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Category: Resources

Must-see Films For March

“The best films of any kind, narrative or documentary,
provoke questions.”
Edward Norton

This week I want to preempt the release of two extraordinary films with the hope that schools will then have the time to organise viewings.

Bully – to be released on DVD March 6th (will be available at all good retailers). 

When I first watched this film at the cinemas, I sobbed. I ranted at the failings of the educators on screen to step up and take meaningful action. I drove my friends and family mad by insisting they all see it too: and I pledged to do more to speak up for those who feel they have no voice. Here is one of the film’s trailers and promotional blurbs:

This year, over 5 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their cell phones and on the streets of their towns, making it the most common form of violence young people in this country experience. The Bully Project is the first feature documentary film to show how we’ve all been affected by bullying, whether we’ve been victims, perpetrators or stood silent witness. The world we inhabit as adults begins on the playground. The Bully Project opens on the first day of school. For the more than 5 million kids who’ll be bullied this year in the United States, it’s a day filled with more anxiety and foreboding than excitement. As the sun rises and school busses across the country overflow with backpacks, brass instruments and the rambunctious sounds of raging hormones, this is a ride into the unknown.

 

Previous blog posts which also offer perspectives on combating bullying include:

Bullying – it’s time to focus on solutions

Beyond Cyber Hysteria – cyber bully busting

Posts that deal with the sensitive issue of teen suicide include:

Helping Teen Girls In Crisis

Rage and Despair – Positive, helpful ways to support girls in crisis.

Girl Rising – in cinemas March 7th

The second film argues that when you educate a girl, you change the world:

From Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins, award-winning Documentary Group, Vulcan Productions and Intel Corporation comes Girl Rising – an innovative new feature film about the power of education to change a girl — and the world. The film spotlights unforgettable girls like Sokha, an orphan who rises from the dumps of Cambodia to become a star student and an accomplished dancer; Suma, who composes music to help her endure forced servitude in Nepal and today crusades to free others; and Ruksana, an Indian “pavement-dweller” whose father sacrifices his own basic needs for his daughter’s dreams. Each girl is paired with a renowned writer from her native country. Edwidge Danticat, Sooni Taraporevala Aminatta Forna and others tell the girls’ stories, each in it’s style, and all with profound resonance.

These girls are each unique, but the obstacles they faced are ubiquitous. Like the 66 million girls around the world who dream of going to school, what Sokha, Suma, Ruksana and the rest want most is to be students: to learn. And now, And now, by sharing their personal journeys, they have become teachers. Watch Girl Rising, and you will see: One girl with courage is a revolution.

Previous blog posts which deal with girls in the developing world include:

International Women’s Day – keeping Feminism Relevant.

Wanted – More Girl Champions

 

To win a copy of the DVD Bully, simply help me spread the word about these amazing films by sharing this post on Facebook and / or Twitter. Email us with your postal address to let us know you’ve done this and we shall select a winner randomly. Winner drawn February 20th.

Emails to: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com

 

27/2/13 – The lucky winner is Marcia Coventry from South Australia. Marcia, it is in the post!

My next book

The Next Big Thing encourages writers to share their work. Participants answer questions on their next big project (usually a book, but not always – one of the nominees listed with me was a playwright) each Wednesday, and pass the baton on to five other writers to continue the project the following week.

Last week, I was tagged by Rachel Hills.

This provides me with the perfect excuse to discuss my next book which I have just completed. I had the pleasure of co-writing this with my dear friend Nina Funnell.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

“Love – An Empowered Girl’s Guide to Dating and Relationships”. It must be said though that we are still playing around with a number of titles. Like all expectant parents, we are keen to ensure we get the name for our baby just right. 

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Recently Nina and I met for coffee and found ourselves browsing through the self-help / relationship section at a local bookshop. We noted there was a whole genre of books out there aimed at young women, that would have them believe that landing a man means being less of who they really are. And there didn’t seem to be any books at all that were offering the kind of advice we actually wanted when we were teen girls – how to survive crushes, how to tell if someone likes you, how to cope with heartbreak, how to set relationship boundaries, how to know when it’s time to break up with your partner, and even (shock horror) how to actually enjoy being single (because it can be awesome)!

And while there are hundreds of studies conducted on teenagers and sex every year, there are almost no comprehensive studies (or very few) about teen relationships, in part because teen relationships are often viewed as trivial or unworthy of serious academic study. But the reality is, teen relationships are far from trivial. In fact these early experiences help shape us and lay the foundation for future relationships.  

So we decided that if we didn’t think any of what was out there already was particularly helpful, that we should offer something different.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Relationships – non-fiction. 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

My initial thoughts were that it is not the type of book that would be made into a film; but I then realised that of course one of the classic guides to relationships, “He’s Just Not That Into You”, was made into a very successful movie. So, should Hollywood call, I would  suggest a cast of young, diverse, interesting actors and actresses. With the soundtrack by Paul Dempsey / Something For Kate. 

