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Category: Cyber world / Bullying

The Darker Side of Facebook

Facebook has become a positive part of many of our lives, but there is a darker side of Facebook that all parents and educators need to be aware of: cyber-bullying. It is inevitable that bullies will try to use social networking sites as a tool. It gives them a platform to humiliate their victims not just in front of a schoolyard full of kids but potentially a global audience, with little chance of being held accountable.

The problem has grown so great that dealing with the fallout has become a major part of many school counsellors’ jobs. The Adelaide Advertiser reported that at Blackwood High School, counsellors “spend all day Monday and sometimes longer dealing with the issues that are generated on Facebook and by text messages over the weekend”. 

Kids are also using Facebook to harass teachers. In Australia recently, students have posted messages on Facebook threatening a teacher with being “massacred by chainsaws”, targeting a female teacher with sexually offensive material and falsely alleging that another was a gay paedophile.

Bullies are renowned for being blind to the feelings of others, and when they take their bullying campaigns to the internet, a terrible thing appears to happen: that lack of empathy spreads like a virus. The victims become depersonalised, just images on a screen rather than real people with real feelings, and it is all too easy for others to join in the mocking. Recently, 60 students at an Adelaide high school were involved in bullying a fellow student on Facebook, according to The Advertiser.

This phenomenon in evident on a very disturbing misogynistic Facebook page that Melinda Tankard Reist blogged about. It is a page on which members can post pictures of women or girls they deem to be “sluts”. These ordinary young women are left completely vulnerable to appalling taunts and insults by people all over the globe. She wrote:

Some images are clearly posted for revenge. Often full names are used. What means do these women and girls have to defend themselves? How do they deal with it? What does it mean for them in their daily lives at school or work or at home or anywhere, to be identified to the whole world as a slut?

By allowing this site, Facebook is a conduit for bullying, harassment and abuse.

There are a number of pages on Facebook that are, to use Melinda’s words, “temples to human cruelty”.

I was mystified when a 14-year-old girl at a school I worked with recently told me she had joined a Facebook page for fans of Eminem, named after a line in his song Superman: “I do know one thing though, bitches, they come they go’s.”

Image used on FB Page
Image used on FB Page

The Eminem song is that of a battle-scarred adult, full of twisted hurt at failed relationships, and full of vitriol and hate against all women. The profile picture? A beautiful but scared-looking young woman with her mouth taped shut, her hands presumably bound.  What a bully’s fantasy that is. I think it’s important to be aware that we live in a world where 14-year-old girls can be drawn to, and get involved with, such a seemingly incongruous message and online community.

But as I have written before in this blog, the worst thing we can do is have a knee-jerk reaction and try to stop girls from using Facebook. Not only would it be impossible, it would be a bad idea. Maintaining connections and mastering technology are vital for girls’ development. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be ‘multi-literate’, competent in the full range of media.

It is important not to lose perspective: most of what happens on Facebook is fine, and social networking sites can be a great way to get girls engaged in technology. Enlighten Education has its own Facebook page where positivity reigns supreme and the empowerment of girls is the ultimate goal. We post articles and videos to inspire girls and get them thinking, and we provide a safe and affirming forum for them to express themselves.

What we all need to do is get involved with our teen girls and give them the support and skills they need to use technology safely. At Enlighten, we run “digital citizenship” workshops for teens and parents, because it is crucial for teens to learn to navigate the social world of the internet, in the same way that it has always been crucial for them to learn to navigate the social world of the schoolyard. 

Bullying must never be ignored, whether it’s taking place face-to-face, on the internet or via text messaging. As adults we need to take responsibility for bullying, and give teens the support they need to deal with it.

Combating Cyber-bullying

  • Sometimes girls hold back from telling adults about cyber-bullying because they fear they will be banned from using the internet. Rather than making threats, keep the lines of communication open and establish trust. 
  • Make yourself familiar with Facebook so you know what your daughter may encounter while using it.
  • Some adults become their daughter’s Facebook friend so they can monitor her. I think it’s more beneficial to work on a trusting relationship with your daughter so she knows she can come to you if she has a problem.
  • If you suspect your daughter might be a victim, don’t ignore it. Ask her sensitively about your concerns.
  • Parents should alert their daughter’s school to cyber-bullying. The only way to solve the problem is for parents and school staff to work together.
  • Encourage girls to think before they accept a Facebook friend request. Is this a person they would be friends with in the real world?
  • Emphasise the importance of girls setting their Facebook privacy to the highest level so only their friends have access to their page.

Girls in Trouble in a Post-Feminist World

Parents, teachers and all of us at Enlighten Education know in our hearts that girls and young women are in trouble and need our support. And the evidence is mounting to prove that we are right to be concerned.

A 19-year-long Scottish study published recently in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology showed that teenage girls are now the most depressed section of the population. The study, by Helen Sweeting, showed that girls were reporting mental disorders at a rate of 44%. More than a third felt “constantly under strain”. More than a quarter “felt they could not overcome their difficulties”. Between 1987 and 2006, the number of girls who “thought of themselves as worthless” trebled to 16%. Those who were so distressed they might need to be hospitalised rose threefold, to 18%.

