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Category: Schools

I Just Want You To Be Happy

I am a long-time fan of Associate Professor David Bennett, Head of the NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health.

We first met back in 2006. At the time, I was combining part-time work developing Enlighten Education with a senior role as an Education Officer responsible for developing enterprise education in Catholic Schools. I had just written a 60-hour one-unit Higher School Certificate (HSC) course suitable for Year 11 or 12 called Applied Enterprise Learning. The course, approved by the Board of Studies NSW, has a strong practical component; students apply their core learning to find local solutions to local community problems and contribute to community renewal. (An independent evaluation of the course is available here should you be interested: project-evaluation-report-no-course-outline.) This type of learning, which not only enhances a participant’s skills and knowledge base but also adds value to their community, is known as service learning.

David was also keenly interested in exploring innovative ways of engaging young people in their learning and was a member of the National Youth Careers and Transitions Advisory Group (NYCTAG). We were both invited to deliver presentations at a national conference exploring the merits of  service learning. The final report, commissioned by the Department of Education, Science and Training, voiced our hopes for the service learning model. We bonded instantly as we shared an obvious enthusiasm for young people and passion for our work.

Since that time, I have had the opportunity to connect with David at various points in my career. He was an early supporter of Enlighten’s work with girls in schools. He is also the co-author of one of my favourite books on parenting teens, You Just Can’t Make Me. Recently, David was generous enough to act as a “critical friend” and read the draft of my own book on parenting teen girls (to be published by Random House Australia in September) and kindly agreed to write the foreword, too.

With this history of deep admiration and respect between us, you can imagine how excited I am to report that David has a second book, due to be released this month. This work has been co-authored with Associate Professor Leanne Rowe AM (the former chairman of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) and Professor Bruce Tonge (Head of the Centre for Development Psychiatry and Chairperson of the Division of Psychiatry at Monash Medical Centre, Melbourne).

The book’s media release follows:

In the lead up to National Youth Week, three specialists in the fields of teenage psychiatry, general practice and adolescent health broach the difficult and often underestimated subject of teenage depression in this new guide for parents, carers, teachers, social workers and doctors.

The Facts of Teen Depression…

· 1 in 5 teenagers will experience major depression before they are 18

· The chance of a child developing depression has tripled in the last 30 years

· Hundreds of thousands of prescriptions of antidepressants are written for under 18’s each year

· Those aged 15-24 have the highest prevalence of depression of any age group

· Hospitalisations for self harm by teenagers are escalating dramatically

One of the most challenging and problematic issues facing Australia today is the increasing rate of youth depression and the high rates of self harm by our young people. But these things can be prevented, identified and managed and I Just Want You To Be Happy is a much needed, practical, clear and highly accessible guide to show you how.

I Just Want You To Be Happy describes the factors contributing to the increasing depression in young people and discusses why our search for constant happiness is setting our children up for problems. It is important for all parents to know that, contrary to popular myth, depression can be prevented and treated. Alongside expert specialist advice, I Just Want You To Be Happy contains an invaluable contact list of mental health organisations, support groups and websites where parents and carers can seek further help.

Every school and every parent of a teen should read this important book. It combines solid research with practical, doable advice and, as always, reflects the writers’ deep affection and high regard for young people.

In fact, I love this book so much I really want to help generate a groundswell of support for it. I am going to offer a free copy of the book to a school or community group that can show me they have recommended it to their wider circle via their school website or newsletter. Simply email me a link or scanned copy of your recommendation, along with your postal address, and I shall randomly pick one submission and send them this book for their reference library.

Good luck!

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

The clip below is a really interesting opinion piece posted by The New York Times on March 10th. (Click on the image or visit: http://video.nytimes.com/video/2009/03/09/opinion/1194838469575/sex-lies-and-photoshop.html.)

This has particular relevance for us in Australia. Here, too, the camera always lies.

Does it matter? Yes. For some years now groups like ours have been advocating for more realistic and diverse portrayals of young women in the media; the current definition of beauty is so very narrow! Research from Mission Australia shows that for young Australian women in particular, concerns over body image are urgent. Through my work, I have seen firsthand that self-doubt can impact on every dimension of a young girl’s life: when girls are on extreme diets (and many are), or self-medicating depression by binge drinking, or being bullied by peers because they do not fit some ideal, they cannot possibly reach their full academic or personal potential.

I work with hundreds of schools right across Australia and New Zealand, and I can tell you that there is a real need to give girls skills to deconstruct the many unhealthy media messages they are currently bombarded with. The fact that our company, Enlighten Education, is so busy (we have worked with over 25 schools this term alone) is indicative of this. Schools recognise that they are not just responsible for producing strong academic candidates – they are concerned with the whole girl. They want their students to be healthy and happy and know that they are somebodies, not just bodies.

