You can’t please all the people all the time, as the saying goes. But that’s just what today’s girls feel they’re being asked to do. 

According to a new study commissioned by Girls Inc., a nonprofit that helps young women reach their full potential, girls are facing increasing pressure, at ever younger ages, to please. “Society still sees girls through a gender lens that requires them to be pretty and passive, while increasingly expecting girls to be smart and successful,” says Joyce M. Roche, Girls Inc.’s President and CEO.

The study, conducted online by Harris Interactive, surveyed over 2,000 girls and boys in grades 3-12, plus 1,005 adults. It reported that girls have high goals for themselves – 71% want to go to college, but a good deal say they don’t know how to make their dreams a reality. One-fifth say they don’t know three adults they can turn to with a problem. And 76% of girls in grades 9 to 12  “worry about their appearance.” Even for girls in elementary school, the ability to look “skinny” and “dress right” is an issue. Over one-half of 3rd to 5th graders worry about it.

The study also found that gender bias is still alive and well, even at the youngest grades. 84% of girls and 87% of boys, for example, believe that girls are “supposed to be kind and caring,” and 88% of girls and 94% of boys believe boys are “supposed to be able to protect themselves and others.”

As a parent, you can’t always control what happens to your child at school. But you can control what happens at home. Girls Inc. has a few recommendations:

  1. Provide access to a wide variety of toys (trucks and dolls, chemistry sets and dress-up clothes) and make it clear to your kids that it’s okay to play with all of them.
  2. Alleviate the pressure of high stakes education. High school grades may matter, but elementary school should be fun – full of exploration, not stress.
  3. Distribute household chores evenly. Make sure everyone, regardless of gender lends a hand – boys and girls should be given responsibilities in cleaning up and taking care of siblings.
  4. Provide role models. Men and women serve a multitude of roles in society. Introduce your children to men and women across the career spectrum.