At Girls Inc. Sarasota, we have many goals. We see firsthand the talent and promise that is in our area, and we exist to nurture and encourage that talent. Too often, people are told that they can’t do things; those around them pointing out obstacles standing in their way. With young girls, making these suggestions can be detrimental. If a girl is never told that she’s fantastic, creative, has ingenuity and is loved by those around her, what kind of future can she be expected to pursue?
Not encouraging young people and standing by while they struggle through those awkward years of self-discovery is almost as bad as bullying them. If they aren’t getting some kind of positive reinforcement, it’s just like telling them that they aren’t good enough, and that is unacceptable.
At Girls Inc., we work to help girls understand that they have a voice, and it matters. We surround them with caring adults who not only listen, but offer help, guidance and solutions. We empower them with friendship and caring, and teach them about being a friend and caring about others. We aim to teach self-assurance and resilience, letting them know they’re not alone. Girls Inc. teaches girls that being different is important and makes each of us unique, special and valuable.
Bullying is an issue within any community of women, and by a certain age, I believe that we outgrow the severity of the reactions that we have to being bullied. We get stronger, tougher, and we begin to recognize bullies and, hopefully, we learn to ignore them and move on. As a young girl, bullying is an inexcusable, cowardly act that should be stopped the moment it rears its ugly head.
Bullying leads to a number of horrible outcomes rather than consequences for the bullies, in most cases. When a child can’t cope with the emotions and feelings caused by abuse, they can become withdrawn, silent, damaged, and it can even lead to self-mutilation or suicide. For anyone who thinks that this is not a relevant problem, I refer you to the incident earlier this week where a 12-year-old girl from Lakeland chose to kill herself because of a group of about 15 female bullies. Unfortunately, this is not rare. We counsel our girls about similar situations they are experiencing right here in Sarasota schools almost weekly.
This behavior has to stop. There may always be bullies, but if we arm our children with knowledge and tools to stand up, if we give them the empowerment that they so desperately need, maybe the problem won’t have such an impact. Maybe they’ll be able to find their voice and their power, and with the help of aware adults, we can take that power away from those insecure, instigating tormentors.
Research suggests there are many reasons why girls don’t speak up about their oppressors: They can be afraid to stand up for themselves or voice their opinions; they may be afraid to get help from anyone, especially adults; they may feel alone and feel that they have no one to defend them, and feel that they can’t defend themselves; and they are seen differently for any number of reasons: age, weight, clothing, family, money, race, ethnicity and religion, even hobbies, ideas or goals.
Girls Inc. Sarasota is something that I believe in because I’ve seen it have a positive impact in the lives of girls around the community. We want to empower girls to become leaders in their communities, starting as early as 5 years old. We teach them to be entrepreneurs, good listeners, good friends and how to appreciate the gifts they have. Girls need to be taught that they are important and wonderful, creative and smart because that leads to security, confidence and self-assurance. If we teach them early on how to find fulfillment within themselves and their talents, they won’t go looking for it elsewhere, and maybe they’ll help someone else along the way.
A strong network of young ladies begins with confident and successful women giving back and mentoring the talent that is evident in our community. Without programs like Girls Inc., we would most certainly miss out on mentoring the leaders of tomorrow as they get lost in a society that doesn’t teach them how valuable they are, or leads them to think that the bullies always win.
Alice Walker, famed author, poet and activist, once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” By empowering our youth, we become one step closer to avoiding another tragic and unnecessary death of a young girl. Bullying can only end when the power is taken away. Our curriculum teaches girls that they have that power; the ability to choose how they feel, how they react and what they believe.
Girls Inc. is here for every girl, and we welcome every girl, regardless of race and/or socioeconomic status. Being engaged in a program like ours can help every girl have a safe place to share, to receive counseling and to build confidence.
The next time your daughter/niece/granddaughter/friend tells you about an idea, listen to them. Embrace that creativity that some women lose because they weren’t encouraged. Tell them about mistakes you’ve made, and empower them to make decisions. Teach them about consequences, and about giving to those less fortunate, because there is always someone who needs help. Help them learn about regrets and forgiveness and how to move on. Please take an interest in their lives, and yours will be richly blessed.
Robin Rose is executive director of Girls Inc. of Sarasota County.