I’ve carried this section of the paper around for two weeks wanting to write about this. It’s something that just stuck in my craw and has festered for a while now.
This was the title of a piece in the Cedar Rapids Sunday Gazette written by Alison Gowans. In it, she references the 2014 Iowa Youth Survey, “which polls Iowa sixth, eighth, and 11th graders about various topics including mental health and substance abuse.” There were 77,139 total responses counted from about 79% of Iowa schools. Some interesting data always comes out after these surveys, but this article was written specifically about girls. As the father of two daughters and having coached middle school girls most of my teaching career, much of what she talked about both broke my heart and made me angry.
The first stat knocked me back: 53% of Iowa girls who answered the survey reported feeling worthless in the last 30 days compared to 37% of boys. First, wow, that’s a lot of kids feeling this way, but of the 14 girls in my class, the first seven I count off felt worthless recently? Why? And this stat for girls is broken down even further. 42% of sixth grade girls reported feeling this way, but that jumps to 64% in 11th grade, the age of my oldest daughter.
Most of the data presented in the article pointed to girls being about twice as likely to be dealing with feelings of worthlessness, considering suicide, and suffering emotionally compared to boys. And when I talked with my ninth grader and 11th grader, they both backed this up. Both said they’d felt that way in the last 30 days and surprisingly enough (they are VERY different girls) they had very close answers in terms of why: school and social situations. Both said that at school, they felt disconnected from their teachers and that their teachers didn’t “get them” in terms of what was happening outside of school. Both daughters said they saw inequities in terms of what was celebrated. My oldest put it this way:
We live in a society that celebrates the extroverted types of things and that’s not who I am.
If my daughters, who are well adjusted, confident young women coming up in a supportive, loving family feel this way, how are those who don’t have that advantage feeling? What are they going through that we have no clue about?
I loved this quote by the author:
What messages are we sending our girls that lead so many more of them to feel so hopeless? What are they internalizing that their male counterparts are not?
How many times have I heard my middle school/junior high girls teams complain that “the boys get away with more”? How many times have I seen parents treating their daughters differently than their sons? How many times have I seen commercials or read ads that don’t celebrate all, but a select few? What is it we as a society need to do, to change, to help our girls realize they are valued?
I have no answers for certain, but as a teacher and father, I can continue to encourage my daughters to be strong in the face of adversity. One daughter is considering engineering as a career, the other a career in science of some sort. They have the drive, but I know that the world is a harsh place for women in these fields. They need the tools to find their voice, to connect with other like minded women, and to create their own PLNs. As a teacher, I need to continue to do much of the same with my class: help my students find their voice, to connect with other like minded students, and to start building their own learning networks. Not only will this benefit all of my students, it will help those girls find others who are like them. A small school sometimes lacks that kind of diversity, the Internet does not! 🙂
Thank you for reading this far. I am passionate about how our daughters are treated and feel we need to continue to harness that power of social media to help them find they are not alone! That is a message that’s a good one for not only our girls, but for all our students!
Gowans, Alison. “What Messages Are We Sending Our Girls?” The Gazette. Iowa SourceMedia Group, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.
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