Op-Ed: We must teach girls to be fearless

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The following op-ed is written by Susan Douglas, chief executive officer, Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road

Growing tomorrow’s female leaders in Northern Kentucky starts with our actions today. We must teach girls to find courage in taking risks, to embrace accountability for their actions, and practice confidence in their interactions – to be fearless. 

Northern Kentucky has taken monumental strides towards developing stronger youth through our youth-building organizations, offering programming, mentorship, and resources. Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky, Jacqueline Coleman, who serves as Kentucky’s Secretary of Education and Workforce Development, has emphasized the significant strides Northern Kentucky has made in education throughout the Commonwealth by stating, “Our education-first budget prioritizes those values and demonstrates that the blueprint for building the economy of tomorrow requires investment in our classrooms today.” 

It is clear that the region is working towards developing a well-educated, balanced youth – but are we teaching our youth to overcome fear with tenacity? To adopt this new strategy, we should first empower children and teens to identify their feelings and emphasize that they are acceptable and normal. It is well-understood by researchers that emotional regulation is associated with academic success, but children often have trouble identifying their feelings due to the fear of external disappointment. To help this, we can inspire children to tune into their internal cues, encourage them to express these emotions, and listen when they are sharing these feelings. When children manage their emotions, they are more likely to have stable relationships, perform better in their career, and feel more confident for the long term. 

Beyond identifying emotions, we should be teaching youth that failure is acceptable – and bound to happen. We naturally want our children to succeed and when failure occurs, children can feel like they let you down, leading them to the notion that failure is unacceptable. Failure is a necessary component in growth. A scientific study from 2020 showed how failure is often an intrinsic motivator, resulting in internal growth and self-development. Though humankind naturally fears failure, the relationship between our emotions and goals improves as a result. Self-development, through over-coming failure, can give youth the ambition to pursue their dreams, despite the inevitable roadblocks. 

Fear also can result from a lack of support. For younger generations, support, through a sense of community, connects them to their surroundings and builds a network of people they can rely on. As they develop within their community, they begin to understand values, rules, and most importantly, how to tackle challenges. Fearless young adults maneuver challenges and ultimately build stronger, more resilient communities. 

Local organizations, like the Girl Scouts, have the potential to enhance fearless leadership in Northern Kentucky. In 2021, Girl Scouts of Kentucky’s Wilderness Road announced a $6 million Leadership Campus, offering the space for programs in entrepreneurship, essential personal and business skills, and exposure to STEM careers here in Northern Kentucky. By learning under the mentorship of strong role models and adopting a mindset of experimentation, children and young adults will learn that failure is an inevitable, and in fact, encouraged – as a critical part of life. The Northern Kentucky Leadership Campus will be a resource for community growth, strengthening the bonds between current and future leaders.

By encouraging our youth to speak their minds, overcome failure, and embrace community, we will build the next generation of fearless leaders. Leadership today is different from tomorrow – but both develop from overcoming fears and developing the ambition to pursue dreams. With fearless leaders, we will nurture growth beyond the imaginable.

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