Today, author and colleague Laura Laing stops by with a great take on why it's so important to monitor the messages we send to our kids. Read on...and thanks, Laura!
I was a great high school student. I did well in all of my classes (Okay, so I did fail band that one grading period because I didn’t turn in my practice sheets.). I was a responsible and eager student. But there was one subject that was a challenge for me: French.
I tried. I really did. But for whatever reason, the most romantic of all of the romance languages did not come easy. I had good teachers. I studied. I paid attention in class. But the best I could do was a low B — and that was with a lot of hard work.
Still, I didn’t have a t-shirt that read, “French Phobic.” I’ve never heard of a Barbie doll that says, “French is Hard!”
So what’s the deal with math?
Math is hard. But so is writing, reading, playing an instrument, painting, soccer, woodshop and, yes, French. In fact, if teachers and coaches are doing their jobs, students will feel challenged — which can bring up a variety of other feelings, from frustration to enthusiasm.
But often when kids — especially girls — are frustrated with their math homework, parents throw up their hands in frustration, instead of offering encouragement. Whether we buy into the myths that girls aren’t good at math or that our kids just don’t have the “math gene” or that the math they’re learning isn’t useful at all, we inadvertently send messages to our daughters that what they’re learning is a waste of time — and worse, they aren’t capable anyway.
Recently, the blogosphere got worked up into a lather, after teen clothing retailer Forever 21 began selling cute little jerseys that read: Allergic to Algebra. The response was so strong that the shirts disappeared virtually overnight.
This was on the heels of JC Penney’s misguided attempt at humor with their take on “girls are dumb” shirts that said: I’m too pretty for homework, so my brother has to do it for me. Back-to-school attire was controversial — again.
Like many people, I wondered how those messages got through the many layers of decision-making that must go into these purchases. Was there not a single mother or female math geek who said, “This is not a good idea?”
Math-as-gender-warfare isn’t new to products aimed at the younger set. In 1992, Mattel suffered backlash from its Teen Talk Barbie, which sadly opined, “Math class is tough.” Too tough for girls, anyway.
We parents of young girls constantly face body image questions and concerns. Are we sending the wrong messages about the way they look? Do we allow the media to set the standards for beauty? Or do we take charge and encourage pride and confidence?
The same goes for intellect, and given these t-shirts, the battle is still raging. If your daughter does not feel confident in her math abilities, you have some work to do.
- Lie if you have to. Or at least omit the truth. Quit saying that you’re not good at math. It’s important to keep your own body-issue feelings to yourself, and it’s critical not to be cavalier about your own lack of confidence in math.
- Show your daughter that you are willing to do math in your everyday life. Don’t pass the restaurant check to someone else each time it needs to be split. Let your daughter in on how you budget your money or use math in your hobbies.
- Offer encouragement rather than only sympathy. If your daughter has good teachers, she’s being challenged at school. Continue that challenge at home. Don’t do assignments for her; partner with her teachers, instead of being an adversary.
Poor body image can be deadly for young girls. Lack of confidence in math is also harmful. And we parents have to take charge.
Laura Laing is the author of Math for Grownups.