Hey, if we are dreaming here…

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

This book is an up –front guide to ethical dating and relationships which will empower young women. 

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book will be published by Harper Collins, February 2014. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Nina and I had discussed the book concept for some time, but really only began writing 6 months ago. 

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The chapters I wrote are similar in their tone to my other book for teen girls, The Girl With The Butterfly Tattoo. However, the book itself  deliberately parts ways with other guides to relationships that are already on the market for young people.  

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

All the girls Nina and I work with in schools inspired this book. 

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Think of this book as being a little like a “Lonely Planet” guide to Love written specifically for teen girls. We tell them about our travels, what we liked, what we hated, the places we would definitely go again and those they need to avoid… and we invited many other “travelers” to share their experiences too. It is warm and wise – and the teen girls we have shared it with to date absolutely love it! 

Next Wednesday, you’ll see a response from this writer I hereby tag*:

Sharon Witt  

* Technically, I am supposed to tag 5 writers but as as it is the Christmas season, I could only access one willing to participate at this time. Hey – it’s quality,  not quantity that counts.

 

A 21 Day Challenge- for mothers and daughters

Actress Kate Winslet recently made a powerful statement on the importance of modelling positive self image for our girls: “As a child, I never heard one woman say to me, ‘I love my body.’ Not my mother, my elder sister, my best friend. No one woman has ever said, ‘I am so proud of my body.’ So I make sure to say it to Mia (my daughter), because a positive physical outlook has to start at an early age.”

My submission – Day 3 – click on image to read text.

 

Those of you who have read my book for parents on raising positive, happy teenage girls, The Butterfly Effect, will know that I also believe the search for solutions to the problems our girls face haunts many mothers. While it haunts fathers, too, ultimately I believe fixing this mess is women’s business, for we are the ones who show girls every day how to wear the label ‘woman’. And we do not always wear this label as a badge of honour.

Studies have shown that while up to 68 per cent of teenage girls think they are less beautiful than the average girl, 84 per cent of women over the age of 40 think they are less beautiful than the average woman. A 2008 Australian Women’s Weekly survey of 15,000 women found that only one in six were happy with their weight, one in five had such a poor body image they avoided mirrors and almost half would have cosmetic surgery if they could afford it. Binge drinking appeared to be rife, too. A third of the women surveyed drank too much and one in five admitted she had been told she had a drinking problem.

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, while we devour magazines that tell us beauty is really only about air-brushed perfection after all. If even the grown-ups are struggling, is it any wonder that our daughters are? Girls cannot be what they cannot see.

It seems that in many significant ways we are far more like our daughters than we are different. How desperately sad.

But this recognition of sameness is also full of possibility. If we accept that the issues we need to work on affect all girls and women, then we have the opportunity to sort this mess out alongside our daughters. We no longer need to maintain the ‘Mother knows best’ facade and try to ‘fix’ everything for them. Or worse still, rage at their unhealthy behaviours, which really only parallel our own – how teen girls hate hypocrisy!

We can join our daughters and work together on something greater; we can together find new connections and deeper mutual understandings.

And with this goal in mind, I recently joined the Real Girl’s 21 Day Challenge.

Sam Power’s submission

Sam Power, my Enlighten Program Director for the USA, was profiled at this blog a few weeks ago. This month Sam has encouraged her Real Girls readers to join her in a 21 Day Challenge; participants will become more positive about their bodies, and enhance their sense of self.

With the aim of being a positive role model not just for my teen daughter Teyah, 13, but for all the young girls Enlighten works with, I have joined in – and what fun it has been so far! Challenges include making a playlist of songs that inspire and motivate (Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” and ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” are on mine – spot the ’80’s chick), listing all the things in your life you are grateful for, and asking three people close to you to write you a note telling you what they value you about you. Embedded in this post are the submissions both Sam and I made for Day 3 of the  Challenge – “Take a photo of a part of your body that you love and explain why you appreciate it.”

Love to see your submissions, and love to see you you show all the young women around you that are enough. 

“But what about the boys?”

Frequently when I speak at conferences I am asked what our company, Enlighten Education, is doing to support young men. My response? Whilst we recognise boys also need positive, proactive programs to help them make sense of the changing world around them, we have decided to specialise in working with young women. That is not to say, of course, that many of the resources we offer (especially via this blog) would not help inform raising amazing boys. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have been asked to deliver my workshop on supporting teens to nurture respectful relationships with their peers, and navigate cyber world safely and responsibly, to the young men at Cranbrook School next week.

But it may surprise many of my readers to learn that aside from the issues we traditionally associate with young males (e.g: violence, substance abuse, reckless driving, and poor school performance) boys are also struggling with issues we tend to more readily associate with young women too. Especially body image.

In fact, a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies Growing Up in Australia survey, based on an assessment of 4164 children, indicated that boys are more likely than girls to diet and exercise to lose weight.

