Long after we have swept away the aftermath of the countdown to a new year (the empty bottles and trampled party streamers) something shiny and marvellous will still remain. The promise of a fresh start.
And I’m not alone in embracing the possibility of change; about 40 per cent of us will have made a New Year’s resolution.
Tellingly, in our looks-obsessed culture, most of these pledges will relate to a desire to lose weight.
Not because we necessarily want to be more energetic or healthier, but rather because we’ve bought into the diet industry’s seductive promise that along with our new body will come a new, more joyful life; “If I just looked like that, then I’d finally find a partner”, “I’ll be happy once I reach my goal weight”. Skinny is fine, but it doesn’t guarantee you contentment or love. Forget carb counting and body fat index ratios. It seems to me there are more important resolutions we need to make (and keep) if we are serious about the passionate pursuit of happiness.
1. Be truthful
If 2017 has taught us anything, then surely it is that despite all the political doublespeak and accusations of fake news (a phrase that is reported to have risen in usage by 365 per cent since 2016) we still believe that truth matters. The #metoo movement also taught us that the truth almost always eventually surfaces — and cleanses.
Writer Rayya Elias has a mantra worth adopting: “…When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
Sure the truth can be complicated, but owning it tends to ultimately simplify things.
2. Practice gratitude
In recent years there has been increased interest in the field of positive psychology, a discipline that looks beyond the treatment of psychological problems and focuses on helping people to actively thrive. Essentially, it’s the science of how to have a more positive outlook on life.
And when it comes to the research on what drives happiness and a healthy mental attitude, the standout is gratitude.
Daily doses of gratitude work best to flex the thankfulness muscle — whether it be through keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters or cards of thanks, giving to the less fortunate, or by volunteering to do acts of service to the community. Thankfulness is also the antidote to perfectionism.
When we develop deep gratitude, we know that we are enough (with, or without, the extra five kilos) and that we have enough (regardless of what gifts we may, or may not, have received at Christmas).
We know social isolation is strongly linked with depression, suicide, drug and alcohol use, and violence. Janet Morrison, from the UK’s Campaign to End Loneliness, believes loneliness is a health risk we don’t take nearly seriously enough, “ … it has the equivalent impact as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and is as big a risk as obesity”.
Yet despite the numerous online connections we make, research has shown that one out of four of us feel we have no real friends. And it is adults who are most at risk of friendlessness.
Culturally, we are encouraged to seek out someone we are romantically interested in and pursue them.
We are also trained to fine tune our skills at attracting a lover — there are dating guides and workshops, even reality shows that share every moment of the journey towards love for us all to dissect. Yet we don’t often discuss how to woo a potential new friend.
Sure we can learn conversation skills, and get involved in clubs or volunteer in the hope we might connect with those who are like-minded. But we also need to be prepared to make an effort.
Rekindling old friendships, and igniting new ones, shouldn’t be put on the bottom of the 2018 to-do list.
Last year on New Year’s Eve I gathered with a small group of close friends to share dinner and engage in a forgiveness ritual; we wrote lists of things we forgave others (and ourselves) for in the year that had past, and then burned these to represent letting go of these hurts.
Rather than being a solemn ceremony, there was much laughter and a focus on the future.
Rituals can be powerful tools for developing bonds, building mindfulness, and providing meaning in a world that can all too often feel chaotic. On New Year’s Day I’ll resolve, as I have for the past few years, to take small, determined steps towards authenticity, thankfulness, deeper relationships and releasing hurts. Some years, I have more success on this journey than in others.
It’s the deceptively unhelpful piece of advice that every well-intentioned adult has at one point issued to a child: “You should be friends with everybody!”
Admit it — who among us, parent or not, has not acted as unofficial cheerleader when discussing playground friendships with a young child? Fearful that they might fall into the trap of becoming a bully, we urge them to make friends with everyone. As in, EVERYONE, whether they like them or not.
Amid all the positive messages that were shared yesterday as part of the National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence, the edict “You should be friends with everybody!” was the one sentence I dreaded hearing.
Although well intentioned, it ignores the complex dynamics of human relationships.
The truth is, we are not going to like everybody, all the time. And it’s not only OK to acknowledge that — it’s healthy.
It seems we’ve become so hyper-vigilant against bullies that every playground disagreement, or failure to be invited to a party, is now catalogued as evidence of bullying.
