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Category: Friendship

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.

Postsecret

I am a HUGE fan of Postsecret. I am not sure if you know about this community art project but an American man started leaving random notes asking strangers to send him a postcard sharing their secrets with him.

It started a phenomena and is ongoing. Selected cards have been turned into beautiful books and his web site posts some of the many hundreds of cards he receives from around the world each week.

I love this Youtube clip that features some really uplifting Postcards…many deal with beauty, friendship and the relationship between mothers and their daughters.

Enjoy.


 

Guiding the way…

This week I want to share extracts from “Teenage Mental health: girls shout out!”, the third research report recently released by GirlGuiding UK:

Teenage mental health: Girls shout out! is an investigation into girls’ experiences of both hard-to manage and challenging feelings and recognised mental health problems. The report considers a new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems in girls – premature sexualisation, commercialisation and alcohol misuse – and also some of the more longstanding issues like bullying and family breakdown. It examines the impact of such factors on girls’ feelings and behaviour at home and in their communities, and asks young women themselves what might be done to help.”

Some of the statistics are frightening and yet they are consistent with the many other studies that have also examined the impact our toxic culture is having on young women:

• Half the girls questioned know someone who has suffered from depression (51 per cent).
• Two-fifths know someone who has self-harmed (42 per cent).
• A third have a friend who has suffered from an eating disorder (32 per cent).
• Almost two in five have a friend who has experienced panic attacks (38 per cent).
• A quarter know someone who has taken illegal drugs (27 per cent).
• Two-fifths have experience of someone drinking too much alcohol (40 per cent).

It would be easy to feel overwhelmed wouldn’t it? But girls don’t need our dismay – they need us to get active.    

What types of things can be done to support girls’ emotional well being? The report also offers some practical suggestions:

1. Give girls things to do: from adventure playgrounds to kung fu or street dancing.
2. Create safe places where girls can have freedom without parents worrying.
3. Boost confidence by giving girls opportunities to succeed outside school.
4. Encourage girls to try something new.
5. Make girls feel normal and accepted – whatever problems they might have.
6. Don’t overwhelm them with advice – give them space.
7. Help them understand that they can’t always help the way they feel.
8. Initiate a young mayor scheme – giving girls a say in important decisions.
9. Make information about where to turn for help easily available.
10. Use the Girlguiding UK website to offer advice and support.

I would add to this the following ideas:

1. Empathise – don’t dismiss her fears and anxities, nor think of her as a mere “drama queen.” Being a teen girl is challenging at times, and I believe this generation of girls have it even harder than we did. A great exercise that may help you reconnect with what it feels like to be a teenager was offered in one of my previous posts: Letter To My Teen Self. Do take the time to read the letters other Butterfly Effect readers contributed – they are so insightful. Add a letter of your own!
2. Help girls develop a language to describe how they are feeling; develop their emotional literacy.
3. Encourage girls to seek out a “Fairy Godmother” – a mentor who can help her navigate these tumultueous years. Enlighten’s Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discussed this with great honesty and warmth in her previous guest post True Colours.
4. Get informed. Read books from
My Library, read some of the articles on my Article of Interest page, watch some of the films in my Video Pod, visit some of the other web sites I recommend.
5. Encourage girls to critique the media messages that surround them. This blog has offered a variety of great practical activities that get girls active eg: my post on Talking Back to the Media. 

The entire GirlGuiding report is so well worth reading that I am providing the PDF here for you and a “virtual treat” for you to have whilst taking 5 minutes to really think about how you can respond intelligently and compassionately to the pressing needs of the girls you care for…

Guiding UK Report on Teenage Mental Health

 

Club 21, “girl world” exposed: binge drinking, bullying, low self esteem and distorted body image.

AND the importance of moving beyond finger pointing.

Queensland school girls have formed an exclusive club, known as Club 21, which encourages members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. This number is then drawn on their hand for all to see.

The club not only operates at St Patrick’s Mackay, but has gone global via the internet and chat rooms.

