On February 15, I attended “Stronger Than You Know,” the annual conference organized by Ophelia’s Place. The theme was “Relationships: With Peers, Self, and Community.” The keynote speaker, Rosalind Wiseman, wrote Queen Bees and Wannabes, the classic book about girls’ puberty, and the inspiration for the movie Mean Girls. The conference took place in Eugene, Oregon.
Adolescence has never been easy, but today’s teen girls face a world filled with new and often dangerous realities. Consider these statistics:
- 46% more 15-19 year-olds committed suicide in 2015 than in 2007.
- 56% more teens experienced a major depressive episode in 2015 than 2010.
- 1 in 4 17-19 year-old-girls has an emotional disorder.
- 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to porn during early adolescence.
- Exposure to social media leads teens to compare themselves to unrealistic standards.
Today’s girls have opportunities their grandmothers could hardly have dreamed of. At the same time, they face pressures unknown until just a few years ago: cyber-bullying, sexting, and what Wiseman called “the invisible audience” of social media: always present, always judging, never satisfied.
Many things stood out for me during the conference. In Ophelia’s Place’s Training & Education Coordinator Kyra Kelly’s presentation, “Supporting Youth in Developing Positive Friendships and Romantic Relationships,” she discussed the lack of understanding of the word “consent:” too often, boys do not comprehend – or pretend not to comprehend – its meaning. Oregon Center for Educational Equity’s Elaine L. Rector’s presentation, “Micro-aggressions and Their Impact,” highlighted the effects of the “covert, contemporary sexism pervasive throughout day to day encounters.”
River Aaland, Ophelia’s Place’s After & Out of School Program Director, conducted the presentation “Promoting Youth Empowerment,” which included several teen girls as part of the panel. The discussion revolved around issues of access, self-esteem, and girls’ hopes and dreams for the future. We also spoke about how adults can help teens, and the presentation’s handout included helpful suggestions such as “Focus on self-compassion (not self-esteem),” “Avoid social comparison,” and “Capitalize on specific skills.”
Ophelia’s Place is a prevention-based nonprofit dedicated to helping youth make healthy life choices through empowerment, education, and support. From Teri Conklin, OP’s Communications Coordinator:
“Ophelia’s Place has learned that it takes a holistic approach to give kids the support they need to feel empowered to make healthy decisions as they grow up, like building healthy relationships. That means if educators, parents, and youth all work from the same messaging and use the same tools, there’s a greater chance our kids will be better prepared to navigate challenges while they grow up. The conference is our way to reach educators and other youth-serving professionals with those tools.”
At Ophelia’s Place, girls can participate in programs such as Girls Empowerment Group, Young, Amazing Women of Color Group (YAWOC), and others such as the after-school drop-in program, therapy and leadership opportunities.
I returned from the conference with a signed copy of Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes,lots of great information, and a renewed commitment to my goal of empowering teen girls. I highly recommend the conference and plan to attend next year.
Ophelia’s Place, a community for girls, has three locations: 1577 Pearl Street Ste. 100, Eugene, OR 97401, 1497 Kalmia Street, Junction City, OR 97448, and P.O. Box 113, Albany, OR 97321.