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Category: Social Media

I’m a Feminist – Loud and Proud

I  recently returned to United World College (UWC) Singapore, at both the Dover and East Campuses, to follow up on the work I did there in April, and to meet some of the young women I had not yet had the opportunity to “Enlighten”. What an amazing, inspiring and humbling few days!

On a personal note, the young women at Dover gave me a rock-star reception and spontaneously cheered me all the way through the school grounds to the car park. If only I had had a video to capture this moment – although I probably wouldn’t have been able to film as I was crying with joy. What had made these girls so engaged?

Much of what I did this trip was around engaging girls to the broader women’s movement. For me, finding Feminism as a teen girl felt very much like finding Home. Finally, a place where I felt known, understood, accepted and challenged! I still find the sisterhood to be the most incredible source of inspiration and validation. What a joy then to be able to introduce the next generation to a movement that is still very much needed – and in desperate need of their perspectives!

One of the ways in which I connect young girls to Feminism through Enlighten’s Real Girl Power workshop is through humour (which is a great way too of instantly debunking any “feminists can’t be fun” stereotypes). We begin by exploring what popular culture will often tell us girl-power should look like and deconstruct how the phrase has been used to sell women everything from cleaning products to super-stomach-sucking-elastic pants (irony much?).

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I then love to get the teachers involved by inviting them up too to do an impromptu dance to the ultimate girl-power group – The Spice Girls; “Yo I tell you what I want, what I really, really want…” I am always thrilled how well teachers embrace this – and yes, the girls absolutely go crazy! And from this platform of humour and critical analysis, we begin exploring (in the words of Ginger, Posh, Baby, Sporty and Scary) what it is that women “really, really want.”

Slide I use showing my involvement (along with with many other women and young girls) at recent "Pull The Pin" rallies against child beauty pageants.
Slide I use showing my involvement (along with with many other women and young girls) at recent “Pull The Pin” rallies against child beauty pageants.

The big issues I chose to help girls deconstruct include the participation and treatment of women in politics, in the workplace, and in the sporting arena. We also then reflect on the issue of violence against women. Girls are invariably shocked and outraged at some of the statistics I share and are soon questioning what they too can do to rectify things. I then offer a “call to action” – I do not want girls feeling a sense of despair, but rather I want them engaged to be change-makers. Girls are encouraged (and shown) how to speak-up through participation in protests and petitions. And I hand out our very popular “Girl Caught” stickers which encourage young women to speak back to marketers that portray women in a negative way.

Enlighten's "Girl Caught" stickers
Enlighten’s “Girl Caught” stickers

And finally, I love to show the girls just how broad, embracing (and cool!) Club Feminist really is by highlighting what their teachers think about the movement. Prior to presenting at UWC I asked the staff to email me their pictures and tell me why they are Feminists. I then collated their responses into a PowerPoint presentation. Below are just a few of the many responses I received:

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I invited girls to also share their “Loud and Proud” photos at Enlighten’s Instagram page. We are starting to get some amazing contributions and would welcome yours too. Use the hash tags below to ensure we find your contribution and can share it:

Follow us! The page is Administrated by 17tear old student Lauren Muscatt. We are so proud of the work she is doing there to offer our followers powerful, positive messages and connect them to the Enlighten cyber-community.
Follow us! The page is Administrated by 17 year old student Lauren Muscatt. We are so proud of the work she is doing there to offer our followers powerful, positive messages and connect them to the Enlighten cyber-community.

What could you do to connect more young people to the Feminist movement? Love to hear your ideas.

P.S. Real Girl Power is one of the many workshops Enlighten offers as part of its half or full day programs. If your girls have already had either a half-day or full-day Enlighten Education program in the past, they are eligible to have this offered as a special stand-alone 1hr follow-up workshop.
Contact us at Enlighten HQ if you are interested in this : 1300 735 997
Or email us: enquiries@enlighteneducation.com 

Cyber Self-harming

This week I am sharing a guest post by my colleague and friend Nina Funnell which first appeared in The Age. In this Nina attempts to make sense of alarming new findings which suggest teens (girls in particular) are engaging in digital self-harm.

 

In recent weeks, media outlets around the world have reported on the tragic case of Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl from Leicestershire, England, who committed suicide, after receiving cruel and harassing messages – including to “drink bleach” and “die” – on the social media site Ask.fm.

Critics of the site have urged parents to keep their children off it, saying that the anonymous question/ answer format leads to harassment, stalking and bullying.

Now the case has taken another tragic turn. In an inquiry into the matter, Ask.fm has uncovered that 98 per cent of the abusive messages sent to Hannah came from the same IP address as her own computer. Only four of the abusive comments came from other IP addresses.

While there are still a lot of unknowns in this case, it has now been reported that the abuse sent to Hannah appears to have come from Hannah herself. Following this latest development, many people online have expressed their utter bewilderment: what could drive a teenager to attack herself and then put it on display? Why would anyone self-sabotage in this way? And are other teenagers doing this?

Last year, researchers at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre found that up to ten per cent of first year university students had “falsely posted a cruel remark against themselves, or cyberbullied themselves, during high school”.

And this is not the first time that online ‘self-harassment’ or ‘self-cyberbullying’ has been identified and written about. In 2010, danah boyd, a leading social media researcher wrote about an emerging trend she had discovered on Formspring, where teens were ‘anonymously’ posting vicious questions to themselves, before publicly answering them.

Similarly, in 2008 I conducted research into the pro-anorexia community – a community set up by individuals with eating disorders. I discovered that it was not uncommon for members on these forums to write letters of worship to their disease referred to as ‘Ana’ or ‘Mia’ (anorexia or bulimia). The same member would then write a reply to themselves as though they were the personified disease. These second letters ‘from’ Ana or Mia would inevitably be full of abuse, insults and vicious put downs.

So what motivates this phenomenon and why have we heard so little about it?

According to boyd, online self-harassment like that observed on Formspring or Ask.fm, may represent a cry for help, a grab for attention, an opportunity to demonstrate toughness and resilience, or a way of phishing for compliments from friends who jump in to defend against the abuse. Boyd also describes the behavior as a form of ‘digital self-harming’, stressing that teens who are in pain do not always lash out at others: very often they lash out at themselves. And occasionally they invite an audience to watch on.

For the ‘digital self-harmer’ the presence of an audience appears to serve other purposes too. Anonymously calling oneself a “loser” online allows them to test out other people’s attitudes: do other people see me this way too? Is my perception of myself shared universally?