It seems that the Federal Government is also now keen to act. Earlier this month, it commissioned a group of fashion industry leaders to address body dissatisfaction levels among Australia’s youth. The group will be chaired by a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, Mia Freedman. Girlfriend editor Sarah Cornish, model Sarah Murdoch and a number of representatives from health, media and youth groups will also be involved.

They have been charged with developing a voluntary code of practice for portraying body image in the media. The clear labelling of digitally retouched or modified images, greater diversity of body shapes and sizes, and mandatory model age limits are among the issues under consideration by the group.

This move is a welcome one – and has come not before time. I just hope the working party developing these standards don’t use this opportunity merely as a PR exercise. We need real action, not just a talkfest. We also need consistency: magazines cannot say on the one hand “We care about teen girl self-esteem” while on the other they allow advertisements that sexualise and objectify young women. After all, Girlfriend magazine gave free Playboy T-shirts away to readers not that long ago!

While the talk continues, we will keep working.

And we will keep listening to our client schools who are getting more and more inventive in how they follow up on our work. Teachers from St Mary’s Star of the Sea College, Wollongong, will build on it in their pastoral care program throughout the year. The girls did a reflective task recently in which they set their personal goals for the year ahead and celebrated by writing them on butterflies they decorated – and sent to me 🙂

Girls at Rangi Ruru in New Zealand created their own Hall of Fame and Wall of Shame. (See my previous blog post to get this started at your school.) Guidance Counsellor Jane Dickie sent me some wonderful feedback:

We also had cakes in the shape of butterflies to remind us to celebrate the beauty within us all. Throughout the year we will continue to carry on the themes discussed during the Enlighten programme. Not only has this been helpful for Year 10 as a whole, it has also given us ideas for working with girls higher up in the school. The saying “No girl gets left behind” has been something we have discussed with Years 11 to 13. We have also highlighted to the girls as a whole the influence of the media, and being vigilant about the pressure and ideas they are trying to sell. You are a consumer and therefore have power by not buying magazines, etc., that portray women in a negative light.

Love to hear what is happening at your school to provide girls with an alternative to the more negative messages they are surrounded with.

PS If you are establishing your own Hall of Fame / Wall of Shame, here are some new entrants:

Shame on Smiggle. They have just released a voodoo-doll-inspired pencil case, complete with a spot to insert a photo of the person you hate and pins to stick in this effigy! Julie Gale from Kids Free 2B Kids was quick to point out why this is grossly irresponsible: Kids Free 2B Kids protests against voodoo pencil case.

Shame, too, on Sydney radio station Triple M. They are running a new competition entitled Make Me a Porn Star: “Send us a photo of your best ‘porn star’ look, and you could win $5000 to pimp yourself up! We’ll also send you and a friend to Perth for Porn Week where you will get exclusive behind the scenes VIP access and star as an extra in an Adult Film!” Is a role in a porn film something we should be competing for on mainstream radio?

Embracing cyber world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I particularly love the Nerd Girls “About” statement: 

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

Go nerd girls!

 

Moving forward

I want to begin the year by sharing a video that I posted on YouTube earlier this month, it is an edited version of some interviews I did with Iris Productions:


 
I have been thinking about how we can all make things better for girls and have come up with a few suggestions I’d like to see you all build upon:

1. READ. Get informed. A few of the books that inspired me in 2008 and that continue to challenge and feed my thinking include:  “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” by Courtney Martin, “Adolescent Girls In Crisis”, by Martha Straus, “Faking It” by Women’s Forum Australia, ” Female Chauvinist Pigs, Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture” by Ariel Levy, and “Well and Good” by Richard Eckersley.   

2. WRITE. The book that has really shaped me though has been my own. My manuscript is due into my publishers, Random House, in two weeks – what a journey writing this has been! Seth Godin (a business writer and entrepreneur) summed up the power of the writing process beautifully in the Herald a few weeks ago –

The book that will most change your life is the book you write. Write it as a blog, write it as a book you publish or write it as a private diary… The act of writing things down, of justifying your actions, of being cogent and clear and forthright – that’s how you change. It keeps you from lying to yourself all day long.”

3. SPEAK OUT – If you see advertisements that you think send out all the wrong messages, send a message of your own…enough! This year at Enlighten, as part of a new workshop we are launching entitled “Real Girl Power,” we will be encouraging teenage girls to talk back to the media by identifying ad’s they think portray women and girls in unhealthy ways.