And boys also suffer from more extreme forms of body image dissatisfaction. The Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders reports that one in ten young adults and approximately 25% of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male. In this clip, Psychologist and muscle dysmorphia expert Dr Stuart Murray discusses the features of muscle dysmorphia; a newly identified psychological condition which is more common in males than females:

Jane Higgins, Enlighten’s Program Manager for South Australia, independently established her own in-school program for young men; The Odyssey Program. Odyssey’s workshops cover a variety of topics from masculinity to mate-ship, drugs and alcohol, girls and relationships, anger management and, yes, body image.

Jane offered me this insight into why her proactive work on body image with boys has become increasingly important:

“Just as the media rarely offers diverse images of what beauty in a young woman may look like,  it also presents a very narrow and one dimensional view of what a man should look, feel and be like and boys are responding to this pressure in unhealthy ways. The push for boys to appear muscular and buff is particularly problematic.  “Ripped, Shredded, Cut, Buff, Chiseled, Muscle up, Bulk Up, 6 pack Abs, Brutal, Clean!!” The way they are marketed to would almost have one think you were discussing a machine!

If a boy wishes to conform to this ideal, then he only has to turn to the “Health” food shops where he can buy “Bulking Up” drinks and powders. They contain ingredients that include electrolytes, amino acids, arginine, glutamine, caffeine and some contain nitric oxide and 1,3-Dimethylamylamine, or DMAA. It is like a glass of stimulants. Even more concerning is the research that shows that 3-12% of teen boys will use even more extreme muscle enhancing drugs including steroids.”

For more discussion on body image dissatisfaction in young men you may wish to read the following excellent articles:

Boys aren’t immune to body image pressures and never have been

The man behind the mask – male  body image dissatisfaction

Body image boosters for guys 

Regardless of gender, all young people deserve to be recognised as somebodies, not just bodies.

High School, High Anxiety: How to support teens with anxiety disorders

Last week’s inspiring post by Jane Caro on overcoming an anxiety disorder struck a chord with many readers who have been through the same thing. Many of our girls are facing this issue, too. In fact, 15% of people aged 16-24 are affected by an anxiety disorder. So this week, we’re taking a look at the causes and symptoms of anxiety — and most importantly, what we can do to support girls who are dealing with it.

What is anxiety disorder?

We have all experienced anxiety. For you, the pounding heartbeat, flushed face, dry mouth, sweatiness and feeling of dread might hit before you have to give a speech. Or perhaps it’s going to a job interview or sitting for an exam that makes you feel shaky, short of breath and queasy.

This is a normal reaction to stress. It’s your body’s fight or flight response, and humans have been experiencing it since we lived in caves: in the face of a threat, adrenaline is released, ramping up your body to either defend yourself or run. Since then the threats have changed from sabre-toothed tigers to things like impending deadlines and public speaking engagements, but our body’s reaction is the same. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. According to Youth BeyondBlue, “a certain amount of anxiety is good for us, as it gets us hyped up to perform at our best.”

It becomes a problem, though, when that feeling remains long after the stressful situation has passed. For a girl with anxiety disorder, it pervades her whole life and continues for weeks, months or longer. The anxious feelings tend to be a more intense and overwhelming. The anxiety may interfere with her daily life, as she avoids situations that are likely to trigger her anxiety. Vanessa, who had an anxiety disorder for several years during high school and overcame it at age 17, describes her experience this way:

I would be standing on the bus coming home from school, and boom, my heart would start racing so fast that I was convinced I was about to have a heart attack and die. Obviously that didn’t happen — but instead of being relieved, I thought that this must be how insanity starts. I was worried I would just slip away and lose all grip on reality. Some days it was too hard to go to school, because I thought everyone could tell I was going crazy. It was a vicious cycle, because those thoughts only fed the anxiety.

Anxiety can take several forms:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder — continual worrying about aspects of everyday life such as school, work, relationships and health
  • Social Anxiety — crippling fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder — obsessive fears leading the continual repetition of an action or ritual — e.g., a fear of germs leading to the frequent washing of hands
  • Panic Disorder — periods of intense fear and anxiety lasting from a few minutes up to half an hour
  • Phobia — fear and avoidance of a particular thing or situation — e.g., heights, enclosed spaces, dogs, etc.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — periods of anxiety, flashbacks or bad dreams related to a traumatic experience

What causes anxiety?

Stressful situations such as parents breaking up, family conflicts, being bullied or abused, or going through a relationship breakup can  trigger an anxiety disorder. And genes can play a role, so girls may be more prone if other people in the family have gone through it.