And recent UK government research into 42,073 children between the ages of 10 and 15 concluded that:

The choices being made by teenage girls regarding diet, lifestyle and other health-related issues were so consistently damaging that they had become ‘a standalone group of the population’ requiring immediate intervention.

Amelia Hill, of London newspaper The Observer, reported on the research in her superb article After feminism: what are girls supposed to do? which I urge everyone to read.

Helen Sweeting, the author of the Scottish research, found it significant that her disturbing results came at a time of major upheavals in society — in Hill’s words, “the period in which girls began to outperform boys academically, and the obsession with celebrity culture and the pressure on younger and younger girls to become sexualised”.

Girls’ problems are caused by a combination of very modern problems, including the breakdown of the family, and the pressures of rampant consumerism and of educational expectations – the need, in short, to have things, look good and succeed all at the same time. Add to that the spread across society of increasingly cynical, individualistic values and beliefs, and you have a pretty toxic mix. — Helen Sweeting

For explanations, Hill turned to a number of experts, including Natasha Walter, author of the new book Living Dolls, The Return of Sexism:

Feminism’s own language of empowerment has been turned against it. The language of empowerment has been harnessed to confuse sexual liberation with sexual objectification. — Natasha Walter

I agree with Hill that girls are “growing up in an atmosphere of unapologetic crudity”. Stripping, she noted, “is widely cited as a method of empowerment”.

Girls feel pressured now in a way they never have been before to be thin, hyper-sexy, smart, glamorous, rich. And these expectations have created a “narcissism epidemic”. Respected American psychologist Jean Twenge studied almost 60 years’ worth of data on 37,000 American teenagers and found a staggering rise in the number of teens who score high on the narcissism personality index. And it is females who suffer the most from the depression and anxiety linked to narcissism, Hill noted.

The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives. Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols. — Jean Twenge

Other UK findings uncovered by Hill that make it impossible to deny that girls are in trouble include:

  • Hospital admissions for anorexia nervosa among teen girls have risen 80% in the last decade.
  • In the past year alone there has been a 50% rise in violent crime committed by young women.
  • One in three girls, and one in two boys, believe there are times when it is okay to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

It is clear that the pressure girls feel to be more and to have more has grown to the point that they are struggling to cope. They need our support and understanding right now. 

Thank you to Sarah Casey for bringing Amelia Hill’s article to my attention.

Seeking positive alternatives for girls  

Enlighten Education is proud to be working with schools and communities who are seeking answers for girls. I have recently returned from working with a number of schools in Christchurch, NZ, and spoke about this positive initiative on New Zealand’s Breakfast program:

To watch this interview, click on this image. You will be directed to the URL.
To watch this interview, click on the link above. You will be directed to the URL.

Wilderness College Adelaide is to be applauded for launching their “Raising Amazing Girls” program:

As part of the growing momentum around Australia to address the problems caused by unrealistic media and marketing images of women and the pressure for girls to grow up early, an extensive program will be launched today by Wilderness School to equip girls, and their parents, with the tools to help them navigate the ‘tweenie’ years.

This will include a series of practical seminars, open to all parents, as well as an intensive program working directly with the students at the school on issues such as the sexualisation of girls, digital citizenship and cyber-bullying. I am thrilled to be leading this for Wilderness and will be presenting to all the girls in the school, and to their parent community, later this month.

In Sydney, I will be offering parents practical strategies on raising happy, confident teen girls at a workshop on 16 March at Castle Hill Library. Tickets can be purchased online.  

I’d love to hear how you are providing the girls you care for with the urgent help they need. Let’s share our ideas and turn things around for girls in Australia and New Zealand . . . and set an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Teens and P*rn: dealing with difficult truths

Please note: the blogging platform I use, Edublogs, filters out words like p*rn, hence the need to use asterisks. If you wish to comment, please use symbols to avoid your text being automatically deleted.

Warning: the sites hyperlinked in this blog post include sexually explicit personal accounts of sex and p*rn*graphy.

P*rn is nothing new, but it has never been more accessible than it is today. In the excellent 2009 UK television series The Sex Education Show, three out of ten high school students interviewed said they learned about sex predominantly through viewing p*rn*graphy on the internet and mobile phones, or in magazines. According to the show, the average teenager claims to watch 90 minutes of p*rn a week.

What messages will this generation receive about desirability if their emerging sexuality is largely shaped by p*rn? In episode one of The Sex Education Show, viewers saw the reactions of teens of both sexes when they were shown images of real breasts; they were unimpressed because these breasts didn’t sit up like silicone-enhanced ones. When shown images of women with pubic hair, they gasped in what seemed to be shock or disgust. Presenter Anna Richardson surmised: “What’s sad is they are putting pressure on themselves and each other, convinced by the sexual imagery they see that porn-star plastic is perfection.”