To help stem the rising tide of kids who are too quick to cry “Bully!” some schools have taken to posting sign that try to help explain the nuances of our more complicated social interactions: “When someone says or does something unintentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s rude. When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they do it once, that’s mean. When someone says or does something intentionally hurtful and they keep doing it,- even when you tell then to stop or show them that you’re upset, that’s bullying.”
And it’s not just the kids who need educating. Parents are becoming increasingly quick to call schools to express concern that their child has been bullied when in reality, their child has experienced one of the many garden variety friendship fall outs that we all face at some point.
“There are kids who find school hell as they are subjected to ongoing campaigns of intolerance,” a colleague told me. “I’d much rather see resources poured into resolving this rot than in dealing with the tide of parents who call before their child has even had an opportunity to flex their own conflict resolution muscles.”
It’s problematic too that the friendship police often target girls. Any reluctance to have another student sit with them is viewed as evidence of mean girl machinations. Any whispered discussion about their classmates sees them labelled as gossip girls.
Given young women are expected to be paragons of acceptance and inclusivity is it any wonder that some grow up to unable to recognise unhealthy relationships and struggle to set boundaries with those who would hurt them?
The reality is that there are intricate sets of rules that govern the relationships between all young people (boys and girls) and much of the behaviour we are so quick to demonise is how they solidify friendships and practice social manoeuvring.
After all, don’t we as adults have particular mates that we prefer to spend our free time with? Don’t we also find it cathartic to vent to our inner circle when someone annoys us?
It’s far more empowering and realistic to let our kids know they don’t have to be friends with everyone — but they should be friendly.
It’s OK to not invite someone to your party, but don’t boast about the event in front of them. It’s understandable that you may not want to sit with a student you don’t have much in common with, but you could still smile at them when you see them in the playground. It’s natural that you might want to discuss someone who has hurt you with your mates, but be discreet.
When we give permission to our young people to behave authentically, within a framework of mutual respect for others, we are showing them that we don’t just value the feelings of others, but we value their feelings too.
And when they don’t feel forced into faux friendships, well it’s then our young people might just surprise us (and themselves) by realising that kid they initially didn’t like is actually kinda cool.
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:
This week’s post, revealing the truth behind the hysteria about all the time girls spend on Facebook and texting, is by our talented program manager for Enlighten Education in New Zealand, Rachel Hansen. Rachel is an experienced health and wellbeing educator who has a first-class honours degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Criminology from Cambridge University (UK). Her research has focused on youth development, youth offending and women’s health.
Generation Y has never known life without internet, and at times the way their world functions seems completely foreign to many parents. I always get a chuckle from teen girls’ reactions when I explain to them how my friends and I managed to navigate girl-world without the assistance of mobile phones or Facebook. To them, social media is so essential to the way they connect with their friends that it is hard for them to imagine a world without it. The effect all this connectivity is having on our children is certainly a hot topic among parents that I speak to.
All this has got me thinking – just how different are the social habits of today’s teens to those a generation ago?
As a teenager, I spent many hours camped on our family landline. I would farewell my friends at school, and then as soon as I got home I would be on the phone. I have a note in my 1992 diary exclaiming: “Broke my phone record!!! 6 hours non-stop!!! One phonecall!!!” (My mind boggles. Did we have toilet breaks? Refreshment pauses?)
And when we weren’t talking on the phone, we were writing to one another. Pages and pages and pages. My friends and I would wave goodbye as we headed off to our respective classes or homes, and these waves would always be accompanied with “write me a letter!” When we saw each other again, we would exchange letters and keep them to read when we next had to endure separation for more than 10 minutes. Due to my hoarding tendencies, I have kept every one of these letters. And let me clarify that these are not notes – some stretch to 20 pages long!
My point is this: as a teenager I spent in excess of 20 hours a week engaging in non-face-to-face social contact – that is, telephone calls and letters. I think that this behaviour at times probably exasperated my parents, but it did not have them fearing for my future socialisation.
Today’s teenagers send messages and status updates constantly, just as I spent endless hours talking on the landline and hand-writing letters. The medium is different but the drive is the same: the desire to connect with others, explore friendships, delve deeper into one’s emotions, and understand and develop relationships. This desire has always driven teen girls’ behaviour. I suggest that when it comes to core needs and values, girls today are not that different at all to us as teens. It is just that the modes girls use to express themselves have changed.
