There are a lot of days, weeks and months dedicated to worthy causes that call out for our support – both emotional and financial. To pick just a few, in May alone there is (in addition to Mother’s Day!) International Missing Children’s Day, National Women’s Health Week and National Safety Month. All great causes.
But here’s one that catches our attention every May: National Teen Self-Esteem Month, which provides a necessary focus on an issue that many Junior Leagues have adopted as their own, particularly as it affects girls and young women.
Hard data on the actual prevalence of teen self-esteem problems are hard to come by, at least from authoritative government sources, and what is available tends to fall into the “seven out of ten teen girls sometimes worry about their weight” and “four out of five high school boys are looking to increase their body mass” category.
But all of us know that the problem is real. You know it from your own family experience. You know if from stories your friends have told you. And you can see troubling signs of it in your own community.
Which is why we are gratified to see so many Leagues with innovative, community-based programs to address teen self-esteem issues.
The Junior League of Monmouth County emphasizes the esteem-building potential of organized physical activity. Girls on the Run is a program for girls in 3rd-8th grade, and is designed to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness. The 10-week program teaches life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games culminating in a celebratory 5k running event. JLMC’s program is an offshoot of a national nonprofit called Girls on the Run®, which is dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.
For the Junior League of Little Rock, mentoring is the focus. Families and Community Together (FACT), begun in 2008, pairs JLLR mentors with pregnant and parenting female teens to encourage the participants to stay in school, delay future pregnancies and learn positive parenting skills. Girls Realizing Opportunity Within (GROW) is designed to help adolescent girls establish and improve their self-esteem and self-image in order to develop an inner confidence and to promote positive life choices.
For the Junior League of Reading, developing leadership skills is key. The Young Women’s Summit, a two-day, professionally facilitated workshop for at-risk girls in grades 6 through 8, allows participants to identify their personal strengths and, though a series of four weekly planning sessions, implement their vision in a community project. The goal is to move these young women away from being objects of programs towards being the creators of a resource to positively impact their community.
Three different Junior Leagues. Three different programs. Three different approaches.
And the great thing is, Monmouth County, Little Rock and Reading are simply good examples of a wide range of work being done by other Leagues in addressing self-esteem issues at the community level.
Work done by Leagues in educating their communities about this important issue is mirrored by groups at the national level.
One impressive example of a non-League group that is focused on self-esteem problems experienced by girls is the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media and its programming arm, See Jane. Founder Geena Davis (the keynote speaker at AJLI’s 2015 Annual Conference in Los Angeles) is committed to addressing a critical element in the self-esteem issues of girls in our society – how women and girls are portrayed (or ignored) in popular media. Through the Geena Davis Institute, the Academy Award-winner engages film and television creators to dramatically increase the percentage of female characters—and reduce gender stereotyping—in media made for children 11 and under.
For more information about other organizations and programs that combat teen self-esteem issues experienced by girls, check out these websites: TeensHealth, the New York City Girl’s Project and the Dove Self-Esteem Project.
Teen self-esteem. It’s too important to wait until next year to do something about it.