I've always hated math. That statement is probably not that unusual coming from someone who now spends her days crafting words and putting them together with pictures (I'm the executive editor at Parents). But it's a deep dark secret in my house. I don't want my 9-year-old daughter, or my 7-year-old son for that matter, to know that I struggled with math all through school, and I hated it. Loathed it. Today, like most people who don't have jobs in STEM fields, I get by without having to know or use much math. But I'd never admit this to my kids. Because I want them to be good at math and science and I fear if I let on that I hate it, it'll give them permission to hate it too. Instead, like many other parents, I tell them how important math is, and how being good at math will help them get jobs in science and computers, which I translate as "Maybe you could invent the next Minecraft!"
But perhaps I'm laying it on too thick. According to a new survey out by Google and Gallup, almost half of the students they polled said "people who do computer science need to be very smart," particularly when it comes to math and science. But only 42 percent of them thought that they were "very skilled" at math, and 39 percent at science, themselves. So our kids recognize the importance of it but just don't feel they are smart enough. Ugh. For girls, it's even worse news: The poll found they were 20 percent less likely than boys to say they felt "very confident" they could learn computer science skills (assuming I got that math right on that survey; ha!). And only 18 percent of girls said they were "very likely" to pursue computer science in the future, compared to 35 percent of boys.
Girls are less gung-ho about careers in STEM likely because there are fewer women in these jobs to look up to, to make the jobs seem cool. I'm certainly not one of these role models as an editor. And unfortunately, my job does seem cool—which I seriously try to downplay to my 9-year-old. Yes, you get to test toys in my office, but it's nearly as fun as Daddy's job where you get to create chemical reactions! (My husband is an engineer who works in nanotechnology. I know, it's incredible we ever met; chalk it up to the miracle of online dating.) Which is why I was excited when his company had a Bring Your Kid to Work Day and our daughter was finally old enough to attend. (See pic above of her doing something science-y; it does look fun!) And even more excited when she came home and declared it "cool." Now I just have to find a way to elevate her fourth-grade math homework to that same status.
Chandra Turner is Executive Editor of Parents magazine. She has two kids and lives in New York.