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Can the New American Girl Doll Turn Your Daughter Into an Activist?

This year’s new American Girl doll is an activist! According to the announcement that Saige, a girl from New Mexico, is the 2013 girl of the year:

“When budget cuts take away art class at school and a horse she loves might be sold, Saige draws on her talents, mobilizes others, and takes action to improve the world around her.”

Now that’s my kind of girl! But as the mother of a newly-minted teen, I know my girl has pretty much outgrown her American Girl doll phase, and, sadly, feels she’s too mature to be reading the books about the historical characters, even though she loved them just a few years ago. What caught my eye about Saige is that as funds get cut from her school, the art classes she loves are scaled back, so she jumps into action to change that. My seventh-grader would have been all over that idea not that long ago if it had happened to her. But now as a middle-schooler who doesn’t want to be seen, let alone heard, where are the activist role models to convince her it’s OK to speak up, even when her hormonal brain is afraid of the attention it would garner?

There are certainly many young girls our daughters can look too to see what they can accomplish. But here are four I want my daughter to think about as she tries to get past the worry about what other middle-school kids will think if she speaks up:

1. Malala Yousafzai. Most of us just know this brave Pakistani girl by her first name, Malala, She is the Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot and almost killed for defying the Taliban in her outspoken advocacy for girls’ education and she was named to the short list for TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. Our daughter’s seventh-grade class has been discussing her story and, I’m sure, are wondering how there can be a place on earth where people still want women and girls to be uneducated. I’m happy to say that our daughter and her friends were enthusiastic about wanting to find a way to contribute even a little bit to helping Malala’s cause and supporting girls’ schools in Pakistan. But as a parent, I realize how difficult it is to help a child who, thankfully, can take her education for granted, understand the real struggle of so many girls in the world who just want to learn to read and write.

2. Hermoine Granger. Yes, Hermoine of Harry Potter fame is fictional and I’m not trying to put her in the same league as Malala. But sometimes our kids can draw lessons more easily from fictional characters they love, than the role models we, as parents, want to point out to our children. The character of Hermoine is smart, brave and selfless and doesn’t take a back seat to the male characters in the Harry Potter series. While not an “activist” in the true sense, her character is definitely an activist when it comes to the well-being of her friends and family, qualities most girls can relate to.

3. Girl Scouts. Many of our daughters are Girl Scouts, and even more of us have enjoyed a Thin Mint or a Samoa now and then. But two teenage Girl Scouts, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva,  made headlines as activists when the discovered that one of the ingredients in some Girl Scout cookies (and many other types of cookies and candies) is unsustainably harvested palm oil . As a result of the deforestation that has to occur on palm oil plantations, the harvesting process has lead to the death of many orangutans. Tomtishen and Vorva started a campaign to highlight this issue and to persuade Girl Scout cookie manufacturers to use rainforest-safe ingredients.

4. Fourteen year-old Julia Bluhm. No, Bluhm isn’t a household name, but Bluhm started an online petition last year calling on girls’ magazines to stop using altered photos of models and, instead, use images of real girls of all shapes and sizes. When Seventeen magazine agreed, Bluhm and her supporters moved on in an effort to convince Teen Vogue and other magazines to do the same. That’s something that made me happy, as a mom of a teen girl who stresses about body image from time to time for no good reason.

This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but a place to start a conversation. Who is your favorite teenage activist, real or literary?

Read more from me at my place PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (now available for your Kindle or Nook!)

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Image via American Girl

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