This story has caused significant shock in the media. However it is unlikely this type of bullying – of each other and those who didn’t make it into the club – came as a shock to many teen girls. It was likely no surprise to their teachers either, who witness the various manifestations of the “Compare and Despair” game that teen girls are so good at playing, in playgrounds right across Australia. Recent studies show three out of five teen girls report being teased about their appearance at school. Girls in particular judge themselves and each other on how they look and on how popular they are bohabbo143v2.jpgth with other girls, and with boys.

When I was a teen girl at high school much of lunch time was spent rating our peers. It was our own little real life version of the magazines we grew up with that asked us, in virtually every issue, to decide whether particular clothes were in, or whether a celebrity was hot or not. We felt powerful playing these games – we may not have been able to control many elements of our lives, but we tried to control how we looked through diets, and we could definitely control each other through ridicule.

We may not have had a number reflecting these scores branded on our hands, but the scores were branded on our psyches.

The rules in girl rating games, both then and now, are not difficult to follow. Be considered hot by your peers and in particular by boys – and score points. Getting a highly desired boyfriend means an instant advance to the top of the club. I was lucky enough to have landed the school “spunk” at one stage and was elevated from classroom “brainiac” to the girl everyone wanted to know almost over night. He dumped me a year later for a girl considered even hotter – at just 14 she was already a model appearing in women’s magazines and parading in labels sold only to rich thirty-somethings. My dream run at the top of the charts was destroyed.

What makes this latest story of highly organised girl competiveness newsworthy is the use of technology to spread the ranks.

In my early years as a teacher in High Schools, I found it relatively easy to intercept notes critiquing other girls. Technology means these same messages can now can reach thousands of recipients in moments. Harmful messages found on toilet walls could be scrubbed off – it is much more difficult to delete messages once they have gone global.

The potential for misuse of the cyber world is alarming. But we cannot blame the internet alone. It is after all merely a tool, it is all too easy to blame the evils of technology rather than examining why our society has become more and more toxic for our young people.

Just why has girl self hatred gone mainstream and global?

Years of watching reality TV and being invited to rank contestants and evict / put below the yellow line / vote off those not entertaining enough or thin enough or sexy enough to keep us interested have no doubt played a role. And if Paris can get famous for being rich, thin and for sleeping around why can’t they? Elements of the media have been most hypocritical in their reporting of this incident. They have judged these girls harshly when these young women have really only responded to the fodder they have been fed by these same image obsessed magazines; magazines that perpetuate the misconception that success is dependent largely on appearances and sexual desirability.

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This incident is also a sad reflection of a society that makes our girls feel lonely. When they cannot find real connection at school, or at home, they look for it in cyber world and find all their deepest and darkest fears and fantasies fed on sites that promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, sites celebrating images of “girls gone wild” trashed and flashing their breasts at parties.

The reality is many women play this same compare and despair game too. Studies have shown that while up to 65per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A survey released by the Australian Women’s Weekly just this week found that only one in six women were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and 45 per cent would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife too, with a third of the women surveyed drinking too much and one in five women admitting she had been told she had a drinking problem.

As grown up women we no longer rank ourselves from 1-21 but many of us do get up in the morning and let the number that flashes up on our scales dictate our mood for the day.

Many of us tell our daughters they do not need to change in order to be beautiful while we rush for botox. We tell them inner beauty counts whilst we invest in plastic surgery and devour magazines that tell us that it is really only about air brushed perfection after all.

We may saddened by Club 21, but why are we shocked? Girls cannot be what they cannot see. If even the grown up girls are comparing and despairing, is it any wonder that our daughters do not know what “I am me, I am ok” looks like?

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Let’s not blame the victims here. After all, these are young girls – pushing boundaries, exploring and making mistakes. We shouldn’t fall into the easy trap of simply making these girls out to be uber bitches. Rather, they are a sad reflection of the times. We need to dig a little deeper and address the toxic messages our girls are fed and ensure these are countered with positive body image programs and messages of strength and resilience.