Equally as sad is the very real risk that young people will get caught up in sharing things on line in a way that they may later deeply regret. Recently, a Sydney schoolgirl was investigated by police for sending a naked image of herself to her boyfriend via her mobile, an example of the growing phenomena known as sexting.

More research into the short- and long-term impact exposure to p*rn is having on our young people is vitally important. The Australian Government’s recent report Adolescence, P*rn*graphy and Harm is an essential starting point, and it addresses some very real challenges in its conclusion:

Though restricting exposure will remain a priority, an over-reliance on this approach to protect against the perceived harms of p*rn*graphy is problematic as it fails to recognise the realities of ready availability and the high acceptance of pornography among young people. Moreover, it fails to examine the holistic way in which adolescents’ sexual expectations, attitudes and behaviours are shaped in our society and the complexity of factors that give rise to the cited harms. Protecting young people necessarily requires equipping them, and their caregivers, with adequate knowledge, skills and resources (e.g. media literacy; sex education; education about pornography and rights and responsibilities of sexual relationships; safe engagement with technologies) to enable successful navigation toward a sexually healthy adulthood, as well as tackling factors predisposing to sexual violence.

This is not an issue we can afford to ignore. At my company, Enlighten Education, where we discuss a wide range of topics with young women in schools, including cyber safety and responsible use of technology, we have deliberately chosen not to run workshops on sexuality because families have their own values they wish to instill, and girls need to hear messages about sexuality at different ages, depending on their cognitive, emotional and physical development. We do believe, however, that by helping girls develop a strong sense of self, we are equipping them to be better able to make their own choices and to view themselves holistically – not just as a body but a heart, soul and mind, too.

How will you give the young women – and men – in your life the knowledge, skills and resources they need to move beyond X-rated visions of sexuality? I would love to hear how you’re all tackling some of these difficult truths.

PS Talk about timely: in today’s news there are reports that American comedian, actor and singer Jamie Foxx has been forced to apologise for urging 16-year-old tween idol Miley Cyrus to “make a sex tape and grow up”. A joke based on pressuring teen girls to make sex tapes is really no joke at all.

Violence against women is no game.

The media release below was forwarded to me by Women’s Forum Australia. The issues raised within it are so concerning that I have decided to reproduce it here in its entirety (with their permission). I would urge my readers to consider how they can lobby against the production and distribution of these types of games.

Media Release

Government must act immediately to end access to downloadable gang rape game.

Women’s Forum Australia calls on the Government to act immediately to prevent access to a Japanese PC game which has as its plot the stalking and gang rape of a mother and her two daughters.

The Government communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), must be immediately directed to identify all websites making this game available as a download and add them to the blacklist so they can be subjected to ISP filtering.

In the game, Rapelay, players direct a character to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters at an underground train station, before going on to rape other female characters. One of the daughters is depicted as aged about 10. She sleeps with a teddy bear.

Although blacklisted on online shopping sites eBay and Amazon.com two weeks ago, the sexually explicit Japanese animation is available on a number of websites offering the full version of the software to download.

Developed by Japanese production house Illusion, the object of the game is to turn the women into sex slaves – without getting them pregnant.

Should one of the female characters become pregnant, she must be forced to have an abortion.
One site describes RapeLay as “a new type [of] molesting game with more beautiful 3D images… players can get the new excitement like never before.” RapeLay can be played in multi-player mode – used mainly for the gang-rape sequences.

Any game which endorses and possibly incites the criminal act of rape should not be allowed to be advertised anywhere.

The complacency about p*rn animation depicting crimes such as rape and pedophilia has to end.

Melinda Tankard Reist, Women’s Forum Australia.

Embracing cyber world

Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph ran a disturbing story on the rise of cyber related sexual harassment in our schools recently. 

This story serves as a reminder that we need to equip girls to use technology safely and wisely, and educate all young people on just what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour on line and indeed within our society as a whole. There are a number of sites that offer advice on on-line safety: www.cybersmart.org, www.wiredkids.org, www.wiredsafety.org, www.cyberbully.org, www.besafeonline.org.

Whilst we should exercise caution, what we must not do is get so panicked by stories of cyber-evil that we ban our girls from on-line participation. A recent study by the Australian Clearinghouse for Youthstudies showed that one of the main reasons young people who have been harassed on-line do not report their negative experiences is due to a fear of having their access to technology removed. They want to stay connected and worry that adults who do not fully understand the technology will think banning it is the solution.    

Make no mistake, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be ‘multi-literate’, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:

..girls (In Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.” 

This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not let our own fears drive us to further isolating and limiting our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use IT as a tool to meet their own needs.    