Secondly, by inflicting harm on themselves before an audience, it makes their pain visible and therefore more ‘real’. Finally, by giving others the impression that they are ‘under attack’, the afflicted individual is able communicate to others exactly what they are feeling: overwhelmed and under siege. And they can achieve this without ever having to risk saying the words: “I’m in pain, I need your help”.

What this means is that while the abusive comments might be manufactured the feelings they speak to are very much real.

Looking back at my own high school years, it is clear that aspects of this behavior are nothing new. Teens have always had a propensity to document their negative self-talk and self-loathing in one form or another, often in journals, angst ridden poetry and other forms of art. Sometimes teens keep these things deeply private out of secrecy and shame. At other times, they deliberately share and show these things to friends, as if to say “see my pain. See me.”

For all of us, pain is not simply something we feel, it is something we ‘perform’, often with the purpose of eliciting certain responses from others. For teenagers especially, these performances can become avenues through which they bond, ask for empathy or sympathy, and experience a sense of connectedness – something which most teenagers crave desperately. While this strategy might serve a need, it is also deeply dysfunctional.

Today this impulse is moving online. In recent months I have had two conversations with different mothers after they discovered that their children’s friends were self-harming, then posting photographs of their injuries online for their peers to comment on. Perhaps most disturbing of all was that one of the children shrugged it off as “nothing new”.

Experts are right to worry that by normalising or even glamorising self-harming behaviors, such overt displays might produce a contagion effect. This is why it’s considered dangerous to even mention the issue in schools.

Despite this, it’s important that researchers continue to look at why young people are externalising their self-hatred in this way and what can be done to help them. Moreover we must remember that sometimes the cruelest things a teen will ever hear are the comments they say to themselves.

For related posts read: Girls in crises – self harm and what you can do about it.

Rage and despair – positive, helpful ways to support girls in crises 

Nina and I at the Australian Human Rights Awards
Nina and I at the Australian Human Rights Awards

Nina is a sexual ethics writer, author and women’s rights advocate. She was awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Community (Individual) Award in 2010. Nina and I also recently co-wrote a book for young women on navigating dating and relationships; this will be published by Harper Collins in February, 2014.

Thank You!

On Christmas Day I logged on to Facebook to wish my on-line Friends all my love and was immediately struck by how many teen girls I am connected to were either:

A – listing off all their Christmas booty with no mention of family or friends, or sense of thankfulness for what they had

B – complaining in a ridiculous fashion about their gifts e.g.: “FML, Mum got me the black Iphone not the white” (talk about a first world problem!)

C – whinging that Christmas “sucked” / was so boring.

In response, I posted this comment on my profile:

It’s made me sad to see a number of my teen friends whinging on here that Christmas feels lame now they’re older, or that it sucked. I’ve heard similar things at home too. You know what? You only get out what you put in to Christmas (and life). If you just sit back and do the gift inventory of everything you’re getting, then yep, now that there’s no magical Santa element, it may feel all a bit flat. Once you move past the little kid stage, the only way to really FEEL the Season is to be Loving! Kind! Grateful! And try not to fall into the trap of doing the “Family Inventory” either i.e: because we don’t have a big family, we are not a “real” family, or because Mum is single, we are not “normal.” Families come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes, as we get older, we even invent our own through our friendships.

So how about this. Get off Facebook and hang with YOUR family – in whatever form it is in, at this point in time.

And try saying thank you – with heart. 🙂

This attracted 117 likes in an hour and some of the most animated comments from parents and teens I’ve ever had on my wall! The general consensus from parents, and confession from teens, is that young people are not always very good at saying thank you, or at even knowing how to demonstrate gratitude.

Just after Christmas, I was fortunate enough to have gone on a trip to the U.S.A. with my teen daughter. In an attempt to try to help her appreciate how thankful we both should be for this adventure, I asked her to join me in using this as an opportunity to not only show our gratitude through going out of our way to be kind to others, but to explore the nature of giving thanks. And there’s plenty of evidence that this is valuable parenting work.

According to a  2012 study presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Grateful teens are happier,  Researchers also found that teens who had a positive outlook on life  are well-behaved at school and more hopeful than their less-grateful peers. Study researcher Giacomo Bono, Ph.D., a psychology professor at California State University, explained why being thankful and hopeful matters: “More gratitude may be precisely what our society needs to raise a generation that is ready to make a difference in the world.”

Our first stop was Texas and here we visited the Thanks Giving Square and Chapel in Dallas.  I loved the fact that right in the middle of a bustling city was this quiet, light-filled  sanctuary established to inspire those who visit to think about all they have, all they’ve been given, and to perhaps reflect differently upon obstacles they have faced and see the lessons in these darker moments too. I was particularly touched by  some of the children’s art work which reflected the things they were thankful for:

“I am thankful for a beautiful mind.”

In New York I was incredibly moved by the notes and gifts of thanks that are still being left daily for the brave men and women who stepped up during the dark days after September 11. Directly opposite ground zero is St Paul’s Chapel. Despite the extensive damage to the surrounding buildings after the Twin Towers collapsed, this 1800’s church remained untouched and became a refuge for the rescuers who slept in it in order to maximize their salvage efforts.

Sometimes, particularly after events like the recent shooting in the U.S., I despair at humanity and think we are doomed. Other times, like when I walked through this building, I think we are a bloody incredible lot. It’s said 30,000 people arrived at the site to assist from all over the world. As an example, by the end of the first week, one thousand iron workers from across North America had arrived to help. I cried at how touching this site was and at all it represents about kindness and connection. I added my note of thanks to the hundreds being left throughout the Church.

 

This year I am going to investigate gratitude, and seek ways in which we can foster it in our children too.

In the image below I wrote a note to add to those left at the Thanksgiving Chapel in Dallas reflecting on what I am  most grateful for.

“I am thankful for the amazing people I get to do life with, and for work which makes my heart dance.”

 

I’d love to hear from you – what are you thankful  for?

 

Pride

I am thrilled to announce that for the second year in a row, Enlighten Education has been announced as a Finalist for the incredibly prestigious Australian Human Rights Awards in the Business category (winners announced at the ceremony which will be held in Sydney, December 10).

I thought I would take the opportunity to share a few sections from our application with you as I am incredibly proud of the work my team are doing to improve outcomes for girls and to promote and advance human rights and human rights principles in the Australian community.