News flash! With the upgrades to Edublog, I can now upload the audio of an interview I did with Prue McSween on this topic. Enjoy!

  Click to listen – Dannielle Miller and Prue McSween on cyber bullying and Club 21, Radio 2UE. mp3

When talk is cheap – and nasty

Guest Post by Enlighten Education’s Program Director for Queensland, Storm Greenhill Brown

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Is it just me or does the proliferation of mobile phones among even our youngest school children worry others too? When waiting to pick up my son from school I often see girls as young as six or seven walking along avidly engaged with their mobile phones and comparing them enthusiastically with one another. From speaking with various Mothers who have issued their girls with these diamante encrusted pink accessories I have gleaned a few reasons for their “must have it” attitude. Safety is paramount for these baby tweens. I totally appreciate this but have to wonder how dangerous a supervised pick up school zone is and when you would need to phone Mum if she drives you to school and then walks you in. These phones are dangled on lanyards around necks with a “mine is newer, got more features” attitude. Why are they not stored away in the bag? Branding is powerful and at work in the playground of the baby tween.

But the fashion thing is not really my biggest concern about the mobile phone phenomenon. Like those other Mums, it’s safety. A forthcoming issue of Teacher Magazine (produced by the Australian Council for Education Research), reports on a study by a group of Australian academics ( including my husband Dr Mark Brown) which found that as many as 93% of school students had experienced some form of bullying via mobile phones– what they refer to as m-bullying. A similar study in the US last year claimed that 85% of children aged 10-14 years had experienced cyberbullying (via the Internet). The upward trend of people using technology to harass others is really very disturbing.

Last year, the world drew breath in collective horror when it was revealed that the high profile suicide of 13 year old Megan Meiers in the US was partly due to her being tormented on MySpace by an adult posing as a 16 year old boy – in actuality, the mother of one of her former friends. And I shuddered when I read about a teenage girl in the UK who killed herself after receiving hundreds of hate messages on her phone in a matter of hours. Similar stories are found in countries throughout the world.

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The worrying thing about mobile phones is that children carry them all the time. The ability to bombard others with text messaging or to pass on humiliating photos or video is heightened. Since it is immediate in nature, the time for reflection is reduced and the speed of action and potential for anonymity are very appealing. Who hasn’t sent off an email in a huff and regretted it the next day?

What’s more, it seems that children generally don’t like to tell adults it’s happening. Research suggests that the peak bullying years are from 11-14 years, when kids are quite keen to give it a try. The anonymity of the mobile phone means that children who may not be capable of being physical bullies can now actively participate. We need to be very vigilant about what goes on not only in the schoolyard but increasingly behind our children’s bedroom door. Depriving them of mobile phones or internet connections is probably not practical and may even harm relationships with our kids. We need to be more proactive in communicating with them about the dangers of the “always switched on” world and give them strategies to deal with it.

Enlighten’s workshops emphasise the importance of recognising self-worth, true friendships, and personal safety.  In our workshop “Stop, I Don’t Like It” we explore the importance of setting boundaries in the real, and in the cyber, world. The following links are also very helpful and well worth downloading as a reference point:

“Mobile phones and bullying – what you need to know to get the bullies off your back,” produced by the Australian Mobile Telecommunication Association.

The Child Safety Check List  produced by the Australian Communication and Media Authority- covers everything from costs and charges, to handling nuisance calls.

The Journey – from Primary to High School

left-to-right-danni-and-enlighten-team-mebers-janeadelaide-and-sonia-victoria-reading-affirmations.JPG  “Sail away from the safe harbor. Dream. Discover. Explore.”

Mark Twain.

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The Enlighten team running The Journey at Ascham School.

The transition to high school for students can be exciting but also challenging as they must learn to traverse a new (and usually much bigger) landscape with different expectations and possibly with less individual nurturing than they received in their primary years. I thought it timely this week to offer some insights into how parents and schools can make this transition easier. I want to also say up front that Enlighten Education has a very powerful full day program aimed at making the transition as painless as possible – The Journey. The full Information Kit is provided here should you want to know more: the-journey-information-kit-email-version.pdf.

