Does your heart race when your kids ask to do something risky, like snowboarding, rock climbing, or white-water rafting? Even sending them to summer camp for a week can put your stress level on overload, as you consider the imaginary dangers around the corner.
Parents are natural worriers and always imagining the worst-case scenario. There’s a fine line, however, between being cautious and overprotective. And it’s especially important when raising girls.
Overcoming Gender Bias
Research suggests the gender differences noted in risk aversion are shaped by culture and social environment. Studies show that parents and teachers are more apt to praise and encourage risk-taking in boys. We describe it as brave. Girls, however, are encouraged to be cautious and to avoid failure by staying on the sidelines.
This has a lifelong effect. Men are more likely to start businesses, get involved in stock trading, and take on complicated challenges. Women traditionally opt for the smaller, sure thing than gamble on an all-or-nothing proposition, a trait experts say could help to explain the persistent wage gap between men and women.
If we encourage girls to take risks and provide protected and supportive settings, research shows it can have a huge impact on their lives and help them become strong decision-makers.
Healthy risk taking does not mean being reckless—it means encouraging girls to learn from mistakes as a necessary part of leading a successful life. Taking controlled risks and having the ability to learn from failures are the characteristics of great leaders and traits that modern employers often value.
According to a study published by the American Psychological Association, kids perform better if they know that failing—and trying again when things don’t go as planned—are part of the learning process. Teaching girls to embrace failure as a natural part of life can be a game changer. It helps girls develop the tenacity to overcome obstacles later in life. A girl who can take challenges head-on will grow into a woman who is more successful in all endeavors.
“Taking risks not only changes girls,” entrepreneur Marisa Beck believes, “but also acts as the catalyst for girls to become the unstoppable women leaders of tomorrow our world so sorely needs.” It’s been key to Marisa’s life choices.
Marisa owns Latitude Climbing + Fitness in Norfolk and Virginia Beach. She credits being encouraged to take healthy risks as a Girl Scout with preparing her for opening a business and keeping her going during these challenging times.
Marisa, who earned the Gold Award, the highest in Girl Scouts, opened her first location two years ago in Norfolk, adding a second last year in Virginia Beach. She is making plans for future expansion.
“As a Girl Scout, I tried camping and orienteering, activities I would have never done as a girl had it not been for Girl Scouts,” she said. “They gave me an appreciation of nature and for trying new things out in the world. Later I tried rock climbing and fell in love with the sport. So much of climbing is learning how to deal with failure and work through challenges, and the rewards are totally worth it. I also learned about setting goals and facing setbacks from my time selling hundreds of boxes of Thin Mints! All of it has led me on a journey to start my own rock-climbing gym.”
Here are a few things you can do to help your girl become a risk-taker.
Be mindful of your mindset.
Avoid trying to overprotect your girl due to your own fears. Help her be wise about which risks she takes. Guide her through the assessment process. You don’t want her to be scared to take any risk at all! Reinforce that mistakes aren’t failures. They are part of learning and an opportunity to get feedback about what to do better next time. Try not to say negative things about other people’s performance—or your own—in front of your children.
Reward the steps, not just the outcome.
Celebrate each achievement along the journey. For example, your girl may not be comfortable with public speaking. Most of us aren’t. So try tackling it in small steps. Help her visualize the experience first without actually giving her speech, and then have her to do a small talk in front of you. Add some family members, then a friend or two. Each little success can build on the last and perhaps, together, conquer her anxiety. Maybe she will never be comfortable at the podium of a convention center, but learning to address smaller groups will be a vital skill later in life.
Be a role model.
Take some risks yourself, and talk to her about your experience. Expose her to a variety of relatable role models. She may want to try something new after seeing other girls doing it. Remember the adage: You can’t be what you can’t see.
Seek safe opportunities for risk taking
As the time approaches when we need to search for summer camps and other activities for our girls, look for those that will be fun for the girls and that have some risk-taking challenges. Perhaps, like Marisa, it will be Girl Scouts, where girls can do first-time ever activities at camp, such as canoeing, wall climbing, archery, and even axe throwing.
Whatever options you choose, be sure you and your girl embrace the opportunities for growth and confidence-building that new challenges offer. The real risk could be letting your fears keep you from even trying.
Marcy Germanotta is director of communications for Girl Scouts of Colonial Coast. For more information about joining or volunteering, visit www.gsccc.org.