Advice for navigating transitions in work, life, and relationships from Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady and her team members at BDS Insight.
Dear Dr. Brady,
We have a 10-year-old daughter who loves technology – if by technology you mean YouTube makeup tutorials! We read headline after headline about how on fire STEM careers are going to be for her generation. We watch her homework, make sure she gets good grades. We try to get her interested in activities that will connect her to math and science but really, the girl just loves glittery gloss. Any tips on how we might engage her interest in these areas more significantly? Or, is it better to just encourage a beauty career?
Dear Supportive Parents,
I can relate! My daughters just love tuning into “Emma” and her make up tutorials. I have more links in my YouTube history to videos on how to do “Frozen” makeup and Malificent cheekbones than I care to admit. Did you know it takes THREE different greens to get the cheekbones to look that way? I had no idea.
I get it. You are seeing story after story about STEM, girls in tech, women in tech, and the talent gap facing the U.S. as we enter our next decade of retiring baby boomers and increased technology dependency. And you are right, girls entering their tween and teen years start to fade in their interests in math and science fields. Other avenues start to open up, and subtle and not so subtle messages get sent that dissuade girls from investing themselves in the activities and courses that prepare them most for STEM careers. You are worried, a bit about what it might mean that your daughter likes makeup so much, and a little about what it means that she isn’t crunching numbers about audience conversion and site architecture.
I can’t say I really know for sure whether you can or cannot convert your lipgloss loving daughter into a chemical engineer but I know the best chance you have to do it is to focus on her passions. The problem isn’t with your daughter’s interest in these areas, it’s in the message you have gotten that “girly” things can’t also be STEM related.
Robots and Legos are great, and most efforts to engage children your daughter’s age in STEM focus on these activities. They are popular, map really well to a number of STEM roles, and provide for competition environments. It gears kids up for the major league events that await them in high school.
The thing is, girls aren’t always interested in these (and a fair amount of boys aren’t either) and makeup is fun. In an ideal world we’d have the option for robot competitions and cosmetic chemistry collaboratives. We’d give our children the chance to explore how STEM fits into all their passion areas, not just the handful that are prescribed for them. But of course it isn’t a perfect world.
It might be tempting to think the answer is just to take control of the youtube and sign her up for coder camp this summer. And you probably won’t completely ruin her life or your relationship if you do that. But I am not convinced it will get you where you want to go in the best way possible.
Instead, follow her lead and point out the field that made that lip gloss possible. Find websites and books that highlight the science behind beauty. Help her connect the thing she really likes, to the things you want her connecting with.
And remember all things in moderation. She doesn’t need to hear a relentless litany of STEM vocab. She does need to see herself developing skills and making an impact on the world around her. If you can find an outlet that leverages her passions and shows her this possibility you will no doubt capture her interests in STEM.
If you can’t?
There is a lot of research documenting the ways that girls begin to be infected with negative messages about their science and math performance. Research also shows, however, that it is possible to inoculate girls from the impact of some of these messages. How? Point out the strengths they have in the area where they are receiving these messages. Shift focus from “talent” to “skill” when discussing hard problems. Emphasize problem solving as a set of tools for any kind of challenge. The fact is that throughout our culture there are messages that suggest feminine things can not be smart, technically advanced, or amazing.
So take heart — all this glittery gloss might be heading somewhere amazing if you can boost her skills and her sense that she can use them to reach her own goals. And start saving for that printer. I know a little girl who will want one in a few years.
Send in your question
Readers of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here, via this online submission form.
Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester. She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She lives in Manchester with her husband Brian Brady, and their five children.