In our new book “Living the Confidence Code,” we looked for role models whose stories would really resonate with other girls. We highlighted not traditionally “accomplished” or celebrated girls, but those who had also stumbled, shown perseverance and were open about it.
Yekaba Abimbola, in Ethiopia, promised for marriage at 12, was candid about the conflict between her deep desire to please her family, indeed her whole community, and her passion for her independence. She fought against the conventions of her culture, stopping her arranged marriage and winning the right to continue her education.
Ciara-Beth Griffin, an Irish teen on the autism spectrum, struggled to develop an app for other neurodiverse kids. Voicing a theme we heard over and over, she told us, “You get taken over by ‘What if I fail? What will other people think?’ And the nasty perfectionist voice in your head …” Yet she, and all these girls, managed to find an infinite variety of ways to silence that voice and say, as Ciara-Beth puts it, “Knock it off!” and do what they set out to do.
What really works to make someone a role model? Think story and struggle — multidimensional women, with revealing flaws and failure, along with compelling, bumpy narratives.
We’ve put together some essential tips for increasing role-model wattage for parents, educators and all girl allies.
Tell a story
Storytelling as an exceptional teaching tool is well-documented. When we’re engaged in a narrative, our brains connect the information more deeply, making predictions and gaining perspectives that last. And girls hunger for the connections they find in a narrative. “Girls need to look under the hood, to see the process they went through,” Ms. Simmons said. “That’s what really hooks someone — it’s not who you are now, but how you got there and what you weathered.”
Have a robust family discussion about a specific role model, suggested the child psychologist Bonnie Zucker, author of “Anxiety-Free Kids.”