The Winsor School
A leading school for academically promising girls in grades 5-12
Insights on Parenting to Foster Success
Insights on Parenting to Foster Success

Lauren Stiller Rikleen joined Winsor parents in October to discuss strategies for raising daughters prepared to succeed. Held in the Goel Theater, the special evening presentation was the first of the year's educational programs being sponsored by the Winsor Parents' Association.

Believing that the more we understand about our daughters and their world, the better we can help ensure they are ready, Rikleen outlined clear demographic and workplace shifts that have taken place over the last several decades – and how they have redefined millennial perception and achievement of success.

Sharing findings from "How Millennials Navigate their Careers," a 2015 report by the Boston College Center for Work and Family, she discussed how the primary shifts include technology, the recognition of a stage of 'emerging adulthood' and evolving gender roles. These shifts are apparent in everything from accepted communication styles and measures of self-esteem; to when young adults feel prepared to move out on their own or commit to a relationship.

But perhaps they are most apparent in the value both men and women now place on work-life balance, and their employers' respect of that balance. "Millennials are often labeled as disloyal. That's not true," noted Ms. Rikleen. "They are actually very loyal, but they are loyal to people, not to institutions. This is very important to understand about these generations, as it differs from previous generations."

"Ultimately, the key takeaway from the study was that a majority of respondents believed that life outside of work is much more important to identity than career," she said. "And this is true regardless of gender, marital status and parental status." And while pay is still a primary driver, only 20% want to further advance if it means spending less time with their family or having less of a social life.

An understanding of these dynamics is particularly relevant when paired with an understanding of your daughter's own interests, skills, strengths and weaknesses – and as importantly – her own ability to understand them. Assuming the goal is to prioritize and seek work that will ultimately bring satisfaction, Ms. Rikleen added, "It's one thing to know where you want to go. It's another to know how to get there – and how to ask for help." This is where parents really can make a difference.

In the same millennial study, respondents were not lacking confidence in their ability to do the work, but rather in their ability to identify the right people and network of support to help them advance toward their goals. In these times when technology eclipses face-to-face interactions, our daughters need our help understanding the value – and boundaries – of networking as well as the the power of asking for help.

However, all the preparation, and all the right contacts, will only go so far. If we really want to help our daughters succeed, mounting research indicates that we need to help them develop two essential tools: grit and a growth mindset. Fortunately for parents and children alike, both are learned behaviors that can be developed.

Referencing a New Yorker article on "How Not to Talk to Your Kids", Ms. Rikleen emphasized, "Grit is a precursor to success. Research has shown that successful people are far better at staying in the game for the long haul" and demonstrate "a sustained persistence to achieve goals" in the face of setbacks and failures. "Persistence is governed by a circuit in the brain, and intermittent reinforcement teaches the brain that frustrating spells can be worked through."

So by allowing our daughters to experience frustration and failure, we are enabling them to grow and develop essential life skills. And when they dig in and display effort, how we respond is equally as important.

With a nod to Carol Dweck and an ABC News report, Rikleen advised, "Be specific about what happened and how they can do it differently next time. Emphasizing effort gives children a sense of control and reinforces that they have the ability to improve and change. "Studies show this is particularly relevant with gifted students, who, when overpraised for inherent intelligence, learn to overrate traits they cannot control and underrate the importance of effort, a paradigm that can impact self-esteem.

Ms. Rikleen added a final note about the importance of nurturing ambition in our daughters, particularly in the face of criticism, failure or disappointment. "Women get criticized for being too ambitious," she noted. "But if you have developed a skill, and you are very, very good at it, there's a recognition that comes with that. When the desire for that recognition decreases, ambition decreases as well."

An engaging Q&A followed her remarks, culminating in a take away for parents that was both validating and encouraging: If we strive to understand our daughters – their interest and pursuits, how they view the world, and how they are likely to assess their success and satisfaction - we can apply what we know and what we've learned to ensuring they develop the skills necessary to navigate their own success.

Lauren Stiller Rikleen is the President of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership, a consulting firm that specializes in developing inclusive leadership and strengthening intergenerational teams. Special thanks to Amanda Kennedy P'23, the Parents' Association secretary, for contributing to this recap.