Beyond Resilience: the UnFragile Girl
Presenter: Leonard Sax, MD, PhD
Author of Girls on the Edge
Why are so many kids today so fragile? Why are girls today 400% more likely to be anxious and/or depressed, compared with girls from the same neighborhood, 30 years ago? How have other independent girls’ schools changed their school culture to help their girls to become antifragile? How is “antifragile” different from “resilient” – and why does the difference matter? Why is “resilience” not quite the right objective?
I sometimes begin the workshop with a cover story from Maclean’s magazine, September 2012, about students who were successful, doing well in school, had lots of friends, but who then fell apart – became severely depressed, or even committed suicide – on very short notice, with seemingly little provocation. Most of the students are young women. The article asks the question: Why are so many good kids from good families falling apart? Here’s the link to the story: http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/05/the-broken-generation/. (Maclean’s is the most popular news magazine in Canada.)
We then cut to Nassim Taleb’s recent book Antifragile. Taleb defines fragility as sensitivity to volatility. If that definition is valid – and I think it is – then one reason that so many students today are so fragile might be because their parents shield them from volatility and uncertainty. The remedy, then, is to expose kids to more volatility, within constraints: you don’t want your child to be run over by a truck or abducted by strangers.
For example, consider the choice of a summer job. Thirty years ago, many of us who were teenagers back then took a summer job doing unskilled labor, waiting tables or washing dishes. Today, many parents encourage their teenage daughters and sons to take unpaid summer internships with prestigious companies, or to do some sort of academic summer camp so as to be better-prepared for the fall. I will present evidence that the summer job waiting tables at an average restaurant may be better preparation for real life. Having crabby customers yell at you, and being yelled at by a boss who doesn’t care about your feelings, is exactly the exposure to volatility which Taleb prescribes in order to become antifragile. (Being antifragile is NOT the same thing as being resilient, as Taleb emphasizes and as I explain.)
At this point in the presentation, I suggest that many parents today are confused about the role of the parent in the modern world. Many parents today seem to think that their job is to ensure their child’s success, to be the relentless advocate of their child’s welfare. If their daughter doesn’t get a good mark on her paper, or if their son doesn’t make the team, then such a parent may pick up the telephone to complain to the teacher or to the coach. Such parents misunderstand their role. They greatly undermine their own daughter or son by taking such actions. Students must come to see failure and disappointment as an opportunity for growth and for new learning. But if the parent intervenes whenever the student experiences failure or disappointment, with the parent acting as the righteous prosecutor and the child as victim, then the opportunity for growth is lost – regardless of the outcome of the parent’s intervention. So the second half of this talk is about what is required to help children and teenagers develop the characteristic which Taleb describes as “antifragile”, and how that’s different from robustness and resilience.
More information about me – my background, my education, my experience as a physician and a psychologist, the previous schools where I have led workshops, and other training workshops I offer – is available at www.leonardsax.com.
I hope to hear from you! Please call 610 296 2821 between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Time, or send email to email@example.com with copies please to firstname.lastname@example.org and to email@example.com. If you don’t get a prompt reply to your email (within 48 hours), please call – not all emails get through.
Leonard Sax MD PhD
64 East Uwchlan Ave, #259
Exton PA 19341
Telephone: 610 296 2821
Comments from attendees at my presentations
“Everybody at Merchiston commented favourably on Dr. Sax’s sessions yesterday. He is impressive and knowledgeable across so many fields. Every assertion was backed up with evidence. We would love to have him back at Merchiston for seven to ten days. I learned a huge amount and so did everybody else. Of all the presentations we have had in my years at Merchiston, Dr. Sax’s was by far and away the most impressive.”
Andrew Hunter, Headmaster, Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, Scotland
“A great day. Wonderful presentations. . . the parents and staff were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”
Christine Jenkins, Principal, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School, Melbourne, Australia
“Dr. Sax is the Al Gore of the gender crisis. He has EDUCATED us about the nature and scope of the problem. He has WARNED us about the consequences of doing nothing. And he has INSPIRED us to take action in our schools and in our communities.”
