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Category: Parents

Getting Trashed is SO HOT right now.

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New Foxtel show “Gossip Girl” is causing an uproar with its scenes of underage drinking – teenage star Serena downs vodka shots like Carrie downed Cosmopolitans. But is this just art imitating life? Young female celebrities are famous predominately because they regularly binge drink and go into rehab; there are entire web sites devoted to drunk celebrities ( all of those featured are female). Whilst back in the “real world,” Facebook features profiles with pictures posted by young women that proudly show themselves passed out when drunk, drinking beer on the toilet, vomiting…

American site Feministing, aimed at radical young feminists,  argues this phenomena is no biggie – girls and women should have the right to get just as trashed as the boys and should not feel pressured to act “lady like”:

“I can take the health line of approach that maybe binge drinking isn’t good for you, but the young women should know better or should be ashamed doesn’t work for me. I am always weary of shaming women for things that men do freely. Guys in college get wasted as a ritual, they don’t have to hide it from future employers, in fact they are practicing to drink with future co-workers. But women have to be careful not to ruin their ladylike manners.”

I don’t like double standards either but I do think binge drinking in women, and particularly in our young women, is deeply concerning.

The fact is that research shows teen drinking is on the rise and not just accepted, but expected. This is not new – all the “cool kids” got trashed when I was in High School too  – myself included. Why we thought it was cool to vomit all over ourselves and stumble about alludes me now but it certainly was the thing to do.  Drinking excessively has become a huge issue for teenage girls – recent Australian surveys show that half say they drink alcohol, with one in five confessing to having done something they regret while they were drunk.

The fact is that drinking, even in small amounts, affects women differently than men. And heavy drinking, in some ways, is much more risky for women than it is for men as we are more quickly affected by alcohol and much more vulnerable to the effects of overindulging. Keeping up with the boys is not a badge of honour – it is dangerous. The attached PDF put together by the Commonwealth Government is well worth reading:  womenshealth.pdf

I am concerned too by by the emotional damage our girls are doing to themselves – one in five confess to doing something they regret when drunk. 

The reality is that young girls are also at risk of sexual assault and violence when they are drunk and vulnerable. Let me be very clear here – I am NOT BLAMING THE VICTIMS. It is NEVER their fault. All I am saying is that being drunk does make you less able to think clearly and may make you a target if some vile predator is lurking…and of course the predator may well be a trusted friend of someone within the home. That is not fair, it is not right, it is unjust – but it is also reality. If girls are going to drink, they need to at the very least ensure they stay together and watch out for each other.

Blaming “Gossip Girl” and the media would be all too easy. I am more concerned by the prevalence of unsupervised teen partying.  Teens focus on the here and now, not the prospects down the road. A good lecture and then sending them off into the night won’t cut it. God knows I would glaze over when my mother talked about damage to my liver – I was 16 and invincible!

Do discuss the risks. But also be practical – know where your kids are, discuss whether or not alcohol will be present and how you both feel about this, know what time they’ll be home and how they will get home, and if the party is at your place – actively supervise.

Finally – consider cutting back on the chardonnay. It is unrealistic to expect your daughter to listen to you tell her that she doesn’t need to drink to have fun if every time visitors come around you drink excessively.  

Image from Gossip Girl – Blair and her Mother at Xmas:

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I stopped drinking completely over two years ago. I knew I was a born binger and wanted to hang up the wine glass before the kids got old enough to notice Mummy boozing on.

Sorry Feministing but it ain’t pretty and we should know better.    

P.S Talk about timely – a Government report widely published in the media on the 18th declares teen drinking is reaching epidemic proportions with children as young as 10 in rehabilitation for alcholism. The Sun Herald published a very interesting article blaming parents on the 19th: Parent’s Branded Gutless Over Teenage Boozers.

  

The sublime and the ridiculous.

Indigo 4 Girls – an alternative voice.

2007-11-19-1444-31.jpgI first heard from Beverley Park and the group of “Power Gals” behind new independent teen girl magazine “Indigo 4 Girls” after Enlighten Education was featured on A Current Affair in May 2006. This group of dedicated mothers, and their passionate, clever daughters were keen to offer girls a magazine that explored issues that really mattered…without all the marketing and manipulated images! They had asked for my advice and they have shared their progress with me.

I am just delighted to report that after much hard work they are now launching Issue 2! Editor Bev sums up what they are hoping to achieve: “Indigo will fill hearts and minds with inspiration and encourage girls to be themselves by identifying the potential they have within. The majority of the articles are written by teen girls, with just a little help from a few amazing grown ups.” I am very pleased that I am able to volunteer to offer my voice to the other authentic voices that fill this joyful, and inspiring magazine; I will write a column for each edition. 