Enlighten Education is based on the belief that by entering into, and engaging with, the world of teenage girls, adults can encourage meaningful and constructive conversations about gender, identity, education, careers and girls’ futures.

A core component of the company’s work is to increase awareness among girls, their parents, teachers and the wider community of issues of injustice and inequality in Australia, especially relating to girls and women. We also encourage greater harmony between people of different race, sex, sexuality, age and ethnic origin within Australia, because acceptance of diversity is central to our message.

Enlighten Education empowers girls and educates the community about girls’ rights to:

  • freedom from sexual objectification and harassment
  • freedom from the threat of violence, intimidation and bullying
  • fairness and equity in educational opportunities
  • fairness and equity in career opportunities
  • healthy body image and self-esteem
  • the end of social and cultural pressures that place young women at greater risk of anorexia and bulimia nervosa, depression and anxiety, substance abuse and self-harm than other sectors of the community

Enlighten Education works to protect and promote girls’ rights and empower girls to: stand up for freedom of identity and sexuality; have good self-esteem and body image; and make the most of educational and career opportunities—free of discrimination based on their gender or appearance, and free of restrictive, sexualising and objectifying messages from the media, advertising and other cultural influences.

Enlighten Education encourages girls to:

  • be critical thinkers, form their own conclusions, know their own minds and find their own voice
  • decode media, marketing, advertising and popular culture messages that impose limiting gender stereotypes or have inappropriate sexualising messages
  • develop healthy body image, self-esteem and confidence
  • combat bullying and intimidation, and resolve conflict
  • set personal boundaries, deal with sexual harassment, and use the internet and mobile phones safely
  • understand the history and current status of women’s rights
  • become aware of the environmental, ethical and social impacts of their consumer choices
  • get involved in charities and volunteer work to benefit the community
Me working with some Primary School girls.

The remainder of our Application discusses our media outreach work (which includes my work on Channel 9’s Mornings program as well as the various Opinion pieces I write for both blogs and national newspapers), our online presence ( platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, and the free Iphone App we launched), the social activism work we have been involved in, and the charity work we do (for both CanTeen and The Mirabel Foundation) to help ensure equity in service delivery.

I know from attending the Award Ceremony last year that we shall be amongst giants on the day; the stories shared in 2011 were so incredibly inspiring and moving.

We feel like winners already.

 

Reclaim The Night – 16 year old Lily speaks out about the on-line harassment of young women.

This week I am proud to have been given permission to publish an extract from one of the speeches given at yesterday’s Reclaim The Night rally in Sydney; this was given by 16 year old high school student Lily. The event was part of what is now a world-wide protest movement by women against sexual violence.

I am awed by Lily’s strength in speaking out in this way, and encouraged by the incredible grass-roots feminist group she has helped establish at her school.

May she inspire us all to work even harder for, and with, our girls. And may we all seek to create even more opportunities for young women to be given a platform from which they can share their experiences too.

 

Good evening! Thank you so much for having me. I’m Lily, I’m 16 years old and currently starting Year 12. I’ve spent a good amount of time with technology in my life and tonight I’m going to be speaking about the treatment of women on the internet today, as I see it and know it, and the experiences that other women have had online.

Collective Voice – High School students fighting sexism.

I’d like to start by giving a shout out to the feminist group at my school, Collective Voice, who are here today (there’s the banner)! In 2010 Collective Voice was started by our teacher Ms Fajou, in response to a lack of discussion with our peers about the sexism teens receive from the media, and each other. We discuss what feminism means to us – how we feel about body image, violence against women, homophobia, politics. We run campaigns at school encouraging girls to reject “beauty standards”, making posters and signing petitions.

We also have a very active Facebook page that we use to share videos, articles and current events connected with feminism. Here we share discuss issues that matter to us as young women. It’s awesome. We are building skills of productive dialogue and knowledge and opinion, which is powerful. One thing that we’re working against with Collective Voice is the widespread level of online sexism; a lot of online spaces have been claimed by a boys’ club of obscenity, anonymity and oppression.

I believe it is important, vitally important, to acknowledge that what happens online is still valid despite not being ‘in real life’. The attitudes and beliefs you encounter, the harassment you face, and the sexism which manifests is just as real online as offline. Just like in workplaces, boardrooms or any other social environments, online spaces can be made to feel unsafe and threatening. And when women perceive a space to be unsafe or threatening they are less likely to be able to participate equally in that space. If we stepped into a public space or workplace that was adorned with unavoidably graphic pornographic posters, where the people who you approached yelled hate speech at you or harassed you, where you were belittled or denied equal treatment due to your sex, gender, orientation or opinion – it would not be acceptable.

About a month ago, I attended my year 11 social. I had a good time and goofed around a bit, as you do. A few days later I found a particular photo of myself from the social on Facebook; it had been commented on extensively. Over 10 boys and men who are still complete strangers to me commented freely on my appearance, they debated whether they would masturbate to it, they told me that my photo would haunt me for years to come, they openly, and unapologetically discussed what they imagined my genitalia would look like. They were supported by over 40 others, who had ‘liked’ their comments.

This isn’t the first we’ve seen of Facebook acting as a medium for sexism and abuse, however. Notable additions have been “Punch a slut in the face day” (a group set up in a NSW school by boys who then went on to physically assault girls they perceived as promiscuous), “Define statutory: pro-rape, anti-consent” (from the lovely lads at St Pauls college from Sydney University); “it’s not rape if you yell surprise” and a swathe of pages titled with ‘women in the kitchen jokes’ in 2010. We saw the recent case of ‘Root Rate’, a page for young men to publically rate their sexual experiences with women, encouraging a lot of sexism and derogatory comments. Many of the contributors and the girls spoken about were underage.

Just two weeks ago, the world witnessed the case of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old girl who committed suicide after receiving extreme abuse online and in real time. Todd showed her breasts to a man online about 3 years earlier, and for this she was condemned by her peers and others. Before she committed suicide she posted a video online describing her story in detail.

Jarrah Hodge, who writes and educates on gender representations in media, politics and pop-culture, said, “(In the media commentary surrounding her case) there was no discussion of the pressure girls like Amanda experience to measure their worth through their sexual desirability. From her story it sounds like this man had the hallmarks of a predator—he tried to use her photos to blackmail her and yet she’s the one who got blamed. This comes from the idea that it’s up to girls and women to protect their purity at the same time as all their role models in the media say that you need to ‘get a man’ to be a complete person, that you need to be sexually attractive to be liked, appreciated, and valued. She said the guy she showed off to was telling her how beautiful she was. Given our culture that can be really tempting for a girl.”

