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Tag: Storm Greenhill – Brown

Not Your Average Friday!

I embrace every opportunity to listen to teen girls — to connect with them and also to learn their hopes, dreams and concerns, not to mention their insights into Girl World.

So at the end of every Enlighten workshop, we ask girls for their feedback. We want to know what really gets through to them. What is the best way to connect? What brings about lasting, positive change? What are the best ways to help girls shine?

This week I want to give a voice to one of those girls: Sienna Fracchia, a Year 9 girl who recently took part in a workshop with our Queensland program director, Storm Greenhill-Brown, and team member Louise Beddoes. I hope that Sienna’s thoughtful — and impressively articulate! — feedback will be of valuable to anyone who works with girls, wants to better understand girls, and wishes to make a strong, authentic connection with them.

 

Not your average Friday!

I arrived at school on Friday 2 March thinking, ‘Oh, this Year 9 Development Day is just going to be another one of those “growing up” sessions about puberty and development!’ I predicted a whole day in a room full of Grade 9 girls, discussing various body parts and how our emotions will develop. An organisation called Enlighten Education was doing a presentation called ‘The Butterfly Effect’; I thought it was some type of nickname for girls going through puberty or something cheesy like that. It sounded like the worst way to spend a Friday. I spent a good hour before school reflecting on the many uncomfortable student-teacher moments of the past when we talked about puberty or another awkward topics involving adolescent development, and the many that were to come.

For educators, it can be a bit confronting to hear this straight from the horse’s mouth. But it’s a great reminder that sometimes even when it seems that girls have been given the required personal development courses, the messages still may not have got through. Whilst girls might be present in the room, they might not be engaged and another way may need to be found to connect with them.

 

When the bell rang, my friends and I trudged up the stairs to our doom; but when we slowly edged our way into the room, we were swept away from the world of smelly, hairy boys ruling our lives, into GIRL WORLD — a sea of pink and purple fabric, butterflies and glitter, where school shoes were just an accessory and girls ruled.  My judgement was so wrong! A goodie bag and pamphlet were thrust into our arms, as our minds were registering the awesome day that awaited us.

Girls want (and of course deserve!) to feel special and important. Simple, attractive visual props and handouts set the scene. They signify to girls that this is a time and space set aside just for them, and that something transformative is about to happen.

 

We started our adventure learning the heartbreaking but also amazingly romantic story of our leader, Storm, from Enlighten Education. Then a little physical exercise (dancing!) and we knew that this was going to be one of the best days of our school lives. Through five different workshops, we discovered just how amazing GIRL WORLD and all the girls in it really are.

Sienna points out something that is crucial to getting through to girls: telling our own stories. If we want girls to be vulnerable and reveal their true selves to us, we must first do so ourselves. Only by being open and letting ourselves be seen  can we expect to win girls’ trust and deeply connect with them.

 

After the first workshop, Forever Friends, I really wanted to become friends with all the girls and stand up for them. I really wanted us to become a family; we are sisters, no matter if we are presently in the same friendship group or not. After every workshop, we were presented with a small pink and black card that had an affirmation relating to the workshop. The first one read: ‘I attract good, positive friends into my life. I encourage and support others.’

The academic demands are so intense on girls now that I think we sometimes forget that friendship skills — making friends, choosing the right friends, resolving conflict — are also something girls need our help with.

 

Get It Together, our second workshop, taught us how to manage our time and develop techniques to calm ourselves and de-stress. A bit of yoga and calming music and we were in heaven. Free to move the way we wanted, and to be comfortable in our own skin, we learned to relax. My earlier fears were certainly proved wrong beyond any imagination. Our second affirmation read: ‘I enjoy learning. I have potential to achieve, and I have faith in my abilities.’

Girls are undeniably under a lot of pressure, so helping them learn healthy ways to relieve stress (rather than binge drinking, smoking or dieting, for instance) is more important than ever before. Incorporating short bursts of relaxation meditation or exercise (such as the dancing that Sienna loved) into the day can be relatively simple — and cost free.