Perfectionism also seems to be a common thread for many people with an anxiety disorder. Adelaide psychologist Dr Michele Murphy said in July’s edition of Madison, “Of course perfection is impossible, so anxiety may result from a sense of failure and the exhaustion of attempting to attain unrealistic standards.” Hmm…attempting to attain unrealistic standards, now doesn’t that sound familiar? Given the constant barrage of media, pop culture and social messages telling girls that they aren’t thin enough, or hot or pretty or popular enough, or they aren’t achieving enough, it’s  little wonder that so many of them feel overwhelmed and anxious. (And their mothers, too!)

Bella, who is 20 and had anxiety throughout her teens, always performed well academically, and this became a major focus of her anxiety:

In the subjects I got my best marks in, I was a wreck for weeks before exams. I couldn’t sleep and I had this dread of what would happen if I didn’t get the mark everyone was expecting me to. It was like my life was going to come to an end. Now I know that fear was out of all proportion — but at the time, I couldn’t think about anything else.

Signs of an anxiety disorder

It’s normal for everyone to experience a certain amount of anxiety surrounding stressful events, but if a girl shows these signs and they are impacting her everyday life and activities, she may have an anxiety disorder:

  • fast heartbeat
  • pain or a tight feeling in the chest
  • shortness of breath or hyperventilation
  • tingling sensation or pins and needles
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • trembling, shaking or being easily startled
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • insomnia and tiredness
  • constant worrying, about big or small concerns
  • fear or avoidance of certain places, situations or things
  • compulsive actions such as hand washing

What you can do to help

If you believe that your child may have anxiety, the first step is to speak to her about her feelings. Yes, you might meet resistance or even anger. Embarrassed by the thoughts that are going through her head, a girl may try to suffer in silence. Or she may have trouble finding the words to describe the feeling of dread that’s hanging over her. Here are some pointers to get the conversation started and keep it going (adapted from Youth Beyondblue‘s advice for parents and caregivers):

  • Try to stay calm and  relaxed.
  • Set aside a good time to chat quietly without distractions, and give her all of your attention.
  • Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”.
  • Resist the urge to jump in with advice straightaway. Instead, focus on acknowledging her feelings.
  • Avoid making judgments or saying things like “Snap out of it” or “That’s silly”, as this only shames and doesn’t help solve the problem.
  • Try not to take it personally if she can’t fully open up to you about her anxious feelings, as some girls find it easier to talk with a neutral professional.
Treatments
These suggestions made by psychologists for curbing anxiety may sound almost ridiculously simple, but they really can be effective:
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Try relaxing activities such as yoga, tai chi or meditation.

Also seek advice from a professional, because if it is left untreated, anxiety may escalate rather than subside. Your family doctor is a good starting point, and he or she may suggest a specialist or a counsellor. There are a range of treatments, including medication, relaxation techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which equips girls to challenge unrealistic, negative thoughts and fears and replace them with a more realistic and positive outlook.

In Vanessa’s case, a rapid heart rate and shortness of breath meant she saw multiple doctors and was even admitted to the cardiac ward of a hospital before a switched-on doctor set aside her medical chart and instead asked her about her thoughts and feelings, and diagnosed an anxiety disorder:

It was the hugest relief that someone had put a name to what I was feeling and to know I wasn’t going crazy. He got me in to see a psychiatrist, who taught me breathing and relaxation techniques and CBT. As an adult, in times of stress I have the skills to manage anxiety so that it doesn’t take hold. Having an anxiety disorder was awful — but I don’t regret it, because I think that learning to take charge of it has made me a stronger person today.
Resources
  • Youth BeyondBlue has fact sheets; advice for parents, caregivers and kids; and a comprehensive checklist of anxiety symptoms. Their helpline in Australia is 1300 22 4636.
  • Reachout provides great articles and resources on anxiety in young people.
  • Lifeline Australia’s number is 13 11 14. Lifeline New Zealand is 0800 543 354.
  • Kids Help Line Australia is 1800 55 1800.

Teens and Trauma: How You Can Help the Healing Process

The last couple of years have been tough for many communities where Enlighten works, with natural disasters such as flooding in many parts of Australia and the devastating earthquake that claimed so many lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. There are many stories of tragedy and heartbreak — but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in working with young people, it’s that they have an incredible, deep capacity for resilience, compassion and love.

Enlighten’s New Zealand program manager, Rachel Hansen, who has worked with a number of Christchurch schools in the year since the earthquake, tells me she is in awe of the resilience of the students and the staff.

Many of them had endured great hardship – losing homes and loved ones. Some were also living with family members who had been severely injured or traumatised. One thing that really moved me was when the girls spoke about how important their friends had been in the months following the quake.

As many of their lives were in chaos they learned how to lean on and really support their friends even more. There was a real sense of sisterhood at having been through something so big together. 

Christchurch endured a particularly bitter winter last year, and some of the schools were teaching out of marquees and tents. In December I worked with 130 girls in a marquee (which was their ‘Chapel’ and Assembly Hall, as both had been destroyed). It was a particularly hot day and by the afternoon we were sweltering as if in a sauna. However I was struck by how accepting and cheerful the girls were about everything – it was as if it wouldn’t occur to them to complain. Their teacher told me that when it rained during assembly and the water swept through the marquee the girls would just lift their feet to keep them dry.