A common theme of the concerns about social media is that it prevents girls from developing real friendships. In presenting Enlighten workshops to teen girls all around New Zealand, I see no evidence of this. I see girls hugging, talking and sharing their lives with one another. They write about how important their best friends are in their lives. Recent research by Girl Scouts USA indicates that:
despite popular perception, social networks are not necessarily a ‘girl’s best friend’ . . . The vast majority of girls prefer face-to-face communication. Ninety-two percent would give up all of their social networking friends if it meant keeping their best friend.
The study also showed that 52% of girls have used a social networking site to become involved in a cause that they care about, and more than half agree that social networking online helps them feel closer to their friends.
I acknowledge that there are valid concerns about cyber-bullying, children viewing inappropriate material and the effects on a teen’s sense of self-worth of maintaining an online profile. Along with the many milestones your child encounters on the way to adulthood, the “safe social media talk” must happen. The sooner kids learn the basics of social media and staying safe online, the better: Superclubs Plus is a safe, regulated social media site for 6–12-year-olds. In many schools in New Zealand and Australia, this is sponsored so is free to use.
Before we rush to condemn social media, it’s important to consider the many benefits of all this connectivity and how it can be a positive in our teens’ lives if used appropriately. In a previous post, Dannielle Miller has discussed the many benefits of girls being cyber-savvy:
Technology has the capacity to allow for connecting, creating, informing and educating. 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.
One of the big concerns parents have regarding social media is privacy. However, ironically Generation Y is far more conscious of privacy online than their parents. According to Education IT consultant Robyn Treyvaud:
The Gen Ys who have been hanging out on Facebook for a while understand the implications of the privacy changes Facebook have implemented four or five times since December. I give them a lot of credit and we’ve got a lot to learn from them. We do fall into the trap of thinking we know better than them.
contrary to the popular perception that younger users embrace a laissez-faire attitude about their online reputations, young adults are often more vigilant than older adults when it comes to managing their online identities” . . . Young people were very aware of their online reputation – customising privacy settings and limiting the information about them that appears online.
I think it is too easy for parents to dismiss social media and demonise it. Parents who ban their teenagers from social networks or widely condemn their use are doing their children a disservice. As one writer put it: “Is Facebook really worse for teenagers’ brains than the mindless reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch that their parents consumed growing up?”
I use Facebook regularly for connecting with friends, meeting like-minded people and keeping up-to-date on the latest research and news in my fields of interest. I live in (relatively) small-town New Zealand and I have many wonderful friends in my town. But Facebook allows me the luxury of connecting with a wide range of people who share my passions. I would feel professionally isolated without social media. Similarly I have heard numerous stories from quirky teens who just don’t have a social group they fit in with in their small town. The beauty of the internet is that regardless of how quirky your interests are, it’s guaranteed that somewhere there is someone else sharing your interests. For some teens, finding an online community of like-minded people can literally be a lifesaver.
Social networking icons by: ZyMOS [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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.
There has been a kind of hysteria surrounding the Twilight series of late. With the release of the second movie, New Moon, bloggers, commentators (and just about anyone with an internet connection) have rushed to vent their opinions—not on the quality of the movie but on whether the main female character, Bella, is a good role model for girls.
The consensus is that Bella, with her angst-ridden relationship with the vampire Edward, is one of the worst examples our daughters could emulate. Bella is clingy, helpless and self-doubting. She is willing to withdraw from life and sacrifice everything—self, friends, family—for an obsessive romantic attachment to Edward, who while being handsome and chivalrous also just happens to be a stalker battling a powerful urge to consume her and destroy her. Author Stephenie Meyer was inspired by classic literature—Pride and Prejudice, Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights—for the first three books, but it is not difficult to see examples in real life of young women who are trapped in a world like Bella’s. Only for them it’s not a dreamy romantic fantasy but a nightmare of poor self-esteem and abusive, self-destructive relationships. No parent in their right mind would like to see their daughter aspire to any of this.