Educator Bronwyn T Williams offered a refreshing approach towards connecting girls who may be reluctant users of IT in her 2006 article for the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy:

Rather than trying to find ways to help girls use computers in the same ways boys do, how do we help them build on their strengths to find new, creative, and feminist ways of designing and using computers? For example, if girls have been less interested in learning computer programming and software design, including literacy-connected software, perhaps this can be traced to a perception that such work is not relevant to their interests. But when interests such as the desire to build relationships or engage in more character-driven narratives are foregrounded as the goal, girls may be more intrigued…”

If your girls seem uninterested in learning IT skills, use some of the mediums they do enjoy, such as social networking sites, blogging etc as the hook to connect them to the wider possibilities the on-line world allows.

Finally, let’s not lose perspective. Although there are perils in cyber world, there are also some excellent sites (see my “Links”, column right, for some of my favourites) and invaluable opportunities for on-line collaboration. The good far outweighs the bad.

I hope the sites below will inspire you to encourage your girls to be multi-literate. Thanks to Judy O’Connell from blog Hey Jude for the great resources:

I particularly love the Nerd Girls “About” statement: 

Nerd Girls are everywhere, from Tina Fey to Ugly Betty. The celebrity culture of vapid, shallow girls with little to offer is rapidly losing its allure – and the media, from Newsweek to Vanity Fair, has picked up on the emergence of a new type of female role model. Nearly all the tech companies are now offering gadgets designed specifically for girls. Our mantras “Smart is Sexy” and “Brains are Beautiful” have begun to resonate with women across the world. And, as more women seek higher education in technology and engineering fields, Nerd Girls hopes to encourage and empower them make a difference in our world.”

Go nerd girls!

 

The two faces of Facebook

Social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are becoming increasingly popular; 41% of the Australian population uses a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.

I am a self confessed Facebook addict. Through FB I have reconnected with old friends and past students I taught, made new friends with like-minded women who have sought me out after seeing me in the media, and received the most beautiful “wall posts” from teen girls I have worked with who have wanted to touch base to tell me how much the day Enlighten spent at their school meant to them.

But I am careful about what I do, and don’t share on line. And I wish more young people were too.

50% of users of social networking sites don’t use any privacy controls. And even when we do use these tools, there is no absolute guarantee that our information cannot be accessed anyway. Back in September The Hack Half Hour, a brilliant ABC television show that explores various elements of youth culture, produced a highly informative episode: “Will you end up regretting what you reveal about yourself online?”This is well worth watching and, coincidentally, features my very clever cousin Tyron who is a professional hacker and strong advocate of exercising caution when on line:

A few key points to note – it is very easy to hack into our profile pages (with or without security settings in place) and even when you delete information and images off MySpace or Facebook – Google still has a record of these.

Apart from the issues around privacy, I have also seen the on-line world turn ugly when people post comments they would probably never be rude enough to make in person. Janice Turner wrote a perceptive piece on this phenomena in the UK Times recently: When hatred comes to your home page.

The following extract from Turner’s article articulates why the on-line world can be a dangerous place for those who are more vulnerable – including our young girls:

…my friend (a psychotherapist) suggested I look at Facebook with a 12-year-old’s eyes. She pointed out the popular “honesty box” application where you ask a question – “What do you really think of me?” etc – which then anyone can answer anonymously. Like a ouija board, evil yet so tantalising. My inner pre-teen came out in a terrified sweat.

Besides, said the psychotherapist, it is the ordinary stuff which devastates her patients, the photos of a sleepover to which you weren’t invited, your best friend ignoring you and chatting on someone else’s “wall”. And everyone will know, by how many friends you have, whether you’re a big, fat loser. It’s not even proper bullying, just crude kidult passive- aggression. But, boy, does it hurt.

Even so, her patients cannot stop themselves logging in. They have to look. And so the mean-girl snubs, the whispering behind hands, follow them home and upstairs into lonely bedrooms.

We think as adults we are tougher, that something as remote and notional as a chat room cannot hurt us. Indeed, it is a blast, a liberation, when talking online to say what you really mean for once, to make mischief, to dispense with uptight British niceness, or even assume the guise of an atavar, a pumped-up, better-hung version of our own weedy workaday self.

In the glow of our screens, safely at home, we think our egos are armour-plated. But there is no protection as we step on to the ten-lane superhighway of a billion heartless strangers. It can smart like hell, that withering rebuke from someone you’ll never meet…”

As valid as the points raised are, I do not think the answer lies in banning social networking sites. Rather, we should be educating users on how to use these responsibly.

As so many teen girls were starting to “find me” on FB I have recently set up an Enlighten Education Facebook Page in the hope that girls will find here a safe place to share ideas and develop a sisterhood connection with other “Enlightened” girls across Australia and New Zealand, and with our team members and assorted fans: 

I have established some guidelines for contributions though and will be monitoring the wall posts carefully.

All our words have power and may have long term implications – including those words we use on line.  

FB responsibly. 🙂  

Girl World

I have noticed a spate of articles in the media of late on “mean girls”; commentators have been quick to highlight, and to almost revel, in tales of adolescent girls who bully others.

I work face to face with hundreds of teenage girls from right across Australia and New Zealand each week. What do I see? Is bullying and bitchiness as rampant in our classrooms as the media would have us believe?