 

Our campaign was inspired by the work of American group Mind on the Media and we are initiating it here with their blessing. If you’d like to get involved, and get the teen girls in your life involved too, download the PDF below. These stickers have been designed to be printed out on Avery labels (8 per page – product number DL08) although they can simply by printed on paper and pasted.

girl-caught_pdf_sticker – PDF for downloading and printing at home.

Once girls have “caught out” an advertisement, they can plaster a sticker on it and send it in to us. We will compile these to share on our blog – and will also share the contact details of the companies responsible so we can all contact them to say enough!

These types of grass roots camapaigns are not only very effective in brining about real change, but also encourage girls to feel powerful.

4. CONNECT – Actively seek positive female role models for teen girls. There are some excellent structured mentoring programs, like SISTERtosister, but all girls can be encouraged to seek out older girls and women who can help them achieve. Teen cosmetic company Bellaboobabe is promoting role modelling on its new look site (which also features some very good Get Real messages).     

Over to you – what will you be doing in 2009 to move things forward for girls?

 

Buying love?

The article below first appeared in the UK Daily Mirror in September of this year. It raises so many issues relating to teen girl friendships, self esteem, body image and parenting that I have decided to copy it in its entirity here.

Below the article are questions worth considering. Teachers: this would make an excellent stimulus for a discussion in class. Should any of my educator readers use this, I would encourage you to submit some of your students’ responses here as comments.

I bought my daughter a EUR21,000 body to beat the bullies; Lesley Bennett’s teenage daughter Becky was desperate to change her looks after years of bullying and Lesley didn’t hesitate to spend her life
savings putting her under the knife. 
Helen O’Brien, The Daily Mirror, September 30th 2008.  

Gazing at her dazzling smile and admiring her new-found confidence, Lesley Bennett has no regrets about spending her life savings on her daughter Becky’s looks.

Despite having an enviable figure and an attractive face Becky’s self-esteem was shattered by years of bullying at school.

But still many parents would have tried counselling before spending EUR21,000 to give their daughter a new body.

“I’ve no doubt I did the right thing. I’d do it again without a second thought because Becky is happy now,” says Lesley, 51.

Only child Becky had always been bright, popular and bubbly. But when she started a new school at 14, Lesley noticed a change. “My enthusiastic daughter was gone. She used to love singing and going with friends to after-school clubs. Now she wouldn’t do anything.”

Every morning when Lesley dropped off Becky at school she watched her daughter trudge alone and miserable through the gates. Teachers assured her it was just a teenage thing.

But things got worse. And excuses to skip school started. “She moaned about a bad stomach ache or a migraine. I knew something was wrong.”

Eventually, Becky came home from school and broke down. “The bullying was relentless,” Becky, now 22, explains. “It didn’t matter where I was, the bullies always found me.

“I spent every break locked in the toilets, hiding from the names – ‘ugly’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘pale skeleton’. I was an easy target because I was the ‘new girl’. I don’t know why they took a dislike to me, I did nothing to provoke them.

“The bullying was never physical but they threatened to cut off my hair. It was really stressful and because I’d started at a new school I had no friends. I felt completely alone and I had a real fear of going to school.”

When she started wearing make-up, hoping that if she looked pretty her tormentors might leave her alone, the bullies called her a slag.

Lesley says: “I felt so guilty. Why didn’t I see something earlier? I felt I’d failed her. I felt angry that these kids were ruining my daughter’s life. Why Becky? She was gorgeous.” After two years of constant name-calling Becky left school with five GCSEs vowing never to return to education.

“If I’d known about the bullying earlier I would’ve considered home tuition. The bullying ruined everything,” Lesley adds.

Eventually, Becky summoned the courage to study graphic design but when some of the school bullies turned up at the college she immediately left.

A shadow of her former self, Becky began to suffer panic attacks and increasingly couldn’t leave the house.

“The bullies had left her terrified and vulnerable,” says Lesley. Just the thought of going out filled her with fear.

“She used to love shopping, now she didn’t leave her room. I didn’t know what to do.”

Lesley tried persuading Becky to see a doctor but she adamantly refused. Lesley adds: “I didn’t want to turn into a bully myself and force her, so I just tried to be supportive.”

For Becky’s 18th birthday she didn’t have a party or go out clubbing like most girls her age. She sat at home with Lesley, dad David and her grandmother, and celebrated with a slice of pink cake.

Lesley says: “We tried to make her birthday as special as possible but there was a sense of sadness that she wasn’t out with friends.”

The next day Becky sat her parents down and told them the extent of her depression.

“I told them how much I hated myself, ” Becky says. “I told them I wanted to change and I knew how. I wanted cosmetic surgery and I begged them to help me financially.”