What is surprising is that sexist, oppressive behaviour online has become very mainstream, especially considering that women make up the larger proportion of users of social media!

Currently 64% of Facebook users are female as are 58% of Twitter users. In theory, online space is a woman’s domain! And yet, online you receive 25 times as much abuse if you state that you are a woman or if your username is feminine…

…This is not a joke. This cannot be trivialised. What happens on the internet directly influences the way people behave in reality, and regardless how we interact with each other online is still a human interaction.

Of course, I am not the only person to speak out against the way women are objectified and men encouraged to degrade women online. There are numerous activists and online petitions targeting Reddit, Facebook and other forums.

It is how these efforts are responded to that perhaps gives us the most frightening insight of all.

Anita Sarkeesian has been running an online video series called Feminist Frequency since 2009, exploring and deconstructing pop culture in an accessible way. Sarkeesian makes video blogs (a form of blogging for which the medium is video, considered a form of internet television) analysing movies, TV shows, music videos – the things that influence us, and especially young people.

Her most recent project has been ‘Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games’, a 12 video project exploring the way women are represented in video games. During the making of it she has encountered unprecedented harassment. She writes:

“… a harassment campaign is being waged against me and has included attempts to get my accounts banned, a torrent of hate on YouTube, plus countless threats of violence, death, sexual assault and rape. As part of that intimidation effort the Wikipedia page about me was vandalized with misogynist language, pornography and racial slurs.This was not done by just one or two trolls but was a coordinated cyber mob style effort involving a whole gang working together.”

So this is what it all comes down to. Sarkeesian, now backed by over 7000 donors, is breaking the rules of the male dominated gaming community with this project. Not only is she attacking the way women are treated in the games, but the way women are treated in the gaming community – there is no space for women to exist at the same level as men in a community which constantly sees them as objects…

…Now, don’t get me wrong, the internet can be a lovely place. And the reason we all use it so much is because it has infinitely widened our ability to learn, communicate and create. The problem lies in dealing with issues of prejudice and offense – we just don’t know how to effectively serve justice online.

All too often, the cry goes up that the internet is the problem.The problem never lies with the internet itself, the blame lies with wrongful attitudes and social acceptance of them.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution for solving inequality on the internet, just as there isn’t one for ‘reality’. But we, as women, do need to be strongly active. We need to take the knowledge and perspective we have and make it heard. The internet is a highly modern space filled with primitive ideals, and frankly, we’re better than that.

So tonight we are here to reclaim the spaces we exist in and make them safe for all women! Let’s include in that, the online space. And let’s reclaim the right for all women to live free from violence, harassment, misogyny and abuse!

 

Real Girls

I am always incredibly honoured when I receive correspondence from women who want to meet with me to discuss more about my work, and their vision for girls.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to meet everyone who requests a catch-up; not if I actually want to get on with driving my own vision for girls and supporting my own amazing Enlighten Team. But, every now and then, an email screams out at me as being written by someone truly special.

Samantha Power originally emailed me as she has just finished teaching Drama at the Australian International School In Singapore, a school Enlighten had a particularly powerful experience working in last year (this event will always remain one of the highlights of what has been a very blessed career; I am thrilled we will be returning in 2013):

…As a young, fresh teacher I am extremely passionate about what it is you’re doing with Enlighten Education…I have received many emails from some of my ex students telling me what an amazing and powerful experience your workshop was. Thank You from the bottom of my heart for empowering them and giving them the confidence they need to believe in themselves in a more positive and affirming way.

Since hearing from them I have read your book The Butterfly Effect and in doing so have also been propelled to make a difference. My love for teaching came about from a love of teenagers and a strong need to ‘help’ them. Help not in the sense of saving them but, like you, in allowing them to look at their lives in a different way and to realise that they are so much more than what they themselves may even realise. I aim to use my platform as a teacher to try and make them realise their potential, encourage them to be compassionate and caring towards others and to always strive for their dreams…

Samantha went on to explain she had moved to Texas but would be back in Australia in a few months time to visit her family. If she paid for an airfare to Sydney to meet me, could I find the time to meet with her she asked?

Sam and I at Enlighten HQ.

How could I say no to this level of enthusiasm for our girls? Suffice to say that after we met, I was so taken with Samantha that I offered her the role as our Program Manager for the USA and, after staying with me and travelling all over Australia as part of her Enlighten training, she has been establishing our programs there ever since (trust me, if you ever meet Sam, you’ll want to adopt her too. I only hope she never uses her powers for evil, or we are all in trouble).

But, bringing our brand of girl-power to the USA is not all that she has been up to. Completely unprompted by me, Sam decided to set up her own Facebook Page and blog aimed at teen girls – Real Girls. These sites are inspiring, empowering and much-needed on-line platforms for real girls to share their personal stories and learn from each other.

So, this week, I am handing over to 16 year old “Real Girl” contributor Zoe. Zoe is a 16 year old girl living in Melbourne, Australia. Here she candidly and bravely talks about her body issues and her goals for the future.

You may read more “Real Girl” stories at Sam’s site . Do check it out and share it with the girls in your life.

Trigger warning: Please do not read on if you are prone to be triggered around eating and health or body-related themes.

 

I’m a 16 year-old girl from Melbourne who has been lucky enough to live overseas and see various parts of the world. My life, however, over the last couple of years has been filled with ups and downs. I am thankful in a way though as it has made me a much stronger person and taught me to appreciate and make the most of every opportunity. I’m a naturally energetic, hyperactive person who is a strong believer in the law of attraction – what you put out into the universe is what you get back! Therefore, I try to put out as much positive energy as I can. I don’t do things by halves, its 200% or nothing.

Zoe, 16.

For me, hindsight is an interesting thing. I don’t live with regrets but if I could, I would prevent my 12-year-old self from feeling the need to starve herself to get to a weight that was way below the healthy weight range. For anyone out there who has had or currently has an eating disorder and faces the challenge of being in the “Zone” then you will know what I am talking about – Experiencing that voice inside your head that takes over any reason, obsessing over calories, weight, how many bones are showing, how many calories to burn and how to eat the least amount at the next meal.