Planet Girl can be a place filled with cliques, secrets, passive aggressive exchanges, and tears. Much has already been written about the ugly side of teen girl friendships. And let’s face it, it is easy to be negative about teen girl world for it can be a political, intense, place. Unlike the boys who often get physical and then forget and forgive their differences, girls do tend to ostracize their enemies and use words as weapons and this can be far more scarring and damaging long term. Many women I speak to in my seminars for parents still vividly recall the pain of being teased by other girls. And still feel guilt over the times they teased other girls.

Girls may also be bullied one minute, and the bully the next as they jostle for position with the social hierarchy. In the years I spent as a teacher and in student welfare roles, I witnessed some truly devastating episodes of girl bullying. I have seen girls’ lives made literally miserable by their peers.

Often the reasons behind this victimization are bewildering. A girl I met in my work with Enlighten sat scribbling furiously on her feedback form for me after the workshop. And as she left the room she held me – for a long time. When she left I read her comments, they included this poignant insight into the devastating effect the other girls at her school had had on her:

“I learnt today that I am beautiful and I’m not ugly because they (the other girls at my school) might say I am, I’m not what people may say I am. I can imagine, I can love, I am beautiful, I also have purpose…”

When I asked her teachers what this girl’s experience of school was like, they told me that ever since High School began she had been tormented – pushed down stairs, spat on, ignored. Why? The other girls all thought her ears stuck out.

This type of mean girl behaviour must be taken seriously by the adults who witness it and action must be taken. The ABC’s Life matters recently broadcast an interesting program which explored ways in which parents and schools could deal with bullying and help girls develop positive relationships – it is well worth a listen. Other useful resources include the video clips “Words Hurt”, “Cyber bullying talent show” and an interview I did earlier this year with Prue McSween. All can be found in my video library – Vodpod.     

Left unchecked, girl hostility can escalate and become a systematic campaign of verbal, and physical, violence. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches,” a term to describe gangs of girls who believe they are beautiful, popular and have the right to intimidate those deemed less worthy, has became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

Yet despite all the politics and the potential for drama, I also find that the friendships between teen girls can be breathtakingly beautiful and authentic. And it is this positive, healing side to female friendships (a side that the media so often ignores) that I really want to further explore and celebrate this week.

Many girls deeply love their friends and their peer relationships provide a sense of belonging and acceptance that is sadly sometimes missing for them at home, where family members may seem to be time poor and over-scheduled.

I love the way girls giggle together, the way they play with each other’s hair and cuddle, the way they can be so fiercely loyal and protective of each other. When I ask girls who really knows them, understands them and loves them, the vast majority will tell me it is their friends who make them feel these essential emotions.

Recently, as part of my research for the book I am working on for Random House, I asked hundreds of teenage girls to share with me what they love about their female friends. I thought I’d share just some of their responses with you here now too:

“They understand mostly where I am coming from. They know when I am grumpy or upset how to deal with this. Although when stuff goes wrong it is horrible they are always willing to listen.” Ali 16

“How there is no pressure to ‘act up’ or to impress them. They accept me for who I am, not what I try and be.” Elizabeth 15

“They deal with the same problems as me. In conversations we often have moments when we realise how similar our issues are, and how much of a strong helping force we can be to each other.” Anon 15

“I love the confidence of my friends, the way they always strive for something higher; whether it be in school or socially and the way I know that they actually care about me and would always support me.” Haley 15

“I love the fact that they are all different from each other and from me. They respect who I am and my choices. I trust them with my life and can’t live without them.” Amanda 15

” I love how they don’t see me on the outside, and how they love me because of who I am. I can ask them for advice knowing that their advice will actually help me.” Julia 16

“I love how we can let go of our egos with each other, we can be stupid and silly but at the same know that there are always one or two of us who are mature ‘big sisters’ who have our backs.” Yan 16

“Being able to talk about private stuff I like the most. I have a guy friend who I tell my problems or difficulties to, but my girl friends, they also go through periods, shaving, cramps, bad hair days, etc. and it is nice to have them there to talk to. I also like not having to impress them, with boy friends there is always the ‘urge’ to impress them, with my girl friends it’s just us, and it’s fun.” Katie 17

“Female friends are great as you can never run out of things to talk about. I love being able to share everything about intimacy, body issues, etc and not being judged.” Abigail 17

“What I love about my friends is how they are always there for me no matter what and there to cheer me up if I’m feeling down. They are always fun to be around and make school all the better having them with me. Also they would never judge me on something and will always encourage me.” Montana 13

“I love my female friends because I can talk about anything with them. We can talk about things that I would never bring up with my mum.” Aimee 15

“Something that I love about my female friends is that no matter what you can always talk to them and even when you are smiling they always know when something is wrong. Basically without them there would be no way that I could live.” Carly 16

“Things I love about my friends is the happiness they can bring to you. A strong friendship can make you feel like you’re floating, even in your darkest times.” Laura 14

“I love all my girlfriends with all of my heart. They are easy to talk to and give great advice back. They help me go on the right path and not wrong. They are the soul of my body.” Courtney 14

How heartwarming. Female friendships are so valuable, and are so highly valued by teen girls – and by us older girls too! I’d love to hear just what your girlfriends mean to you, and how your female friendships have brought you love, light and laughter.