Becky showed her parents pages of research she’d been doing on cosmetic surgery and told them how desperate she was to change her body.

Lesley says: “She’d clearly spent years collating all this stuff. And then I looked at Becky and I could tell she was close to a breakdown.

“I reassured her that she was beautiful as she was but she was convinced the only way she would ever be happy was with surgery.”

With the teeth, the boob job, the liposuction, the fake nails, hair styling and tanning, Becky’s wish list added up to EUR21,000.

“It was our life savings. But I couldn’t think of a better use. Getting the real Becky back was priceless,” Lesley adds.

As soon as Lesley and David agreed, Becky booked to get her teeth whitened and straightened. A year later, when she was 19, she had her breasts enlarged from a 32A to a 32C. And the following year, when she was 20, she had liposuction on her inner thighs.

“I was terrified when she was wheeled into surgery but I shouldn’t have worried. The results spoke for themselves.

“Afterwards, she looked – and clearly felt – fantastic. It was as if with each operation Becky’s confidence was being restored,” says Lesley. And to finish the look, Becky booked a fake tan, fingernail extensions, haircut and colour.

Lesley watched the cost mount but had no regrets. “As Becky blossomed into a beautiful, happy young woman, I didn’t begrudge the cost for a single moment.”

Becky, of Penge, South London, says: “The bullies dragged me down so much that I began to believe everything they told me. The surgery was for me to feel like my life was mine again.”

Becky’s panic attacks stopped. And soon she began a new life as a model.

Lesley adds: “Today, Becky’s confident, outgoing and happy. In fact, at the age of 22 she’s got a new life. You wouldn’t recognise her from the girl she was before.”

But Becky has another boob job planned for the beginning of next year, although she insists she’s saving up to pay for this one herself. “Surgery made me feel my life was mine again.”

What they spent

Teeth EUR7,500

Boob job EUR7,000

Liposuction EUR5,000

Fake nails EUR500 (a year)

Hair restyling EUR200

Tanning EUR800 (a year)

Total EUR21,000

Possible questions for discussion

Have you ever witnessed bullying at your school? How did it make you feel viewing this?

Why do you think some girls target other girls for bullying?

Is verbal bullying as serious as physical bullying? Explain your response.

What types of things should schools do in an attempt to eliminate bullying?

What can you do to help eliminate bullying?

How can parents best support their daughters when things are not going well for them at school?

What are your thoughts on Lesley’s decision to pay for the cosmetic surgery Becky wanted?

Do you believe Becky’s new body will ensure she has a new life?

Is there too much pressure placed on young women to conform to an idealized image of beauty? Who do you think places these pressures on girls?

 

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

 

Teaching Resources ready to go – part 2!

I stumbled upon another great American site in my cyber – world travels this week that I think is worth sharing:

www.loveyourbody.nowfoundation.org

This organisation runs a number of really interesting initiatives. One is the “Love Your Body” campaign which is launched each year with a poster competition:

The grand prize winning poster will be used as part of a national campaign to challenge the media’s use of violent, drug-addicted, starved, surgically-enhanced images of women and to fight against industries that profit from women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.”

 Some of the past winners have produced fabulous works of art; LOVE this year’s winner, What’s the measure of a woman?

I have saved a number of past winners (including one submitted by an Australian!) to my picture gallery but do check these out for yourself at their site. Better yet – you can forward those you like to girls and women you want to inspire as they are available to send as free E-cards!

Another fabulous resource the foundation offers is a downloadable PowerPoint presentation on the portrayal of women in advertising. This comes complete with separate facilitator notes. I have saved the presentation for you here as a PDF so you can take a quick look through; if you think it may be useful simply download the PPoint yourself from their site.

sexstereotypesbeauty

My Program Director for Victoria, Sonia Lyne, discovered the following PDF listing resources for students, teachers and parents that will support work on eating disorders and body image at the Tasmanian Eating Disorder Web Site : Resource list

And I also quite like the “Completely Gorgeous”site. There are some useful things here as well – including teaching notes. Found the GORGEOUS film had some really bright moments: http://www.completelygorgeous.com/vid.html.

I know Dove support The Body Think program in schools but I am so furious with Unilever’s hypocrisy that I just can’t go there. Unilever own Dove – great messages for women there. But they also own Lynx ( vile misogyny!), Slim Fast ( vile hypocrisy!), and run shameful ad’s promoting skin whitening in other countries. Check this one out for their Pond’s brand in India. SHAME!!!

Love to hear about any resources you have used to inform and enlighten!

 

NZ: Our girls…”Barbie Bitches”?

