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Why We Need to Actively Teach Girls to Value Their Intelligence

Remember Winnie Cooper, the girl next door, aka Kevin Arnold’s love interest on “The Wonder Years?” Well, turns out that the actor who played Winnie, Danica McKellar, was far more than a pretty face.


After her role on “The Wonder Years” was done and dusted, Danica went on to major in Mathematics at UCLA and became something of a calculus whiz. In fact, the quintessential girly girl, with her perfectly shiny hair and her damsel-in-distress eyes, now has a physics theorem named after her (or at least the actor who played her). Last year, NOVA’s “Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers” video featured Danica for her prowess in mathematics.

In the video Danica admits that she was worried she wouldn’t make the cut for Math at UCLA. “Who did I think would do well? Somebody who looked the part more than me,” she says.

That same mindset seems to have seeped into the minds of our girls as well. In a 2017 study by researchers from three US universities, it was found that six-year-old girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are “really, really smart.” In fact, by the age of six, girls in the study tended to steer clear of games that were meant for the “really, really smart.”

Yes, as a parent, I was aghast too. This was a 2017 study – not something from an era where girls were told they were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.” And yet, the study showed that six-year-old girls were significantly less likely to associate brilliance with their own gender. Like Danica, did they feel like they didn’t quite look the part?

In an article in The Guardian, Christina Spears Brown, the author of “Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue,” says, “This study shows that girls are internalizing those cultural messages early in development, believing that yes, they may work hard, but they are not naturally really smart.”

She adds that the research fits in with previous work, which found hard work is attributed to girls, and natural ability for boys.

The fact is that both boys’ and girls’ achievement in math and science is on par with each other at the K-12 level, according to the National Science Foundation. However, research shows that while women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological sciences, they receive far fewer in the computer sciences, engineering and math. While women make up half of the total U.S. college-educated workforce, they account for only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

A 2014 study summarizes that, “across the academic spectrum, women are underrepresented in fields whose practitioners believe that raw, innate talent is the main requirement for success.”

This under-representation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers possibly points to this bias that begins in early childhood. What causes girls to believe this stereotype that boys are innately smarter?

In a New York Times article, professors from NYU and Princeton suggest that American kids are picking up cultural stereotypes about brilliance. They point to media as one avenue that perpetuates this idea through consistent images of male brilliance. Then they turn the spotlight on where it gets slightly uncomfortable: our homes. The article refers to a 2014 study where it was found that American parents googled “Is my son a genius?” twice as often as they searched for “Is my daughter a genius?”

We definitely don’t want to make this a boys versus girls battle of who is smarter. But we do need to make sure that we’re encouraging hard work and tenacity and intellectual brilliance to both boys and girls.

While none of us want our kids to be arrogant about their smarts, we need to be cognizant of empowering our girls with the idea that they are brilliant enough to do anything with their lives.

Here are some ways we can break gender stereotypes when it comes to intellect.

Be aware of your own biases

How often do you and I picture stern-faced, Albert Einstein look-alikes when I think of scientists and engineers? Admittedly, for me, it’s more often than not. Over the years, it’s what I’ve seen in the media. It may not be a hard-nosed bias, but it is a stereotype that we may have unwittingly bought into and inadvertently passed on to our kids.

We need to examine our daily lives as well. Are our kids seeing that while mom and dad may have different roles, they are both capable to taking on tasks for the “really, really smart.” I know that sometimes out of sheer laziness or unwillingness to learn, I tend to pass on the “smart” tasks to my husband without really evaluating how my own kids may be internalizing the false message that dads are more intelligent than moms.

Avoid generalizations

When we paint in broad strokes and speak in generalizations, our kids view the world through the lens of social stereotypes. In an article in The Conversation, NYU psychology professor Marjorie Rhodes recommends language that uses specifics – instead of making general claims, even if they’re positive traits.

Instead of saying, “Girls can be mathematicians,” we should focus on the individual. Affirm your child by saying, “You can be a mathematician if you want to.” If your child speaks in a generalization (“boys like science”) steer the conversation toward who in particular your child might be referring to: “You mean, Jared likes studying science?” These may be minor nuances in language, but it’s definitely another tool in your arsenal against gender stereotyping.

Skip the self deprecation

What if you sucked at Math in school? Maybe your child doesn’t need to know all the gory details. If you lead with a, “That’s so hard. I gave up on Trigonometry when I was your age” spiel, chances are your daughter will follow suit. In a recent interview actress-turned-Mathematician Danica McKellar says that at book signings she often discovers that boys and girls approach math very differently. “The issue is they don’t think of themselves as being really good at it,” Danica says, referring to why girls tend to drop out of math courses. “Math is always going to have stumbling blocks. Boys tend to see it as a temporary stumbling block … girls see it as evidence of what they’ve known all along – that they don’t belong in math.”

We need to teach our kids that challenges are just a bump in the road. Like the scientist Marie Curie is quoted as saying: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Question it

Point out gender stereotyping when you see it. Start with asking questions yourself. Then let your kids fire away. Let them question if there are girl colors and boy colors, if soccer is only for boys, if girls can go to Mars, if only boys can be pilots. Then show them examples of those who bravely and unapologetically break the mold.

Intentionally incorporate women role models

Yes, the idea is kind of archaic, but it’s still worth a shot. In our conversations with our kids, we need to weave in examples of women who beat the odds to make a name for themselves as scientists, astronauts, engineers and mathematicians.

The website A Mighty Girl lists dozens of age-appropriate books about women with brilliant, scientific minds. Stories about women like Caroline Herschel who discovered two galaxies with a homemade telescope, about Grace Hopper, the clever woman who invented the COBOL computer language, about Jane Goodall who learned to communicate with chimpanzees, about Eva Lovelace, the “enchantress of numbers” and many other inspiring women.

Children’s books like “Amazing Grace” and “Allie’s Basketball Dream” can start the conversation about how our talents and our passions are not dictated by our gender.

I think back to the conversation in the movie “Hidden Figures,” where John Glenn tells the guy in charge of spacecraft design Al Harrison, “Let’s get the girl to check the numbers.”

Harrison asks, “You mean Katherine?”

“Yes, sir, the smart one. And if she says they’re good, I’m ready to go,” responds Glenn.

John Glenn, the first American who orbited the earth, put his life in the hands of a brilliant woman. A woman who everyone else underestimated. A woman who didn’t quite fit the bill.

There may be some “hidden figures” in our classrooms and in our homes. They don’t want to risk the spotlight because they don’t feel like they “look the part.” It’s time to tell them that, in fact, they do.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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