 

The third workshop was after morning tea, and taught us about the dangers girls can face in the world. It was called Stop, I don’t like it but unlike the title, we loved it and the session really made all of the girls feel safer and more in control. Enlighten Education also provided us with contact numbers of help lines and emergency numbers, and for the information of all you women and girls out there, we actually practised the eye gouge and groin kick! Storm assured us that we were all strong, brave, beautiful Amazon women. The third affirmation card told us I listen to my butterflies and set boundaries. I am an Amazon.

We would all love to protect our girls from every danger they may face in the world — but we cannot be there all the time, so the best thing we can do is make sure they can look after their personal safety. Sienna’s feedback shows that girls can be empowered to look after themselves and feel in control.

 

Before going for lunch we had our fourth workshop: Princess Diaries. Firstly, we made stunning diaries in which to write our fears, dreams, achievements, failures and worries. Beautiful ribbons, glitter, paper, stickers and butterflies were presented to us with an exercise book for us to decorate to our heart’s desire (or until lunch, whichever came first!). Instinctively, the groups we were in stopped being selfish, and we all cared for and helped our sisters.

Teenage girls are just bursting with feelings and thoughts. Getting them down on paper helps girls get a handle on who they are, and who they want to be.

 

We finished the day in a workshop called Love the Skin You’re In. Just as the title suggests, that’s exactly what we did. Storm taught us how to accept that we are all beautiful, amazing and talented. She spoke about self-confidence and self-praise. I tried the self-praise part and it actually really does make you feel better about yourself. It was affirmed on the cards that: ‘I am precious. I choose to send loving thoughts to myself and others. I surround myself with positive words and attract good things into my life.’

Girls are exposed every day to so many voices (the media, advertisers, their peers) telling them they aren’t pretty enough, or popular or thin or smart or rich enough. We can’t silence those voices, but we can help girls like Sienna develop strong self-esteem that enables them to grow into resilient women.

 

Finally, we were set a challenge to wear a bracelet on our left arm and for 21 days, recite the words on the affirmation cards and only speak positively about ourselves and others. Then, when we complete the challenge, we move the bracelet to our right arm so that everyone knows that we believe in ourselves.

Friday 2 March was one of the best days, not only of school, but of my life. It came at the perfect time for me and helped me so much. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it. I read my affirmation cards every day and I hope to keep them for a very long time. My journal and bracelet will always stay very close to my heart and I will never forget Storm and Lou, our great, girl gang leaders!

Sienna, you and your friends are close to our hearts, too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, hopes, wishes and dreams with us. We hear you!

I feel passionately about the need to engage with girls and listen to what really matters to them. The launch of my book for girls, “The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo”, has been a wonderful chance to get on the media and encourage parents to do just that, and I was more than happy to talk in depth about this on Channel 9’s “Mornings” show this week:

Teens and Trauma: How You Can Help the Healing Process

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mothers, Daughters, and the Ritual of Writing

For most girls, writing holds enormous power. It can be the key that unlocks pent-up feelings and thoughts they’re struggling to say out loud. It can be their chance to explore ideas about who they are and who they want to be. The blank page or screen becomes the space where they can think things through, create something beautiful or just plain vent.

Many of you reading this no doubt spent hours poring over diaries and writing poems and impassioned letters as a teen. Remember the cathartic feeling you got once a big tangle of ideas and emotions suddenly became a whole lot clearer on the page? Or that high you got when you felt you’d got your point across at last (even if you would never, ever actually send that letter to the person)?

I meet a lot of parents who worry that the connection they have with their daughter is weakening as she grows up. Often they feel that they don’t know what’s going on inside her head any more. Tapping into this natural love girls have for writing can be an incredibly powerful way to deepen our connection with them.

Over the past few months, I’ve been in touch with Tricia O’Neill, the mother of 16-year-old Cameron O’Neill-Mullin, who along with her friend Paris Wilson took part in an Enlighten workshop just a few weeks before a ski-tubing accident claimed their lives. Paris’s sister, Bianca, wrote the most beautiful, touching eulogy for Paris. And writing was a big part of Tricia and Cameron’s relationship as mother and daughter.

