The Girl Scouts’ “Chief Girl Expert” on what boys need to know about girls (and vice-versa)
Girls and boys alike (and yeah, moms and dads) love the cookies—those Thin Mints, Trefoils, Samoas, and new in 2017, S’mores, added to honor the 100th anniversary of Girl Scouts cookie sales, which kick off this month. But for the girls peddling them, there’s something sweeter going on: learning how to be a confident, effective, self-sufficient leader…while having ridiculous amounts of fun.
“It’s the largest entrepreneurial training program for girls in the world,” says Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Chief Girl & Parent Expert for Girl Scouts of the USA.
We asked Archibald—who’s also a developmental psychologist—to talk about parenting from the perspective of both her families, those 2.7 million girls and adults involved in Girl Scouting, and her own two sons, Ethan, 17, and Avery, 14, pictured with her below. (Her review of those new S’mores, btw? “Fantastic!”)
What I tell my boys about girls: Girls can do anything they set their mind to. But sometimes the world sees girls in different ways—as if they have different interests, capabilities, and roles from boys. And this limits the opportunities and experiences they might be offered, and can limit their expectations for what they can achieve.
What I tell our Girl Scouts about boys: There are lots of ways to be a boy today. There isn’t just “one way.” Boys can be incredibly different from one another and much more complicated than how they’re depicted in the media (all too often as klutzy, stupid, insensitive), or than how they sometimes present themselves. Just as we don’t want to limit girls with stereotypes, we don’t want to limit boys, either.
3 things (large or small) I wish every parent knew:
1) It sounds so cliché, but kids grow up so fast! I’ve loved every stage, but I often wish I’d been more “present” when my boys were younger. Instead I was fairly exhausted, often counting the minutes until bedtime came! Now I truly relish our time and realize that work emails can wait and dishes and laundry can either wait or be done together!
2) Sweat ONLY the big stuff and ignore the little eccentricities and annoyances. Your kids want to wear clothes that don’t match or are slightly silly? Let ’em. Your daughter wants to eat the same (relatively healthy) foods for a month? Continue offering a variety, but really, no harm done! The big stuff worth sweating will come soon enough.
3) Even when tweens and teens don’t seem like they want or need us around, they really do! I just read a great study that confirms this and suggests that teens want their parents to be like “potted plants”! So even when parents think, “They aren’t even noticing I’m here,” they actually are. They may not always desire deep, or ANY, interaction, but knowing we’re there makes them feel safe.
My favorite merit badge: I have two. I’m a foodie and a big advocate of supporting local farms, so I love the Locavore badge. But as a psychologist, I also love the Science of Happiness badge, which helps girls’ better understand their own and others’ feelings and behavior. I was in high school when I developed my love for psychology, and this badge was developed to spark girls’ interests even earlier—in middle school.
My favorite Girl Scout tradition: It’s not really a “tradition” exactly, but I’m incredibly proud of our history and practice of inclusion. Girl Scout troops and groups have been inclusive since our founding in 1912. We also help girls see that their ability to promote diversity in a multicultural world is a leadership asset.
Skills every girl should have that are seldom taught:
1) Speaking directly about their feelings, even when they’re negative. So many girls still feel pressured to be happy and respond “pleasantly” all the time. Girls won’t be able to succeed in relationships, school, career, or life if they can’t acknowledge and discuss the good AND the bad. Parents can help with this by letting their daughters know that all feelings are normal and that it’s how we deal with them that counts.
2) Girls of all ages also need to be encouraged to take healthy risks, to try new things that stretch them beyond their current interests and comfort zone. It’s hard, since girls often think perfection is the goal. As parents, we need to remind them that just putting yourself out there is something to be proud of and helps you learn and grow.
My 3 favorite children’s books of all time:
Tar Beach by Faith Ringold
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Wonder by R.J. Palacio. This became required reading for our whole family the year it came out. We all loved it and took something different from the story)
Favorite family movie at our house:
When the boys were younger, it was Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles. These days, it’s almost anything by John Hughes—particularly Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Breakfast Club.
A parenting app I love: Common Sense Media. My kids have long known that if they want to see a movie or purchase a new video game they think I might not approve of, they have to have checked out Common Sense Media’s ratings first.
The one book I recommend to every (new) parent I know: Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, 4th Edition: A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night’s Sleep by Marc Weissbluth M.D. Sleep is important for kids AND their parents!
A family tradition we love: On the boys’ birthdays, we play the Beatles’ “Birthday” song, place candles in the birthday boy’s breakfast, and cover the kitchen table in candid photographs spanning birth to that birthday! We all love looking back on the old and sometimes funny pictures, which brings back memories of first days of school, vacations, Little League, and old friends. It kicks off the day (and new birth year) right.
A family ritual we love: Eating dinner together. It doesn’t sound like much, but as the kids get older it’s an incredibly important check-in time. We try to make it a priority as much as possible around school, sports, and work schedules. It’s probably not surprising that my husband and I love it, but I think my boys value it too. I often have to travel for work and “Will you be home for dinner?” is a frequent question. I do my best to be home in time!
My motto as a mom: “Work hard and be nice.” It really all comes down to this!
(Pssst: To be sure to score your cookies, download the Girl Scouts’ official cookie finder app for iOS or Android, or look for an invite from a Scout you know to buy them online, an option since 2014. Local councils sell at different times, between January and April. Sweet fact: All the net profits stay in the community.)
Photo: Andrea Bastiani Archibald and her sons