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April 2, 2008

leadership according to the Girl Scout Research Institute survey

The Girl Scouts have released a major survey of about 4,000 girls and boys (ages 8-17), focusing on their attitudes toward leadership. In the Washington Post, Laura Sessions Stepp summarized the report thus: "A new nationwide survey of girls and boys found that a majority of children and youths in the United States have little or no interest with achieving leadership roles when they become adults, ranking 'being a leader' behind other goals such as 'fitting in,' 'making a lot of money' and 'helping animals or the environment.'" She quoted me: "'The millennial generation has ambivalent, even negative, feelings about formal leadership,' said Peter Levine, director of a nonpartisan research center at the University of Maryland that studies young people and civic involvement. 'They prefer horizontal leadership in which everyone's a leader.'"

I will be on Minnesota Public Radio today from 10-11 Central Time discussing the report. I have read the full document this morning, and these are some points I notice:

  • Kids are much more likely to say, "A leader is someone who brings people together to get things done"--not "A leader is someone who is in charge of other people and makes decisions that affect them."
  • Being a leader ranks low on the list of goals. This may be partly because of ethical doubts about command-and-control versions of "leadership." But it's partly because young people put their own development first. Staying free of drugs and alcohol, doing well academically, and getting into college rank far above being a leader and helping your community. On the bright side, kids say that they rank fitting in, being popular, and being famous very low.
  • Given a long list of activities that show responsibility or leadership, girls are more involved in almost all ways than boys are--sports being the exception. This result is perfectly consistent with what we know about extracurricular participation in middle school and high school.
  • African American and Latino kids are more likely than Whites to see themselves as leaders, to enjoy leadership, and to want to be leaders. This comes as no surprise, since African American children (especially) are more engaged in problem-solving and "giving back" to their communities than Whites are.
  • The importance of "helping others" declines over the age range 8 to 17, but it falls much more for boys than for girls.
  • Girls and boys alike cite their mothers as by far the biggest influence on their leadership aspirations. This is consistent with other research showing that today's youth are close to their parents and especially their mothers. When I speak to groups of kids, I often ask them to raise their hands if they have a living hero. Many hands go up. I then ask them to put their hands down if their hero is their Mom. Most hands go down.
  • The differences in attitudes between girls and boys are quite modest. I suspect the interesting differences are by age, not gender. However, this survey does not include adults, so we cannot compare generations.
  • April 2, 2008 9:38 AM | category: none

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