Parent, Educator, Author
My oldest daughter is in the 8th grade, which means that she’ll be going to high school next year. The kids in her class are all signing up for which courses they’ll take next year, and choosing different ‘pathways’ of career interests that they want to focus on.
My daughter has chosen to go to our local science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) magnet high school and focus on computer science. As a math, tech, and science loving girl, she’s gotten her fair share of teasing from her peers who don’t understand her interests. But, for the most part, her friends have been supportive and let her be herself. My daughter was surprised this week when a teacher saw the school that she wanted to go to and her track of choice and said, “Really? You don’t seem the type to do either of those things.” With a puzzled expression, she asked me, “Mom, do you think she doesn’t think I’m smart enough? Does she think I’m too social? What does she mean?”
Now, I don’t know what the teacher meant, exactly, and I encouraged Rylan to ask her politely if that comes up again. But what I do know is that very often in our culture, STEM fields are considered masculine, especially computer technology. There is a cultural meme about who works in tech and computers, and my daughter doesn’t fit it. This article in the New York Times sums up both the cultural messages and how they impact kids. It says,
“Messages about gender and technology tend to start in earliest childhood, when boys are encouraged to play computer games and think about how things work, while girls get toy makeup and fashion sets, Ms. Parmar said.
Catherine Ashcraft, senior research scientist at the Colorado center, said:
“It appears on the surface that women aren’t choosing” technology, but “there are a lot of factors that are influencing that choice.” She continued: “Girls talk about how even when there’s a computer in the house, they don’t get access to it as much, because the boys are pushing them away.”
Subtle, even unconscious bias can prompt parents, teachers and guidance counselors to give the sexes different study and career advice, she said.”
So how do we encourage the children in our lives, girls or boys, to pursue their interests, even when they’re counter to those cultural expectations? Here are some ideas:
People often ask my husband and me what we did to get our oldest daughter interested in math, science, and technology. The truth is, we just opened the door and got out of her way. I think the key is looking at your child with an open heart and mind and letting them share their interests with you.
For parents who don’t have many financial resources, there are many free activities at local universities, school districts, and libraries. State or local scholarships may be available for children from families who have a low income to allow them to attend summer or week-end camps at free or reduced prices.
As you provide children with a variety of opportunities to learn about different fields and interests, they will let you know what they’re passionate about. Kids are amazing people, ready to make a difference in the world. Let’s find a way to help them do that.