Studies say that young girls think their male peers are smarter, but is this true?

A recent article published in Science and the New York Times ignited an uproar in social and mass media when they reported that young girls don’t think they are as smart as boys. The study concluded that:

"By the age of 6, girls are less likely than boys to believe that members of their gender are ‘really, really smart’ -- a child-friendly way of referring to brilliance. Also at age 6, the girls in these studies begin to shy away from novel activities said to be for children who are ‘really, really smart’. This stereotype begins to shape children’s interests as soon as it is acquired and is thus likely to narrow the range of careers they will one day contemplate."

As a parent and a proud working mom, I was horrified to read their findings and could recall times when my own child had told me she was not smart enough.

Boys are Smarter, but Girls Work Harder

Many publications had an issue with this study, including Forbes Magazine, who stated, “The results are being widely interpreted as showing that girls are less confident about their intelligence from a young age, when in fact, careful reading of the article reveals exactly the opposite: from as early as six years of age, girls are much more aware of their true strengths and potential, and they realize that working hard and being nice are more valuable traits than being ‘smart’ and more closely linked to success.”

As a parent, I like Forbes' sugar-coated interpretation better, but it still caused me to reflect on something: How can girls think they are not as smart as boys?

And as much as I would love to blame it on our selfie-addicted, technology obsessed culture, was good old-fashioned parenting also to blame?

What do Parents Google?

On my quest to understand how today’s girls could feel that boys are smarter, I did some research on what American parents googled.

American parents Googled “Is my son a genius? “more than twice as often as “Is my daughter a genius?” In regards to physical appearances, “Is my daughter overweight?” was googled 70% more often than “Is my son overweight?” (Even though, statistically boys are slightly overweight than girls).

If the studies show children as young as six feel that boys are smarter, how do we counteract them from internalizing such stereotypes from going into careers they see as requiring brilliance?

According to an interview with Andrei Cimpian, one of the lead researchers from the study, “Instilling a growth mindset in children making them think that they can succeed by really throwing themselves into what they’re interested in can really buffer them against these stereotypes,” Cimpian said.

5 Simple Steps for Parents to Help Your Daughters Thrive

First, don’t over-react.

Take a moment to reflect on how much women have accomplished, and it's never too soon to share with your daughters a little history of the women’s movement. A hundred years ago, women did not have the right to vote. Women could not even be granted credit for a credit card without their husband’s signature up until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974.

In 2014, the first woman won a Nobel Peace Prize in mathematics. And even if you didn't vote for her, in 2016, a woman was nominated to run for President of the United States.

Sometimes we all forget how far we have come in a short period.

The key to empowering our daughters' confidence and self-worth is to help them find their passion, so consider taking any of the following 5 simple steps.

1. Introduce your children to positive STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) role models in real life and in stories.

Introduce your daughter to women who work in science every day. Required reading should be about Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, and Katherine Johnson, an African-American research mathematician for NASA who made the Apollo Moon Landing Mission possible. If your child is old enough watch “Hidden Figures” as part of a mother-daughter bonding day.

2. Science is everywhere and crafts can count as chemistry.

Most likely, if you have a daughter, you've had to make an emergency trip to buy school glue to make slime. Social media channels are exploding with kids posting videos and images of their slime inventions. But, slime is not just a craft... it's also introducing your child to the science of chemistry.

Kids experiment by adding new ingredients to change color or viscosity and slime is so popular that tween and teen girls have brought glue makers to their knees, requiring Elmer’s Glue to increase glue production to meet the demand.

3. Encourage experimentation in everything she does.

If your child comes to you with a question, ask her how she can figure it out on her own. Reinforce that being wrong is okay, but that she needs to at least try on her own first.

If she's a baker, let her change some ingredients in the recipe to see what happens. If she is an artist, let her paint with a different type of paint. If she is curious how something works, let her take apart a discarded old phone.

Experimentation is a great way for her to learn new skills, and how to think about problems differently.

4. Math is everywhere... sometimes you just need to point it out.

If you plan on creating a family garden this summer, let your daughter plot out the distance between plants. If your daughter “must have” a sweater from her favorite store, insist she googles a discount coupon to save money and have her figure out the savings.

If you need to provide cookies for a bake sale, have your daughter double the recipe. After all, if she makes a mistake, the cookies may taste a bit odd, but be encouraged that she's using and appreciating math.

5. Don’t gender her passions -- or let anyone else.

If your child likes coding or making apps, don’t make a big deal out of it in front of her. If she loves bugs, don’t let your friends tell her how unusual it is to meet a girl who likes bugs. If your daughter wants to work stage crew for the school musical, encourage her to build sets if she would rather swing a hammer than sew costumes.

Gender biases are already going to slip into your child’s life from peers, family members, and maybe even her teachers, but you don't need to add to it. Let her experiment with all hobbies she's interested in, regardless of gender stereotypes.

Ultimately, it's our job as parents to encourage our children to find their passions in life and give our daughters the self-confidence that they are, in fact, smart enough.