itself leads to the drop in confidence. I wonder what the causes are. The article suggested that social media makes it worse, although I don't know if any research was done to see if their confidence plummeted at this age before social media existed.

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One idea I have is related to testosterone. Perhaps the increasing testosterone levels of boys during puberty causes their confidence levels to increase. That could explain the gap between the confidence levels of girls and boys. Unfortunately, it doesn't explain the drop the girls have compared to when they were younger. Besides social media, I wonder if the cultural obsession with appearance (beauty magazines, etc.) and the early sexualization of girls makes it worse.

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I think it is a lot of things.  I would not be surprised if the dwelling on negative thoughts was a real female/male difference, maybe related to ther different social styles and hormones.  And that also would relate to the social media thing - after all, boys in general are not participating the same way on social media, because they are not that other-social-hierarchy oriented.

I think another issues is the changes in the girls body at that time are a little more difficult to deal with than the boys, on average.  And they start younger which may make a difference.  I think part of the drop in sports relates to menstruation related issues - it that is a problem for the girl a lot os sporting activities are not that accommodating these days. (Though the new period underwear might help part of that problem.)

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puberty itself actually makes more sense to me as a possibility because it is an independent hormonal change

lack of confidence isn't causing puberty, and some other environmental stressor isn't causing both lack of confidence and puberty (although it may accelerate puberty or change the mechanism somewhat)

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21 minutes ago, moonflower said:

I meant a few of the quotes were inferring causation where it wasn't necessarily present.  The fact that women in traditionally male positions in society often play competitive sports does not mean that playing more competitive sports will make women better at business or management.

I was thinking the same thing.  It could be that the same thing that makes certain kids interested in competitive sports also makes them better at business as adults.

Personally I loathed competitive sports as a tween / teen.  The fact that we were all forced to take part did not make me like it better.

I did happen to end up in business management, but in a "technocracy" environment, because I was good at my job.  I succeeded because I was good at getting people to cooperate at work, rather than forcing people to take my orders.  Ultimately I left because it got too competitive - and that is why most of the people on top even where I worked are still men.  (Call me sexist if you like.)

Logic tells me the changes at puberty are mostly hormonal and not necessarily a "bad" thing.  It made sense for the female to be more risk-averse for the protection of the kids. 

As for whether social media makes it "worse," I don't know, but this is certainly not recent.

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Another comment - they talk about girls being influenced by adults praising them for being well-behaved / careful / easy to get a long with.  I don't think most parents praise/reward girls for this any more than boys.  It's not like we prefer our boys to be brats at home and careless at school.  If anything, I think people are more willing to punish boys harshly since boys can apparently "take it."

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5 minutes ago, SKL said:

Another comment - they talk about girls being influenced by adults praising them for being well-behaved / careful / easy to get a long with.  I don't think most parents praise/reward girls for this any more than boys.  It's not like we prefer our boys to be brats at home and careless at school.  If anything, I think people are more willing to punish boys harshly since boys can apparently "take it."

 

Yeah, being more oriented to getting along is one of the things (I think there are two?) that are actually a consistent difference between men and women across cultures.  That to me makes it less likely is is a cultural artefact.

It might be nice if there was less competitiveness emphasised in many settings, and maybe more meaningful social interaction, it would probably attract a different sort of person and maybe more girls and women.  Hoever, this is the sort of stuff that guy at Google got himself in trouble for saying.

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Not everyone is motivated by outside approval though.  Some are more influenced by achievement or power or other things.  Personally I was motivated by achievement, which did not change at all over the course of my childhood. 

Another thing - the world is a very different place sports wise (at least in the USA).  Girls have enough sports options to be satiated with that if it's interesting to them.  Not so when I was a kid.  So, if sports opportunities were an important factor, we should see girls being more confident today than before.

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50 minutes ago, StellaM said:

From my own experience, I do not doubt a social component. That doesn't mean it's entirely social, of course.

I went through my primary school years being valued for what I could do - write, perform, give speeches, win maths competitions - and hit secondary school where the social perspective shifted to being valued for how you looked and how well you fit the 'popular' model.

I went from utterly confident - I was the kind of child who organised the entire class to perform at school assemblies, was school captain, represented the school for newspapers, competitions etc - to utterly lacking in confidence. For six years, there was simply no social reinforcement of the kind of things I was good at, and my confidenence toook a dive as a result.

Instead, these things, no joke, were continually reinforced. Having a tan. Having long hair with streaks. Having a boyfriend. Drinking. Going to clubs. The girls who did these things became the most confident among us, though in primary school, they were often the least. 

I think that experience completely derailed me. I am not the girl I was at 12. In some ways, the future of that girl just died. There were other factors - GA, abuse in the home - but the shift in social approval most definitely played a role.

Status did not shift for the boys in the same way. They were split between sporty (high status, esp if that was combined with good looks and being relatively smart) and nerds (low status, non sporty, smart, less stereotypically good looking) and remained that way from - idk - 3rd grade to 12th ? I know life was hell for many of the lower status boys in highschool too.

