What’s the one question that sends many a single girl into a panic? “Who are you taking to the formal?”
It’s 2018. Surely we’ve moved beyond pressuring young women to find an attractive man-bag to hang off their arms.
When I supervised formals back in my teaching days, I always felt sorry for the poor lads who had been dragged out for these events, and were then all but ignored once they had performed their obligatory photo duties. I felt sorry too for the girls I knew would look back at pictures from the night and cringe when they saw who they went with just because they felt pressured to pair up.
Let’s encourage more solo operators. As sassy singles, our daughters will be able to enjoy the company of their schoolmates and celebrate all their in-jokes together one last time (which is, after all, what an end-of-school formal is supposed to be about).
At one high school, a girl bragged to me that her mother had flown her to Paris to buy her formal dress. I was speechless when, in the next breath, she revealed that there was a down side: as it was a Parisian label, only diehard fashionistas would know the designer, so she would have to explain to the other girls how prestigious her dress was (surely the very definition of a first world problem).
But it’s not just the finances that take a hit. For many girls, the angst over what to wear not only drives them to scrutinise their bodies, but seems to provide an open invitation for others to critique them as well.
I recently heard of a school that had teachers run a seminar for their girls on which colours might best suit them, and on which styles would prove most flattering.
Yet much of the information presented actually focused on how the girls should cover their flaws.
One teen girl who swims competitively was told her shoulders would need to be disguised (she hadn’t been aware her strong arms were considered unattractive until this was pointed out in front of her peers).
Another was told that despite being larger, she could still achieve an hourglass figure with the right garment choices.
We mustn’t spend six years telling our girls they should never be defined by their looks, only to encourage them to conform to narrow standards of beauty once they reach the finish line.
The lead up to formal season is peak dieting time for teen girls with many going to extreme measures to lose weight rapidly, including starving themselves, purging and using laxatives.
Jade, 19, says her battle with anorexia began after she made the decision to drop a dress size for her formal: “But on the night of the event, I’d lost so much weight that my dress just hung off me. I spent the night anxious, scared and hungry. And I stayed that way for years afterwards.”
Let’s not ruin this milestone in our girls lives by offering them anything other than words of affirmation — and the tools they need to critique marketing messages and beauty myths that don’t serve them.
It is a big night; yet only one of the many they’ll have in their diverse, sparkling lives.
In the 4th century BC even the usually open-minded Plato clutched his proverbial pearls in despair: “What is happening to our young people?
“They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?”
Today, thanks to the online world, our lamentations and judgments provide a running commentary not only to, but on the lives of many young people.
And yet what strikes me is that apart from being unhelpful (has there ever been a young person who has behaved more positively as a result of being shamed?) the discourse about teens often bears little resemblance to what the young people I meet are actually like.
I’m a teen educator who has worked with adolescents for the past 25 years. And I’m mother to two teens. Far from being obsessed with selfies, sexting and sponging off their parents, this may well be our hardest-working and most civic-minded generation ever.
If we look beyond the media-fuelled stereotypes, shibboleths and anecdotes, what does the actual data show?
School retention and the progression on to higher education courses continues to increase (eight out of 10 young people aged 15 to 19 are enrolled in education and training).
Despite these academic pressures, young people also do almost twice the volunteer work that adults do.
They are having less unprotected sex, taking fewer drugs and smoking less than their parents did, and many are far more aware of the risks of alcohol consumption.
And while the one per cent who make headlines (and sell parenting guides drumming up fear of a generation desperately in need of a firmer hand) the 99 per cent who are doing their best in a culture that often doesn’t seem to like them very much are often largely ignored.
The latter is the group who have to get up early every day even when they feel exhausted (biology dictates that many teens do feel more sleepy early in the day, more active late at night). Drag themselves off to school to sit through classes which may or may not interest them, with people that they may or may not like. They then come home not to switch off for the day, but rather to ramp up again and do homework or prepare for the next round of state-mandated testing.
All while dealing with pimples, pubes, images of beauty and masculinity that don’t look anything like them, and coping with crushes.
We seem to suffer from a collective amnesia about what we were like ourselves at this age. Case in point?
The successful, dedicated dad who attended one of my parenting seminars recently and tearfully asked me how he could bond with his daughter who he was worried was becoming withdrawn and snarly.
Before offering strategies to help offer him some perspective, I first asked what he was like as a teen. “Oh I was a real piece of shit,” he laughingly replied.
There are numerous very real issues teens (and many adults) struggle with that we do need to address: body image angst, dealing with stress and anxiety, navigating technology safely, developing and maintaining respectful relationships, just to name a few.
But while stereotypes might be easy to relate to, they are rarely helpful.
The one thing I know for sure is the way forward lies in sharing positive stories about teens and in connecting with them, not in spreading moral panic, or in policing and patronising them.
