Just Say No to Ban Bossy


It is no surprise the buzz for this campaign fizzled so quickly.

I grew up in the generation where we played outside well after the street lights came on. If we skinned our toes from riding our bikes barefoot, our parents would rinse out the gravel, put a bandage on it and back out we would go for another round. Although it seemed the hard way, we learned. The scar on your foot was like a badge of honor. Only it really showed you were a little more hard headed than your parents liked.

We also grew up with discipline from parents and teachers. If we got out of line, we were told we were out of line and in some cases a little more often than we liked. This was our childhood. Yet how did we become such a molly coddling generation of parents?

The Ban Bossy campaign is flawed and we are overly concerned about solving problems for our children.

An overwhelmingly complicated issue, simplified into a neatly decorated box. Of course, the Ban Bossy name is short, catchy and easy to remember. Like “Just Say No”. This makes sense, Sheryl Sandberg is a business woman. For marketing purposes the catch phrase works, but does the overall concept of banning words and behaviors? The biggest concern I have with it stems from the lack of academic background she has in Education.

Why should I adopt the ideals of a business person as it pertains to social-emotional play with children? It feels a little pushy to me and I don’t like it.

Sandberg’s Ban Bossy campaign hasn’t been integrated into the classroom or the playground yet, but they do have several downloadable sheets available on their website.

One is for teachers. Another for parents, children and coaches. The printables describe ways mentors can help eradicate the word bossy making generalizations about how we can support girls who could become leaders one day.

One quote in the printable reads:

When a girl enters her first classroom and hangs her backpack up in a cubby, she’s there to learn much more than reading and math. Classrooms are where many girls first flex their leadership muscles: they raise their hands for the first time, experimenting with speaking up. They take a chance on an answer, learning to take risks and cope with mistakes. They debate their peers, learning how to engage in conflict constructively.

Isn’t that true of EVERY STUDENT who walks in that door, male or female? Shouldn’t we promote this for EVERY student rather than just run through an exercise in mindfulness?

The campaign seems to be a soap box to delegate more responsibilities on to playground monitors and teachers. Right now, our school systems are delicate. New responsibilities such as Common Core and adding more will only cause set backs.

Also there are various claims about girls and their performance throughout K-12 on the site. First, girls experience a drop in self-esteem between elementary and high school. Second, girls worry about taking on leadership roles because friends will call them bossy and as a result get disliked. Finally, girls are not selected as much during the class to take part and get interrupted more than boys. None of the claims are supported by any viable data, or at least any data that the campaign researched in the last 10 years. It seems to promote ideals from the 90’s which is when the studies were made.

It’s clear Sandberg would like to have a hand in what vocabulary gets used on school campuses. An article on NPR.com, Sheryl Sandberg: The Word ‘Bossy’ Should Be Banned, states, “Sandberg says she is launching a public service campaign aimed at getting rid of the word.” She has been cheer leading women’s empowerment since the release of her book titled Lean In in early 2013.

We have seen the success and failure of other school targeted campaigns headed by public figures. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” was an effort to bring awareness of drug abuse to schools. Over the years, there has been criticism about the effectiveness versus the cost. Businesses and politicians might be overstepping when costs far outweigh palpable results.

Reading Between the Lines

Let’s imagine for a second, Ban Bossy gets embraced by educators. Self esteem is one of the most important things for a developing young girl. One of the ways a child learns to develop self-esteem is through social-emotional activities. Instead of problem solving the child might feel encouraged to tell on someone for every little dilemma. If you have been on a playground lately, you know what I mean. By vilifying a new word or behavior, we give kids more things to track and report, instead of focusing on academics.

We want to encourage kids to work it out or we guide them to problem solve. Unless of course, the situation is extreme.

When we encourage teacher intervention, we reduce possibilities for them to rely on their own selves. The fact is, not everyone has to act the same way and we do need to learn how to get along. So even if there is a bossier kid on the playground, and we feel they are being unfair, we need to know how to address them – not ban a word.

PrintPlus, it seems counter intuitive to the efforts of the Bully Project. One supports protecting kids from aggressive children who tell others what to do. The Sheryl Sandberg campaign suggests we need to let bossy kids be themselves versus telling on them.

Since Sheryl makes it crystal clear that the bossy label affects girls, calling her a leader can impact her negatively as well.

Research has shown that the wrong type of praise does NOT help sustain academic performance. We need to focus on young peoples efforts and acknowledge them, steering away from labeling kids as smart, leaders and so on.

According to NYMag.com, How Not to Talk to Your Kids, a new study “…strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of ‘smart’ does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.” With this information we might be able to deduce that labeling kids can be counterproductive in general. Perhaps it is not the word itself, so much as the label.

Additionally, Stanford Magazine said, in their article The Effort Effect, that studies “…showed that praising children for intelligence, rather than for effort, sapped their motivation. But more disturbingly, 40 percent of those whose intelligence was praised overstated their scores to peers. We took ordinary children and made them into liars.”

Our kids intelligence quotient (IQ) is as important as their Emotional Quotient (EQ).

The whole reason for the campaign is to raise confidence and awareness of women. When we teach children not to problem solve, it takes away from their ability to trust in themselves.

The Solutions

I believe, the culture of little girls and young women IS the bigger issue.

Girls see polished magazine images through media that send a message to strive for an unattainable perfection. Manipulated images of women on magazine covers reinforce our obsession with looks and appearance. This can affect a girl’s self-esteem to feel she is not worthy enough if her looks do not match those perfected by Photoshop. All of this brews up a generation of unhappy, self loathing adults. Body dissatisfaction and preoccupation (and consequently self-esteem) are more likely to come from images projected in the media.  One article, from Westminster College, saying,

Images in the media today project an unrealistic and even dangerous standard of feminine beauty that can have a powerful influence on the way women view themselves.

So, should we Ban Bossy or Ban negative stereotypes of women in the media to raise young female self-esteem?

Here is the real kicker. One of the Ban Bossy supporters is Beyoncé. This is a confusing message. Beyoncé’s music contains the word “bitch” among other expletives. (just give the lyrics to Drunk in Love a read and you tell me if it’s good song for your young Girl Scout to want to emulate – great song, but just wait till Surfbort…Surfbort…works its way into the next campfire song). She often wears revealing clothing and includes blatant sexual innuendo in her songs. How does that send a good message, especially to the younger generation of girls and those who are active in the Girls Scouts? Did I mention the Girl Scouts of America is a supporter? Instead of banning bossy, we should reconsider who we have set up as role models for our young girls and require image manipulation disclaimers in media.

Further, women are social creatures. We use communication to maintain friendships. We like talking in private places not public. These are all traits the majority of girls have. It has to do with our communication style. Perhaps this has more to do with why girls are less vocal in classrooms. Rather than offering any real solutions, it seems Sandberg is more interested in making gender comparisons.

Let us not forget, parenting plays a tremendous role in children’s development. Geoffrey Canada and his New Harlem Renaissance program seem like a better way to address the issue of deficiencies in confidence among children. He created a school to help teach pregnant mothers about proper care for their toddlers. It might not be in the same vein but it is a good example of an educator offering a viable and effective solution for resolving academic performance issues. I think I’d take a lesson from the Harlem’s Children Zone Founder over Sandberg’s demand to ban. Let’s start teaching kids more words, earlier on, and lets keep politics and business out of the playground. Let teachers do what they do best – TEACH.

Finally, the biggest irk I have with Ban Bossy is Sandberg herself. Most of us would probably agree that if getting called bossy as a kid would lead to where she’s at today, we wish someone would have called us bossy when we were kids.

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