Four years of yoyo dieting, excessive exercising and mentally stressful events caught up with me this year and although I had maintained a relatively healthy weight for the last two years my outlook towards my body has been constantly up and down. I would only feel confident or like my body when I was exercising a lot. If I wasn’t I would feel the need to not eat. I also would over analyze every part of my body, and focus on everything I hated about it and where I wanted to be thinner, constantly comparing myself to other girls around me.

My exercise regime had been given a massive boost towards the end of last year and the beginning of this year due to cross country season. I began exercising for 11+ hours week and pushing myself more than I needed to. I found I began to tie my confidence and self-esteem with how much I exercised – the more I did the better I felt about myself. I justified this in my mind and thought it wasn’t the same as my eating disorder – I was happy, getting good marks at school, at a healthy weight and my family life was stable. I used all these excuses to make what I was doing ok – even though I still had the voice in my head telling me I needed to do the extra exercise class, run an extra hour, burn another 100 calories.

I knew that my body could only handle so much but still I ignored the warning signs of over training and pushed through. In May this year however, the “crash of exhaustion” finally came. I experienced a whole month of heart palpitations, constant elevated heart rate, unable to think clearly, insomnia, Increased PMS symptoms, periods of exhaustion and days where I was unable to get out of bed.

Blood tests showed that I had sub clinical hypothyroidism*. One of the most noticeable symptoms associated with hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain. I was suddenly faced with weight gain of 7 kilograms in one week.

I was told by my doctors to come back in six weeks to get another blood test to see if my levels returned to normal. I felt extremely trapped and hated not being able to do anything to help myself. I had done some research and had found there was a lot of information linking hypothyroidism and Adrenal Fatigue*, which I discovered is surprisingly common and even more risky than chronic fatigue.

I had gained weight and had lost most of the fitness I gained over the last few months. I felt very lost as I associated my whole personality and lifestyle around exercising. I suddenly had two choices: I could continue the way I was going or I could learn from this experience. In a sense there and then I had to confront my eating disorder face on and promised myself I would work at being the healthiest version of myself.

This required a lot of self-control, and there were slip-ups. There were days where I would just go back to my normal routine but I was at the point where if I stressed my body out too much, I would find myself bedridden the next day. This really taught me that there is a consequence for everything you do. In those months I came to realise that my weight was just a number – nothing more! It didn’t change who I was as a person. I still had amazing friends and family, and a supportive school, and they all were there to help and make sure I didn’t too much.

What have I learnt from all of this? I have learnt how important it is to have a balanced lifestyle. Our body’s sole purpose in life is to function. It cannot withstand large amounts of stress, bad eating habits and being surrounded by negative environments. We need to respect our body and treat it in a way that allows us to live to our full potential

It’s taken me six months to get back to normal energy levels and only in the last two weeks have I finally felt back to my normal self. I’ve learnt to appreciate every single opportunity that is thrown at me and realise now how lucky I am: I go to an amazing school with unlimited opportunities, have a great group of friends both in school and out, have a positive family life and an inspiring mentor and coach.

My goal from now on is not let excessive exercising control my life and to see food as fuel, and something my body needs. My goal for the future is to help as many people as possible to live a balanced lifestyle by exercising in a functional way and eating in a way that makes them feel good and excited about life. I have recently completed my Certificate III in Fitness and aspire to have a career in the fitness industry as an Exercise Physiologist/Personal Trainer.

I hope to use my personal story to help others make better choices for themselves and to know that their body and their outer appearance does not define them as a person. It is more important that you are healthy and that you can live in a way that allows you to be the best version of yourself you can be!

Hypothyroidism*: Hypothyroidism (under active thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain important hormones. Source: MayoClinic.com

Adrenal Fatigue*: Adrenal fatigue is a collection of signs and symptoms known as a syndrome and occurs when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. It is most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress, but can also arise during or after acute or chronic infections, especially respiratory infections such as influenza, bronchitis or pneumonia. 

Rage and despair: Positive, helpful ways to support girls in crisis

Trigger warning: This blog post contains references to suicide. If you or anyone you know has suicidal thoughts or behaviour, seek help immediately. These help lines are open 24 hours a day:
Australia
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
Salvation Army 24-hour Care Line: 1300 36 36 22
New Zealand
Lifeline: 0800 543 354

All of us at Enlighten have been heartbroken to see a number of media reports recently of teens taking their own lives. Cath Manning, one of Enlighten’s Victoria workshop presenters, is concerned about the high rates of depression and suicide in her area. Interviewed along with Steve Biddulph this week by her local media, Cath made this great point:

I think we sometimes forget that teen girls are going through the same things we went through when we were growing up, however, today there is even more pressure on them due to the relentless media images and messages they are bombarded with, and the added complications with social media. Of course, social media is here to stay, and there really are great benefits that come with that, but young girls just need to be given the tools to engage with the medium in a positive, helpful way.

Positive — that’s the key. There are positive things we can all do to help our kids cope. We can listen and look for the signs that all may not be well in their world, and we can offer our support. Due to the recent media coverage of teen suicides, a lot of parents and teachers have been asking my advice, so this seems a good time to share an excerpt from my book for parents, The Butterfly Effect, on how to identify and help teen girls in crisis. For the teen girls in your life, I have also written a version of the book specifically for them, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo. Both are available for purchase here.

Rage and Despair: Suicide

What many people who try to take their lives share is a sense of being trapped in a stressful or painful situation, a situation that they are powerless to change. Having depression or a mental illness raises a person’s risk of suicide. Stressful life events or ongoing stressful situations may fuel feelings of desperation or depression that can lead to suicide attempts. Examples of these stresses include the death of a loved one, divorce or a relationship breakup, a child custody dispute, settling in to a blended family, financial trouble, or a serious illness or accident. Any kind of abuse – physical, verbal or sexual – increases the risk. Substance abuse by any member of a family affects the other members of the family and can lead to suicidal feelings either directly or indirectly, through the loss of income and social networks or trouble with the law.