And the way forward lies in reminding ourselves that even the one per cent who do act out deserve our compassion too.
A school I worked in recently had a sign in the staffroom that struck me as a timely reminder to us all: “The kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.”
This post was originally published by The Daily Telegraph 16/7/16 and online at RendezView.
Since when have the final years of school transformed into a blood sport, apropos The Hunger Games?
School days used to be traditionally lauded as the best days of our lives — but those in Year 12 preparing for their final examinations feel more like they’re in a relentless competition that only the strongest can survive.
I’ve worked in education all my career and my daughter is doing her HSC this year. When I talk to teens about how they feel about their final years of schooling, I can’t help but think something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.This is what some of them told me:
“I am taking antidepressants, going to counselling and drinking alcohol heavily… I’ve also recently been diagnosed with chronic fatigue.”
“The whole system has made me lose my love of learning… I used to be a chilled person but now I have anxiety and am on prescription medication for a tremor I have developed as a result.”
“I recently dropped out due to extreme stress. It got to the point where I was even trying meth to take my mind off the HSC.”
“At my school (a private boys school) because we have been exposed to alcohol for some years already, my friends have decided to medicate with drugs; weed, cocaine, caps (a form of MDMA) and during examination period, Ritalin, and other ‘smart drugs’. My friends aren’t exactly the smartest, nor do they have the same pressures as me (my brother was a high achiever and I’m a school leader). They… use it because they feel if they do, they can compete with the rest of the year, and ultimately try to increase their ranks, in an attempt to get the best possible ATAR.”
And it’s not just the stories of drinking and drugs that are deeply concerning.
There are teens who tell me they often think about dropping out — not only of school, but of life. Others who tell me they ask to be excused in class so they can lock themselves in the school toilets and cry. There are those who were made to give up sports and hobbies they loved (one girl was made to sell her beloved horse) so they’d have more time to spend on studying.
“It feels like all I am now is a brain my school and parents want to cram facts in to so I can spit them back again later. But I used to have a heart too.”
These insights might shock those who don’t know any Year 12 students. But they won’t shock educators or those who work in mental health. A 2015 UNSW study found that 42 per cent of the Year 12 students surveyed from a representative sample of Sydney schools had anxiety levels high enough to be of clinical concern.
Many of my teaching colleagues lament both the tears and panic attacks they witness, and the fact that due to the amount of content they must get through to ensure students are ready for exams, there isn’t more time allocated to stress management.
Dr Prue Salter, who works in schools teaching study skills and techniques to help students cope with the academic demands placed on them, despairs of the current system.
“All the research shows there is immense pressure placed on students in the final years and for what? It is an outdated system, measuring outdated skills such as their ability to memorise,” Salter says. “We need to reassess what we teach, and how we assess that. It’s criminal what we do to these kids.”
For now, I’ll hug my daughter often. Try to be patient when she procrastinates for days watching Gilmore Girls. And I’ll help her realise she can never be defined by a mark.
Because there has been so much (often furious and ultimately, therefore, alienating and unhelpful ) discussion on Mia Freedman’s recent post on girls and personal safety , I hesitated to post my ABC radio interview on this very topic. The topic is a minefield as passions run deep – and rightly so – it is a very serious issue. But I think we need to be open to talking and listening. When listening to the interview, keep in mind too I work with girls who are not yet of the legal drinking age; although of course many of these girls do binge drink and are damaging their health / injuring themselves / making poor choices as a result.
So I shall post – encouraged by this email just in:
I heard you interviewed yesterday on local Brisbane ABC radio in the wake of the Mia F column/blog on young women’s drinking heightening their vulnerability to sexual assault.I just wanted to express my admiration for how much you drew on relevant research – and far beyond the typical throwaway line “the research tells us” but actual results and studies – to strengthen your already compelling arguments. I’ve worked in and with the not-for-profit sector for most of my career in research-based roles and it’s always such a pleasure to hear someone walking the talk re evidence.As the Qld convenor for the Aust Research Alliance for Children & Youth (ARACY), I see one of my principal tasks as fostering more Danni Millers.
Love the whole emphasis and philosophy of Enlighten Education, esp with a beautiful 12 and a half year old daughter about to start high school next year!
Dr. Geoffrey WoolcockSenior Research Fellow – Quality and Research
You may listen here. Happy to take comments but let’s keep them respectful and keep in mind that no-one wants to see young women harmed, or shamed.
If you listen past my interview to the callers, you will see that there are still some crazy notions about women and safety that need to be addressed.
We all want our daughters to become strong, resilient and compassionate women. But how do you help them get there? In a world that seems to force girls to grow up before their time, parents can have their job cut out for them. here, three of Australia’s leading parenting experts explain the essential elemnts a girl needs from her parents to give her the right start.