I am really enjoying sharing some guest posts written by various members of my amazing Enlighten team with you all! A warm “Butterfly Effect” welcome to New Zealand’s Program Manager Kelly Valder…

 

Guest post by Kelly Valder – newzealand@enlighteneducation.com

“Barbie Bitches” – what a term huh? For many it brings to mind platinum blonde hair extensions and lots of cleavage combined with skimpy pink clothing and an attitude that dictates that pretty and thin is everything and those who don’t shape up are clearly “losers”. And of course this term is used in the US (where Paris Hilton and co. are idolised) and sometimes in Australia ( Big Brother’s Bridgette leads the pack there at present) but not really in NZ…

Well, believe it or not, this term – and others like it – is now being thrown around here. Who would have thought? How did we get to this? In order to look for answers we firstly need to look at what’s happening around the globe.

A simple internet search under ‘teenage girls’ through international newspapers and educational journals exposes a variety of issues that are all alarming. In the U.S.A. it is reported that more than one in four teenage girls has at one time carried at least one sexually transmitted disease. A recent study of 25,000 European teenagers found that girls were three times more likely to commit acts of self harm than boys. Earlier this year in Australia, we learnt about Club 21, a group of teen school girls who encouraged their members to be ranked between 1 and 21 based on their thinness, good looks, binge drinking escapades and popularity with boys. And this is just a snapshot of some of the issues… scary!

So what’s happening here in Aotearoa?

• A New Zealand study found that 80% of females were within normal weight limits, but only 18% of them thought their weight was normal; 1
• 1 in 4 NZ teenage girls may suffer from the symptoms of an eating disorder; 1
• Dieting is a $100 million industry in NZ; 1
• The prevalence of emotional health problems, including depression, eating issues and suicidal behaviours, are alarmingly high amongst female students. The rates of these problems in NZ youth are up to twice those found in a recent national mental health survey of young people in Australia; 2

Not surprisingly, it seems then that our Kiwi girls are becoming just as obsessed with their looks as other teens around the globe.

What links may be emerging between the pressures girls are feeling to be beautiful and thin, and their behaviour?

Girls are no longer just silently imploding – they are also acting out. In March, two scantily clad teenage girls were found unconscious on an Auckland pavement, supposedly from an overdose of booze, party pills and ‘P’ (methamphetamine or crystal meth). Earlier this year a Napier family had their house targeted by aggressive and violent teenage girls. Education Ministry figures show a 41 per cent increase in girls being stood down, suspended or kicked out of school for assaults between 2002 and 2006. The way violence is dished out is changing too. 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” became a frightening new part of our vernacular.

A few weeks ago the Good Morning programme featured a story on “Barbie Bitches” in our NZ schools. School principals reported that reality television has played a major role in creating these gangs of “Barbie Bitches” who are bullying either physically or through the cyber world. A quick look at television programs such as “Living Lohan” and “Americas Next Top Model” point to the fact that our educators may be right; these type of shows encourage girls to be ultra competitive and to play unfair in order to win. Don’t like someone? Just vote them out! Behave badly? Doesn’t matter as long as you look gorgeous doing it!

I can’t help but think that our NZ girls are crying out for positive role models and we need to step up and take action to provide them with some real alternatives right now!

Is it all doom and gloom? No. Not if we get on board and make our young women a priority. Our schools and the MoE are addressing  these issues with a low tolerance approach plus other more general initiatives including the ‘Team-Up’ site with information for parents and caregivers, new anti-bullying resources for schools released this month and ‘Ka Hikitia‘ an initiative aiming at improving educational outcomes for Maori students.

Thankfully, Enlighten Education, whose award winning programs I am proud to bring to NZ, is not the only organisation to realise that our girls are in crisis. There are fabulous resources, such as headspace.org.nz, that have been established to support our young people, their families and schools. However, Enlighten’s focus is unique as its programs have been specifically designed to cater to the particular needs, and the learning styles, of teen girls.

The Enlighten Education workshops are about celebrating all the things girls love about themselves, challenging them to rethink negative and destructive behaviours, and changing the way they respond to their environment and each other. It gives them the tools they need to “unpack” the images and messages they are bombarded with by the media as well as looking at strong, intelligent female role models who can inspire them to be all they can be. The CEO and co-founder of Enlighten Education, Dannielle Miller, summed up our wish for all girls beautifully in her recent post:  

“She’ll be a teen who will set boundaries, deconstruct all the mixed messages she will be presented with, and make choices she is truly comfortable with. She will not allow her sexuality to be shaped by misogynist music, plastic Paris-wannabe dolls, or the contemporary media environment that would have her believe that everyone is up for anything, all the time, and that to be hot she will have to get more make up and less clothes. She’ll grow up on her own terms. That is my wish for her. That’s my wish for all girls. That is what I will continue working towards.”