But ironically, in standing up for strong teen-girl role models, what most of the blogs and columns have underestimated is just how strong teen girls are in their opinions and critical reasoning abilities. I think one of the worst things we can do as parents and educators is to dismiss or belittle girls’ love of Twilight, or assume that girls lack the ability to form their own valid opinions of it. Just because Bella makes dubious choices, it doesn’t mean girls are automatically going to do the same. Girls are often highly articulate about why it would be utterly wrong to take the same path as Bella in real life:
I don’t like Bella’s character. Nothing can ever please her. Ever. She whines about absolutely everything, and the only person who seems good enough for her is Edward, which I think is a wrong view to have. —Cherie
Bella experiences crippling depression after she is dumped by Edward . . . If someone wanted to kill me because I smelt delicious, I don’t think I would feel never-ending numbness or pain—maybe more like happiness, joy or relief even. The fact that she can’t function and feels the need to block emotion really does not send the right message. But it’s not just this that I object to; it’s the controlling nature of the relationship. When Edward comes back, he won’t let Bella see her best friend. Turn this situation into a real relationship without vampires—well, that’s domestic abuse.—Maxine
I ended up hating Bella because she is SOOOO needy. But the boys creeped me out too—I could NOT handle having a partner up in my face like that the WHOLE time.” Kris, commenting on Mia Freedman’s blog.
Given the passionate views that so many girls and women have about Twilight—both pro and anti—I actually think it has the potential to be hugely beneficial to girls. It provides the perfect opportunity to communicate with girls and raise crucial issues. One teacher I know who works with a group of 12–18-year-old girls as part of a church youth group started a discussion session after the New Moon movie came out:
When I asked them what they thought of Bella, it took a while to get them to see her faults, but eventually they realised that she was not really that nice after all. She used Jacob relentlessly. She bailed on her friends all the time. She lied to her parents. She put herself in ridiculous danger to prove a point. She endangered the lives of her friends. We were able to discuss these points and talk about what would have been better choices for her . . . They led the discussion themselves and were able to identify the problems . . . We were able to have a great discussion about friendships, loyalty and safety.
Plenty of grown women are Twilight fans and besotted with Edward. Perhaps that’s because Twilight takes them back to their own teenage years and the intense emotions of falling in love for the first time, with its almost inevitable pain and drama. What a powerful reminder these books can be for women of the ups and downs teenage girls are going through. Teenage emotions are so overwhelming and big, but as adults it’s easy to lose sight of that and try to minimise what girls are going through. But when we underestimate or make light of teenage crushes, first relationships and first breakups, we can create even more despair and conflict.
I do also think that Stephenie Meyer has instilled some positive values in the Twilight characters, and it can’t hurt to chat with girls about those as well: Bella does not embrace raunch culture; she dresses almost like a tomboy. She doesn’t diet or talk about weight, and she is largely uninterested in her appearance. Yet she is singled out for attention from the other characters, reinforcing that girls don’t have to dress provocatively or obsess over their looks to be loved and valued. Another positive you might have noticed is that Bella doesn’t feel the need to drink alcohol; nor do any of the other characters. And you certainly couldn’t call their alcohol-free lives uncool or boring.
While I don’t suggest for a minute that the Twilight books and movies are works of artistic genius, I do think that there is a benefit in anything that gets girls reading. It is even better if it encourages them to read the classics that inspired Stephenie Meyer.
But most important of all is the chance Twilight brings women to bond with girls over something they feel strongly about. One of the reasons fantasy fiction is so popular is that it provides a safe space to indulge in fantasies that should have no place in the real world. We can look at the Twilight series as a safe place to let hormones and wild emotions reign for a moment, mothers and daughters alike. Most importantly, it can be the impetus for mothers and daughters to talk. To talk about what a good, nourishing real-life relationship is. To talk about the mistakes we grown-up women have made. The compromises it’s okay to make in a relationship, and the ones we should never make. That it is healthy to develop independence and resilience. We can revel for a time in Bella’s intense story—but talk about the ways in which she could look after herself and respect herself so much more.
Fat talk. Many of us do it every day as we play the “compare and despair” game, trying to live up to an impossible stick-thin ideal of what we should look like and what it means to be feminine. But words have power. Even a casual remark about our own or another’s appearance can hold us back, reinforce our worst body image fears and stop us from being all we can be.
We should be celebrating our bodies and all our other amazing qualities and achievements!