October’s Good Health magazine asked me to share my Top Tips for raising healthy, happy teen girls. I was thrilled to have this opportunity and to be featured alongside Steve Biddulph and Melinda Hutchings.
We are living in times which can be very challenging for girls. In many ways, this generation is attempting to deal with incredibly adult issues with only child-like strategies to fall back on and rather than supporting them in this process we tend to judge them. I think that’s very difficult and alienating for young girls. You can look at statistics around girls and body image, alcohol and online behaviour and panic but many teens are making good choices and are, in fact, speaking out and attempting to reshape their culture through petitions and blogs. Our job is not to patronise them or say alarmist things like ‘one mistake can ruin your life,’ but to help them make better choices.
Be their role model
Girls can’t be what they can’t see. Many women are forever on diets, are unsure of their bodies, are lamenting the ageing process, are binge-drinking or engaging in toxic talk around their friendships and girls see this. They say to me, ‘Mum tells me I’m beautiful all the time, but I know she doesn’t believe she is.’ It’s tempting to blame the media and marketers for all the dysfunction, but we are the ones they spend the most time with and we can be a powerful voice of difference.
Open up about online porn
It’s not a matter of will she access porn online, it’s a matter of when, as often she may stumble across it quite accidentally. It can be awkward, but you need to talk to your your daughter about what she’s seeing online otherwise how will she make sense of it? And then what she’ll feel is shame. We don’t want our daughters feeling shame about their sexuality, their bodies or the sexual act. We also don’t want them thinking that the images they see in porn are the only way in which sex is conducted.
Don’t be complacent about alcohol
Saying no to alcohol will not drive your daughter to sneak out and get trashed. In fact, research shows that when parents allow their children to drink at home it normalises drinking and lowers their inhibitions to drink more. If she does break your rule and drink and least you’ll both know you didn’t condone it. Don’t make it easy for her.
Connect with her
All my conversations with girls leads me to believe that despite all the rhetoric about them being mean girls and divas and entitled, they are still beautiful, fun, affectionate, amazing young women who long to spend time with us and long to be loved and noticed. Create a positive time and a space for your daughter. Although it’s normal for her to reject you at times, you must let her know that you’re open for love (and cuddles). By doing so, she’ll get the message that she’s loved unconditionally.
Last week was a big week in girlworld. Unless you were recently deposited back on earth by aliens, I doubt I need to tell you that One Direction arrived in Sydney for their Australian tour. I was in at Channel 9 to talk on Mornings about whether teen girls screaming and crying over this boy band is healthy and normal (yes!) or something parents need to worry about (no!):
For my daughter, Teyah (13), and stepdaughter, Jaz (17), the best part was that they were allowed into the studio to breathe the actual same air as their beloved One Direction, as the boys made an appearance on Today.
The fans squealed. They wept. They trembled all over. But please don’t dismiss their feelings as silly or hysterical. Their feelings are very real and raw. And they have their origins in biology: the frontal lobes of the brains of teenagers are primed for high emotions, fighting, running away and, oh yes, romance.
I actually think it is beautiful to see the fans’ excitement for their squeaky clean and sexually harmless objects of desire. The big appeal of One Direction, according to almost every teen fan you ask, is that they are wholesome, down to earth and hard working. They pose little or no sexual threat. And there is no risk of rejection.
But of course there had to be a media kerfuffle about One Direction’s visit, with dire warnings being issued, and much tsk-tsking about the unbridled libidos of teenage girls these days. (Because the hysteria over the Beatles, Kiss, NKOTB, The Backstreet Boys, and so on and so on, was somehow different, apparently.) It all started when Channel 7 apologised because their Sunrise cameras captured fans in Martin Place holding signs that said “Point your erection in my direction” and “Send your one thing Down Under”. Many voices chimed in to express their outrage about the sexual nature of young fans’ adulation. Some pointed the finger at what many girls were wearing, saying their outfits were too revealing.
The fact is, there was a veritable sea of benign, nonsexual signs being held up by the screaming crowds. And anyone who wants to criticise teen girls based on how they dress should take a look at this Facebook album of One Direction fans and do a reality check. These young women are all shades of gorgeous.
To me, the real issue is why society is okay with young men making highly sexual comments, while girls seemingly should not even think about sex. Case in point: on that Facebook album, many males have left comments about whether the girls are hot or not. How sad that some little girl enjoying her first concert with friends inadvertently enters an online beauty quest. How sad that while girls are reviled for expressing a physical interest in their celebrity crushes, no one tries to stop those males publicly ranking teen girls on their hotness. And we wonder why girls end up playing the compare and despair game.