Barbie Bitches? No thanks!

1 Scary Statistics from around the world, article from www.nzhealth.net.nz taken from the BBC, Time, NewsWeek and research from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
2 A health profile of New Zealand youth who attend secondary school, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.
3 The health of New Zealand youth, Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, 04 April 2003, Vol 116, No 1171.

 

 

Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

Thank you to everyone who has responded so favourably to the feature story 60 Minutes ran on our work and the important issue of the sexualisation of our children. For those who missed it here is their story brief:
 

 

Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth’s happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They’re bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you’ve got to be “hot” to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That’s a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They’ve launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say – let kids be kids.

The full story can be viewed on the 60 Minutes site:  www.sixtyminutes.com.au

I was also asked to participate in a live on-line interview after the program aired. This was challenging as I had to dictate my responses to the questions to a host who then typed them for me – hence I may sound inarticulate at points! The transcipt is below.

Chat: Dannielle Miller

Monday, June 23, 2008
60 Minutes presents a live interview with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about teen body image..

Interviewer: Dannielle thank you for talking to us tonight in our live online chat room.

Dannielle Miller: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Effie asks: Hi Dannielle. Have you been getting a lot of support with schools on your program?

I think you are doing wonderful work and want to wish you all the best in your success.

Dannielle Miller: Thank you for your kind words. Our programme has been very well received. We founded the business 3 years ago in NSW and started with just 3 schools and now have more than 60 we work with nationally. Last year we also won Australian Small Business of the year for Children. We are of course very proud of this but it would also be lovely not to be so needed. The reality is that our girls are in crisis. We are very pleased that so many educators now acknowledge they are responsible for the whole person. We believe that girls cannot achieve their personal and academic potential if they are pre-occupied with body image and self-esteem issues.

Anthea asks: Do you have any funding for your program, where are you taking it to at the moment?

Dannielle Miller: We deliberately set the business up to be non-commercial so do not receive funding support from any entity. Nor do we receive Govt support at this point in time, however disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney have had our programmes subsidised and we have been achieving outstanding results with girls in these schools. Our programmes range from $30 to $45 per girl and in the majority of cases schools would ask parents to pay this. It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the work rather than accept corporate sponsorship.

Outraged asks: Danielle, how much does the ‘male gaze’ impact on media, given that many photographers, cameramen and advertising execs are men?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. I have not looked closely in this area however it would seem quite likely that the male gaze would impact on the way women are presented. It is important to note that many editors of teen girl magazines that do not always present positive images and role models are women. Quite often women are subject to the very same pressures and also want to conform to societies expectations. There is pressure on us all to be hot, hot, hot.

awol78 asks: I think the real issue – beyond the paedophilic angle – is the long term affects that this is having on our young people themselves. Low self esteem, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery… And… let’s target the real culprits here – beyond your Jessica Simpson’s, your Paris Hilton’s… Where is this sexualized culture coming from? The whole size zero phenomenon..? It’s the advertisers at the top. Sex sells – and nothing will ever change that. So well done on these programs – we need more in schools… Is there anything for BOYS and YOUNG MEN..?

It has become a big issue for males now too!

Dannielle Miller: Your are absolutely right in suggesting that we need to be concerned about so much more than just the way in which paedophiles may or may not view these images. In fact that is not a focus of our work at all, rather we focus very much on how girls view themselves as a result of being exposed to our toxic culture.

Yes, girls are suffering from eating disorders. Yes, self harm is on the increase. Yes, girls are binge drinking. Any concerned parent or educator would have to start questioning the messages they are bombarded with. Our programme is strength based which means that we affirm the knowledge the girls already have and more than that we provide them with the tools they need to unpack our adult society.

There are many excellent resources out there because we are by no means a voice in the wilderness. I would highly recommend accessing my blog where I post weekly reports and resources. Kids free to be kids, who were also profiled in the 60 Minutes story, do some wonderful work in this area as well. Women’s Forum Australia also have a publication entitled “Faking It” which does a tremendous job of combining the research on the sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies with a highly readable approach.

We need to actively seek a variety of tools and programmes that can be powerful voices of difference. As for your query as to what is out there for young men, I would have to say that I’m not aware of a similar programme that operates in schools targeting these issues. However, I would agree that boys also do need to presented with programs that enhance media literacy and emotional literacy.

IceKat asks: I’m curious as to what age you run your courses for? How young is too young?

Dannielle Miller: Our programmes are designed to be delivered in high school with girls aged 12 to 18. However this year I have had a number of primary schools ask me to work with their 11 to 12 yr old girls in Year 6. These schools are saying to me, self-esteem and body image issues are creeping into their playgrounds too. I applaud principals who want to be proactive.