So on Fat Talk Free Week, 19-23 October, please join me in trying to end the madness. Fat Talk Free Week grew out of a successful eating disorders program for young women on university campuses in the United States. It has snowballed into an international week to raise public awareness of how fat talk damages women and girls.
To get revved up, take a look at the video that was released last year for Fat Talk Free Week.
Some of the info shocked me, such as this statistic from the United States:
67% of women aged 15-64 withdraw from life-engaging activities such as giving their opinion, going to school or visiting the doctor because they feel bad about the way they look.
And the situation here is equally as alarming. A quarter of teenage girls surveyed in Australia say they would get plastic surgery if they could. Among 15-year-old girls, almost seven in ten are on a diet, and of these, 8 per cent are severely dieting. Six in ten girls say they have been teased about their appearance.
Let’s start freeing ourselves from all these negative and unrealistic body image beliefs–for our girls’ and our own futures. The Fat Talk Free Week website has great practical ideas for raising awareness in schools, such as:
making and displaying positive body image banners
writing down negative body image beliefs, screwing them up and cermonially throwing them out
writing down positive body image beliefs and displaying them in the school
making lists of friends’ best qualities, with one important exception: their physical appearance
groups making a pact to put a coin in a jar every time a girl fat talks during the week, then donating the money to an eating disorders organisation
discussion starters on defining fat talk and why it’s bad.
And I also love these great ideas that any woman or girl can try anywhere–at school, at work or at home:
The Top 5 Things You Can Do Now to Promote Positive Body Image
Choose one friend or family member and discuss one thing you like about yourselves.
Keep a journal of all the good things your body allows you to do (e.g., sleep well and wake up rested, play tennis, etc.).
Pick one friend to make a pact with to avoid negative body talk. When you catch your friend talking negatively about their body, remind them of the pact.
Make a pledge to end complaints about your body, such as “I’m so flat-chested” or “I hate my legs.” When you catch yourself doing this, make a correction by saying something positive about that body part, such as, “I’m so glad my legs got me through soccer practice today.”
The next time someone gives you a compliment, rather than objecting (“No, I’m so fat”), practise taking a deep breath and saying “Thank you.”
Now is your chance to get prepared to try out some of these ideas on October 19-23. I’ll be sharing my experiences of ridding my life of fat talk, and I’d love to hear yours, too. Watch this space.
I have noticed a spate of articles in the media of late on “mean girls”; commentators have been quick to highlight, and to almost revel, in tales of adolescent girls who bully others.
I work face to face with hundreds of teenage girls from right across Australia and New Zealand each week. What do I see? Is bullying and bitchiness as rampant in our classrooms as the media would have us believe?
Planet Girl can be a place filled with cliques, secrets, passive aggressive exchanges, and tears. Much has already been written about the ugly side of teen girl friendships. And let’s face it, it is easy to be negative about teen girl world for it can be a political, intense, place. Unlike the boys who often get physical and then forget and forgive their differences, girls do tend to ostracize their enemies and use words as weapons and this can be far more scarring and damaging long term. Many women I speak to in my seminars for parents still vividly recall the pain of being teased by other girls. And still feel guilt over the times they teased other girls.
Girls may also be bullied one minute, and the bully the next as they jostle for position with the social hierarchy. In the years I spent as a teacher and in student welfare roles, I witnessed some truly devastating episodes of girl bullying. I have seen girls’ lives made literally miserable by their peers.
Often the reasons behind this victimization are bewildering. A girl I met in my work with Enlighten sat scribbling furiously on her feedback form for me after the workshop. And as she left the room she held me – for a long time. When she left I read her comments, they included this poignant insight into the devastating effect the other girls at her school had had on her:
“I learnt today that I am beautiful and I’m not ugly because they (the other girls at my school) might say I am, I’m not what people may say I am. I can imagine, I can love, I am beautiful, I also have purpose…”
When I asked her teachers what this girl’s experience of school was like, they told me that ever since High School began she had been tormented – pushed down stairs, spat on, ignored. Why? The other girls all thought her ears stuck out.
This type of mean girl behaviour must be taken seriously by the adults who witness it and action must be taken. The ABC’s Life matters recently broadcast an interesting program which explored ways in which parents and schools could deal with bullying and help girls develop positive relationships – it is well worth a listen. Other useful resources include the video clips “Words Hurt”, “Cyber bullying talent show” and an interview I did earlier this year with Prue McSween. All can be found in my video library – Vodpod.