Let’s not ignore the problems that do exist, or turn a blind eye to bad behaviour. But let’s also unpack what works, and celebrate the many healthy relationships too.

Let’s get smashed – a South Australian perspective on teen drinking

Guest post written by Enlighten Eduaction’s Program Manager for South Australia, Jane Higgins.

What is really happening to our young people when they drink themselves into unconsciousness? Why do they feel the need to do this? What is missing from their lives?

According to recent media headlines, youth binge drinking has risen to epidemic proportions. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Director Penny Allbon, has reported that 9% of South Australian  adolescents (some 11,000 young people aged 14-19) are drinking alcohol at risky levels.

Further,
 one in five 16 -17 yr olds binge drinks weekly (1)
 44%, 12 yr olds have drunk alcohol in the past 12 months (2)
 24% of young people have used cannabis, 9% ecstasy and 8% amphetamines (3) and
 25% of deaths in this age group are related to alcohol (4).

It begs the question, what is being lost every week? Not just the many brain cells or lives, but the self esteem, the sense of self-worth, and the contributions these young people could be making to their own lives and the lives of others.

In Australia drinking is a significant part of every rite of passage. The ABC program 4 Corners (9-6-08) presented a segment called “On the Piss”. A young woman profiled articulated it beautifully when she said “What’s a wedding without booze? What’s a funeral without booze?” getting drunk is indeed a national pastime. It highlighted how young people are finding it incredibly difficult not to drink as alcohol surrounds them at every event they go to, and is a major element in the life of everyone they are connected to. The excellent new anti-drinking campaign “Drink Wise”, launched by the Australian Government, also challenges us to rethink this “booze goes with everything” approach.  

While alcohol has become part of every event we celebrate, drinking also occurs even when there is no  celebration, no milestone being marked. Some of today’s youth are drinking way beyond the glass of champagne or stubbie of beer at a friend’s birthday. They are regularly consuming a bottle of vodka in a session and then teaming it up with a caffeine loaded drinks such as Red Bull or V to make sure that when they are really drunk they are also really buzzed too. In a recent study of 4,271 University Students in the USA, they found mixing caffeine and alcohol resulted in the students being twice as likely to:

 be hurt and require medical attention
 travel with a drunk driver
 be at risk of being taken advantage of sexually.

I find these statistics very, very concerning. But sadly, not surprising.

What did surprise me was another article published in The Sunday Mail (9-6-08) on how being drunk and posting the antics on My Space, Facebook or YouTube has now become an instant means of gaining celebrity status for some young people. I personally don’t find anything glamorous about having vomit all over oneself, or having to spend the night in hospital from an injury caused by drunkenness, let alone knowing that those pictures are out in cyber space for all to see! This trend has particular implications for young women for as we have seen in the media, society is generally less forgiving of vision of the fallen woman – I cannot imagine headlines screaming about a male actor getting drunk and passing out in quite the same way they do when it is a Britney or a Paris. 

The Sunday Mail also visited Hindley Street to obtain a snap shot of what is really going on there on a Saturday night. Their video, Adelaide’s Binge Drinking Shame, can be viewed at
http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/video/. 

We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend this issue is not real. What is motivating this epidemic, and how do we protect our kids from doing so much harm to themselves and other people?

I don’t profess to have all the answers. However, my experiences as a mother, counsellor and as a senior presenter with Enlighten Education all lead me to conclude that we must strengthen our children’s sense of themselves, and educate them. We must teach them how to respond thoughtfully and authentically when they are faced with a decision about whether to bow to peer, and media, pressure. We must develop in them a deep sense of knowing what is really healthy and right for them. We must love them deeply too, and give them a strong sense of their uniqueness, beauty and purpose in the world.

Sanctions will only work up onto a point: we can limit the hours bars are open, tax alcohol, and ban alcopops, but in the end what do we really want? We want them to make safe and healthy choices for themselves and the only way of doing this is by teaching them to love themselves and showing them that they are indeed incredibly precious.

I favour a proactive appraoch. If our young people are personally fulfilled they will make better choices and limit the harm they do to themselves and others.

And binge drinking will no longer be needed to fill an empty void.

1. “Supporting Families of Young People with Problematic Drug Use”, 2008 released by the Government’s Advisory Body, The National Council On Drugs.
2. V. White, J. Hayman ‘Australian secondary school students’ use of alcohol in 2005 Report’ June 2006, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer at The Cancer Council Victoria
3. Teen Health, 2007 Vol 257 Issues in Society – Spinney Press
4. Professor John Toumbourou – Deakin University

P.S Danni’s previous post, “Getting trashed is so hot right now“, also offers some powerful insights into teen drinking and links to some really helpful resources.