Why are we so threatened by what Wendy Harmer calls teen girls’ “emerging sexuality with training wheels”? Clementine Ford nailed it when she wrote last week in Daily Life:
The nascent sexual desires of boys are so readily accepted as part of life that we barely blink at the mention of them. . . . But instead of encouraging a similar sexual expression in girls (who experience the exact same explosion of hormones during their teen years), we demonise it . . .
At best, this trains girls to adhere to a system that constructs women as passive bystanders to sex . . . But at worst, it encourages the idea that their burgeoning desires are unnatural and gross . . .
A handful of girls waving titillating signs outside Martin Place isn’t representative of an orgiastic trend sweeping the nation, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. But it is a sign that no matter how much we try and shield girls from sex, they’re going to find ways to explore it and it doesn’t always mean they want to actually do it.
The answer isn’t to keep talking about how uncomfortable it makes everyone . . . it’s about giving [girls] the right tools to explore that sexuality in a healthy way, and trusting them to make the right decisions. They’re not delicate dolls, so stop treating them that way.
Hear, hear, sista!
Another big thing last week in this particular girl’s world was that I was on Life Matters on Radio National, talking to Wendy Harmer about positive ways to raise teen daughters. Of course, we talked about boy-band crushes, but we talked about much more, too. I especially loved having the chance to chat with listeners who called in with their concerns. One was worried about teen girls binge drinking. Another asked for advice on how to bolster the self-esteem of her beautiful teen daughter, who struggles with low body image and is teased at school for being flat chested. And a mother was deeply concerned about her 10-year-old girl who is of average weight yet is determined to stay on a diet because she believes it’s “part of being a girl”. All of their issues were heart breaking, so I was glad to have the chance to offer some practical suggestions for turning these situations around. You can listen to the interview by clicking here.
Hearing the stories of those mothers who are worried about their daughters’ body-image angst makes me more determined than ever to help make things right for our girls. If you know any young women who are struggling with body image, please let them know they can read the chapter on body image from my latest book, The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo, free of charge. Simply click here for this free sample chapter.
We are coming up to a time of celebration for girls — end of exams, school formal, schoolies week, Christmas and New Year’s — and unfortunately that means we’re also heading into the prime binge-drinking season.
Seven out of 10 teenage girls engage in binge drinking, consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on one occasion. Meanwhile, among 15-year-old girls, almost 7 in 10 are on a diet. And researchers have coined a new term, “drunkorexia”, for a disturbing phenomenon: a growing number of girls and young women, especially university students, who avoid eating all day so that they can “save” those kilojoules for a big night of drinking.
Risky teen behaviour such as binge drinking is nothing new, of course. As adults, most of us can look back and wince at some of the excessive drinking we or our friends did. But the whole “make sure you line your stomach” idea that was prevalent when I was growing up doesn’t make sense to girls now who simultaneously feel the pressure to be thin and to drink (kilojoule-laden) alcohol with their peers.
There is a huge emphasis in our culture on balancing kilojoules in and kilojoules out — and some girls are taking drastic measures to balance those numbers. The consequences of being starved of food and bingeing on alcohol are even more drastic on the body, heart and mind.
I am glad this topic is getting some media play this week, because we all need to be aware of this trend and start a dialogue going with our girls, especially as they get ready for the party and holiday season. I spoke about it this week on Kerri-anne and hope parents found it helpful:
It frightens me that many parents seemingly dismiss their teen daughters’ (and sons’) drinking as just a rite of passage. I have spoken to many mums and dads who are almost hysterical about the possibility their teen daughter might start using drugs or have her drink spiked with drugs, yet are not at all concerned when they hear that she has been drinking alcohol. Often parents are the ones who actually buy the alcohol for their teens. In Australia we do have a tradition of using alcohol in every social situation — to celebrate, to commiserate, to relax with friends and family — but here are some reasons that I believe it’s time we all came up with some new traditions (from my book The Butterfly Effect):
What every girl should know about alcohol
Please take into account that figures are available only for men and women over the legal drinking age, 18. Younger girls, with their still-developing brains and growing bodies, are at even greater risk.
Females are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol than males. This is because males and females are physically different and so our bodies process alcohol differently. When a person drinks, alcohol enters the bloodstream and then, being water soluble, it is distributed throughout the tissues of the body that contain water. Females usually have smaller bodies than males, which means that there is less water volume to take up the alcohol, leading to a higher concentration of alcohol in the bloodstream and a greater effect. This is compounded by the fact that fatty tissues do not take up alcohol and females have a higher proportion of body fat than males. With fewer tissues in the body to take up the alcohol, a female will be more affected than a male who consumed the same amount. Additionally, the body’s ability to break down and rid itself of alcohol is limited by the size of the liver and on average females have smaller livers than males.
The culture of dieting and striving to be thin also increases the impact of alcohol on females. Dieting leads to an excessive loss of body fluid and as it is the body’s water content that takes up alcohol, there will be a higher concentration of alcohol in a dieter’s system. This has serious implications for teenage girls.
