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Month: March 2009

I Just Want You To Be Happy

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

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

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

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

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

The book’s media release follows:

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

The Facts of Teen Depression…

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

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

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

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

· Hospitalisations for self harm by teenagers are escalating dramatically

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

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

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

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

Good luck!

Sex, Lies and Photoshop

The clip below is a really interesting opinion piece posted by The New York Times on March 10th. (Click on the image or visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the talk continues, we will keep working.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty Myths

Recently I spent the most wonderful fortnight working with teen girls across New Zealand. On the way home, I stopped to purchase some duty free and stumbled upon the most bizarre beauty product: a NZ face cream that boasts sheep’s placenta as an ingredient.

I have now discovered that using placenta in facial products and treatments – and not just sheep’s but human placenta, too – is apparently the “latest in ultimate organic beauty.” A quick Google search revealed sites for placenta capsules to take and for recipes, including placenta lasagna and spaghetti bolognese.

Seriously, who would want to rub sheep’s placenta on their face? Or sit down to a bowl of afterbirth?

Outrageous and bizarre treatments promising a new and improved you have been around forever. La Prairie Pure Gold facial cream features “finely ground 24-carat gold”. Why gold? At $930 a jar, this seems insanely decadent.

And if the ingredients are not bizarre enough, how strange are some of the claims cosmetic companies make?

I nearly rolled off my lounge in fits of laughter yesterday at an infomercial on The Morning Show. The guest was promoting Victoria Principal’s cosmetic range. She began by saying how amazing this actress looks, and how it is a credit to her brand as “she has never had any surgery to enhance her look”. Really? Victoria Principal was married to one of Hollywood’s most famous plastic surgeons, Dr Harry Glassman.

Although she frequently denies having had any work done (Well, she would wouldn’t she? She has creams to sell!), this is not the natural face of a 60-year-old woman. I’m sorry, but even if she was secretly devouring tonnes of sheep’s placenta and rubbing bars of gold bullion on her face, wouldn’t her face still show some signs of . . . life?

Teen girls are not yet being sold the promise of wrinkle-free complexions (although using botox on young skin as a “preventative” now happens). They are instead promised instant confidence . . . in a jar.

Want to feel empowered? Try Napoleon’s “Goddess” lip gloss. It’s “the ultimate Girl Power, in a gloss”.

Want to be desirable? Try the Playboy cosmetic range. Packaged in bright pink and smelling sugary sweet, it is obviously aimed at teen girls. The range includes “Heff’s favourite lip gloss”, “Mile High Mascara” and “Tie me to the bedpost” blush.

Don’t get me wrong, I wear cosmetics and enjoy beauty treatments – but I find many of the claims simply insulting to my intelligence. Blogger Jill Filipovic echoed my feelings in a recent post quoted by Jessica Valenti in her book Full Frontal Feminism:

I like my mascara, and I’m not going to waste time feeling bad about it, but I am also not going to convince myself that long eyelashes are totally empowering and other women would be so much happier and more empowered if only they could have a makeover.

Right on, sister.

What are the most outrageous claims you have heard the beauty industry make?

PS In her comment, Melinda provided a link to a YouTube clip that I loved so much I have now embedded it here, too:

Violence against women is no game.

The media release below was forwarded to me by Women’s Forum Australia. The issues raised within it are so concerning that I have decided to reproduce it here in its entirety (with their permission). I would urge my readers to consider how they can lobby against the production and distribution of these types of games.

Media Release

Government must act immediately to end access to downloadable gang rape game.

Women’s Forum Australia calls on the Government to act immediately to prevent access to a Japanese PC game which has as its plot the stalking and gang rape of a mother and her two daughters.

The Government communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), must be immediately directed to identify all websites making this game available as a download and add them to the blacklist so they can be subjected to ISP filtering.

In the game, Rapelay, players direct a character to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters at an underground train station, before going on to rape other female characters. One of the daughters is depicted as aged about 10. She sleeps with a teddy bear.

Although blacklisted on online shopping sites eBay and two weeks ago, the sexually explicit Japanese animation is available on a number of websites offering the full version of the software to download.

Developed by Japanese production house Illusion, the object of the game is to turn the women into sex slaves – without getting them pregnant.

Should one of the female characters become pregnant, she must be forced to have an abortion.
One site describes RapeLay as “a new type [of] molesting game with more beautiful 3D images… players can get the new excitement like never before.” RapeLay can be played in multi-player mode – used mainly for the gang-rape sequences.

Any game which endorses and possibly incites the criminal act of rape should not be allowed to be advertised anywhere.

The complacency about p*rn animation depicting crimes such as rape and pedophilia has to end.

Melinda Tankard Reist, Women’s Forum Australia.

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