The school executive at the primary school I was filmed working with on 60 Minutes, said to me quite clearly that they did not want to wait until their little girls were in trouble. They did not want me coming in to fix a problem, rather they wanted me to come in and help prevent a problem.

I think it is important to instil in all children from a young age a strong sense of self and give them age appropriate information on their emerging sexuality. The key word there, is age appropriate. My little girl who is 10, knows all about air brushing, photo shopping, and is encouraged to question images of girls and women that are not positive. I do not however even expose her to many of the highly sexualised songs, film clips etc because I am in no hurry to steal her childhood.

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

Dannielle Miller: I hope so !!!! Perhaps this question implies there is something wrong with that?

To me feminism has always been very much about respecting and honouring women, and recognising that they deserve equality. It is easy for us to become complacent about women’s issues as in many ways we have made so much progress, yet surely when we look at the Pussycat Dolls and the magazine filled with wrinkle creams, images of Paris Hilton and Co. and diets, we can all see there is still work to do.

ShellyK13 asks: What can we as parents and myself as a teacher do to combat the barrage of sexual images and innuendo that our kids deal with every day?

Dannielle Miller: Again, I would encourage you to hook into some of the excellent resources that are out there. On my blog http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org I have gathered some amazing resources and also have a professional library. In a practical sense the following ideas may also prove helpful:

1. Talk to your daughter honestly and non judgementally about sex and her own sexuality.

2. Be a positive role-model.

I am actually writing a book for mothers at the moment.

3. Tell your daughter you love her for who she is not how she looks.

4. Offer positive alternatives by that I mean magazines, books and websites that offer positive images of women and sexuality.

5. Speak up! I love that Julie Gale song from Kids Free to be Kids, write to companies that sexualise children and tell them to back off !

Companies will only make hype-sexualised toys and merchandise if we continue to buy these things.

kenny78 asks: Shouldn’t the parents of any child have the right to view these pictures prior to them hitting the print. Surely a parent would have enough sense to be able to tell whether something is going to look too provocative?

Dannielle Miller: Parents do have the right to view images of their children before they go to print. You would hope therefore that they would make the right choices. I must also stress, that some children are very vulnerable and do not have adults around them that make good choices. As a society we need to protect children by setting our own standards as well.

savethegirls asks: When do we stop blaming society and media and start taking responsibility for how we, as parents raise our kids? Sure, it’s hard when they are constantly being bombarded with these messages, but as caregivers we are the ones the buy into it all as well, by buying the clothes, magazines and not controlling their access to harmful media.

Dannielle Miller: I would agree with you, that as parents we need to set boundaries absolutely. However, as I mentioned above, not all parents are necessarily good at doing this for a number of reasons, which means that as a society we also need to set our own community boundaries and standards. I think also that as parents, even if we are incredibly well intentioned there is so much that is simply beyond our control.

We know that with teen girls, the peer group is incredibly powerful, this is why we work in schools with a full year group of girls so that all the girls hear the same messages, and decide themselves which boundaries they set and support each other and develop a sense of sisterhood. Yes it is important that parents don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “too cool” or their child’s best friend. Our children need us to step up but they also need to have some reprise from the more toxic elements of popular culture that really are engulfing us all.

ramsay asks: There is validity in educating children in awareness of paedophiles and dangers, but do you think your education techniques go too far and encourage children to single out others who are not ashamed of their bodies and ware bikinis etc (Children in mid to late teens) I do.

Dannielle Miller: You are mistaken. Perhaps the way the story was edited has let you to think we talk to children about paedophiles or the dangers of wearing swimming costumes or posing proactively. We do none of this. I want to be very clear here, we would never make children feel ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Rather our programmes are very celebratory.

jessica.ann asks: Have you re-visited any of the girls that you have spoken too later in their teens to see the effects of the ‘programme’?

Dannielle Miller: Yes we have. Evaluation is very important to us, we ask the girls for their feedback at the end of each event and it’s always outstanding. We also ask the schools 6 to 8 weeks later to provide us with more detailed feedback. Many schools have us work with the girls each year so we definitely get the chance to speak to them and hear how they are progressing. If you are interested in reading some of this feedback and looking at some of the statistics do visit our website http://enlighteneducation.com . Girls also write me lovely letters and send me emails. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference.

AustAccom asks: The only way the media will change is by having the laws changed re censorship and sexualisation of children and normalising these images in society do you agree ?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. Self-regulation obviously hasn’t worked. I am hoping that the Senate Enquiry will encourage some changes. Society has reached tipping point, I think the moral majority will send a very clear message to Canberra that we have all had enough.