Michael Halfin, Huron Heights Secondary School, Newmarket, Ontario
“Of all the sessions I attended, Dr. Sax’s was the only one which gave me concrete information I could use in the classroom.”
Daren Starnes, Chair, Department of Mathematics, Lawrenceville Academy, New Jersey
“What an impressive evening! We have never before been to an event where 600 folks sat, spellbound for two and a half hours, laughing every 3 minutes and uttering ‘Wow’ every 5.”
Steven Masters, Saltus School, Hamilton, Bermuda
“I stayed up past midnight talking with my colleagues about what I heard at Dr. Sax’s presentation earlier that day. His talk was brilliant and inspiring. I confess to feeling a poverty of words in trying to convey how much I enjoyed hearing Dr. Sax and how much I appreciate what he is doing.”
Gerald Grossman, Head, Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, Lake Forest, Illinois
“Dr. Sax gave a fabulous presentation at the Niagara Principals’ conference. My colleagues are still all aglow with what they heard and have purchased more than 200 of his books through a local provider – I know, because I arranged the sale. We would very much like to have him back.”
Gary King, vice principal, Lakeview Public School, Grimsby, Ontario
“I have been providing professional development programs for educators in St. Louis for nine years and no one comes close to Dr. Sax in style or content. I can’t tell you how informative Dr. Sax’s session was for me. I hope I will have the opportunity to listen to Dr. Sax again.”
Genie Newport, Director, Independent Schools of St. Louis
“I am usually pessimistic about learning anything useful at the workshops required by our school district. It was a stroke of luck that I attended Dr. Sax’s session. What was so rewarding in his presentation was that it helped me to understand why some things have worked well for me in the classroom while others have not. I now see the behavior of my students in a new way.”
Jonathan Lind, Sudley Elementary School, Manassas, Virginia
“Dr. Sax gave a fabulous presentation to our parents last evening. Awesome. This was the biggest crowd we’ve ever been able to attract for a speaker, and Dr. Sax graciously stayed well beyond his contracted time to accommodate all. His insights, all thoroughly supported by research, were at times mind-blowing, and his sense of humor just added to a totally enjoyable night.”
Linda D’Orlando, West Windsor – Plainsboro Public Schools, New Jersey
“I was profoundly impressed by the information which Dr. Sax shared with us. I also appreciated his style of presentation: a logical sequence of ideas supported by compelling evidence.
An excellent presentation.”
Don Comeau, Clear Water Academy, Calgary, Alberta
“The thing I find so gratifying in listening to Dr. Sax is that he provides evidence, hard science, to support the points he’s making. That’s rare in my experience, when speakers talk about gender.”
David Lloyd, The Webb Schools, Claremont, California
My three books Why Gender Matters, Boys Adrift, and Girls on the Edge:
Why Gender Matters “. . . is a lucid guide to male and female brain differences.”
New York Times
Boys Adrift “. . . is powerfully and persuasively presented. . . Excellent and informative references and information are provided.”
Journal of the American Medical Association
Boys Adrift: “A must-read for any parent of boys. This is real science, and Dr. Sax thoroughly uncovers the important health issues that parents of boys need to be tuned into.”
Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show”
Boys Adrift: “I know someone who knows what to do [about bullying and cyberbullying]. His name is Dr. Leonard Sax. . . [Boys Adrift] is informative and eminently readable. . .I strongly recommend that you read Boys Adrift.”
Girls on the Edge: “This is essential reading for parents and teachers, and one of the most thought-provoking books on teen development available.”
“Packed with concrete suggestions for parents, Girls on the Edge is a treasure trove of rarely-seen research on girls. Dr. Sax’s commitment to girls’ success comes through on every page.”
Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl
Girls on the Edge: “The best book about the current state of girls and young women. . . offers astonishing and troubling new insight . . .”
“Until recently, there have been two groups of people: those who argue sex differences are innate and should be embraced and those who insist that they are learned and should be eliminated. Sax is one of the few in the middle -- convinced that boys and girls are innately different and that we must change the environment so differences don't become limitations."