Parents Play a Crucial Role in Building Kids' Interest in Science and Math

Scientific American

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Earlier this week the Girl Scouts, which turns 100 this year, released an interesting report on teenage girls’ attitudes toward science and math. Some highlights:

  • 74 percent of girls ages 14 to 17 report an interest in science, technology, engineering or math (known as STEM)
  • Parents play a major role in getting their kids interested in these subjects. Two-thirds of the girls who reported an interest in science, math or engineering had mothers or fathers who encouraged these interests, as compared to only one-third of girls who reported little interest in STEM. This is true of both genders, as the role of parents has come up a lot in similar studies, particularly this one by Jon D. Miller of the University of Michigan.
  • Hispanic and African-American girls report an even higher interest in STEM than caucasian girls.
  • There is a gap between girls’ interest in STEM subjects and their desire to pursue a career as a scientist or engineer. The No. 1 career choice of science-interested girls was medicine/healthcare, which does not technically qualify as a STEM career. Arts/design, followed by social science, entertainment, and communications/media were the next four most popular choices. Physical/life sciences came in sixth place, with 57 percent of STEM-interested girls placing it first. Among non-science-interested girls, arts/design and entertainment were the two top career choices.
  • Why the gap? Peer pressure and gender stereotypes may play a role, as 57 percent of all respondents said girls their age don’t typically consider a career in science or in technical fields. Also, many girls may not be making the connection that a science career can help them achieve their goals. According to the report, girls want a career that will allow them to help people (94 percent of STEM-interested girls; 83 percent of non-STEM) and to make a difference in the world (92 percent of STEM-interested girls; 82 percent of non-STEM).

Studies like this are a reminder to all adults, and especially to parents, that they are responsible for introducing kids to the full breadth of what they can do with their lives. Let’s remind kids to give equal weight to literature, the arts and math and science.

Here are a few activities that can get you started right away:

  • Help scientists make discoveries about the structure of the eye.
  • Help marine biologists study whale songs.
  • Build a simple or more complex bridge.

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