Does a girl’s need for bonding impact her negatively later on?
Paula Davis-Laack, psychologist and founder of the Stress and Resilience Institute says, “Women have been socialised to be people pleasers, to not rock the boat, to be perfect, and this socialisation has downstream consequences”.
“Cultural messages impact a girl's ambition starting at a very young age. Girls are often praised for being nice and getting along with others, while boys are often praised for being assertive risk takers.”
Paula mentions research done by Stanford University psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and her book Mindset as well as other studies which have found that when young girls (or boys) are praised for qualities like smarts or talent, it can lead to the development of a fixed mindset. Conversely, being praised for process or effort helps girls and boys know what to do again to create winning streaks and take good risks.
While the research clarifies that not all girls have fixed mindsets, the messages girls receive has an impact later on.
“Girls who have developed a fixed mindset may stop raising their hands because they don’t want to look like the only one who doesn’t get it or who has a question, and they stop taking as many good risks,” Paula says.
Should we ditch Disney?
Should parents be worried about the Disney movie that is on repeat in their living room? After all, more than often, the finger gets pointed at the Disney Princess, who lives a life without flaws and traditionally doesn’t rock the boat, negatively affecting a girl’s perception of reality.
“There is no evidence to suggest that Disney movies necessarily have a negative impact on young girls,” says Dr Nagel.
“Under five-year-old girls understand the animation as a fantasy and pretend play. They don’t make the connection of wanting to dress up as a princess all the time and then wanting to ‘be a princess’ when they grow up. The shift in self-image really comes as teens and this is where social media has the capacity to have a negative impact on their self-image.”
How do girls let us know something is wrong?
The need to please others and be seen favourably can extend into how girls express themselves when something is bothering them.
Dr Nagel says that girls tend to shut down when something is wrong. He gave the example of an education setting.
“Sometimes we think of the good student as the one who is sitting quietly, sitting still, behaving. We think that they must be on track, everything must be fine with them compared to the student who is noisy and acting out – which is what boys do when something is wrong. For girls they tend to shut down, go inward and withdraw, so from our imagery of a good student, we can miss the call for help.”
While Dr Nagel says that not all female students who sit quietly and pay attention are silently screaming for help, it is important to recognise that girls who are ‘behaving’ may need assistance.