January 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 1
Ages and Stages: 9-13 years - Taking Responsibility for Failure
Why do girls come down harder on themselves than boys do when they don't succeed? According to a study at New York University, it may be because they're given fewer chances to accomplish things on their own.
Mothers of elementary-school children completed a daily checklist for 10 to 21 days, recording when they acted in controlling ways, such as helping their child with homework without being asked, and times they gave their child autonomy, such as encouraging her to make decisions on her own.
The researchers told the children to imagine that they had done poorly in school and asked them to explain whether they thought their failure would be due to some fault of theirs, such as a lack of intelligence or effort, or because of something unrelated to them, such as bad luck or the difficulty of the work.
The study found that mothers exerted more control over daughters than over sons and that kids whose mothers were very controlling were more likely to blame themselves for doing poorly. "Parents tend to rush in and do things for girls," says researcher Eva Pomerantz, Ph.D. This may convince girls that they always need help and make them feel that their self-worth is contingent upon pleasing others. On the other hand, kids who do more on their own are more likely to believe in their abilities and to keep trying if they fail.
© 1998 Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing. Excerpt reprinted from PARENTS magazine by permission. (October 1998 Issue)