As I sat on the train yesterday morning, riding into work, I found myself watching a group of high school girls – all had their phones out as they chatted about a friend’s Instagram post the night before. They were laughing, talking about boys, completely oblivious to everyone else.
This whole scene got me thinking… I was in the same position as them only eight years ago, wearing the same school uniform. Did I used to act the same? Did I struggle with the same things as them? Was I just as self-conscious? Just as unsure of myself?
My answer: Probably yes.
But I think life is much tougher for young women now, with so many more pressures. Most people acknowledge that there are more and more ‘minefields’ for girls to navigate these days. Appearance. Friendships. Cyber Bullying. Self esteem. Anxiety. The list could go on.
Sure, I struggled with many of those same minefields, but for whatever reason, they seem to have intensified. And girls seem to be discovering those minefields at a much younger age.
So what’s different now?
I had a chat with primary school Chappy Leanne McManus, who has been a chaplain since 2008. She is one of several amazing female chappies on the Gold Coast Hinterland, who developed a program called ChicChat, to encourage young girls along their journey to adulthood.
“Young girls are exposed to so much more at a younger age, but they don’t necessarily have a way of processing it all because they haven’t developed the social and emotional skills yet. Even though they’re forced to be older, it doesn’t mean they’re ready developmentally,” Leanne says.
“I think girls make decisions they don’t necessarily want to make because sometimes, they haven’t gained all the knowledge yet.
“I’ve also found that a lot of girls think everyone wants to reject them. Some of them build up walls and become a person they think others want them to be – they act and dress in a certain way because they are trying to be accepted,” she says.
Leanne created ChicChat to give primary students the skills to navigate through their teens. In the seven years it’s been running, more than 500 girls have completed the program.
“One of the main themes of ChicChat, is to teach girls they are priceless and irreplaceable. Once they have that mindset, they start understanding that looking after themselves is not just about their bodies, but also their minds, emotions and decisions,” Leanne says.
The nine-week program covers different topics weekly, from health and hygiene, to anger management, and safe social media tips. Leanne incorporates mums into the program too. “We run two mother-daughter events – a coffee and cake afternoon and a massive ‘graduation’ dinner for all girls who have been involved in the program throughout the year.”
I asked Leanne how she knows the program works and whether she’s seen a change in any participants’ lives. She shared this story:
“About three weeks ago, a mum came to me and shared about her daughter who did the program. Now in Year 10, her daughter is currently struggling at high school and is going through some tough times. But this girl told her mum, ‘Even though it’s really hard, I find it much easier because I keep thinking about what I learnt in ChicChat’. I was blown away. When she was doing the program, she was beautiful, young and innocent. I didn’t expect her to struggle. It was encouraging to know ChicChat had helped her, years later.”
I think now, more than ever, young girls need whatever support they can get. Parents are doing the best they can, and most are doing an amazing job, teaching their daughters great strategies to tackle life’s challenges.
But I think the more people encouraging young girls, the better.
I’m glad that young women are being cared for by chaplains. It gives me a sense of peace knowing that they’re being equipped for the journey ahead. I just wish I had access to the same support when I was in school eight years ago.
To find out more about what struggles students are facing, check out our blog, ‘The top 4 things young people and chaplains talk about’.