Last spring, the counselor at my girl’s school brought all the third grade girls together to talk with them about relationships. Specifically, she warned them that they might soon find themselves tempted to break off into cliques and exclude other girls from their groups. She spoke of the pain this would lead to for everyone involved and advised them not to do it. Instead, she encouraged them to be open and inclusive with all their classmates.
Her advice was good and well-intentioned but not likely to have any impact whatsoever on what these girls do to one another. At 9-years-old, they are already experimenting with hurtful social games and learning how to use that power to inflict pain on one another. I know it only gets worse from here and I know I can’t stop it, but I am trying to give my girl the tools she needs to get through it with her self-esteem intact.
But because I am not a trained professional schooled in the mind of the adolescent girl, I can’t always be sure I am giving her the best advice. But for some lucky girls, there is a place where a trained professional will help them learn what they need to know in order to survive ‘Girlworld.”
It’s called the Girls Leadership Institute Summer Camp, but the two week program Rachel Simmons runs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts could just as well be called How to Survive Being a Girl. With a focus on teaching young women to be true to themselves, the program strives to empower girls with the confidence, emotional intelligence, assertive self-expression and healthy relationship skills they need to live as leaders.
Simmons, the author of “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence,” and “Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls,”says she was moved to try to help girls after realizing that well into adulthood, she herself was still dealing with the repercussions of her own experience with an 8-year-old mean girl.
She hopes the camp experience will help girls not only survive their school years with a healthy sense of self, but that the skills they learn will serve them well when it comes time to ask for promotions, raises and respect from those they love.
So how much does it cost to get some professional assistance in dealing with life as a girl? Unless you are lucky enough to get a scholarship, the two-week program will set you back $2,650. As summer camps in the Northeast go, that’s not all that unreasonable. But it is out of reach for most of us.
How do the rest of us teach our girls to stand up, be heard and be themselves when there are so many forces working against them? I try to set a good example in my own dealings with other women and spend a lot of time listening, coaching and encouraging. I hope it’s enough.
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