Heavy drinking is risky for both males and females, but females are more prone to the acute and chronic effects of alcohol abuse. Because of our physical differences, the risk to our health starts at lower rates of alcohol consumption than it does for males. For women, the risk of premature death increases once we start drinking more than two standard drinks of alcohol a day; at that point, the risk of death climbs to 40 per cent higher than it is for non-drinkers. For men, on the other hand, the risk begins to increase at four drinks a day.
The greater the amount of alcohol a person drinks above the guidelines, the higher their risk of premature death. Hence bingeing – consuming an excessive quantity of alcohol at once, a form of drinking adopted by most teen drinkers – is especially dangerous.
Because our livers are smaller than men’s, women are vulnerable to liver damage and cirrhosis at lower levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer and the risk rises with the level of alcohol consumed. A woman who drinks three or four standard drinks a day has a 35 per cent higher risk of breast cancer than one who drinks little or none. If a woman drinks more than four standard drinks a day, her risk is 67 per cent greater. Alcohol-related deaths in women usually take the form of strokes, injuries from falls, alcoholic liver cirrhosis, road accidents and breast cancer. Alcohol poses a further physical threat to women and girls in that it may increase the risk of being harmed by violence. Lastly, there is not only the risk of intoxication leading to unsafe sex or an unplanned pregnancy, but also the risks to the health of an unborn child.
I often say that one of the best ways to connect to teen girls is to reconnect with our own teen selves and remember how intense life was at that age.
Wow did I learn that lesson myself recently. I was packing to move house and found the diary I kept when I was 14 and in Year 8 at school. Reconnecting with 14-year-old Danni was by turns funny and shocking. Most of all, it was a reminder of why girls respond so passionately to the work Enlighten Education does — and why they need it so urgently.
My 14-year-old self was a mass of contradictions: studious and ambitious and desperate to grow up, yet childlike. Super-confident but self-critical. Sound familiar?
Here are some highlights . . .(with names changed to protect the anonymity of the friends I mention).
When I was a kid, I collected novelty erasers. I always thought I was about 7 when I did this but now I’ve realised I was 14. Dear God. (I still have them and get very anxious if my children want to touch them. They are kept on a high shelf in my wardrobe and shall be my legacy to the world.)
6th — Drove up to my Aunty’s. Tops as I got some rubbers on the way!
10th — Mum bought me a $2 Instant Lotto and I won $2! I bought 4 rubbers! Then we visited my Grandpa. God I love him. (Some things never change — my Grandpa will remain the great love of my life.)
18th — Bought some very cheap but very good rubbers.
You get the picture.
I was almost as enthusiastic in my interest in the opposite sex. Always from a distance, though.
22nd — Saw a boy at the pools. He was a spunk but he swore a lot. 🙁
There were special sections at the end of each month:
January’s Daydream: To be a psychiatrist and make everyone happy!
Goal for Next Month: To loose weight!
It saddens me to read that last entry, as I was a tiny teen. I hadn’t recalled ever worrying about my weight but I obviously did, just like most teens do now. When we ask for feedback after our workshops, girls often say things like the feedback I received from a teen girl just last week: “I stress a lot thinking I’m fat. I learnt today that I’m fine how I look, I shouldn’t care what others think and I’m not actually fat, I’m a size 10 – wow. Thanks!!” (Helen, Year 8 student)
Friendship drama ahoy!
9th — A day full of fights! Everyone reckons I said Melissa was a poser when we played hide-and-seek. Leanne had the shits with me after debating too.
10th — We made up but Melissa and Marrianne had a punch-up.
I was trying to be friends with the cooler popular girls at school, who had just “discovered” me.
Big Girl (kinda)
21st — Mum bought me my first bra! I love it!
Yet just days after the getting a bra, I say this about hanging out with my friend:
26th — We played dolls all day. Fun!
In the “Secret Valentine” section of the diary I wrote:
Although I never hang around the boys — it is Sean. God I love that guy. (I loved him? I don’t think we had spoken at this point.)
It makes me sad to read this. We did end up having one awkward pash, which was my first ever kiss. But by the time he was only in his late teens, this boy had died by suicide. I recall him as being very shy and quiet. Tragically, adolescence is a time that may mark the onset of serious depression for some young people; this reminded me to be mindful to watch for the early warning signs. Clinical Professor David Bennet’s book ” I Just Want You To Be Happy” is an outstanding resource on preventing and tackling teenage mental illness.
Danni as the boss
13th — We decide to have a Club! It will be called The Aussie 4! We spent all day doing up the cubbie ready for it. I will be the Captain.