There is much we can do to support young people who have lived through natural disasters or other traumatic events, so I’m sharing this guest post by our wonderful Queensland presenter Storm Greenhill-Brown, who has been affected by the flooding in her own town, Ipswich, and has some great ideas for helping the healing process.


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

We have had a rather turbulent past year in Queensland. The floods of January 2011 and this year’s flooding in the western part of the state caused great distress for many and have had a significant impact on the Queensland psyche. Recovery efforts are ongoing and emotions are still raw for those who have suffered. Many homes damaged by the 2011 floods were only just rebuilt over Christmas — a full year later — while some families are in a seeming state of limbo waiting for insurance claims to be settled and builders to be found.

What has this turmoil meant for children, whether they were directly affected or not? How can we as parents and as a community help our young people to develop resilience in the face of such traumatic, life-altering events?

The Quest for Life Foundation provides an excellent online series and downloadable workbook for those helping young people through the recovery process. The foundation suggests that we must first assess the impact of a traumatic event on a teenager’s or younger child’s life. How much a child understands and is able to process will depend on their age.

The deep grief of losing one’s house, pets, possessions or family members often results in negativity and a sense of doom. Young people may experience feelings of great fear and a heightened belief that the natural world is wild and dangerous. Parents’ responses to such events are very important. As one flood-affected local mother said, “Our children are around adults who are emotionally unstable on a permanent basis.”

Children need to know what has happened and, importantly, what is being done about it. As adults, we must be able to discuss issues as they arise, but it is important that we don’t overwhelm children with images and information they do not need. An overload of images of earthquakes, tsunamis or flood devastation can potentially be destructive for young people. Teens especially may feel a loss of control or a sense of helplessness and futility.

It is important that children learn to feel compassion and empathy for others, and to focus on questions like “How can I help?” and “In what small way can I make a difference?” By offering practical help to other families, young people can gain a sense of purpose and hope. During the floods, two local boarding schools in my area, in Ipswich, were turned into emergency accommodation centres, and many of the girls and boys from those schools worked selflessly to help families in need. Instead of simply relaxing on their holidays, they worked in shifts gathering and sorting blankets, clothing and food. Many of them took immense satisfaction from being involved. It was a great example of how teens can benefit from looking beyond the boundaries of their own world, which during adolescence tends to narrow down to the self. “More than myself” can be a powerful mantra for young people who are questioning their place in the world.

In my town, a local mum whose entire neighbourhood was decimated by the flood decided to create a support network in her area. This amazing group of women banded together armed with buckets, mops and shovels and began the cleaning and rebuilding process. Because many families were not covered for flooding by their insurance policies, or damage assessment was taking a long time, they felt something had to be done. What inspiring role models these women were for their daughters and sons. Instead of focusing on what they had lost — which was a great deal in many cases — they chose to be grateful for what they managed to save and what they could do for each other. They acknowledged their loss but embraced the positive. To me this is resilience in action, and resilience is a lifelong skill that should be nurtured in our kids.

 

Erin Cook with her daughter Sarai, 12, and dog Bella. Erin is one of a group of women in Ipswich who banded together to help other families in need. Picture: Jodie Richter, for The Courier-Mail

The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power

The countdown has begun!

Ever since my book on raising teen girls — The Butterfly Effect — came out, mothers and daughters have been telling me they wish there was a version for teens. So I am thrilled to say that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo: A girl’s guide to claiming her power is to be released on 1 March!

I loved every minute of writing this book. Teen girls were my inspiration from the very start, and I am bursting with excitement to share this book with them. My aim is to encourage girls to question the limiting messages advertisers, the media and our culture keep pushing: that a girl’s greatest worth is her looks, and beauty comes in only one size and shape. My hope is that The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers girls to find their strength and be true to their own hearts and minds.

Before the book went off to the printer, I sent it out to several girls for review, and I’m happy to say it received an overwhelmingly positive response. And I am honoured that two feminist thinkers I deeply respect have also put their support behind the book’s messages . . .

Finally a book for teenage girls that does not patronise or attempt to police them! The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo empowers teen girls to make their own choices. — Nina Funnell, writer, women’s rights advocate and recipient of Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award, 2010

Danni Miller is the big sister every teenage girl needs, offering the perfect mix of resolve-stiffening encouragement, soul-touching inspiration and real-world practical advice. — Emily Maguire, author of Your Skirt’s Too Short: Sex, power, choice

To be certain that your girls are among the first to get their hands on this book, you can pre-order (for $19.95 plus $5 postage and handling to anywhere in Australia). Each pre-ordered copy will be signed by me and will come with a beautiful bookmark and Enlighten Education wristband as free gifts. Click here to order now.

