“I am stupid, I am no good at school, and I never will be.”
Jackie was sitting in my office after receiving a B- on a math test. She had a solid G.P.A. and had been a very strong performer in her language and art class. She was clearly a bright capable young lady. Her assessment of her abilities both current and future seemed unnecessarily bleak and harsh. How was this competent 16 year old girl coming to this conclusion?
Attribution Theory is a concept from Social Science that suggest when things happen to us, good or bad, we ask ourselves why. We attribute the good or the bad to something.
These considerations often include three areas of distinction.
Personal or Circumstantial
If a person loses their job they may conclude that they were a lousy worker (Personal) or they may conclude that it is a lousy economy. (Circumstantial)
Global or Specific
A person who is not selected for a sports team may conclude that they have no athletic ability (Global) or that they are not gifted in that particular sport (Specific)
Permanent or Temporary
A less than great performance in any area may be considered the way it is and the way it will always be (Permanent) or a single episode that may easily change in the future (Temporary)
Jackie’s response was typical of the style most common among Adolescent girls. When Jackie considered why she had received a B- on her math test, she came to three conclusions:
“I am stupid” – Personal
“I am no good at school”- Global
“ I never will be” – Permanent
When negative events happen to Adolescent girls, they draw very personal conclusions that tend to be broad in scope and permanent in nature. This attribution style creates a real vulnerability specific to young women. Boys who do poorly in academics generally show no drop on measures of Self –Esteem. They do not come to the conclusion that they are stupid. They generally conclude that the teacher and/or the test are stupid.
When the outcomes are positive, Adolescent girls change their style. They begin dismissing these good outcomes (everyone did well). They shrink their significance (the test only covered grammar) they believe the good will only be temporary (I was lucky that time, next time will probably be bad).
What we tell ourselves matters. Young girls are prone to a style that collects and magnifies negative and critical feedback. At the same time, they are more likely to reduce and dismiss feedback that is positive and affirming in nature. Do not be surprised when a “little” bad news has a big effect. Do not assume that good things are easily received or believed. Do not ask or expect your daughter to think the way you think.
Consider this…the funnel into a girls’ heart is wide for the bad stuff and narrow for the good stuff.
Keep asking questions about everything and anything. If she is talking and you are listening, something good is happening. Keep showing up. Be stubborn about her receiving the true design of who she is. Be faithful in tearing down the lies of the enemy. She is depending on it.
Grace and Peace,