Four years ago, Tricia convinced Cameron and her older daughter, Kylie, to stop buying her gifts for special occasions and instead write her letters. After a while, the girls didn’t always find it easy to come up with an idea to write about, so she would give them a suggestion. This had a side benefit: “It gave me a chance to see what was going on inside their heads about a specific topic,” says Tricia.

This past Christmas, Tricia asked Cameron to write down what Kylie leaving home to go to university had made Cameron realize about her family. Cameron was funny and loving and clever when she wrote about “the rabbit” (Tricia’s husband, who likes to eat salad), “the iPad” (her metaphor for Kylie’s new university friends) and “the teddy bear” (Cameron and Tricia, because a teddy bear is always there for you when you need comfort). And she opened up about so much more than just the topic she’d been given — she delved into her strengths, her gifts, how she dealt with other people’s perceptions and her gratitude for her parents.

Click on image to enlarge.

On Mother’s Day last year, Cameron wrote Tricia a list: “57 Things I Have Learned from My Mother”, ranging from life lessons (“How to love” and “How to manage what I want and what I need”), through to funny things (“How to burp” and “How to buy really great tickets”). It blows me away how heartfelt and real and full of wisdom the list is.

“It brought me great joy that day, and now — what can I say? I cry when I think about it but they are both tears of sorrow and tears of joy,” says Tricia. “She knew herself and she knew she was loved and she knew how to love.”

"57 Things" page 1. Click on image to enlarge.
"57 Things" page 2. Click on image to enlarge.

Cameron and Paris were both wearing their Enlighten Education pink wristbands at the time of the accident. Tricia had some made up for family and friends with the girls’ names on them. I wore one of those bands bearing their names while I was writing my second book, which is for teen girls and is coming out early next year. As I was writing, I had the feeling that Cameron and Paris were both with me on the project, my muses, helping to guide me to write well so that I might help to heal and empower many girls.

I wore my Enlighten Education pink wristband bearing Cameron's and Paris's names as I wrote.

Tricia treasures all of the letters written by her daughters, Cameron and Kylie. And she also treasures what Cameron wrote during her Enlighten workshop when our Queensland Program Manager, Storm Greenhill-Brown, asked the girls to envision their future.

I would like to follow my dreams, passions and instincts; make a difference for people; and make an impact on the world.  I would find what makes me happy and stick with it; not be afraid of changes; and let myself get caught up in what I love.

Cameron O’Neill-Mullin, March 2011

I think Cameron is making a difference for people and making an impact on the world, because the writing ritual that she and her sister, Kylie, had with their mother shows us all a pathway to building strong, loving relationships with our daughters. I hope that this simple but powerful act of asking our daughters to write will catch on! We might just be amazed by what comes out when we ask our girls to put their thoughts and feelings on the page for us.

 

Personal Happiness

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

Personal happiness is a subject that has long been of interest to me, so I was most intrigued when I read Elisa’s recent comment mentioning a study called “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by two economists from the University of Pennsylvania. According to their research, since the 1970s there has been a steady decline in women’s subjective perception of well-being — that is, we’re less happy than our sisters from the seventies. This is true of women of all ages, backgrounds and circumstances, all across the industrialised world, even though we have better employment opportunities and access to childcare, and more equality in our relationships and in society and politics than ever before. The researchers also found that in post-feminist America, men are happier than women.

Why? Are women driven to unhappiness by our own expectations or by the expectations of those around us?

A particularly interesting aspect of the study relates to girls at high school. The researchers suggest that young women are attaching greater importance to an increasing number of aspects of life, e.g. “being successful in my line of work”, “being able to find steady work”, “making a contribution to society”. In fact, the only domain that they attached less importance to was “finding purpose and meaning in my life”. Hmmm.