For a sneak peak at what The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo has to offer, check out Chapter 1, “The Battle Within”, for free, by clicking here. I hope that you enjoy it, and share it today with all the wonderful teen girls in your life!

Instead of mocking teen Twihards, try talking to them

Criticizing the latest film in the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn, is child’s play. As columnist Jordan Baker writes, “I worry for girls who will grow up with Bella Swan from Twilight. Bella is self-absorbed, clingy and willing to give up everything – her education, family and mortal soul – for a man.”

It’s a common concern. And others have raised many more. Are the books and films romanticising stalking and controlling relationships? Why is Bella always in need of rescuing – often by more than one hero at a time? Is this yet another fable designed to teach girls that sex is an inherently corrupting force, where – once again – male sexuality is constructed in terms of the danger and risk it poses, while female sexuality is characterised in terms of deficiency and loss – loss of virginity, innocence and reputation?

Thousands of centimetres of column space have been dedicated to critics bemoaning the insipid and sullen Bella, and this latest film has triggered yet another flurry of exasperated screeds all taking aim at the Twilight franchise and, more specifically, at the fans who are ridiculed as mere “Twihards”.

And therein lies the problem. While the criticisms of the film may be legitimate, the subsequent worrying over teen girls, and criticism of those who enjoy Twilight, is not productive. When we roll our eyes at the cultural goods which appeal to teen girls and when we dismiss texts that manage to speak to them, we miss out on an opportunity to better understand and engage with girls.

As teen educators, we see this all the time. Parents like to repeatedly carry on about the “trash” that their teen girls are into (mind you, these same parents probably grew up on a diet of genies in bottles and Stepford-like domestic witches who both aimed only to please their masters). These same parents then act surprised as to why their daughters might be reluctant to share other parts of their lives. We can hardly expect our children to open up about the things that matter most to them when we dedicate so much energy to insulting the cultural goods they identify with.

As insightful as the critiques of Twilight might be, the problem is that they don’t in any way help to explain why teenagers like it or how it manages to speak to them. Instead of arguing the reasons as to why teenagers shouldn’t watch Twilight, let’s turn the problem over and try and understand why they do.

According to 15-year-old Elena Burger, the appeal of Twilight is that it marries up the fantasy of eternal youth with the fantasy of having access to adult privilieges, minus adult responsibilities:

“Bella gets to stay a ‘child’ forever. She doesn’t need to worry about the adult things that we teenagers know we’ll have to worry about: she doesn’t need a university degree, a car, or a mortgage. Plus, she still gets all the advantages of adulthood: sex, freedom, and a honeymoon. This is the ultimate fantasy for teenagers, and probably what a lot of adults hunger for as well.”

Other girls comment that they like the fact that Bella is decidedly not interested in dieting, cosmetics, fashion or other superficial trappings. Others seem to revel in their power to read resistently and deconstruct the text. One twelve-year-old girl we know leaned over to her mother while watching the latest film and commented, “Um hello? Domestic violence, much!”

The real power of the series is that, like it or not, the film seems to tap into a number of themes that resonate with the lives of young women. It is unsurprising, then, that they would wish to discuss and reflect on those themes.

Twilight presents us with an opportunity to springboard into discussions about some very sensitive issues. Ask a bunch of teen girls what a healthy relationship looks like and they will probably roll their eyes. But say to them, “Edward and Bella: a tale of domestic abuse. Discuss,” and you’ll unleash a passionate and thoughtful discussion as to what a healthy relationship is and how gender and power operate.

The latest film invites discussion on matters including premarital sex, abortion, consent, rejection, crushes, teen pregnancy, domestic violence, male competition, body image and secrets.

Teen films create “teachable moments” where we can connect with young people and engage them in discussions using the cultural goods already familiar to them. It’s far easier to debate the motives and actions of a removed, fictional character than it is to discuss the behavior and motives of your child or one of their peers. Young people enjoy expressing their opinions about the former, but will often become defensive or guarded about the latter.

You don’t have to love what your child likes. But if, instead of dismissing it, you view it as an opportunity to engage with your child, you just might learn something.

 

This post was co-written with Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti–sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on “sexting”, teen girls and moral panics. The post was first published by the Sydney Morning Herald. 

 

A daily dose of awesome: Introducing Enlighten’s new FREE iPhone app!

Much excitement here at Enlighten today . . . After months in development, our very own free iPhone app is being launched to the world! Download the free app at

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-butterfly-effect/id465813126?ls=1&mt=8

to receive daily:

  • AFFIRMATIONS —  self-affirming messages to boost self-esteem and body image
  • INSPIRATION — wise words from amazing women
  • INFORMATION — web links to info every girl needs to know

The idea to create an app came to me when I tried (unsuccessfully) to find a cool-looking app with positive messages for Teyah and Jaz, my daughter and stepdaughter, who are 12 and 16.