At $5.50 an issue I think this magazine is great value and will be a fabulous addition to all school libraries. I have attached a subscription form here indigo-subscription-form.pdf and a “sneak peek” PDF copy of my first column to give you a taste of the types of article Indigo 4 Girls offers: learning-to-fly-beginings.pdf

P.S I have no commercial involvement with this magazine – just want to help share the love. 🙂 Enjoy and pass it on!

What the?

Jane Higgins, Enlighten Program Director for South Australia, forwarded me this link late last week. It is a recent article about a mobile phone-based game entitled “The Coolest Girl In School.” Apparently teen girls, who are targeted as the market for this vile game, will be “encouraged to take drugs and fall pregnant in an online life-simulator game…players must choose whether to experiment with drugs, alcohol and smoking, skip school, spread rumours, bully and even fall pregnant in their effort to win the game.”

Jane was mortified and so was I! A 30 Year old Adelaide woman, Holly Owen, is behind this and claims there is nothing wrong with it…”It’s not about glorifying bad things, it’s about giving young girls the opportunity to play around with high school.”

Please.

So proud of Enlighten Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne’s, reponse… “That would have to be one of the most infuriating articles I’ve read lately Jane- her comment ‘it’s about giving young girls the opportunity to play around with high school’ just tops it off – maybe Holly Owen needs a little enlightening! What must her own self image be like if she honestly thinks this is ok??? ACTUALLY – she has really #*#!!!! me off – I’ll google her and send an email! I’m talking back on this one!”  

You go girl!

Helping Girls Develop a Positive Self Image – Tip Sheet for Parents

Karen Robinson from Women’s Forum Australia recently forwarded me the link below. It is a very useful resource from the Australian Psychological Society; a Tip Sheet for Parents on how they can best support their daughters in developing a positive self image. Do check it out…

http://www.psychology.org.au/publications/tip_sheets/girls_positive_image/

I also wanted to take the opportunity to say a big hello to all the amazing parents I met recently at St Brigid’s in Perth.

I was invited by the school’s magnificent Principal Ms Amelia Toffoli to go over to WA and present earlier this week with Sonia Lyne, the Program Director for Victoria. We worked with 450 girls and a number of their parents. I should be exhausted but am actually exhilarated! Our young girls are beautiful, funny, affectionate, and deep thinkers – working with them is never a drain. 🙂

The feedback we received was awe inspiring but I did want to share a few special comments as I think they serve as “Tip Sheets” of their own – they clearly articulate what engages girls to the learning process and highlights what they are so desperately seeking from older women…

I really got a lot out of today as I liked the truth and confidence you guys shared with us in all your stories. At the moment I have been struggling with myself but you really helped me. I love you guys. Tori

 My favourite part of today was just talking. Being told things no one ever tells me. I learnt to love myself, the importance of words and that I’m perfect the way I am. You guys are really sweet. Thanks so much. Shannon

The way you are so enthusiastic Danni makes everyone else want to be too. Anon.

My favourite part was ‘Stop I Don’t Like It’. It was very helpful in a practical way. I love how you girls really connect with us. You guys are extraordinary people. Tabitha

I just loved that you greeted when I first walked in as it brightened up my day and made me feel happy. I am beautiful no matter what. I love you. Bridgit

This workshop was so helpful. Especially the speakers. They had so much anticipation and helpfulness! They believe in us so much and I believe they can change the WORLD and I hope that I can look up to you guys and give that advice to my children and everyone I meet. It was YUMMY! Rebecca

When you girls have the confidence to love yourselves, then we realise it is ok to do the same. You are “da bomb diggity!” Jordan

Would I recommend this? HELL YEAH! I loved sharing the notes at the end from our friends as it made me feel good inside. I had a wonderful day and it is good to let things out that are positive. I hope you loved us because we loved you. Kamisa

It was hilarious, I really enjoyed listening and learning. I respect my body and love me now.  Anon.

I thought today would be a bit boring and not very useful. My favourite part was listening to Danni tell stories, she is a darl and we all got the warm fuzzies. Sonya and Danni you’re full of energy and are great at what you do. I learnt to be myself, about strength, love and to be  accepted for who I am – I won’t change for others! Jacqueline

Danni and Sonia are crazy and funny and make everyone laugh lots which means we learn lots!  AWESOME!!!!! Chelsea

I loved the Friends workshop as it made me feel good about myself, I learnt the type of friends you have reflects the type of person you are. You guys made everyone feel good about themselves today and showed us that it is ok to love ourselves. Ashni

AWESOMELY exciting and fun, you got the messages through to everyone! I loved that you were both so open and truthful! You rock, I learnt to FLY!!!! Bianca

Grab them by the emotions (capture the heart and the head will follow), be truthful and real (be brave – show them that you are not perfect either), and bombard them with positives. 

Notice them.  Love them.

