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Empowering Girls, Starting at Home

A parent shares advice from her own experiences

Tuesday 21 July 2015 at 02:04 am.

 As a parent, I had reasonable goals for my children. I wanted my two daughters to succeed in school, go to college, have a good job, a good life. As any parent, we want our children to do well, but how to do we encourage this behavior? My girls are out of college, and certainly don’t need their mommy anymore, but I always ask myself, what could I have done better? When I was asked to write about my own experiences pertaining to women in math and science, I didn’t have much to offer, but I do have some advice. This is what I have been trying to do to my daughters for the last 27 years. 

As a child, I was always interested in math and science, but never tried very hard. I didn’t know that math can actually be applied in the real world, or that “becoming a scientist” was a reasonable career. Looking back, the only thing that stopped me from pursuing these careers is a lack of role models. I am a writer, and from reading books during all of my spare time as a child, I knew that I could become a writer, there were so many of them out there, and so many did well. At least, that’s what I thought. I was never around scientists, my parent’s certainly weren’t. I went with the profession that I was familiar with, and from my standards “good at,” Looking up to my mom who was a reporter, I majored in creative writing.

Role Models are the most important deciding factor in why girls end up in certain professions. Anyone (girls and boys included) look up to relatives and family members, and are more likely to be interested in what those role models like and do. If there is a lack of STEM women, and therefore a lack of role models, how is this issue ever going to progress? Even if you don’t know anyone in math or science, or in any profession, reading biographies of other working women in math and science can expose your child to a supportive and encouraging environment. When you see or read of other women in a certain field, role models create a supporting and welcoming environment, and make you say, “If she did it, then I can do it too!”

Parents, it’s also your job to break down those unfortunate stereotypes. Many girls lose interest in math or science to fit in with social stereotypes, especially during middle school. Treat your girl’s interest in math or science just as you would with art or music. My girls were young very long ago, but I tried to expose them to as many different hobbies and interests as I could, whether that was the piano, math, salamanders, or tennis. You can always be there as a guiding hand, but let her make her own decisions. Let her choose her own interests, then you can get involved and help her study the ladybug’s outside, or play basketball. As much as you try, your girl are always going to make her own decisions, and as the mother of two used-to-be-teenagers, sometimes the more you push too far, it may be worse than where you started.

Lastly, show your girl that math and science is used in everyday life. Science is fun and interesting, and starts with asking questions. Make sure your girls feel welcomed to always ask how something works. Asking “why” and “how” are the first steps in a scientific career. Ask everyday questions: How does a magnet work? How do things float? How does the Air Conditioner cool? How does a light work? From taking an interest in animals, to math, or physics, everything has science and math, and it’s important for your girl to realize that no matter what career or hobby you choose, math and science will always be there waiting for you.