Teacher Resources – ready to go!

Don’t you just love good quality, free lesson plans and teacher resources? This web site one is one of my more recent discoveries:

btn_homemagazine_over.jpgMy Pop Studio www.mypopstudio.com

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Their blurb:

“My Pop Studio is a creative play experience that strengthens critical thinking skills about television, music, magazines and online media directed at girls. Users select from four behind-the-scenes opportunities to learn more about mass media:

In the Magazine Studio, users compose a magazine layout featuring themselves as celebrities. They write an advice column, explore the power of digital retouching, and reflect on the role of body image in today’s culture.
In the TV Studio, users edit a TV show where the story keeps changing but the images remain the same. They examine their TV viewing choices, comment on teen celebrities, and compare their daily screen time with others.
In the Music Studio, users create a pop star and compose her image and song. They explore the power of music in selling a product and search for truth in media gossip. The comment on the values messages in popular music.
In the Digital Studio, users test their multi-tasking abilities. They share their experiences with the challenges of digital life online. They consider the “what if’s” of social networking sites and reflect on the power of media and technology in their social relationships.”

I have played around on this site and think it will have enormous appeal as it is really educational, interactive, and fun! There are also excellent accompaning lessons and activities for teachers and parents too (all free and downloadable as PDF’s).  

 I particularly like this one on photo fakery  photo%20fakery.pdf

“After playing Photo Fakery, students look at the web site of a professional photo re-toucher and read and discuss a persuasive essay about the impact of digitally manipulated images on personal identity and cultural values. This activity strengthens reading comprehension, critical thinking, and writing skills. After reviewing the vocabulary as a pre-reading activity, students read independently and complete the questions. Afterwards, they discuss the questions provided on the worksheet.”

It would be marvellous to adapt this exercise for seniors by getting them to read through the highly controversial and illuminating article that appeared in The New Yorker this week on premier photo retoucher Pascal Dangin – “Pixel Perfect.” This article is jaw dropping.

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Pascal is the photo retoucher the magazines call in “when they want someone who looks less than great to look great, someone who looks great to look amazing, or someone who looks amazing already-whether by dint of DNA or M·A·C-to look, as is the mode, superhuman.” We are told that in the March issue of Vogue alone “Dangin tweaked a hundred and forty-four images: a hundred and seven advertisements (Estée Lauder, Gucci, Dior, etc.), thirty-six fashion pictures, and the cover, featuring Drew Barrymore.” Not surprisingly, his work is not credited in the magazines that pay him to “translate” their images. How disturbing is this observation by writer Lauren Collins: “Dangin showed me how he had restructured the chest-higher, tighter-of an actress who, to his eye, seemed to have had a clumsy breast enhancement. Like a double negative, virtual plastic surgery cancelled out real plastic surgery, resulting in a believable look.”  

Dangin is the man behind the Dove Real Beauty / Real Hypocrisy controversy I mentioned last week – in this article he claims he did the retouching on their ad’s too: “Do you know how much retouching was on that? But it was great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

Used any excellent resources in your classroom? Love to hear about them!   

Miley Cyrus – next teen victim of the “blame and shame” game.

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This week I have been asked numerous times to comment on Disney’s 15 year old poster girl Miley Cyrus  ( a.k.a Hannah Montana) . There has been much controversy surrounding her provocative Vanity Fair photo shoot and revealing My Space photos.

Mmm…well here are a few thoughts.

First up, the magazine shoot. Most commentators seem to be debating whether she knew she was posing in a provocative way or whether she was in fact duped by Vanity Fair ( she claims they mislead her and she had been told the images would look arty not sensual). Isn’t this missing the point? For me, the real question is: what makes it ok for an adult magazine to publish images of a 15 year old girl looking so sensual and post-coital? Even if she had knowingly posed for these – this does not excuse the adults involved (both at the magazine and within Miley’s team of advisors and minders) for encouraging her to represent herself  in such an age inappropriate way. Why is Miley the one coping the flack?

Interestingly, her risque My Space pages have been leaked at exactly the same time. As evidence that she is wayward? I have viewed these, most are average pictures of a young teen in love mucking about with a boy and with her girlfriends. She seems to be exploring her budding sexuality, I can understand that. She is 15. By 15 – I had a boyfriend, I played at pouting, posing. She may well have been sick of the “perfect girl” pressure that can overwhelm all our young women. Working for Disney must amp up the pressure to be perfect by a million. 

In her own “space” she is breaking free. Thank goodness that in my day we did not have inexpensive digital cameras that make it far too easy to take and post images that are best not recorded for posterity!

On the one hand our young people seem so very grown up and IT savvy, yet they can also be incredibly naive – particularly about the possible ramifications of what they post and share on line. They think they can play around, explore, and take images that will be forever “just for their friends” to see. Nothing in cyber world is truly private forever. 

The truth? Miley is not “God’s Police” as Disney would have us believe. Nor is she a “Damned Whore”. And oh how her fans have turned on her – we hate the perfect girl when she messes up.  

