All Kinds of Kind
Why Peer to Peer Mentoring is Best
Getting ready to host my fourth all girls leadership camp has allowed me the opportunity to be re-immersed back into the girl world culture. As a therapist specializing in adolescents, more specifically teenage girls with their families, this is by far the highlight of my career. This is primarily because despite the time I have spent researching, studying, and working in this field, each day presents a new challenge. Even more than that it continues to surprise me. Often times we will hear girls say “well it’s not that bad at my school” or “we don’t have any ‘real’ bullies” or “of course there’s popular girls—but they’re not like that”. And by “like that” they are referring to the plethora of movies out there that addresses this issue, or, exacerbates it.
Films out there that have made a difference or at least some have tried. I would start with “Odd Girl Out” or “Cyberbully”. Songs like “Mean” by teenage icon Taylor Swift took over the nation, and at any time you could walk into a school and hear some girl singing “Why you gotta be so mean?” (Or at the very least they knew all the lyrics!) Other songs like “All kinds of kind” by Miranda Lambert have also tried to help this generation that seems to be really struggling with communication…and being kind.
On the other side, we have films like “Mean Girls”, “Bring it On” or shows like “Gossip Girl” or “Pretty Little Liars” (Abc Family—really you couldn’t think of a better name??!) That glamorizes this mean girl culture, while defining popularity and exclusivity for our girls. As if they didn’t have enough pressure or worries, now their icons of “normal” high school teenagers walk around in silk robes carrying martinis (Blare in Gossip Girl). I don’t know about any of you, but the craze of my generation was Dawson’s Creek…and Joey didn’t even kiss Pacey (or Dawson) until senior year of high school and that was HUGE. We may have not been so innocent, but at least our role models weren’t romanticizing the negative behavior more. Today’s version of Dawson’s Creek would mostly likely be “Pretty Little Liars” and in episode 1, we meet the characters; one of whom meets a random guy in a bar (she’s in high school what’s wrong with this picture…) who turns out to be her teacher (again really?!) whom she ends up making out with in the bathroom with, while the other character is smoking pot and exploring her sexuality (which I would love to see more people become open to, however in a shaming using drugs kinda way is not what I had in mind), and we find out their best friend dies who knew all their “secrets”. I forgot to mention that their “secrets” are really what guide and control their friendship to begin with. Episode 1…
So does this type of behavior affect teenagers? Absolutely. Does it affect girls? Absolutely. No one wants to feel different or uncool, and if their true “character” is displayed as such on a popular TV show, of course it’s going to be more difficult to embrace who they really are. This creates a greater gap with acceptance, not too mention isolation and very unreal standards. Does this affect teenage boys? Absolutely. Teenage boys are expecting girls to behave like they have seen in their favorite TV shows as well…which adds yet another layer and pressure to these girls on how they should behave and act. Much research has tired recent girl aggressive behavior to this.
This means, to many peoples’ surprise, that this behavior is really happening in many of our backyards. Girls in affluent, upscale, small town communities are being told, “I know you want to come to the movies with us, however you’re an outcast so you can’t”, or “If you tell anyone I said this I will make your life hell”, the new threat, "If you don't do what I say, I'll embarrass you all over social media", or the very worst I heard recently from a middle school girl, “we’ll stop when you stop breathing” (All recent direct quotes from an 8th grade girl).
Parents often ask me: "How can we do we help our girls?" We have organizations aimed at Bully Prevention, documentaries about it, and curriculums being forced in schools and yet, it is still continuing. I think the best way to reach these girls and their families is through education, which leads to prevention, but also through true empathy. Teaching adolescents to connect with someone they have never met and have no relation to their world, yet showing them they experience similar feelings. Too often teens “don’t connect” and as soon as that happens, they stop listening. When we reach any child, it’s through communication, education, compassion, and empathy. By helping teach these skills we continue to prevent more serious mental health issues such as addiction, eating disorders, cutting and more. This is why I love Stand UP Foundation’s approach. We want to reach “all kinds” of kids by peer to peer mentoring, love, guidance and support. I believe this is when we see change –through human connection and collaboration.
~Ashley, Founder and Director of Stand UP Foundation