I think most women would agree that we are better off now than 30 years ago. But are we struggling to keep too many balls in play? And is this a challenge we genuinely relish or something we secretly bemoan? It’s not a simple problem and I don’t pretend to have a simple answer. However, in my own experience, I find that when I am able to keep my life as simple as possible and focus on what keeps me happy, I feel wonderfully centred and not overwhelmed. This has been called “leading an examined life”. When others judge the way we live, either through their behaviour or implied or explicit remarks, it becomes very difficult to remain authentic to ourselves. Trying to match others’ expectations is a defining characteristic of being a young woman, and is a behaviour that is likely to be repeated throughout adulthood. But imagine how much more at peace we could be if we learnt skills early in life that help us to identify the things that truly matter, that truly bring us happiness. This is something that we strive to impart in our Enlighten workshops.

To be happy, I believe we need to feel that we are good enough the way we are, and that we are free to make choices that work for us and our families.

Women can be hugely critical of other women. Whether it be girls and their friendship issues or women and their work/family issues, why do we feel the need to pass judgement? 60 Minutes ran a story a few weeks ago, Housewife Superstars, that really emphasised the divide between women on the issue of choosing to engage in paid work, or be a stay at home Mum. Watching this I could not help but think such stories only add to the “us and them” mentality…surely if the choice works for one woman and her family, then it is not up to us to the rest of us to judge?

I am going to make a conscious effort to accept other women and their choices, and celebrate diversity.

I am going to make a conscious effort to choose happiness.

For those interested, in Sydney in 2010 there will be a Happiness Conference – “Happiness and Its Causes” – with Naomi Wolf as keynote speaker.

Reconnecting with food.

 

A guest post by Enlighten Education’s Queensland Program Director Storm Greenhill-Brown

I have been thinking, as we approach the frenzied lead up to Christmas, of the rituals of preparing, sharing, and receiving food. I have also been thinking of how I am going to really miss eating when I have my 4 impacted wisdom teeth removed this Friday. I have been mentally cataloguing food that I may or may not be able to eat.

Food is always welcome at my table and I have always admired those who give it due respect and care. When I first joined the Enlighten family, Francesca prepared a meal with such ease and grace and stated very humbly, “Keep it simple”. Wise words from an Italian mamma. You may have heard or read about the Slow Food Movement, which was naturally founded by an Italian fellow called Carlo Petrini. The Slow Food concept essentially helps people to re-discover the joys of eating and helps them to understand where their food comes from, who makes it, and how it is made. Part of the Slow Food Manifesto states, “We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus – Fast Life”. Slow food cooking aims to combat this 21st century disease that nutritionists believe is contributing to the obesity epidemic, especially in western children. To know intimately what we are eating and to allow ourselves to be seduced by flavours and aromas and to accept that this is just one part of being human, may go a long way to creating a generation of kids who are “food educated”.

It is true that Europeans allow themselves to create space in their culture for food. French cuisine is usually 6 courses and wine is taken with meals. Once, I shared a taxi into Rome with a girl who was heady with the thought of her first espresso and antipasto and I’ve never forgotten her passion. She had no thoughts of the Colosseum – food was integral to her journey through Italy. The aesthetics of eating play a large part too in the Slow Food way. The table is set and the anticipation is that this will be a meal of sharing, of intense pleasure, of laughter. From having a connection with the food on a basic level (perhaps you have grown some of it or you sourced it from a farmers’ market in your area that buys from local growers), you derive pleasure from each mouthful and allow yourself to love food and what it can do for your body and brain. The Slow Food movement is widely recognised in Australia and is growing in popularity.

Recently I discovered that a two-litre bottle of Coke is cheaper to buy than two litres of milk. In many families, money is readily available for KFC but not for groceries and whole foods and from generation to generation we stagger.

In South Australia in the coming years a French program called EPODE will be trialled in many schools. The focal question of this programme, which is based on the belief that childhood eating habits and obesity must be tackled at government and community levels with a variety of stakeholders involved, is “Can giving nutritional information to children change the eating habits of the whole family?” I agree strongly that changes are more likely to occur when a community works together for a “culture change.” Jamie Oliver gets it and his nutrition-in-schools crusade in the UK seems to me a step in the right direction.

The more I reflect on our society’s increasingly strained relationship with food, the more I am convinced that there is a fundamental lack of education about the centrality of food to human wellbeing. More and more I find myself doing as my Nanna did and giving my girlfriends great recipes out of her little handwritten black book!!

Bon Appetit!

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