Citing Facebook as a “significant challenge” facing girls today, Dr. Leonard Sax spoke with students, faculty, and parents at GPS on Tuesday, encouraging girls to nurture friendships face-to-face, teachers to adopt even more girl-friendly instructional strategies, and parents to “be parents” and “reconnect bonds across generations.”
The acclaimed author of Why Gender Matters and Girls on the Edge is a medical doctor with a Ph.D. in psychology. Through the day-long visit, he shared his considerable experience, supported by studies from American and international university researchers, often referring to the over 300 schools that he’s visited in the U.S.
Communication is a skill that “must be practiced,” he told the students in morning meetings, adding that Facebook shouldn’t be used to communicate “substantive or nuanced emotions” that can easily be misunderstood. Asking questions and sharing research, he described Facebook as “toxic” in that it pressures girls to post something every day or risk being characterized as “not having a life.” Facebook “pushes girls to overvalue acquaintances and neglect friendships,” he said.
With the faculty, Dr. Sax emphasized how girls value “personal interaction” with their teachers, often preferring circular arrangements of desks to the traditional rows. “Girls’ friendships are face-to-face,” he said, and so must be teacher relationships. He offered numerous instructional strategies for social sciences, history, physics, and coaching, and the GPS faculty offered their own creative ideas for other disciplines.
Speaking to the public in the evening, Dr. Sax insisted that for an adolescent, “the opinions of her parent should matter more than the opinions of her peers,” adding that “good parents offer unconditional attachment and affection and unhesitatingly make sacrifices for the good of their children,” qualities that same-age peers do not offer. The reasons behind girls’ anxiety today comes from broken bonds and a culture focused on the superficial, according to Dr. Sax, adding that family vacations and family dinners are invaluable.
“The biggest change in recent years,” he said in conclusion, “has been the transfer of authority from parents to children.” Girls want parents to be parents, he said. As the founder and executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, he told parents that the “choice of school is the single most consequential decision” they can make; however, “You have wisdom and know more than your daughters; trust and act on that knowledge.”