The rest of March seems to be almost a catalogue of fast food I loved (“We had Kentucky! Topso! I got the breast piece!” “We had McDonalds! Yummo!”), teachers I loved (“Miss Banting is tops! I love drama!”) and my marks (“A great school day ! I came first in every subject! Hoorah!”)
My goal for next month: To be popular.
My best friend, a neighbour and my sister and I would have periodic talent quests. Although the competition could hardly be described as fierce, I was elated at my win! I danced to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and assembled all my cuddly toy animals as props. I performed this next to the fountain we had in our courtyard, for added jungle-realism. I set a very high standard for performance that day, I can assure you.
3rd — No one seems to care that I am dying of asthma! Had to go to my Aunty’s to eat Easter eggs.
6th — I think my drama teacher hates my acting lately. 🙁 (I was a star in the school play: I was Mole in Wind In the Willows. Yep, a mole. And yep, the boys did tease me but I didn’t care as I LOVED this role. Mr Mole is hilarity.)
13th — I crammed in the library for a test. I had to. I must do well or I will die.
15th — Worst day of my entire life. Leanne etc all wrote me a letter said they hate me plus they are now playing with my other friends so I have NO ONE! I don’t even know why this is happening to me!
18th — I am really disappointed with my English mark . . . 92/100. (Disappointed??!!)
6th — Went shopping and nearly got busted for shop-lifting. We stole breath freshener. I feel really bad now. (Breath Freshener??)
7th — Bought really large knitting needles! Will knit things! Topso!
8th — Bought Mum a spoon for Mother’s Day. Chantielle (my sister) bought her honey. (Lucky. Her!)
Favourite Daydream: To have a spunky boyfriend.
Danni as mean girl
14th — I was so slack to Jane as I said Simon Townsend’s Wonder World is going to film my rubber collection and interview me and I will be on TV. This is a lie. She was really hurt but she forgave me luckily.
26th — Went to visit Grandpa. He is very vague and sick.
Yes, this was the ’80s
1st — The rich kids all went off to the ski-weekend. I talked to the boys out the front of the school with my friends today. But I don’t really talk. I just stand there like a dag.
8th — I am getting a perm. I am very worried. I HOPE it is good. Darryl Somers also wrote to me. Exciting!
9th — My perm is tops! I’m in love with it it is so nice. Everyone at school loves it.
10th — I got my mole costume today! Love it! I’m helping Jane sell Avon. I hope we make a lot of money. A girl called Christine in our grade had sex with her boyfriend Adam. I got the top mark for maths.
19th — We had a mufti-day at school and I wore really nice pink leg warmers.
23rd — We went to a disco and I met a boy named Foxy. I kissed him. I think I am in love!
24th — I think I hate that boy now. (Fickle much?)
My goal for next month: To meet some boys and to be more popular. I love, love, love boys! But none like me! And I am scared of them! Problem!
A date with Foxy!
There are many entries in the lead up to this date about Foxy and what I will wear, do, say, etc. Then:
14th — Well it was BORING! We saw Porky’s 2 which was just rude. We went to Mcdonalds which was the best bit. I would have had more fun if I just went with my girls! I spent $8 on boringness! I am never dating again.
18th — I dropped Foxy (yahoo!).
And then, amongst all the expected teen girl stuff comes a disturbing entry about an incident with my father, a sometimes-violent alcoholic.
28th — Mum took me to the markets and bought me cute koala earrings. Dad got drunk and punched me for nothing! It hurt. I hate him.
A trip to Surfers Paradise with the family. Much discussion about rides and food.
Then much despair at the fact that my teachers all think I am not focusing and am “trying to be someone I am not” with my new friends (they were right!). Friends are having sex, smoking . . .
No mention of rubbers or school marks this month. I would soon be in Year 9, which used to be considered a notoriously problematic time when many teens went off the rails. Unfortunately, many schools tell me these problems now start in Year 8, because girls are attempting to cope with greater pressures at a younger and younger age.
15th — Pashed Jason twice but I don’t love him or really care if we don’t get together again. Louise F nearly died as she got so drunk the cops called an ambulance. (This all happened at the “alcohol-free” Blue Light Disco the police ran for youth.)
17th — The teachers reckon Marrianne is pushing drugs which is just bull!
5th — Tops party! We all got so drunk. We all went for a bush walk and I fell and hit my head which was so funny! I cried as Jazmine went to the toilet 16 times which scared me.
12th — Jane got a hickey!
18th — I wagged school with my friends and they got drunk. I didn’t. It was actually boring. I feel really bad about this (wagging). (This was the first and last time I ever truanted school.)
21st — Saw a plastic surgeon to see if now that I’ve fully grown they can fix my arm. They can’t. ;(
I was very self-conscious about scarring on my arm and neck from severe burns I received as a child. It wasn’t until I was much older, teaching in high school, that I was okay about it.