Bullying needs to be taken seriously as it has been known to make teens try to take their own life. Also, teens are right in the middle of forming their own individual identities and a major component of that is their sexuality. For a teenager who is questioning their sexual preference or gender, the pressure to be like everyone else, the taunting they receive because they clearly are not, or their own guilt and confusion can become unbearable. A relationship breakup can be a trigger for suicide in some teens. As adults, we have the ability to look at the bigger picture and know that in years to come, a teenage breakup will not seem anywhere near as important as it does at the time. A teenage girl, on the other hand, may not yet have the maturity to see beyond the immediate pain. If she seems unduly distressed about a breakup, pay attention. Another trigger for teen suicide is the recent suicide of someone close to them, or the anniversary of a suicide or death of someone close to them, so these are times when girls may need extra support.

Suicide is hard to talk about. It is almost taboo, simply too painful to touch on. But silence can be deadly. Often the parents of a teen girl at risk of suicide do not ask her the tough question of whether she is planning to take her own life. In part they may be in a state of denial, which is only human – after all, no parent wants to imagine that their daughter feels suicidal. They may also have a fear that seems to be ingrained in our culture: that if they mention suicide to their depressed or distressed daughter, they will be putting the idea in her head. But experts in adolescent mental health agree that it is more than okay to speak directly to your daughter about suicide. ‘Parents are often worried that by asking they may make matters worse. Well, I have never known a child to suicide because someone asked whether they were thinking about it,’ says child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Brent Waters.

Another unhelpful myth about suicide is that a teen who talks about suicide is simply seeking attention and won’t actually take her life. In fact, four out of five young people who commit suicide tell someone of their intentions beforehand. Besides, I have never understood the point of making a distinction between attention seeking, a cry for help or a genuine intention to commit suicide. Even if a teen is not actually going to go through with a plan to take her life, if she is distressed enough to cry out for help, her voice needs to be heard and she needs our support.

What you can do

Number one: if anyone – child, adolescent or adult – says something like ‘I want to kill myself’ or ‘I’m going to kill myself’, seek help straightaway. Remove anything they might be tempted to use to kill themselves with and stay with them. Dial 000 in Australia or 111 in New Zealand or a crisis line. The following phone counselling services are available 24 hours a day:

Australia

  • Lifeline: 13 11 14
  • Kids Help Line: 1800 55 1800
  • Salvation Army 24-hour Care Line: 1300 36 36 22

New Zealand

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Another valuable thing you can do to help someone you fear is having suicidal thoughts is to listen. These pointers are adapted from the Victorian Government’s excellent ‘Youth suicide prevention – the warning signs’ on www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au:

  • Listen and encourage her to talk
  • Tell her you care
  • Acknowledge her feelings
  • Reassure her
  • Gently point out the consequences of her suicide, for her and the people she leaves behind
  • Stay calm; try not to panic or get angry
  • Try not to interrupt her
  • Try not to judge her
  • Don’t overwhelm her with too much advice or stories about your own experiences

Suicide warning signs

  • Loss of interest in activities she used to enjoy
  • Giving away her prized possessions
  • Thoroughly cleaning her room and throwing out important things
  • Violent or rebellious behaviour
  • Running away from home
  • Substance abuse
  • Taking no interest in her clothes or appearance
  • A sudden, marked personality change
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and her usual activities
  • A seeming increase in her accident proneness, or signs of self-harm
  • A change in eating and sleeping patterns
  • A drop in school performance, due to decreased concentration and feelings of boredom
  •  Frequent complaints about stomach aches, headaches, tiredness and other symptoms that may be linked to emotional upsets
  • Rejection of praise or rewards
  • Verbal hints such as ‘I won’t be a problem for you much longer’ or ‘Nothing matters anyway’
  • Suddenly becoming cheerful after a period of being down, which may indicate she has made a resolution to take her life

 
(Heart image by Seyed Mostafa Zamani, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Generation Cleanskin: Part 1

I am excited to be able to share with you an outstanding article on teens and body image, for which Australian journalist Susan Johnson extensively interviewed leading experts and kids themselves. With thanks to the Courier-Mail’s QWeekend, which originally published it, I will be presenting this engaging and important piece in three instalments over the coming weeks. In Part 1 this week, Johnson investigates why girls and boys are both feeling unprecedented pressure to fit a narrow body image ideal . . .

 

Skinny and denuded of body hair if you are a teenage girl and “built” and “muscled up” if you are a teenage boy: welcome to a world in which children as young as eight feel anxiety about body image. If Western society is supposed to be more “equal” than ever before, then idealised notions of what a teenage girl should look like and what a teenage boy should look like tell a different story. In this tale, all the girls look like anorexic 12-year-old lingerie models and all the boys resemble the Incredible Hulk.

Once the province of starving teenage girls, “body dysmorphia” is the term used when anorexics look in the mirror and see a fat girl looking back. Now the term “muscle dysmorphia” – sometimes also colloquially known as “bigorexia” – is increasingly used in relation to the body image issues of teenage boys. Today, both sexes are feeling the pressure.

Dr Lina Ricciardelli, associate professor in psychology at Melbourne’s Deakin University, has researched and written a number of papers on children and body image. In a 2009 study of children aged between eight and 11, she and her team found that 25 per cent of girls compared their weight to their peers, while 26 per cent of boys compared their muscles. By the time these children are teenagers, body image pressure can seem overwhelming.

Ricciardelli found that worries about body image can develop at an early age. “Children regularly compare their height, weight and muscles with their peers and this is natural, but on the flip side it can have serious implications when children are still developing their self-perceptions and identities,” she says.

The study threw up some interesting differences between boys and girls: “Girls were more likely to focus on their peers who they felt had a better body, particularly on those features they wish they had or could change, whereas boys tended to focus on their strengths and used social comparisons to feel good about themselves, helping to build their self-esteem. While comparisons seem to help boys to feel more positive and confident, girls tend to show signs of lower self-esteem and feel more discontent with their figures.”

However, the most recent comprehensive national survey into young Australians and body image conducted in 2008 by Mission Australia found that body image was an issue of concern for a staggering 22.2 per cent of Australian boys and young men aged 11–24 years old. And, according to 2011 statistics by the Victorian Government’s Better Health Channel website (produced in association with Eating Disorders Victoria), about 3 per cent of Australian teenage boys now use muscle-enhancing drugs such as steroids.

In an article in InPysch, the journal of the Australian Psychological Society (APS), the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, Steven Gregor noted that while women and adolescent girls have had to deal with pressures regarding body image for years, what is new is “that men and adolescent boys are now under the exact same pressures”.

He quotes Elaine Hosie, a registered psychologist and a director of counselling working with adolescent males, about the influence and role of the media: “The media promotes a certain idealised image of what it means to be a male. In regard to the body image debate, the media plays a large role in the idealised notion of what it is to grow from a child, to an adolescent, to an adult male.”

