So we just finished a Girls 101 camp for girls in middle school, where the topic of much conversation was identity, influence, friend problems, boys, pressures and other middle school matters.
I'm not sure why our culture works this way, but generally speaking, it seems many girls who grow up confident and free, somehow around 6th, 7th or 8th grade suddenly find themselves not so sure of themselves anymore. Even if it's subtle. Most girls go through this, (though I'm sure not all).
Should I be more this way or that way? I'm not sure where I fit in anymore. I'm not really like them, should I change?
It's probably always been this way, yet it seems our current age has even more pressure than it used to for teens. At least in my working with girls, I find it is true that they at least combat these thoughts, whether or not they ever act on them.
There is tremendous pressure for girls to grow up too fast. What is happening beginning in 6th grade in many places is, in my opinion, not things 6th graders should be dealing with. Nevertheless, in most places, girls will at least come up against these things- pressures of growing up too fast and having their identity questioned...so Girls 101 to the rescue!!
Because of all these reasons, we think it very important to converse with girls on these topics before they hit. In a setting like this, girls can talk freely about how these topics seem to affect girls in general, they don't have to share personal experience. As we discuss how things are in schools at large, personal application hopefully happens. I think that it does, based on anonymous things girls write at the end.
If a girl knows who she is, what kind of a person she wants to be, what kind of friends she desires and what kind of experience she would like to leave middle school with, she can equip herself to confidently get through teen years.
This Middle School Matters camp is designed to help girls think through these issues they will face, strengthen their identity where it may be weak, give them a higher vision, and most importantly, help them realize they are not alone in their experience.
It's amazing to see how relieved girls are when they find out most everyone is feeling the same way they are. Why do we think everyone else has it together but us? Even we adults fall into this.
Girls made collages representing who they are.
Magazines, media, tv shows, music, books- they often "sell" girls on what teens are supposed to be interested in. Typically it's mostly things like fashion, clothes, shopping, flawless skin, skinny bodies, popularity, great hair and boys.
Like I told the girls, I love make up, clothes, hair products and fashion. However, those are not the most important things that life should be based on. We flipped through 4 magazines I just pulled off of a shelf at Walgreens that many teens read. As we analyzed what it says the typical teen girl is supposed to be interested in, here's what the girls came up with (the "I" on the poster is the stereotypical girl that magazines are marketing to):
There was a whole lot about butts, boys and boobs. Cute butt, coming soon! Go up a cup size!
Girls are SO much more complex than that, wouldn't you agree? I know it's not the purpose of the magazines to do much more than sell us on these things, but in the context of the whole of culture, girls are being given the message over and over and over again that THESE are the goals of life.
These are the things that in reality really are most important to many girls!
Top teen girl stresses are summed up in 1) am I pretty? 2) am I popular? and 3) do I have a boyfriend?
These are normal stresses for girls, but the intensity of them is what has changed. The constant media messages bombard girls daily. We need to combat that.
So we talk about their strengths and interests, who they are in multiple facets of life, and what goals and choices will lead them to the future they want. What talents do they have? What kind of grades and goals do they have? Who are they hanging out with? What dreams do they have? What kind of character do they have? How do they treat people?
"Picture what you want your life to look like by the time your teen years end." What kind of choices will take you toward those goals and away from those goals?
A favorite is having older girls in high school and college share their thoughts, experiences and advice too. We had some amazing older girls gladly give of their time to these girls.
Many of our workshops are character based and we love those. This workshop came from the angle of faith based, so we shared tips on filling our mind with Scripture and promises of God when our thoughts turn negative. Knowing who we are in Christ puts us in a strong position to stand up against so many of the stresses of teen years.
Very thankful for the group of volunteers who help lead these camps and workshops! I couldn't do it without them.