An uncommon dialogue

Some months ago I first read a true story by Australian writer Debra Drake, An Uncommon Dialogue. It struck me as both incredibly brave and insightful; in it she chronicles her fight for sanity after a long bout with mental illness which was a direct result of her experiencing quite horrific neglect and sexual abuse as a child.

The story is written as a dialogue betwen Debra and her ever patient and consistent Psychiatrist Phil. As an avid reader and ex-English teacher I have read many books that have moved me, yet this had a profound effect on me – so much so that I contacted the author to offer her my encouragement and congratulate her on her brave decision to recount the important, life saving dialogue between herself and her therapist.

In my email I mentioned that I have chosen to work with young girls and hope that I too can offer an important, alternative conversation around gender and identity. I told Debra that for young girls experiencing the type of extreme circumstances she was in, perhaps my words of celebration and challenge may not have had much of an impact, but that I sincerely hoped and believed that for many girls enlighten is indeed a powerful voice.

Debra responded and advised me to never underestimate our work and the power of even fleeting conversations that offer “news of difference” :

“My psychiatrist and I often wondered what kept me as sane as I was given the circumstances, I believe it was the moments of kindness from strangers and the few odd words I heard that hinted that things could be different for me…I clung to these. What you are doing is enormously important.”    

Can the words we hear, even if we only hear them very briefly, really change and heal us? Long term?

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Certainly the girls we work with tell us they can:
“I thought it would be a boring lecture where the whole time all you are thinking about is ‘When will this finally end?’ BUT Danni really connected with everyone, and out of all the things people in my life have ever said to me, and out of all the lectures I’ve been given, I really listened to you and to everything you said and I TOOK EVERYTHING IN.” Courtney, Year 9.  

“I am in shock as I didn’t think it would be so interesting – I think you  ladies should continue talking to other schools of young people. You can teach  girls so much as everyone listens to you and is really interested in what  you have to say.” Anon. Yr 8

Apart from this type of very positive immediate feedback, we also get BEAUTIFUL letters and emails from girls  (many of these make me quite teary) and I do think they are worth a read as they offer a powerful insight into the adolescent mind. letters.pdf

Certainly my own life experiences have show me that words can be powerful agents of change.

I recall some of the words that scarred me, and rejoice in the words that later healed me with the girls I work with through enlighten.

However, I also vividly recall  another “light bulb” moment.  I was in Yr 9, Maths, with Mr Scott. He was joking with the class and I boldly told him he “loved himself” ( in girl world, loving yourself, or thinking you are “good” is the ultimate crime –  isn’t that a sad indictment on teen girls self esteem!). Mr Scott looked at me and said, “Danni, yes I do love myself. I am great. I hope you love yourself too. I hope all you girls love yourselves. You’re really lovable girls.”   

Wow. I am sure that I had been told how important it was to love and accept myself before, but that day I really heard it. For me, it started a quest to find out more – was it actually OK to like myself the way I was?  It started a new type of self talk…” I am alright, I am lovable…” rather than “I am not pretty enough, I am not as popular as…not as skinny as…” There were so many NOTS in my adolescent mind!

How can we ensure that more really important messages are heard?
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enlighten realises it is important to balance the head (knowledge, facts, reason, experiences), the hand (allow some DOING, application of the learning) and the heart (encourage passion and an emotional connection). Research indicates that teenagers are particularly interested in hand and heart connections!

Andrew Fuller’s excellent “Don’t Waste Your Breath, an Introduction to the Mysterious World of the Adolescent Brain”  offers three particularly sage pieces of advice to all of us who wish to have meaningful conversations with teens : “Grab them by the emotions,” “Bombard them with positives” and:

Never underestimate your power. Adolescents need someone around them – an adult who has more options that they do. Someone who they may battle with, but someone who ultimately they imitate and emulate and believe it or not, that someone is you.”

Steve Biddulph, in his outstanding article in the Sydney Morning Herald Teenage Girls Under Attack (a must read!) goes so far as to argue that :

A successful and happy adolescence entails hundreds of conversations about what matters, who you are and what you stand for. Yet many teenage girls are basically abandoned by distracted parents and the impersonal melee of large secondary schools. The rise of themed peer groups like emos and goths, the hazards of queen bee-style bullying and exclusion are a consequence of this adult abandonment. Kids band together for comfort that the adult world is not providing. “

Is it perhaps not the fact that teenagers don’t want to listen that is the real issue, but rather that we are all too busy and distracted to make time for conversations?  Are we just too busy to have dialogue that has meaning?  

It may surprise parents to know that when I ask girls what is the one thing they think would really help and support them in making sense of their world they overwhelmingly respond it would be just spending more time with their Mums. More talk. More cuddles. 

What are you waiting for – go have a chat. It may fall on deaf ears, but then again – it may also prove to be an uncommon dialogue.

 P.S Love to hear what words have helped shaped your identity and allowed you to make sense of your world…add a comment.

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