Hosie and Ricciardelli agree on the pernicious influence of the media as a major contributing factor to teenage body image anxiety. Ricciardelli says that “without question the media is completely saturated with images of thin, ‘ideal’ bodies, much more than ever before. Plus there are mass media of more kinds than ever before; the internet has thrown up such things as [social media website] Facebook and online videos and on and on and on. There are increasingly sophisticated technologies and marketing strategies now.”

It is not only the multiplication of media but its increased sophistication that has transformed the media into such a powerful tool of influence: where once a photograph was a recorder of images and the camera did not lie, now a photograph can cheat and distort and a photograph will never again be simply a photograph.

“The media is manipulating bodies much more,” says Ricciardelli. Between dangerously skinny models, boys with six-packs and Photoshop, the gap between ordinary flesh-and-blood girls and boys and idealised images of girls and boys has grown wider and wider.

There are no statistics on the numbers of young men and boys using private gyms in Queensland but anecdotal evidence indicates that the worship of the “built” male body, previously only seen in gay and bodybuilding cultures, has made its way into mainstream culture too, and particularly into teenage male culture. When popular young amateur Sydney bodybuilder Aziz Shavershian (known as “Zyzz”) died last year of a heart attack, probably brought on by his steroid use, he had 120,000 followers on Facebook, many of them teenage boys: now his page (maintained by fans) has 283,266 “likes”.

Dr Peter West, formerly of the University of Sydney’s Research Group on Men and Families and author of a landmark paper on boys, men and body image in 2000, says that in the 12 years since his study, body dysmorphia has only increased. “When I was growing up in the ’50s bodybuilders were regarded as weird; no-one went to the gym, unless you were doing boxing or something. Everyone just went to the beach or played cricket or football. It’s not like that today,” he says.

Of course, for as long as there have been human bodies, there have been inventive ways to fashion them: from African and Amazonian peoples inserting clay plates into their bottom lips, to Indian women putting jewels into their nostrils. Fashions come and go, too: in ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures men regularly removed all body hair, possibly because the pre-pubescent and newly pubescent hair-free, androgynous male body (rather than the female body) was believed to be the embodiment of beauty.

Dr Ricciardelli of Deakin University’s other area of expertise is male beauty and body image throughout history. She argues that the male body has been evaluated and scrutinised as an aesthetic ideal since ancient times. What has changed, however, is that today many boys are internalising messages promoted by a powerful media. “[There is a] perceived pressure that women are expecting men to shape up to the media images,” she says. Her studies have found that leanness and youthfulness as well as a sculpted appearance have become important standards of male beauty. In pursuit of this ideal, Ricciardelli’s studies suggest that up to 60 per cent of young adult men in the US and Australia have removed body hair (below the neck) at least once.

Ricciardelli is one of an increasing number of academics and psychologists advocating preventative work with teenage boys. In the APS InPysch article, Elaine Hosie argues that more psychologists, medical practitioners and teachers need to work together to ensure better outcomes for teenage boys: “I would say it [body image dissatisfaction] is not something that’s in their [adolescent boys’] awareness. The reason for coming to a counsellor would be about more concrete issues such as: ‘I’m doing really badly at school’, or ‘my girlfriend has dropped me’, or ‘I can’t get a girlfriend’, or ‘I don’t like my teacher’ – they externalise things; they blame the world. [But] these are the presenting issues, which often mask more serious health concerns such as body image dissatisfaction.”

Ricciardelli believes treatment needs to take into account “cognitive adjustment of distorted views about themselves” – just like teenage girls with anorexia.

 

I am pleased to have contributed my voice to those of the experts quoted in Part 2 of this feature, which I’ll bring you next week. In it, Johnson delves into issues such as the pressure on girls to diet and remove all their body hair. 

Susan Johnson, a full-time journalist at Qweekend magazine, is the author of seven novels; a book of essays, On Beauty (part of the Melbourne University Press series Little Books on Big Themes); and a memoir about her experiences of motherhood, A Better Woman.

Sexism dovetails with hypocrisy

Nina Funnell and I wrote the following Opinion piece, which was also featured in The Age newspaper today. 

The Age on-line 21/6/12

Accusing Lynx of peddling sexist advertisements is like informing Kyle Sandilands that his material is considered controversial. Well, duh.

Lynx’s latest campaign featuring Sophie Monk offering to clean various men’s balls has attracted valid criticism and complaints relating to female objectification and sexploitation.

But the problem with protesting is that it is precisely this outrage that Lynx aims to provoke.

Each time Lynx campaigns are launched, advertising standards bodies are inundated with letters of complaint. Last year alone, for example, six Lynx commercials were banned in the UK. And each time this happens, Lynx issues a statement that basically says “Oopsie, we didn’t mean to be rude,” and then churns out the next lot. No doubt they are factoring in the free publicity their controversial ads will attract when calculating losses due to the short shelf life of their campaigns.

Forget the “sex sells” mantra. These days, it’s sexism that really pulls in the cash.

But if finger pointing is only feeding the beast (by providing more free publicity), should the critics remain silent?

Perhaps educating our young people about disingenuous corporate agendas would prove more effective. And they don’t come much more disingenuous than Lynx’s parent company, Unilever.

Remember that Dove campaign featuring women of all different shapes, colours and sizes standing around in their knickers supposedly taking on beauty stereotypes? Dove is owned by Unilever. Yep. The exact same company that is funding self-esteem workshops and body-love courses for girls in our schools (under the Dove brand) is also producing the very types of ads that those courses caution against.

And the hypocrisy doesn’t stop there. Dove reminds girls to accept their bodies and to love the skin they’re born in. But aside from selling the dieting product SlimFast globally, Unilever also sells a skin-bleaching product in places such as India and the Middle East called “Fair and Lovely”. This product is aimed at darker-skinned women, with the promise that it will whiten their skin so that they too might one day resemble the Aryan ideal so celebrated in all the Lynx advertisements. According to Unilever’s website, “skin lightening creams are the preferred mode of skin care in almost all Asian countries, just as anti ageing creams are in Europe and the USA”. What a fair and lovely message.

What really irks us, and the teen girls we speak to, is not so much the boringly predictable sexism of Lynx but the completely hypocritical ethos of Unilever as a company.

