Empowering Girls

Why Girls Lose Confidence in Their Teen Years and What Parents Can Do About It

When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a musician, a dancer, a mom, a poet, and an explorer. Only three years later, the bright future I’d imagined for myself seemed unattainable. By the age of thirteen, I’d become acutely aware of the limitations our culture places on women and girls. Even though my parents never told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, I felt the weight of the patriarchy pushing me down.

As a teenager and young woman, that weight seriously undermined my confidence. In my early teens, I still played music, wrote songs and poems, took dance lessons, and went on trips, but as I got older, I absorbed society’s message that unless I was better than everyone else, especially boys, I might as well give up. That hit to my self-esteem took years to overcome.

The problem of girls losing confidence in early adolescence is better understood today than when I was a teen, but it still accounts for high rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and self-harming behavior. Today’s teen girls must cope with pressures unheard of during my adolescence: social media, texting, and never-ending images of Photo-shopped beauty.

I was encouraged when I read “Girls’ Confidence Plummets Starting at Age 8: Here’s How to Keep Her Confidence Strong” at one of my favorite websites, A Mighty Girl. Authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written The Confidence Code for Girls (HarperCollins, 2018), a book that “teaches girls to embrace risk, deal with failure, and be their most authentic selves” (quoted from the book’s description).

Here are some key points, which I’ve quoted from the article:

 

  • Risk-taking: “It’s impossible to build confidence staying in a comfort zone, only doing what you are already good at doing.”
  • A social media compromise: “Parents should insist that their daughters follow four women who are working in areas that interest them and then see where that takes them.”
  • For fathers: “We’ve learned that dads are better at accurately gauging their child’s confidence than moms are, regardless of gender.”
  • Be an imperfect role model: “Show your daughter what it means to screw up and then recover from it. If we are busy trying to be perfect, that is what our daughters will most notice, no matter how many books on confidence we hand her.”
  • Positive thinking: “Curbing rumination, catastrophizing and negative thinking is equally essential.”

 

The good news is that girls can and do recover from their adolescent confidence deficits. For example, once I accepted that I didn’t need to be perfect, I tried all kinds of things, from making my own videos to writing books to starting a business. I made huge mistakes, had amazing adventures, and succeeded—but not all, or even half of the time. I learned the most from my mistakes.

As the authors of The Confidence Code for Girls state, “Confidence hinges on action. And that process, which usually involves some struggle and failure as well, is what creates more confidence.”

What new thing will you try today?

Animation, Empowering Girls

Girls Design and Play Their Own Video Games

We had fun and learned some of the basics of computer commands during Scratch Programming for Girls on February 20, 2020 at Ophelia’s Place, where students created their own “chase” games using the free program Scratch. Choosing from motion, looks, sound, backdrops and more, students used their imaginations and creativity to animate characters that ranged from squirrels to a loaf of bread!

Claire Graman led the class, starting off with a short PowerPoint presentation. Claire showed the girls photos of Ada Lovelace, who was the world’s first computer programmer, and Melba Ray Mouton, head mathematician and programmer at

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Claire Graman at Ophelia’s Place

NASA, who coded the spaceship trajectories in the 1960s. Then, Claire defined programming, which is, simply put, telling a computer what to do. She demonstrating basic If/Then/Else logic, reminding the class that computers aren’t very smart, and that they should be patient and try again if something didn’t work right away.

The girls started out creating a sprite, and then added commands to make something happen to the sprite based on certain conditions. For example, if the player presses the left arrow, the sprite moves to the left. The girls made their characters run, leap, flip, glide and chase. Much hilarity ensued!IMG_4211

Our next offering at Ophelia’s Place will be Digital Photography on May 6 at 4:30 pm. More details coming soon!

Animation, Empowering Girls

Fun With Flipbooks at Ophelia’s Place

On January 28, 2020, Girls’ Voices Matter lit up the classroom at Ophelia’s Place! It was rainy and cold outside, but that didn’t dampen the spirits of the girls who attended GVM’s first Flipbook Animation Class. Using Post-It notes, numbered pre-made blank flipbooks, light-powered tracing boards, and colored pens, students made their own flipbooks, drawing a 2-second, 24 frame animated flower.

IMG_4163Claire Graman started us off with an introduction to animation. Using the famous example of “the horse question”—in 1876, Edward Muybridge used a series of photographs to prove that during a gallop, all four of a horse’s legs left the ground at the same time—Claire explained how a series of moving pictures, whether film or drawings, creates the illusion of movement. From the very first animated films to video games, Claire told the class that women have always been involved in this art form, and that it was once believed that women were better colorists than men, since women have better color vision!

The girls started out with a warm-up exercise of drawing a moving dot, then a stick figure waving its arm. They then started working on the flipbook, using LED tracing boards to carefully draw each frame. In the flipbook, a flower pops out of the ground; the girls drew red, pink, and purple flowers emerging from green grass.

At the end of class, each girl finished her flipbook with a cover, and bound it with ribbons.

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Claire Graman giving introduction.

We had a wonderful time, and look forward to teaching our next class at Ophelia’s Place, Scratch Game Programming for Girls!

Empowering Girls

Ten Ways to Help Girls in 2020

 

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Here are ten ways we can help girls in the New Year.

