My daughter Kayla just completed her first major essay in Grade 8 Language Arts class. She took on a worthy topic of “Should young children be given smartphones?” While Kayla *loves* her iPhone so much that it’s taken away for a weekend, her conclusion was that no, young kids should not have electronic devices during their formative years.
Kayla researched her topic very thoroughly, and enjoyed the learning process so much that she couldn’t include all her sources and arguments into her essay. She wanted to ensure that her argument was solid, and would withstand any attacks.
How did Kayla’s teacher react? She said that Kayla was ‘too aggressive’.
Would a boy be told that’s he’s too aggressive for handing in a well researched paper?
With her essay, Kayla displayed nurturing Momma Bear instincts to protect a fictional young child from decreased social skills, reduced vision and colour discrimination, and decreased attention span. All scientifically proven results from using electronic devices at a young age.
Having her essayed judged as ‘too aggressive’ instead of being marked on the merits of its research and writing skills was pretty upsetting for Kayla. In effect, the teacher judged Kayla’s character, and not her ability to research and write.
This is very similar to calling girls bossy instead of leaders. When a boy manages to round-up a group of attention-deficit teens to play a game of pick-up soccer, he’s called a leader, and has potential. When a girl rounds up a bunch of attention-deficit kids to play a game of pick-up soccer, she’s called bossy and should learn to tone it down.
To counteract the negativity around Kayla’s work, we decided to reframe it. This was important work otherwise she might have been discouraged from writing passionately in the future. Sitting around the kitchen table, the entire family discussed other phrases to describe the essay. Such as:
- The essay was organized, and each point was well supported.
- This essay is thoroughly researched.
If the teacher wanted to comment about Kayla’s character based on her essay, it could look like this:
- Kayla should consider joining the school debate team.
- Kayla is passionate about her topic, and it shows.
We also looked at more supportive ways of conveying negative feedback that wasn’t personality based:
- It’s a good idea to include opposing opinions as this makes for a stronger and more balanced essay.
- It’s good to acknowledge other people’s viewpoints, such as the parents and why they would give their child an electronic device.
I’m not a fan of telling kids they are great all the time, or that they are the best, when it’s clear they are not. So I’m equally okay with a teacher giving negative feedback if the child did not do a good job, or failed to grasp all angles of an assignment. As both my kids will tell you – I don’t blow smoke, but I also don’t tear them down, and I don’t make character judgements of how I “feel” someone “should” act or behave.
There are so many ways to give encouragement and deliver the message of how to improve without being judgemental. Girls are judged enough in society – for their size, how pretty (or not) they are, or what clothes they wear. If you can encourage a young girl, please make the effort to do so.