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High Life : A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Fragile Egos Often Seen Among Teens

A major study reveals that the egos of kids--especially girls--are likely to take a nose-dive when youngsters enter their teens.

After questioning 2,350 girls and 600 boys ages 9 to 15, the American Assn. of University Women found that in elementary school, 60% of girls faced the world “happy the way I am.” But by high school, their self-image and expectations had slumped: Only 29% expressed self-satisfaction.

Teen-age boys’ self-esteem also fell, but not so precipitously: Nearly half still felt good about themselves in high school.

The study uncovered contrasts in the ways boys and girls learn to view the world and their place in it. Adolescent boys, for example, have greater confidence in their abilities: Nearly twice as many high school boys as girls say their talents are the qualities they like best about themselves. Moreover, boys tend to see the physical changes of adolescence as signs they’re getting bigger and stronger, while girls are often unhappy with the changes they are experiencing.

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The AAUW study’s most troubling finding is that teen girls are likelier to say they are “not smart or good enough” for certain careers, a problem that seems linked to their attitudes about science and math. More than 80% of the elementary school boys and girls liked math, but in high school only 61% of the girls still enjoyed it, as opposed to 72% of the boys.

“Failure in science and math has far-reaching effects on future career decisions,” says AAUW executive director Anne Bryant. “High-paying jobs in the business world need people with analytic and problem-solving skills.”

Fortunately, says Bryant, “we don’t need a billion-dollar agenda to solve this problem. The important people in a young girl’s life--her parents and teachers--may unconsciously erode her self-esteem, and some changes in their behavior can really help.”

A good example of the kind of hidden problem Bryant has in mind: Teachers call on boys in class three to four times more often than girls, partly because boys raise their hands more often and sooner. Says Bryant: “One teacher found that when she made a deliberate effort to call on girls more often, they began to raise their hands more, knowing that they’d be rewarded.”

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“The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory.”

--Paul Fix


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