Teen girls get particularly irate when they discover that Impulse body mist sprays (which feature names like “Instantly Innocent” and “True Love”) are owned by the same company which produces Lynx products. Forget the images of dating, romance and hearts they feed the girls; when it comes to sniggering with the boys, Unilever pushes the idea that one simple spray is all that it takes to score.

For a brand hoping to position itself as “edgy” the messages are incredibly tired: Girls date. Men mate.  As one girl recently told us, “That’s so two faced!”

It makes you wonder what the Unilever office must look like. In one cubicle you’ve got the Lynx team drooling over headless bikini babes to see which one should feature in their “Wash me, I’m a  dirty girl” campaign, whilst at the next desk Team Dove are polishing up their latest  self-esteem slogan for women.

And while teen boys may respond well to scantily clad women, they respond equally well to clever Chaser-style takedowns of hypocritical corporate giants.

Activists who use witty satire can be highly effective in getting companies to rethink their long-term strategies. Satirical attacks work because the brand no longer looks cheeky or naughty. It just looks stupid.

Anti-Lynx activists have recently clocked up hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits on videos poking fun at Unilever. One particularly clever clip parodies Dove’s “Onslaught” campaign. The original Dove campaign, which was used to launch their self-esteem program, features a young girl being bombarded with images of the unobtainable standards of beauty presented to girls by the media. The film ends with the line “Talk to your daughter before the beauty industry does.”

In a witty twist, anti-Lynx activists replaced all the problematic images the little girl sees in the original clip with others taken directly from advertising campaigns run by Unilever itself. This ad ends with the line “Talk to your daughter before Unilever does.”

Amen to that.

 

Get in the game

I had an amazing experience last week at the ADC Summit, where I accepted an Australian Leadership Award and got to share ideas with leading thinkers in a whole range of fields. I was especially excited by Gabe Zicchermann’s thought-provoking talk on how video games actually make kids smarter. They do this by increasing children’s multitasking skills and their fluid intelligence, which is the type of intelligence you use in problem solving. He cites research into the five key ways in which you can boost fluid intelligence — all of which occur when a child plays video games:

  • Seek novelty.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Think creatively.
  • Do things the hard way.
  • Network.

I was delighted that many of Zicchermann’s ideas accord with Enlighten’s philosophies of engaging and interacting with girls. His messages are encapsulated in this TED talk he gave:

There is no need to despair and wring our hands over kids spending time at their gaming consoles, Zicchermann assures us. The kids of Generation G (for Gamer) will be all right. In fact, they will be awesome — just so long as we embrace their world and enter the game too. This echoes a belief I hold dear: the way to connect with our children about anything is to open ourselves to their interests, instead of reflexively dismissing the things they love as harmful or trivial. Rather than policing and patronising, we need to empathise with, and understand the world of, young people. Only then can we positively engage with them and effectively support them.

Zicchermann notes a school where the introduction of an innovative video-game-based curriculum increased children’s maths and language skills by a grade level in just 18 weeks. How? By making learning fun and making it a communal experience. Again, this is something that we know works from our presentations. We capture the girls’ hearts. We make learning serious and important life skills fun and exciting. And we have found that the way to ensure messages resonate with the girls is to reach them collectively, which is why we always work with full-year groups of girls, rather than engage in individual or small-group interventions.

I’ve seen the life-changing results of these teaching approaches on girls in terms of self-esteem and body image, and I believe that video gaming can also be an incredibly valuable educational tool. Not only are there benefits to kids’ grey matter and maths and language skills, there are a whole host of other ways that gaming can be beneficial.

A fabulous example is Superbetter. Facing an uncertain prognosis from a serious concussion, Jane McGonigal (who also gave a great TED talk) created a motivational game to strengthen herself and speed her recovery. What she found was that she not only got better; her resilience and confidence improved so much that she became better than she ever was, or superbetter. Intrigued by the possibilities that Superbetter offers girls to improve their resilience in a way they can relate to, I had a teen friend who is struggling with an eating disorder try it out. Based on her feedback, this is a game I’ll be recommending to anyone, whether young or old, who is dealing with any kind of health issue:

When you are sick with anything, you tend to lose your sense of reality and focus on what’s hurting you and not the positives that you still have. You tend to feel sorry for yourself and that gets you nowhere. Superbetter really gets your mind set changed to something different. You can choose your own activities based on your own problems — mental illness, addiction, body image, anything! You get advice/help and activities to change the way you think. For a body image person, some of the first things you get asked to do when you log on is go to the mirror, find a positive body part and love it instead of hating the others, and also go look in the mirror and change the negative thought to a positive one.

I honestly think this site has the potential to help people who feel lonely and lost and need something to take their mind off feeling down about themselves. Changing the way you think is one of the first things you need to do in order to love yourself and feel good about yourself, and I really think this site can do that!  M—, 16

Another way that gaming can be great for girls is in making them familiar and comfortable with computers. Back in 1998, gaming and virtual-reality pioneer Brenda Laurel posed the question “Why are all the top-selling video games aimed at little boys?” in a TED talk. One of her concerns was that girls were slipping behind in ICT skills because boys were more adept at using computers due to all the hours of games they played. As I’ve written on this blog before, we need to support girls and help them become ICT savvy, as otherwise they are at risk of missing out on the jobs of the future.

Characters from the Sims 3

Thanks in part to her own efforts, since Laurel posed that question more games that girls enjoy have been developed. In fact, women now outnumber men as players of web-based games. As Laurel notes, girls are now major forces in game worlds such as World of Warcraft and the Sims. The Canadian company Silicon Sisters creates video games for women and girls by women and girls. Their School 26 series of games has a storyline centred on a high school social hierarchy. The aim is to help girls develop networking, relationship and communication skills.

And if you still need another reason to get into the game with your girls, researchers have found that playing video games together can strengthen the bond between parents and daughters. Research by Sarah Coyne, Ph.D., at Brigham Young University School of Family Life, in the US, found that girls who played age-appropriate video games with their parents “behaved better, felt more connected to their families and had stronger mental health”. As Coyne says:

Playing video games with your girls could be a really good thing. It’s the face-to-face time with an adolescent culture-type of game. When parents play with their kids, they’re saying, ‘I’m willing to do what you like to do.’

And I truly believe that sending kids that message, no matter what it is they like to do, is one of the most positive steps forward we can take. This weekend, let’s all go and get in the game!

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