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She was merely mislead and foolish. Sadly, she may have done irreparable damage to her career and reputation as society will not quickly forgive the “girl slut”. Take the recent Big 21 story in Queensland – would a group of 17 year old boys forming a “boys club” and bragging about their drinking and sexual exploits have made national news?

The other important lesson from all this – some of her My Space pictures are alarming as it is sad that she thinks playing at grown ups means flashing her bra and knickers. But let’s be realistic – at the moment – it does! She is wearing more than many of the Bratz dolls we give our pre-schoolers.

If we are going to be shocked and offended by Miley, then we are hypocrites. We reap what we sow.

And I think we need to be VERY careful in any debate featuring young people at playing sexy that we DO NOT shame them. They are victims too.

However, we can shame the Bratz developers, advertisers and all other adults who push the “women as sex object” line onto our children.

Which leads me to sharing the following article with you. It discusses the truly shameful cyber sites we should all be really worried about.

I will save my rage for Miss Bimbo – and just hope Miley gets new advisors and a big hug.  

Thank you to Melinda Tankard Reist for this guest post…

A half-starved bimbo is not a cool role model for girls

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“What do you want to be when you grow up darling?” a mother asks her little girl.

“A Bimbo!” she replies enthusiastically.

Forget dreams of your precious daughter growing up to be Prime Minister or solving world poverty. Young girls are being given the message that their ultimate aim in life is to be a bimbo.

If it’s not enough that Paris Hilton has been lauded as the ultimate role model for girls, now there’s a new virtual fashion game to help them become “the coolest, richest and most famous bimbo in the whole world.”

It’s the sluts-r-us approach to childhood play.

Miss Bimbo requires the purchase of plastic surgery and “essentials” like motivational weight loss products for the girl’s virtual persona to win.

Each player is given $1000 bimbo dollars. Your bimbo is hungry? Buy her some diet pills – the first item on the food menu and “the easier way to eat.” They’ll help her stay “waif thin”. Since when did diet pills become food?

(Because of the international outrage over the diet pills, Miss Bimbo’s creators have since removed them from the food list. That’s very noble and all, but they should never have been there in the first place).

Miss Bimbo has to get bigger breasts or she’s got no chance of winning. “Bigger is better!” the pre-pubescent youngster is told. Does she lose points if her implants start leaking? We’re not told.

A study late last year found one in four Australian 12-year-old girls wanted to get cosmetic surgery. A Queensland surgeon says more young girls are expressing a desire to achieve the same look at the implant stuffed ex-Big Brother housemate Krystal Forscutt.

Can’t we offer girls more than an aspiration to be Miss Silicone 2008?

The site’s fashion shop offers lingerie for little girls to buy for their bimbo.
Girls can earn extra “attitude” points by buying a makeover and putting their character on a tanning bed. I wonder if points are deducted if Miss Bimbo gets cancer?

The “French kiss game” involves kissing boys in Club Bimbo where they can “dance, flirt and maybe meet a handsome Boyfriend”. Just click the “go flirting” button and our primary schoolers are on their way. “Your boyfriend will (hopefully) give you some money every day because he loves you”. Sounds more like a pimp than a boyfriend. At higher levels, girls must seduce a billionaire on vacation.

Last I checked, the player in the lead was 10-years-old.

The “Miss Bimbo” game helps entrench the belief that a girl’s sexual prowess is her main appeal – even if she’s only six, the age one player registered last month.

The game promotes being sexy and hot as the ultimate ideal for girls, diminishing their value and worth. It makes them think they have to be a bimbo to deserve attention and admiration. This puts under-age girls especially, in danger.

The game also turns girls against each other by competing to be the bimbo who “skyrockets to the top of fame and popularity.” Victims of school-yard bullying and the bitchiness of other girls are vulnerable to feeling even more self-hatred because of this game.

Should we be surprised when we learn that school girls are ranking each other for hotness and popularity and wearing their ranking on their writs, as emerged recently at a private girl’s school in Mackay? Girls who flunk out and receive low rankings end up victims of exclusion and cyber bullying when results are posted around the world.

The site’s all-male founders say the bimbo’s goals are “morally sound”. Which part of “morally sound” don’t they understand?

The game is irresponsible. Research shows that the objectification and sexualisation of girls and young women is contributing to eating disorders, self-harm, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and poor academic performance.
This game feeds on the body angst of girls. “You want to turn heads on the beach don’t you?” players are asked. And if you don’t, there must be something wrong with you.

Eating disorder experts say the game is as lethal as websites promoting anorexia. In Australia, eight-year-olds are being hospitalised with the disease. Games like this fuel a climate which makes girls feel they have to look like stick insects to be acceptable.

Why can’t game makers come up with games that make girls feel good about themselves rather than selling a message damaging to their health and wellbeing?

Melinda Tankard Reist is an author and director of Women’s Forum Australia (www.womensforumaustralia.org)

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