Corrinne asks: You spoke a lot about the media as a major influence on teens, I was just interested in what other factors you believe have a significant impact on young girls/’tweens’?

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

Dannielle Miller: There are a number of things that impact on teen girls and our programme is very diverse. 60 Minutes focused on our discussion of the media and dolls as these elements were the most appropriate given the excellent story they put together. We also help girls deal with their friendships, we talk to girls about setting boundaries in relationships, about managing stress, handling academic workload … really, we recognise that young women are multi-facetted.

Pixel asks: Hi Danielle, what is your advice for a 12 yr old who wants to be 15 tomorrow ?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. It’s sad isn’t it that young girls are in such a hurry to grow up. Although I would tell her to enjoy her childhood she probably wouldn’t listen. I know however that by creating a unique experience like what we do in our programmes we can encourage our young people to slow down.

We have a generation of young women dealing with adult problems whilst they only have childlike strategy to fall back on. I guess if it was my little girl I would do all I could to encourage her to revel in her childhood. Sorry I probably haven’t been overly helpful because really that’s the 6 Million Dollar question isn’t it.

sbelly18 asks: There are too many worries for kids, they are not allowed to just be “kids” anymore. No playing with dolls or climbing trees. It’s not acceptable for young ones, and they will be teased and tormented for it now. Do you agree?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. There are a number of reasons why childhood is disappearing. I also think that as much as I love technology it too, can be a grinch that steals innocence. Our children are often spending more time online than they are exploring face to face real relationships. I’m not being a luddite here, just realistic.

Teen girls tell me that they are “wired” pretty much 24/7, many even sleep with their mobile phone by their bed. Where is the downtime? The dreaming time? I also think that many parents over-schedule their children. Do our kids really need so many activities? So many formally organised play dates? Do they all have to be genius’s?

There is great value in the simple act of play. I know that as a little girl I spent a lot of time organising all the children in my neighbourhood, running clubs, and generally being a bossy little miss! In hindsight it was all great practise for running my own company.

Angela asks: Hi Danielle I have a 10 year old daughter that says she is sick and can’t eat dinner, Dr’s won’t do anything, I don’t know where to get help?

Dannielle Miller: I have to say up front that I’m an educator not a doctor. I would suggest if you are concerned (and you should be), you seek out a doctor who is more understanding. Sadly girls as young as 8 are being hospitalised for eating disorders. I’m not suggesting necessarily your daughter has an eating disorder but it is wise for us all to be vigilant. There are other organisations that specialise in this area like the Butterfly Foundation who may be worth tapping into. Links to them and to other expert mental health practitioners are available on my blog.

Shellreyn asks: Danielle, do you have any advice on how I should educate my young son with regard to appropriate behaviour towards these young girls, when he’s being bombarded by media images of sexualised pre teens?

Dannielle Miller: I hear you ! I have a 6 yr old little boy who loves to chant “boom chicka wawa” which is the jingle from the lynx aftershave commercial. This series of commercials is just vile ! I get so furious that our boys are being encouraged to view girls as eye candy. I have found that I need to be quite clear with my son about what my expectations are.

I also take the time out to talk to him about why saying things that may seem harmless really can be quite hurtful. I think as mums we also need to role-model for our boys what strong confident look like. Again, we should not buy into hyper-sexualised goods and services. I try and find alternative women that he can really admire for example, he now looks up to Princess Leia from Starwars, Wonder Woman and loves to be my little scout seeking out songs, dolls and adds that he thinks “aren’t nice to girls”.

AngelEyes asks: Can I ask by keeping our daughters away from all of the songs, mags etc do you think they may be in danger of rebelling and becoming more like the Paris’s of the world?

Dannielle Miller: We simply can’t keep our girls away from all this. I would never suggest locking girls in the tower. What we can do is give them the critical thinking skills that can help them unpack and make sense of all the messages that are presented to them. Research clearly shows that education and information will not encourage rebellion. I am not a prudish person and our programme certainly does not aim to shelter girls, rather it equips them to be savvy media navigators.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time, there were so many questions that could not be answered. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Dannielle Miller: I would like to thank all those who asked questions, debate and questioning is essential. I hope that the community interest and concern for this important issue is maintained. Love, light and laughter to you all … Danni

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the beautiful “enlightened” girls from St John Vianney’s Primary who were filmed with me. I love you all! 🙂 You are my little Amazons…

 

 

Teacher Resources – ready to go!

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

btn_homemagazine_over.jpgMy Pop Studio www.mypopstudio.com

 btn_homemagazine_over1.jpg

Their blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

080512_r17374_p465.jpg

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

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

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

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