Girls who like math and science have higher self-esteem, aspire to more ambitious careers, cling more tenaciously to their career goals and even feel better about their appearance than girls who do not like these subjects, according to a 1991 American Association of University Women's report.
Authors Mindy Bingham and Sandy Stryker took the AAUW report to heart when they wrote their book "Things Will Be Different for My Daughter." The book includes a list of suggestions for parents who want to make sure their daughters get a good education in math and science.Bingham and Stryker advise:
- Help your daughter see herself as a success at math. Says Bingham, "The AAUW survey found that girls are more likely than boys to believe they are not good at math. That is undoubtedly one reason they take fewer math classes than boys, but when girls do sign up for math, other studies indicate, they perform as well, or nearly as well, as their male classmates. The more positive attitude you can instill, therefore, and the earlier you can instill it, the better."
Expect your daughter to succeed at math. Tell her it is fun. Praise her for doing well in math at school, and also in games and other math activities.
- Make sure she knows that having to work hard at math doesn't mean she's not good at it. Girls are more likely than boys to think that they don't have talent for a subject unless it comes easily to them.
- Help her develop problem-solving skills and a tolerance for anxiety. Parents tend to want to rescue their daughters but are willing to allow their sons to struggle, according to Bingham and Stryker.
- Mothers should be good role models and should provide other female role models. Bingham cautions mothers, "Even if you don't like math, never say so." Mom should be the one to help with math homework, if possible. If an outside tutor is needed, make every effort to provide a female tutor. Both parents should make an effort to introduce their daughter to women who work in a field that requires a strong math background - like bankers, engineers, accountants, dentists, etc.
- Play math games and demonstrate how math is used in daily life. Don't assume your daughter will discover math on her own. Give her math games and books. Toys like Legos and Lincoln Logs help children of both sexes grasp spatial relationships. So does sewing. Puzzles are also good.
Teenagers can write out checks for the family's monthly bills and balance the checkbook. Allow your teenage daughter to negotiate an annual clothing allowance and plan her purchases accordingly. Have her figure out the mileage when she puts gas in the family car and ask her to adjust recipes for more or fewer people when she prepares dinner.
- Monitor her math classes at school. Stryker and Bingham say that several respected researchers have studied sexism in American schools and found girls are more likely to be treated unfairly in math class than in any other subject. The higher the class level, the more prevalent the problem. "Parents need to monitor this situation closely," says Bingham. "You might start by asking your daughter about her math class. Are there many other girls in the class? (When girls are under-represented, they tend to become intimidated.) Are the girls called on as often as the boys? Are their questions answered?"
If not, arrange to sit in on a class or two, Bingham recommends. Per-haps the principal needs to arrange a gender-equity workshop for teachers.
- Make sure your daughter knows what's in it for her. "Young women who opt out of high-level math and science classes in high school are not equipped to take college courses required for entry into the highest-paying careers," says Bingham. Jobs requiring advanced math are likely to offer more flexibility and control, important elements in mixing career and family.
Because they pay more per hour, a woman can chose to work fewer hours and still earn enough money to help support a family. "That's really the key," says Bingham. "By doing well in math and preparing themselves to succeed in a career, women are also setting themselves up to have more time to be parents."