Left unchecked, girl hostility can escalate and become a systematic campaign of verbal, and physical, violence. Experts point to a new gang-like mentality among schoolgirls where a popular “queen bee” uses friends to bully or hurt to cement her position of power. The term “Barbie Bitches,” a term to describe gangs of girls who believe they are beautiful, popular and have the right to intimidate those deemed less worthy, has became a frightening new part of our vernacular.
Yet despite all the politics and the potential for drama, I also find that the friendships between teen girls can be breathtakingly beautiful and authentic. And it is this positive, healing side to female friendships (a side that the media so often ignores) that I really want to further explore and celebrate this week.
Many girls deeply love their friends and their peer relationships provide a sense of belonging and acceptance that is sadly sometimes missing for them at home, where family members may seem to be time poor and over-scheduled.
I love the way girls giggle together, the way they play with each other’s hair and cuddle, the way they can be so fiercely loyal and protective of each other. When I ask girls who really knows them, understands them and loves them, the vast majority will tell me it is their friends who make them feel these essential emotions.
Recently, as part of my research for the book I am working on for Random House, I asked hundreds of teenage girls to share with me what they love about their female friends. I thought I’d share just some of their responses with you here now too:
“They understand mostly where I am coming from. They know when I am grumpy or upset how to deal with this. Although when stuff goes wrong it is horrible they are always willing to listen.” Ali 16
“How there is no pressure to ‘act up’ or to impress them. They accept me for who I am, not what I try and be.” Elizabeth 15
“They deal with the same problems as me. In conversations we often have moments when we realise how similar our issues are, and how much of a strong helping force we can be to each other.” Anon 15
“I love the confidence of my friends, the way they always strive for something higher; whether it be in school or socially and the way I know that they actually care about me and would always support me.” Haley 15
“I love the fact that they are all different from each other and from me. They respect who I am and my choices. I trust them with my life and can’t live without them.” Amanda 15
” I love how they don’t see me on the outside, and how they love me because of who I am. I can ask them for advice knowing that their advice will actually help me.” Julia 16
“I love how we can let go of our egos with each other, we can be stupid and silly but at the same know that there are always one or two of us who are mature ‘big sisters’ who have our backs.” Yan 16
“Being able to talk about private stuff I like the most. I have a guy friend who I tell my problems or difficulties to, but my girl friends, they also go through periods, shaving, cramps, bad hair days, etc. and it is nice to have them there to talk to. I also like not having to impress them, with boy friends there is always the ‘urge’ to impress them, with my girl friends it’s just us, and it’s fun.” Katie 17
“Female friends are great as you can never run out of things to talk about. I love being able to share everything about intimacy, body issues, etc and not being judged.” Abigail 17
“What I love about my friends is how they are always there for me no matter what and there to cheer me up if I’m feeling down. They are always fun to be around and make school all the better having them with me. Also they would never judge me on something and will always encourage me.” Montana 13
“I love my female friends because I can talk about anything with them. We can talk about things that I would never bring up with my mum.” Aimee 15
“Something that I love about my female friends is that no matter what you can always talk to them and even when you are smiling they always know when something is wrong. Basically without them there would be no way that I could live.” Carly 16
“Things I love about my friends is the happiness they can bring to you. A strong friendship can make you feel like you’re floating, even in your darkest times.” Laura 14
“I love all my girlfriends with all of my heart. They are easy to talk to and give great advice back. They help me go on the right path and not wrong. They are the soul of my body.” Courtney 14
How heartwarming. Female friendships are so valuable, and are so highly valued by teen girls – and by us older girls too! I’d love to hear just what your girlfriends mean to you, and how your female friendships have brought you love, light and laughter.
Let’s not ignore the problems that do exist, or turn a blind eye to bad behaviour. But let’s also unpack what works, and celebrate the many healthy relationships too.
I am a HUGE fan of Postsecret. I am not sure if you know about this community art project but an American man started leaving random notes asking strangers to send him a postcard sharing their secrets with him.
It started a phenomena and is ongoing. Selected cards have been turned into beautiful books and his web site posts some of the many hundreds of cards he receives from around the world each week.
I love this Youtube clip that features some really uplifting Postcards…many deal with beauty, friendship and the relationship between mothers and their daughters.