I don't know there is evidence out there of rumination being purely sex linked. It seems to be personality linked, more than anything. Puberty is a tough time for many kids, regardless of sex. 

 

 

I guess what I wonder is why it changes in that way?  I think there is a strong social component in terms of really reinforcing things like emphasis on clothing, hair, and being attractive.  I think a society that valued those things a lot less would be far less stressful for girls.  I tend to think its a consumerist push.  But girls always seem to be interested in social hierarchies in a more - maybe complex - sort of way.  They talk and talk, and talk.  Boys can be competitive and status oriented, but it seems a simpler set of social rules and hierarchies.

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14 minutes ago, LMD said:

Here is an article I read on the younger kids internalizing sex based hierarchy

Article

I am skeptical, as I don't see that in my experience at all.

The first test - it is possible the language used in the story had masculine connotations that the youngest kids did not pick up on.  There could also have been research bias as it seems obvious the purpose was to prove that girls think females are dumber than males.

Also, I'm not sure it's a bad thing if kids of either sex eventually come to a conclusion that we are not all geniuses.  Is it bad that girls seem to arrive at this factual understanding sooner than boys?  Why is that bad?

Honestly, the rhetoric that "women can do it all" has been damaging in some ways.  It sets women up for frustration and disappointment.  I wish people would give it a rest.

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2 hours ago, LMD said:

Here is an article I read on the younger kids internalizing sex based hierarchy

Article

I would say the researchers have internalized the idea that being top of a hierarchy is what matters and makes someone a more successful and worthwhile human.

I wonder what the kids would have thought of a game for "kids who are really, really kind and caring"?

But no, male pattern competition is always more important than female pattern compassion and community building. Silly girls not getting with the program.

(I found the discussion of competition vs. caring in this book interesting https://books.google.com/books/about/Unfinished_Business.html?id=fmS1CgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button )

Edited by maize
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One thing I have noticed is that in elementary school, most girls have it all together. They outperform boys in sports, school, socially. Boys are generally a dirty, disorganized mess. But around 12-13, boys start to catch up. They get more organized, more confident in school and their prowess in sport starts to be very different. Finally (as my boys would say) they can beat girls. 

Many girls are not used to this. It is hard to have boys get better at school (even if you are still good at it) and definitely in those sports that train together, it can be disconcerting. 

Also, puberty is a time where girls start narrowing interests which can be good and bad. The girl who is five feet tall who desperately loves basketball is going to have a hard time. Also, the 6-foot gymnast. LIfe gets hard and it gets hard right at the time girls aren't very interested in hearing what their mothers have to say.

 

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5 minutes ago, MysteryJen said:

One thing I have noticed is that in elementary school, most girls have it all together. They outperform boys in sports, school, socially. Boys are generally a dirty, disorganized mess. But around 12-13, boys start to catch up. They get more organized, more confident in school and their prowess in sport starts to be very different. Finally (as my boys would say) they can beat girls. 

Many girls are not used to this. It is hard to have boys get better at school (even if you are still good at it) and definitely in those sports that train together, it can be disconcerting. 

Also, puberty is a time where girls start narrowing interests which can be good and bad. The girl who is five feet tall who desperately loves basketball is going to have a hard time. Also, the 6-foot gymnast. LIfe gets hard and it gets hard right at the time girls aren't very interested in hearing what their mothers have to say.

 

 

That's an interesting observation.  My son is the only boy in our family, with two older sisters, and he often had other girls around in the house as well.  He's kind of a late developer, but not atypical from my experience - but really late compared to a lot of girls.  

I know he really feels like he is not at the same level as girls his own age.  In fact, one time he asked me why girls were smarter than boys - he had come to the conclusion this was an across the board thing.  

I've been curious to see if he becomes much more competant as he enters adolescence.  With my daughters, puberty has had the opposite effect to a large degree - where they were competent, they suddenly can't remember anything, are emotionally all over the place, and they have lost a lot of their drive and focus.  I remember being very similar in early adolescence.

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Ugh, I hate when they always make boys the default setting. Where are the articles bemoaning the fact that men, in general, can be overconfident and oversell themselves to the detriment of those who have to work with them.  Do we WANT girls to be more like the most dangerous creatures on the planet?

I wouldn’t be surprised if a male and female with the same actual level of confidence answered the questions in different ways and skewed the results. 

 

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8 hours ago, KungFuPanda said:

Ugh, I hate when they always make boys the default setting. Where are the articles bemoaning the fact that men, in general, can be overconfident and oversell themselves to the detriment of those who have to work with them.  Do we WANT girls to be more like the most dangerous creatures on the planet?

I wouldn’t be surprised if a male and female with the same actual level of confidence answered the questions in different ways and skewed the results. 

 

 

This is a more general comment, but I think it follows from what you've said - I'm just really becoming skeptical about the value of a lot of social science research - and often that includes psychology research.  It's reproducibility is soooo low.  The kinds of problems you mention here are all over the place.  And the value assumptions.

 

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