In The World Of Adolescent Girls, Kindness Counts

“We love sharing tips and tricks for surviving the tough, difficult world of girls.”

That’s how Riley*, a 7th grader at The Spire School, described what it is like taking part in a unique group just for middle-school girls.  Groups aimed at supporting girls have been cropping up all over America, many of which are inspired by the internationally recognized movement, Kind Campaign.  In 2009, Lauren Parsekian Paul and Molly Thompson, two students attending Pepperdine University, decided to begin a national campaign to promote kindness among adolescent girls.

Bullying – Not Just For Boys

Both women were affected by female bullying and decided to create a non-profit organization that would ultimately change the lives of thousands of people across America. Three national tours later, they continue to spread their message through their school assembly program and documentary film in hundreds of schools and communities throughout the country.

The program is built upon the concept that a powerful belief in kindness brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl “crime.” The movement has achieved enough fame that a movie about it starring Julianne Hough is underway.

Locally, Kimberly Laiso, a certified school counselor and Life Coach at The Spire School, decided to utilize the techniques of the Kind Campaign with the small cohort of middle school girls at Greenwich Education Group.  Laiso started the group, which meets during a lunch period once per week, in an effort to foster kindness, with the rule that what is said in the room stays in the room.

“Everything Is Magnified”

Laiso highlights the uniqueness of“the concept of a girls group for middle and high school when emotional and social changes are intensified.” In addition to drama ruling their worlds, also noteworthy is that girls’ relationships with one another can be ever-changing, especially in middle school. To combat some of the negative feelings experienced by adolescent girls, Laiso works to ensure the girls feel empowered, rather than put down.  Decision-making is also discussed within the group in the context of making good choices versus entering into risky situations.

Talking Leads To Bonding

The girls group provides an outlet and shows them “they are allowed to talk about the highly emotional experiences they encounter while realizing that other girls feel the same way,” notes Laiso.  As explained by 8th grader Hazel*, “I love having a special time every week to talk to other girls and share our own experiences.  It’s nice to know that we are not alone.”

To get the girls to explore their emotions and learn how to deal with the pressures they face, Laiso has utilized a variety of different techniques.  For example, she conducted a lesson called “Drama Queen vs. Drama Free” in which a variety of potentially stressful scenarios were presented and the girls re-enacted/role-played a drama queen reaction versus a drama free reaction. The intent of this lesson was to encourage the girls to take a step back before responding to a stressor, and to consider all factors of the situation before losing their tempers.

In addition, Laiso incorporated art and other expressive therapy into the group and has found that the comfort level that has developed enables the girls to let their guards down and check their egos at the door.  Sarah*, another 8th grader, states “girls group is a great opportunity for middle school girls.  There are many great resources and answers during a time in our life when so many things are uncertain.”

Self-Worth

Another impactful lesson is “Power Thinking,” which encompasses positive self-talk that encourages the girls to have a healthy thought process.  “It is valuable because girls tend to be quick to talk about what they believe to be their negative qualities.  As a result, they have a difficult time seeing and verbalizing their self-worth and value.”  Adding to this, Laiso had the girls create power-thinking cards, which encouraged each girl to articulate her valuable qualities to promote a continual feeling of self-confidence.

Laiso has seen a positive change in the quality of the relationship she has with the girls.  She states the girls are “much more comfortable sharing personal aspects about themselves” indicating a greater level of trust and openness.  They respect Laiso as a clinician, as well as a mentor and supporter. Ariella*, another 8th grader explained, “we are able to talk about girl stuff and feel comfortable about it.  Everything we talk about stays private.  The best part is being able to have a girl teacher that we can relate to.”

Beyond the Kind Campaign, Laiso also cites Julia V. Taylor, the author of the Girls In Real Life Situations books as providing inspiration and new ideas. Taylor is a trailblazer in providing curricula for educators focused on the social and emotional development of young women.

Meet Halfway Or More

To help parents deal with this difficult period of time for their daughters, Laiso advises them to “listen and avoid talking down to their kids.”  Another approach to consider is self-disclosing appropriate stories from when they were a teenagers.  It is important to “meet the child where they are,” while bearing in mind that “you are still an adult and a parent.”  Finding this delicate balance will encourage the girls to have open lines of communication with their parents, without worrying about being harshly punished.

At this tough time in their lives, young women need all the support and positive affirmation possible, be it from their friends, their classmates and, most importantly, their parents.

*names have been replaced.