Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection

Are boys and girls socialized differently?

Are boys taught to be brave while girls are taught to aspire to perfection?  

Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, wondered those very questions. Like many women who wonder, she researched. And then she presented her findings in a Ted Talk entitled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection.

This topic interested us because at Skyland, girls ARE taught to be brave. And to make mistakes, and to get messy, and to take risks. There’s no pressure for perfection at Skyland. (hmmm … maybe that’s why girls love their Skyland summers!!)

Saujani presented compelling evidence to support her theory of difference in socialization.

“Many women I talk to tell me that they gravitate toward careers… they know they’re going to be perfect in, and it’s no wonder why,” Sujani says. “Most girls are taught to avoid risk and failure. We’re taught to smile pretty, play it safe, get all A’s. Boys, on the other hand, are taught to play rough, swing high, crawl to the top of the monkey bars and then just jump off head-first. They’re habituated to take risk after risk. They’re rewarded for it.”

At Skyland Camp, all girls (and staff, too!) learn bravery, risk, grit and confidence.

Camp is all about trying new things, building a sense of confidence, and returning home a little more brave and a little more grown up than on the first day of camp.  

At Skyland, girls learn how to take risks, one step at a time. By taking risks without the pressure of perfection, girls gain confidence and practice bravery, both of which can be applied in situations throughout their lives.

Girls learn that they can jump into activities where they know they won’t be perfect, and that no one is going to penalize them for “messing up” as they try new things.

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Let’s Teach Girls That Making Mistakes Does Not Equal Failure

Sujani points to an interesting phenomenon that a colleague observed:

“My friend Lev Brie, who is a professor at the University of Columbia, and teaches Intro to Java, tells me about his office hours with computer science students. When the guys are struggling with an assignment…they’ll say, Professor, there’s something wrong with my code. The girls will come in and say, Professor, there’s something wrong with me.”

Research indicates that girls internalize their mistakes as evidence of personal failure.

Because of that, it is SO important for girls to have access to environments that are all about trying new things, learning, and having a LOT of fun!  At camp, counselors and other staff are there to support girls and to help maintain a curious attitude throughout each day. With this encouragement, girls have opportunities to follow their curiosity into uncharted territory.

In other words, camp is not about creating the perfect archer, swimmer or horseback rider. Camp is about stepping outside of comfort zones and then seeing the clear relationship between risk and reward.

This research reinforced our belief that what we do on Skyland Hill … every day of every summer … unequivocally supports girls and young women in their personal and (long-term) professional development.

Even if she forgets archery by next summer, or never learns to canter on a horse, she’ll take those moments of bravery into whatever she chooses to explore next. At camp, our mission is to inspire curiosity, creativity, confidence and connection to each other and the world. That mission, without question, helps to support girls in becoming brave risk-takers who will one day totally ROCK the world with their gifts and talents!


If you have questions, comments or something to add, we would love to hear from you: mailbox@skylandcamp.com