Girls are bombarded every day with messages from the media and advertisers that their worth is all about their looks, and that ‘girl-power’ means being able to raunch it up. This app is an antidote! It’s designed to be fun and gorgeous looking, while providing a daily reminder that we are not just bodies, but somebodies.

We are offering this app free because we want to reach as many girls as we can with positive messages about  body image, self-esteem and feminism — in a medium they enjoy and use every day. Let’s face it, we could all do with an alternative to the endless grind of messages telling us we’re not “enough” (thin enough/pretty enough/rich enough, etc.). Help us spread the love by telling everyone in your network!

Schools, organisations and anyone else with a website or blog, please think about putting this button on your site to give readers the opportunity to download the free app. The widget is simple to install, promise! Just click here for details.

Just copy and paste these lines anywhere on your site to grab this widget*:
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://www.enlighteneducation.com/widget/enlighten-app.js“></script>
<div></div>
It will appear like this on your site and when visitors click on it, it will take them straight to Itunes where they may download it for free:
 

I hope you and the girls in your life enjoy a daily dose of inspiring quotes, self-affirmations and links to the best info on the web, for Amazons who want to make a difference in the world.

* If you have any problems installing the widget, simply email our brilliant web support team for assistance: info@sosavvy.com.au 

Organisations that are featured in the Information section of our App will receive an email later today advising them of this with a special  widget they can use that promotes the fact they are being highlighted on “The Butterfly Effect App.” 

27/9: Stop Press: Clever Emma Elias, 15 years old, edited a launch video for this App which we just love! We also love the original music this clip features by Cat Vas; the song is entitled  “Ladies Marry Pirates.” Thank you Emma, and thank you Cat!

Just Speak Up – Getting Real About Post Natal Depression

This week I spoke publicly on what had until now been a very personal experience for me: the post-natal depression I had after the birth of my first child, beautiful Teyah, who is now 12. I was on a Kerri-anne panel that included 60 Minutes’ Peter Overton, a true gentleman who was visibly emotional talking about his wife Jessica Rowe’s far more public battle with PND, and journalist Angela Mollard, who spoke frankly about her raw emotions after the birth of her second child.

Though this discussion doesn’t relate to the raising of girls, the topic is so important that I want to share it, with the aim of supporting grown-up girls, too. I really hope this will spark conversations that heal.

If you feel that you might have symptoms of PND, help is available. You don’t have to suffer alone. A GP can refer you to the right specialist and there are several effective treatments. Beyondblue’s PND website, justspeakup.com.au, is an excellent starting point for help and advice.

Jessica Rowe not only recommended justspeakup as a site to share with you, she has also given her blessing for me to run this moving and honest account she wrote for Vogue. For those who are struggling to understand what it feels like to have PND, and for those who have this illness and feel they are alone, Jessica vividly captures the thoughts and feelings that many women with PND share.

 

I had everything I could possibly wish for—my newborn baby, Allegra, and my decent, darling husband by my side. Minutes after I pushed my little girl into the world, I held her against my chest, peering into her little squashed face. Her eyes were still jammed shut but I couldn’t stop looking at her. I told her, “So, you’re finally here, my darling. I’ve been waiting such a long time to meet you. For so long you were just a thought, a wish upon a star, but finally you’ve joined us.” And with that she opened one of her eyes and fixed me with her first look at the world. Her clear, blue stare drinking in the love and relief that poured out of me. The greatest love affair of my life was just beginning.

That first week in hospital was a blur of unfathomable love, joy, sheer terror and excitement. I felt safe in my room at the end of the corridor. Allegra and I drew the curtains around us, safely tucked away from the world and the reality of what waited for us at home. As the days went by quickly in hospital I started to worry about going home. How would I cope? I didn’t know how to bath my baby. Changing a nappy was a nerve-racking affair. The midwives kept telling me I could lose the fairy-taps and be more confident in handling my precious bundle.

And my breast milk still hadn’t come through. When my little one was five days old, I was sobbing and laughing simultaneously as I lay in hospital with cabbage leaves stuffed in my ugly feeding bra. The nurses told me the cabbage leaves were the best way to stop my boobs from being so sore. I wasn’t making much sense at all as I obsessively wrote down everything in my notebook.

In those early weeks at home I thought I’d be living my long-held dream. Finally, at last, we were a family. Why on earth did my dream feel like it was free-falling into a nightmare? It took me quite some time to get out of my PJs once I got home with my little miracle. Getting out the front door was tough—I wondered if I would ever leave the house again. Assembling the pram, changing nappies and working out how to put Allegra in the baby capsule became my biggest achievements.

Despite the sleep deprivation, I couldn’t sleep. My waking hours were consumed by anxious thoughts. Why couldn’t I breastfeed? Was my baby putting on enough weight? Did using formula mean I was setting my daughter up for a life of obesity and lowering her IQ? I wondered how I could feel so wretched when I finally had my darling girl. After all, wasn’t I meant to be the superwoman who could deal with anything life threw at me?

