Wednesday, July 9, 2008

In the Circle with Girls

Today I had the opportunity to attend a Girls Circle training with the Girls Circle co-founder, Giovanna Taormina. I first heard about Girls Circle through my work as an editor with New Moon magazine about four years ago, and I remember thinking, "Wow! What a great thing for girls!"

Being at the training reaffirmed that for me. Not only did I get to meet dozens of women (and one man!) working with girls in many different capacities, but I had the opportunity to be reminded of why working with girls in a different way is so crucial.

At New Moon, we work under a principle called "Share the Power," in which girls and adults make decisions together about the content of New Moon Girls magazine and our upcoming online experiences. Part of "Share the Power" involves creating a safe space where girls feel comfortable speaking up and disagreeing with one another -- otherwise, we'd never get to what girls really wanted and needed from New Moon. The Girls Circle philosophy also talks about sharing the power; in Girls Circles, the power is about girls helping one another to make good decisions about their lives. Girls Circles can happen in many different settings, such as schools, community programs, after-school programs, churches, and juvenile justice systems, to name a few.

Girls Circles are built around the understanding -- finally becoming mainstream -- that girls are not the same as boys, nor are they the same as adults. The Girls Circle model is rooted in the facts about how girls' brains and development work, so that girls can come together in a model that's designed for them. It's no wonder girls love coming to the circles, and no wonder that they raise girls' self-esteem (and lead them to making better choices).

There was so much wisdom at today's training that I could fill 10 blog posts. Some of the ideas that struck me the most were that
  • Girls' (and women's) psychological well-being is closely tied to their relationships. This means that girls and women in unhealthy relationships are more likely to abuse substances, have a low opinion of themselves, and struggle with depression. On an instinctual level, this makes sense. But now we have the science to prove it: when it comes to girls, relationships matter.
  • Similarly, the primary goal of the female brain is to form community; talking activates female's pleasure centers in the brain, but rejection activates the stress centers.

This is the foundation for the work that Girls Circle does with girls. The circle creates trust among the girls participating by

  • laying down groundrules that all agree upon
  • letting everyone have their turn to talk (a "talking stick" or other talking object helps with this)
  • turning things "back over to the group" as much as possible, rather than having an adult step in and "fix" any issue a girl brings up
  • committing to confidentiality, except in cases of mandatory reporting.

Once that trust has been established in a circle, the female brain is happy because it has a safe, healthy relationship to depend upon. This gives a girls a jumping off point to take the risk of being their authentic selves in the world, because they've seen a place where being authentic didn't lead to rejection. Wow, powerful stuff.

And the best part of all? Anyone can start a Girls Circle, anywhere. Girls circle or not, my hope is that all girls would find a place that felt that safe.

1 comment:

linda said...

Lacey,

Check out www.teentalkingcircles.org also. We have been training adults in running Girl's Circles since 1998, when our book about a Girl's Circle first came out.

One thing that is really clear to us is that the teen years are a time when we are searching for ourselves in a very deep way. Both genders. And that coming together in circle means coming together where there is no head of the table to so speak. This runs contrary to the power over notion where one gender or one person or one race is the leader or in the position of power.

Hope you'll come visit our website and see what we're doing.


warm wishes, eric kuhner, dennis pryor, and linda wolf of teentalkingcircles.org and girlscircles.net