30th — School disco is dress up. I might go as a Playboy bunny. (OH. MY. LORD!!)
What can I say except that if even I was considering dressing up as a Playboy bunny, we shouldn’t let ourselves get too carried away with despair about the culture our girls are exposed to: there is hope for everyone!
A lucky escape?
15th — I am practically dying and they might even put me in hospital.
I was truly very ill all month with glandular fever. This seems to me now a stroke of luck, as it meant I stayed out of trouble.
My New Year’s Resolution?
To try VERY hard at school again and not get used by boys.
Reading back over the diary of my 14th year has truly affirmed for me the work I do now. I would have loved Enlighten. I needed Enlighten!
Think back to what life was like for you as a teen too. If you have old diaries, revisit them. What does this reflection teach you about the inner-world of teen girls? What messages do you think girls need to hear – now.
I have recently begun presenting seminars for parents on how they can best support their children — girls and boys — to manage cyber world. This new seminar is called “The good, the bad and the ugly of cyber world”. (To make a booking for me to present this at your school, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
When we hear disturbing news reports about children who have been tormented to the point of desperation by cyber-bullies, or groomed and exploited by online predators, it is tempting to want to simply shut the technology off! Yet whilst it is important to be alert and aware of the dangers, it is also important to take a balanced approach and recognise the huge opportunities that technology has opened up for us all. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the insights I present in my new seminar and offer parents and schools some ways forward.
Firstly, what is the state of play?
Make no mistake, we are all wired up. Some fascinating cyber facts can help put the scale of change into perspective.
— It has been estimated that there are:
1.73 billion internet users worldwide, with 20,970,490 in Oceania and Australia
234 million websites
126 million blogs
27.3 million tweets posted on Twitter every day
260 billion page views on Facebook per month
1 billion videos viewed on YouTube every day.
90 trillion emails were sent in 2009 (81% were spam).
— What are teens doing online?
8% use Twitter
8% visit virtual worlds
38% share content
62% get news
48% buy things
31% get health, dieting and fitness information
17% get information about sensitive topics.
41% of the Australian population has a social network profile, and 70% of them have 2 or more.
And about a third of high school students interviewed said they learned about sex predominantly through viewing pornography on the internet. (More on the implications of this for the development of healthy sexuality and positive relationships in another post!)
As I’ve argued in a previous post and in my book The Butterfly Effect, in our rapidly changing world, connection is vital. All young people need to not only be able to read and write in print media, but to be multi-literate — that is, to be competent in the manipulation of a range of media. There is considerable evidence that whilst girls are more successful at reading and writing than boys, more girls than boys are in trouble in relation to ICT literacy. NSW Department of Education and Training research tells us that:
girls (in Australia) were more inclined than boys to see IT as boring (36% compared to 16%) or difficult (23% to 11%). These factors result in more boys than girls studying technology related subjects. Analysis of NSW High School Certificate (HSC) 2002 computer programming student population revealed that only 17% of the total entrants were female. The trend is also demonstrated in the TAFE sector with women comprising approximately 40% of all Information Technology enrolments for 2001. This indicates a decrease in enrolment share from 1996 when women accounted for 50% of IT enrolments.
This trend is evident right across Australia and in New Zealand. If it continues, young women are at risk of becoming part of the information-poor and of being excluded from the new and emerging jobs of the future. Let’s not allow fear to drive us to further isolate and limit our girls. Rather, let’s inspire girls to get savvy and to use ICT as a tool to meet their own needs.
On the positive side, technology has the capacity to allow for:
Connecting. Whilst we often hear negative reports about teen girls behaving badly on Facebook, Enlighten Education’s Facebook page has become a testimony to the capacity young women have to be thankful and engage in meaningful dialogue about issues that matter to them. We have had almost 3,000 teen girls join since we launched it earlier this year and we have had only one negative comment posted on the wall to date. Girls post images that inspire them, point out ads they find sexist or limiting and offer their thoughtful opinions on topics we pose for discussion.
Creating. Many girls are creating their own blogs and websites to promote causes that matter to them. I love teen girl Parrys Raines’ site, www.climategirl.com.au, where she discusses all things planet-loving. My own teen, Jazmine, posts her amazing photography on Tumblr so she can share and get feedback from other budding photographers.
Educating. Many schools are doing incredibly innovative things with technology and have moved way beyond encouraging students to make their own PowerPoint presentations. Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta, is widely considered to be at the forefront in encouraging teachers to use ICTs (information communication technologies) as enablers to facilitate deep learning. He shares some of his favourite sites that promote true collaborative learning at his very good blog: www.gbwhitby.parra.catholic.edu.au.
So, Step 1: Join in! Get to know the online world your daughter or students inhabit.
Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Familiarity with the online world will become increasingly important as you learn some of the strategies that will help you protect children and ensure they are safe online — more on that next week.
Over the past couple of weeks, guest blogger and Enlighten Education presenter Nikki Davis has shared thought-provoking insights into the world of modelling. For young girls, the decision about whether to try to model needs to be made jointly with her parents, and I hope that Nikki’s posts will help you talk with your daughter if the topic comes up.
I have to admit that when a young girl tells me she wants to be a model, it triggers all sorts of concerns for me. I am sure I’m not alone and that similar questions spring up for you: Will someone try to ply her with alcohol or drugs? What if she gets rejected by all the modelling agencies? And a question that resonates strongly here at Enlighten Education: What if she is asked to pose in a raunchy, adult way?
There is ample evidence that children are being sexualised at too young an age by exposure to a relentless barrage of hypersexual images in the media, advertising and popular culture. We can only guess at the damage it does to the young models who are actually posing for those images. People were rightly outraged by the sexy makeup, clothes and poses that Australian model Morgan Featherstone was put in for a photo shoot . . . at the age of 8. She and her mother appeared on this 60 Minutes story on which I and other experts spoke about why it is so wrong to portray girls as sexy women.
Click on the image above or here to go to the URL to view Little Women
Let’s say your young daughter is one of the handful of hopefuls who get signed up by a modelling agency. There is every chance that she may be asked to pose in a way that is too adult or too sexy for her age, and you will need to agree on how to respond to situations like that. I urge all parents of young models to teach their daughter to ask questions before she goes on a job, about what she’ll be wearing and the image she’ll be portraying. Until she has developed those skills herself, go along with her and do the asking. If a modelling agency makes you feel prudish or “difficult” for wanting to be informed about how your daughter will be portrayed, then maybe they’re not the right agency for your daughter.
Until at least the age of 16 girls need a trustworthy chaperone. The ideal situation is that the chaperone, usually a parent or another trusted guardian, sits quietly in the background — but quickly steps in if a girl is asked to do something that is not age appropriate or she feels uncomfortable about. As shoots can run for 12 hours, the chaperone issue needs to be considered when your daughter says she wants to be a model. Chaperones are especially important for the small percentage of models who break into the high-fashion stratosphere, where champagne and pills may be on offer. In recent years there have been some pretty depressing stories about young, inadequately chaperoned models going off the rails.
Given how highly competitive the industry is, I guess it’s no wonder that there are scammers out there who capitalise on girls’ intense desire to break into modelling, plus their lack of knowledge about how to actually go about it. If an agency flatters your daughter and tells her they want to represent her, and then they ask for a fee — that is not a legitimate modelling agency. If a photographer says your daughter must have an expensive portfolio of shots before approaching an agency, they are not legitimate. Same goes for modelling schools that make overblown guarantees of a career at the end of their course.
The big reputable modelling agencies do not require girls to have gone to modelling school. Nor do they require them to have a portfolio already. On their websites, they give clear instructions on how to begin the process — usually by sending in a few snapshots, her age and measurements. If a legitimate agency is interested in signing up a girl, then they will give a range of options for photographers who can put together a portfolio. If you’re suspicious about a company, contact your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading department.
Young models have the potential to earn far more than their peers — who might, as I did, work at McDonald’s. Too much money too young can be a toxic recipe, so it’s vital for parents to keep a judicious grip on the financial reins. If you find yourself needing to help your daughter manage a substantial income, a starting point for financial advice is the Australian government’s financial literacy website. In New Zealand, there is the excellent independent financial advice website Sorted. Sound financial management (and getting a good education!) is vital for young models because, as noted in the Australian government’s job guide, a model usually retires at the ripe old age of 25.
For me, the most difficult issue is knowing what to say when a girl of 13 or 14 looks at me and asks, “Do you think I could be a model?” It’s insane to try to answer the question factually. There are only a couple of requirements you can be certain of at the big modelling agencies: that she needs to be at least 173 cm tall and a size 8 to 10. Beyond that, ideas about what makes a girl attractive are subjective, and what the fashion industry finds attractive can be mystifying to us ordinary folk. Really, the only person who can answer the question is someone at a modelling agency.
What it is important for us to try to answer is the real question that lies beneath it. “Do you think I could be a model?” is not just a question about career choices. It’s also shorthand for “Do you think I’m beautiful? Do you think I’m special?” And the answer to that should be easy. All girls are beautiful. And special.
Be honest. Tell her that you are not in a position to know whether she could be a model. But that most importantly, modelling is not the only — or even the best — way to feel beautiful and special. Praise all of her achievements and wonderful qualities, not just her appearance. Talk about all the talents and skills she has if modelling turns out to not be the right thing for her.
And make sure she knows that no matter what she chooses to be when she grows up, you’ll be there to support her all the way.