These were all pretty standard thoughts for a new mum. But something was seriously wrong. Because what weren’t so standard were the scary, obsessive thoughts that started to sneak into my befuddled brain.

The small silver Tiffany’s clock that I used to time breastfeeds became a weapon in my mind. I wondered how easily the clock could crack my baby’s delicate skull. My eyes would be drawn to the sharp carving knife in our second draw in the kitchen. I wondered if such a knife could pierce my little daughter’s soft skin. I knew I would never hurt my baby but these bizarre thoughts, of turning everyday objects into hazards, kept going around in my mind.

I wrapped the knife up in newspaper and threw it away. I did this at night, so the neighbours wouldn’t see me. I hid the silver clock. It didn’t matter that these objects were out of sight, as they were very much still in my mind.

The outside world was none the wiser to how I was feeling. I was determined to keep up appearances. Fashion had always given me such pleasure and in some strange way I believed if I could walk out the front door looking together all was not lost. My uniform became a brightly coloured feeding bra, teamed with either a Zimmerman pink leopard-print frock or a fifties-style chocolate dress that was scattered with a mauve and pale pink diamond pattern. The look was complete with big black Escada sunglasses and gold or silver ballet flats. But as you know, appearances can be deceiving.

I was wearing one such outfit at the first meeting of the mothers group in my area. I arrived late, having struggled to pack the baby bag with the right number of nappies and dummies. Then it took another 20 minutes to work out how to clip the wretched baby capsule into the car. Suitably stressed out, I flapped into the group to be confronted by a group of women who seemed to all be blissfully feeding and snuggling their babies.

The new mum next to me said, “Isn’t this the best thing you’ve ever done?” Another mum told the group that it “just got better and better”.

It had taken so much to get me out my front door. I didn’t have the courage to confess that for me it didn’t feel like it was the best thing I’d ever done. I felt like I was making an enormous mess of things. And no, it wasn’t getting better and better. I was feeling so much worse, it was getting harder, not easier, and I feared the long nights ahead and those scary thoughts dominating the hours before dawn.

I felt like the odd one out. No-one else seemed to be drowning. I had never felt so isolated in my life. I vowed to myself never to go back to that meeting again. I’m sure on the surface I looked like I was coping; and looking back, there would have been some other mums in that group who, like me, were floating adrift, desperate to be thrown a lifeline.

. . .

What surprised me was the stigma I felt when I realised I had post-natal depression. It was ironic, as for many years I’ve campaigned for greater mental health awareness. The message I would tell people again and again, in media interviews, charity functions and education campaigns, was that having a mental illness was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was an illness like any other. But now, here I was feeling that shame.

. . .

After about six weeks of trying to ignore how I was feeling and attempting to hide my inner chaos by putting on my wardrobe armour, I realised I had to talk to my husband. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I felt that I was letting him down, too.

As my daughter slept, I sat next to Peter on the couch and told him I wasn’t coping. He kept asking me if I was going to harm myself or Allegra, and I told him of course not. But I knew that I needed someone to pull me out of the anxious, frightening world my head was slipping into. He held me and told me everything was going to be all right, and then, for the first time in a long time, I believed it.

We came up with a plan, that I would call my obstetrician the next day and take it from there. My doctor was wonderful. I rang her, explained a little over the phone about my black thoughts and she arranged for me to see her that afternoon. I remember pouring my heart out to her, sobbing as I explained how I had been feeling over those past few weeks. She organised for me to see a psychiatrist the following day.

I put on my diamond-patterned dress for the psychiatrist. She could quickly see through my appearance. I realised I didn’t have to pretend anymore and I just had to be honest. And when I sat there talking with her, describing my thoughts, I started to feel a sense of relief. She explained that the thoughts I was having were typical for someone with PND. No longer did I feel like a freak, some crazy woman. I already felt like I was on my way. The most difficult step for me had been asking for help. Now that I was getting the help I needed, I felt like this incredible weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I was keen to get started on anti-depressants. I was desperate to get the thoughts out of my head. My psychiatrist laughed at my eagerness. Usually she would have to convince her patients of the benefits of a little chemical help. I knew medication had helped my mum, and I was keen to kickstart my recovery. And make up for lost time with my family.

After about three weeks on the medication, I started to feel a little better. I was standing in my front garden and noticed the smell of jasmine in the air. I could feel a slight shift inside of me, a little breeze of optimism. What a lovely change in the wind. And that positive wind blew stronger over the following weeks, taking my dark thoughts away with it. And slowly, I began to feel more and more like me again.

I realised I wasn’t a failure. What I had was an illness. It didn’t mean I was a bad mother, or that I didn’t love my baby. I just needed some help to get over a difficult, dark patch in those early months of my little girl’s life. Now when I put my darling girl to bed and she closes her blue eyes, I don’t dread the night ahead. We both sleep heavily, dreaming of the joy that daybreak will bring.

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