I wonder if many children lose their bravery around middle school. With such intense pressure to fit in, the allure of conformity outweighs courage. Then it’s hard to gain it back.
I’m sure this happens to both girls and boys. But it seems our society sends a particularly strong message to females to be perfect:
- to have the perfect body
- to have it all together
- to be successful and sweet and happy
I just watched an intriguing TED talk called Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection, by Reshma Saujani. In it, she points to some interesting studies and anecdotes that suggest boys in our society are conditioned to be brave (and perhaps foolhardy), while girls in our society are conditioned to be perfect (and overly cautious).
Raising Brave Girls Through STEM Pursuits
Saujani runs a nonprofit called Girls Who Code, which teaches girls to be brave, and aims to close the gender gap in the tech and computing industry. As she puts it, computer coding is a continual process of trial and error. It is an effective way to teach children that they can overcome fear of failure by tackling challenges that at first seem impossible.
Saujani claims there are currently 600,000 unfilled jobs in tech and computing in the United States. There just aren’t enough trained and talented workers here in those industries. Women are woefully underrepresented in the industry, so why not encourage girls to explore the field and see if they love it? The jobs are waiting for them if they gain the skills and interest. But even more than preparing them for careers in coding, Saujani recommends we teach our girls to code as a way to help them internalize the process of finding their way through a challenge imperfectly. That’s a skill that will serve them well in any vocation.
And while I don’t agree with everything Saujani says, I do appreciate her main message: we want to raise girls who fully develop their gifts. And that requires bravery. We don’t want our children to play it safe in life and do what they already know they are good at. If children are to do whatever God calls them to do, they must be brave, take risks, and even fail as they follow their call.
Now, bravery is different from foolhardiness. You could think of it as courage paired with wisdom. Bravery may not mean skydiving or bungee jumping, but it may mean loving someone in your life, or letting excuses fall away as you take responsibility for your actions.
Raising Brave Girls Through Books
You may notice that Sonlight subtly encourages this bravery in girls. So many of the books we read feature girls who do hard things. Many of these girls worry less about the status quo and more about what needs to be done.
- So the Rickshaw Girl finds a way to provide for her family, even though her culture expects her to just quietly accept her grinding poverty.
- Understood Betsy steps down from her pretentious judgement to truly love those around her.
- Gladys Aylward leads the orphans in her care on a treacherous but life-saving journey.
- Joanne Shelter takes the Good News of Jesus deep into jungles to people starving for God’s love.
None of these women is perfect, but all of them learn to value courage and love more than society’s assessment of them.
In Sonlight’s Preschool curriculum, the Mighty Mind game is an ideal way to help children learn that imperfection is part of life. Children can’t look at the Mighty Mind puzzles and fill them in correctly on the first try. They have to put down pieces, see what works and what doesn’t, and rearrange until they figure it out. This is a great time to explicitly teach them an important life lesson.
This is what we do in life. If you don’t know what to do, you try something. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. That’s how we figure things out!
This refrain can continue as your children learn math, reading, music, sports … you name it.
Valuing Bravery Instead of Perfection
We don’t want our children–boys or girls–to sit at home being perfect. We want them to explore their world, try to do things, and ultimately take on whatever challenges God has for them.
So whether that’s through coding or not, let’s teach our girls and boys to be brave. And let’s look for where God is asking us as parents to be brave as well!