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How to Stop the Tween Confidence Drop By Helping Girls Take on Toxic Thinking

Girls' confidence drops by 30% between the ages 8 and 14.


"Now, more than ever, girls should be armed with confidence. They need to have faith in their phenomenal abilities, resist the need to please, fight back against intimidation from peers or adults, and stand up for others, and most importantly, themselves. Confident girls become confident women, and we want that status for our girls, who seem fearless and exuberant through most of elementary school, only to lose confidence at puberty. Boys and girls run neck and neck, confidence-wise, up to then, but when the estrogen-testosterone waves start flooding kids’ brains, all that changes. For girls, confidence takes a huge hit," write Katty Kay, Claire Shipman and JillEllyn Riley, in TIME.

To determine just how much of a confidence drop girls experience, Kay and Shipman, who are the authors of The Confidence Code for Girls, worked with a polling firm to survey over 1,300 girls in the U.S. from ages 8 to 18. The study found that girls' confidence drops by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. "We were surprised at how quickly, how deep that drop is," says Shipman. "And especially because right until age 8, there's really no difference [between girls and boys] in confidence levels." Based on their prior book, The Confidence Code, focused on adult women, they also know that, once opened, this confidence gap often fails to close later in life.

One contributor to this drop in confidence is that fact that, as girls reach their tweens, they become more aware of others' emotions, making them more cautious and less risk-taking. "Combine these incredible attributes with some of the ways girls are socialized differently from boys, and you get a blueprint for startling intellectual prowess and emotional intelligence, or, on the flip side, you get the kind of overthinking that is crippling to tween and teen girls," observe the authors.

There are a variety of toxic thinking patterns that girls might fall into without realizing. "Some assume they know what everyone else is thinking, especially when it’s about them," the authors write. "Anything bad happening is automatically their fault, or at least that’s what they think other people think. For others, a set-in-stone attitude grabs ahold, so that anything that happens is immutable, fixed, permanent. A bad grade means they’re stupid. An unanswered text means their friends hate them."

Another destructive habit — one common to many adults as well — is catastrophization: "they imagine disaster around every corner. For a catastrophist, one wrong answer indicates academic Armageddon." These thinking patterns hold girls back in a number of ways: aside from the energy lost to their worries, they discourage girls from trying new things and taking risks, whether it's a challenging course at school, a new activity, or expressing an opinion that doesn't fit in with the crowd. In other words, they are deterred from participating in the types of activities and experiences that could challenge them and help build their self confidence.

Fortunately, the authors assert, there are simple cognitive solutions that can "combat these flawed thinking patterns" and help girls build confidence. One option is "changing the channel" when emotions start getting overwhelming: "something as simple as putting on music, taking a walk, or practicing an instrument calms the circuits experiencing emotional overload." Similarly, "​looking at positive images and listing positive thoughts, even for a few minutes, [will] release the feel-good endorphins that will calm them down." Optimistic "maybe" thoughts can help with the set-in-stone attitude: "Maybe the unanswered text was because of a family dinner." Or they can ask themselves "What's the worst that can happen?... Usually, the answer is feeling momentarily uncomfortable [or] slightly embarrassed," they point out.

"Women often come to understand too belatedly that our thoughts aren’t always our most accurate or helpful allies," the authors observe. "If girls can start to see that pattern at age 10 or 11, imagine how much less angst they would feel, how much more control they would have, and the confidence they could start building."

To read the full story, visit TIME.

Resources To Help Tween and Teen Girls Build Confidence

The Confidence Code for Girls
New!

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

The Confidence Code for Girls
New!

Taking Risks, Messing Up, and Becoming Your Amazingly Imperfect, Totally Powerful Self

Recommended Age: 8 - 12

Many girls are consumed by self-doubt on the inside, especially during the tween and teen years — but if they can crack the confidence code, they can learn how to set worries aside and focus their energy on what's really important: confidently pursuing their dreams and embracing their authentic selves! In this book, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, the authors of the best-selling The Confidence Code for adult women, draw on the latest research to help tweens understand how to short-circuit the thoughts that drain your confidence and hold you back. Illustrations throughout help draw girls into the book, while lists, quizzes, and stories from real-life girls help readers understand how to embrace risk (and failure), overcome anxieties, and be happy in their own skins.

A Smart Girl's Guide: Knowing What to Say

A Smart Girl's Guide: Knowing What to Say

Written by: Patti Kelley Criswell
Illustrated by: Angela Martini
Recommended Age: 9 - 12

A tween's complicated life is full of difficult conversations, from what to say to a friend who talks behind your back to how to ask your parents for a privilege they've previously denied. Fortunately, with a little guidance from the American Girl Library, she'll feel ready to take on any situation! In this updated edition, scripts and suggestions for over 200 situations, from consoling a grieving friend to standing up to a bully, give you tips and techniques to speak up appropriately and assertively. With a little help knowing what to say, she'll be ready to take on the challenges ahead of her with confidence!

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

A Smart Girl's Guide: Drama, Rumors & Secrets

Written by: Nancy Holyoke
Recommended Age: 8 - 12

The drama that can appear during middle school has a big effect on their social world — and their confidence. In this book, girls will learn how jealousy, gossip, and cyberbullying can creep into the lives of tweens and teens, as well as how to avoid them and stay true to themselves. They'll also learn what separates regular talk from gossip and how to handle difficult interactions over text or online. By learning how drama starts and how it gets worse, girls can find out what they can do to stop it from taking control of them and their friends.

Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens

A Workbook to Break the Nine Thought Habits That Are Holding You Back

Conquer Negative Thinking for Teens

A Workbook to Break the Nine Thought Habits That Are Holding You Back

Recommended Age: 13 and up

Negative thinking habits can lead teens to develop a distorted view of themselves and others, leaving them feeling anxious, angry, and sad. Fortunately, it's possible to learn to recognize these habits — whether it's the "I can't" habit, the "zooming-in-on-the-negative" habit, the "mind-reading habit", or any of the other common negative thinking habits — and develop more helpful ways of thinking that can help teens gain perspective, resiliency, and self-confidence. Psychologist Mary Karapetian Alvord and writer Anne McGrath provide sections addressing the emotions and bodily sensations that are commonly associated with each habit. Filled with real-life examples, the guide gives teens a step-by-step action plan on how to take control of their thinking and their lives.

The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teen

Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals

The Self-Esteem Workbook for Teen

Activities to Help You Build Confidence and Achieve Your Goals

Written by: Lisa M. Schab LCSW
Recommended Age: 13 and up

Self-esteem is more than just feeling good about yourself: it also means having a realistic view of your strengths and weaknesses that allows to to thrive and respect yourself, faults and all. In this workbook, teens learn practical exercises to help them handle self-doubt and criticism, foster self-awareness, and avoid the traps of becoming self-absorbed or selfish. Along the way, teens will also discover their likes and dislikes, explore their dreams for the future, and create an authentic picture of the life they'd like to lead. By building a healthy level of self-confidence, girls will find it easier to muster the emotional resources it takes to take on the challenges ahead of them.

The Confidence Code

The Science and Art of Self-Assurance - What Women Should Know

The Confidence Code

The Science and Art of Self-Assurance - What Women Should Know

Recommended Age: Adults

Contrary to what most people believe, confidence it not an attribute that you either have or lack: it's a state that you can learn, foster, and improve! In this groundbreaking book, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman investigate both the neuroscientific research into the origins of confidence and the real-life stories of women in a wide variety of fields who have harnessed the power of confidence to their own benefit. By changing how we act, women can also change how confident we feel — and change our lives. Both insightful and inspiring, The Confidence Code will help women step forward and claim their confidence.

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