  1. Be a role model. Insist that women be promoted into positions of power. If you are an employer, make sure women have access to the same opportunities as men.
  2. Volunteer at a non-profit that helps girls. Ophelia’s Place, Girl Scouts, National Girls Collaborative, and Girls Who Code all accept volunteers.
  3. Listen when girls talk. “We live in a world that historically celebrates and elevates experiences and processes that relate to men—while undermining and shaming those that do not.” – 2020forgirls.
  4. Stand up for girls. Challenge sexism when you encounter it. Call out degrading comments when you hear them. Don’t just let them slide.
  5. Get the global perspective. Learn what other countries are doing to help empower girls. Girl Rising, Global Girls Glow, The Malala Fund, and Campaign for Female Education help girls around the world.
  6. Share your stories. Stories are how we connect and learn. Letting a girl know that you, too, struggled with something can help her persevere when things get difficult.
  7. Support girls-only spaces. Without gender-based competition, girls are allowed to be center stage.
  8. Choose kindness. Tell your daughter, niece, sister, or mother how much you appreciate them.
  9. Encourage girls to take risks and make mistakes. When girls have the same opportunities as boys to explore, get messy, and experiment, they grow stronger and more confident. They are far more likely to think for themselves instead of accepting someone else’s opinion.
  10. Let girls be girls! Girls have their own way of approaching problems, communicating, and learning. Celebrate their unique abilities and intelligence. “Like a girl” should not be an insult!

Download 5 Ways Storytelling Empowers Teen Girls.

Empowering Girls, Our mission

VALUES

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Every teen girl needs encouragement to take on new challenges, handle stress, set goals, and develop a healthy sense of self.

At Girls’ Voices Matter, we celebrate and respect teen girls. We understand their need for acceptance and their growing independence. Our core values reflect our beliefs in the potential of every girl:

  • Teamwork. Each girl is a valued part of a creative team.
  • Trust. Our students learn to trust themselves and their intuitions.
  • Courage. We create a safe space for our students to explore what interests them.
  • Creativity. We believe that every girl has talent.
  • It’s ok to make mistakes. Mistakes are how we learn, grow, and discover new things.

Our list of core values reflects our mottos: “Every girl matters” and “We believe in girls.” We truly believe that the creative potential of teen girls is a major force for good in the world.

Download 5 Ways Storytelling Empowers Teen Girls.

Empowering Girls, Our mission

Raise Your Hand

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Photo from Freepik

When 10-year-old Alice Paul Tapper noticed that girls in her classroom were raising their hands with less confidence than the boys, she decided to do something about it. Working with her mother and the head of her local Girl Scouts chapter, she created the RAISE YOUR HAND patch. Soon after, The New York Times invited Alice to write an op-ed for the newspaper. “I’m 10. And I Want girls to Raise Their Hands” appeared in the October 31, 2017 issue. Alice also published a picture book called Raise Your Hand, which came out in March 2019.

Reading Alice’s op-ed brought back uncomfortable memories of my own school days. I was a good student and I loved learning, but even though I raised my hand over and over, teachers seldom called on me. This pattern continued throughout high school and college, and it didn’t matter whether the teachers were male or female. They all called on male students more frequently than female ones.

As Alice writes, “I also think [girls] were being quiet because the boys already had the teacher’s attention, and they worried they might not be able to get it.” Girls who watch this happening in their classrooms conclude that different rules exist for them. They receive the message that when they finally get called on in the classroom, they must answer the question perfectly.

In their ground-breaking book, Failing at Fairness: How Schools Cheat Our Girls,Myra and David Sadker write “Sitting in the same classrooms, reading the same textbook, listening to the same teacher, boys and girls receive very different educations. Teachers interact with males more frequently, ask them better questions, and give them more precise and helpful feedback. Girls are the majority of our nation’s schoolchildren, yet they are second-class educational citizens.”

“People say girls have to be 90 percent confident before we raise our hands, but boys just raise their hands,” Alice wrote in her op-ed. “I tell girls that we should take the risk and try anyway, just like the boys do. If the answer is wrong, it’s not the end of the world.” That’s only half the problem, though. Teachers need to make sure they call on girls as often as boys. Once when I was observing a 4th-grade classroom, the teacher said, “I notice that my girls aren’t raising their hands much today.” Instead of just calling on the students – mostly boys – who didraise their hands, she identified the problem and encouraged the girls to participate.

An often-repeated phrase, “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back,” applies directly to the problem of girls’ lack of confidence in school. Girls must be heard, valued, and encouraged. Bravo to Alice Paul Tapper for correctly identifying the problem, and for reminding girls to raise their hands.

Download 5 Ways Storytelling Empowers Teen Girls.

Empowering Girls

Stronger Than You Know: Ophelia’s Place’s 2019 Conference

Photo on 3-13-19 at 11.41 AM 2On 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.
IMG_2686I 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.

Download 5 Ways Storytelling Empowers Teen Girls.

Empowering Girls

Changing How We Speak to Girls

adult-businesswoman-company-325924“8 Ways to Encourage Girls to use Use Their Voices” by Allison Riley, from Girls on the Run, describes how important it is for adults to change how they speak to girls. I especially liked #1. Ask her, #2. Teach her that her voice matters, and #8. Encourage her to think critically when she sees conflicting messages. 

These are simple ways adults can help girls feel strong, valued, and empowered. Girls need to know that their voices are important, and unfortunately, they receive the opposite message every day. Consider this list from an article by Grace Weaver (also at Girls on the Run:)

Girls like pink.

Girls wear frilly headbands and bows.

Girls assume the role of a damsel in distress, not a superhero.

Girls are not messy.

Girls should be quiet.

Girls play inside with dollhouses, not outside with skateboards.

Girls like to look pretty.

Girls aren’t as tough as boys.

Girls like to read and do crafts.

Girls don’t need wilderness or survival skills.

Girls should be careful that their clothes don’t distract boys.

Girls are vulnerable targets.

When girls have the same opportunities as boys to explore, get messy, and experiment, they grow stronger and more confident. They become more self-reliant and daring. They are far more likely to think for themselves instead of accepting someone else’s opinion. These are the skills they need to succeed in life.