A number of schools now use The Journey as part of their own orientation program and report that as it is so structured, and focuses on developing key skills the girls really need and want ( eg: how to use timetables, how to make friends, managing stress, handling peer group conflict etc) it sets a positive tone for the year ahead.

Sarah Loch, Dean of middle school at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican day and boarding school in Sydney’s upper north shore has used our Journey program to compliment their existing transition strategies for the past three years. Sarah is well aware that for many girls there will be a period of adjustment:  “the majority of students take about two weeks to relax into the cycle of school and reclaim the confidence and self efficacy they felt in year six”.

What are some of the challenges the new high school girl must face? 

In most situations, primary students have one classroom and one teacher per year.  And yet at high school, there maybe up to eleven different subjects and eleven different teachers, all of whom will have different personalities and expectations. All of a sudden, students will need to be more independent, and an expert with timetabling and study routines.

A “big sister” is ideal. Loch says that mentoring is a method they use at Abbotsleigh to help guide the new students “the year seven students have a big sister in year nine, a peer support leader in year eleven and the boarders have a big sister in year twelve”.

And whilst the older girls can help with working out where amenities are and where they are expected to be after the lunch bell rings, their mere presence can also help with the real issue, the one that all new students worry about; friends.  Will I make friends? Will I fit in? Will everyone already be in groups?  A sense of belonging is identified as one of the greatest needs of young people in the middle years and the importance of friends cannot be underestimated. Girls tend to form cliques more than boys and involvement in a wide range of activities both within and outside school is the ideal way to encourage a range of friendships in different settings.  For many students though, this may be quite a traumatic experience and parents can really help by reminding them about basic communication techniques, such as introducing yourself and trying to remember names, be a good listener, be upbeat and positive and be sensitive to others in the class.  As much as other students may be masking their feelings, chances are they will be anxious as well.

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Emotions are running at an all-time high in those first few weeks that even the smallest incident may result in floods of tears. Parents can try and minimize those incidents by having their child as prepared as possible – have they bought all the items on the stationary list? Does she have a PE uniform? What days does she need to take it? Have you taken a walk around the school a few times so she remembers where toilet blocks are, where the library is etcetera?  Parents should help as much as possible with all the detail initially until she’s strong enough to take over – don’t worry, most teen girls are happy to tell mum and dad when to butt out! 

Being the new kids on the block, and the smallest, may result in some girls being bullied.  Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Recently, bullying has been reported in online chat rooms, and through email and mobile phones.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as with their school performance. Need advice on coping with bullying? Try the following specialist web sites: Bullying No Way , Bullying in schools and what to do about it or Teach Safe Schools.

The frame of mind girls start the year in will impact on how they relate to the other students and new teachers, even on how they perform academically. Ideally, parents and schools will take time out before formal classes resume to pep them up. Girls should be reminded of their strengths and what they’ve achieved to date.  But most importantly year seven is a new beginning so encourage your girls to take a pledge to start the school year on a really positive note.

A key area many girls are anxious about is meeting new buddies.  As obvious as these pointers may sound, it’s worth reiterating them to your child:

  • Introduce yourself and remember names.

  • Figure out who you want to be friends with and why.

  • Get involved with after school activities (these will not only help you learn new skills but are a great way to meet like-minded girls. Try sports teams, debating, drama …so much fun).

  • Work on good conversation skills so you get better at listening and talking.

  • Be positive and upbeat (we might think it makes us look cool when we walk around saying how “lame” things are – it usually just makes us look whiney!).

  • Be sensitive to other people (would it kill you to say “Hi” to the new girl? She may be AMAZING!).

  • Take compliments politely and give them sincerely.

  • Be willing to risk rejection- it is possible that someone you approach may not be willing to make a new friend.

 Love and light to all the young girls starting High School this year, and to the parents and teachers supporting them.

 XXXX

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