USA Today article about a new book with an impressive title: The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School - Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More. I haven't read the book, so this post is a simple summary based on the article.
In addition to writing the book, author Haley Kilpatrick founded a program called Girl Talk, which "pairs middle-school girls with high-schoolers." The idea is to match an older mentor with a younger student, guiding them through some of the toughest years in a girls' young life. The reason for the effort? Middle school girls "have one foot in the world of a child and one foot in the world of a young adult, and they're trying to find their balance."
To write her book, Kilpatrick interviewed several middle school girls, and the issues of bullies, brands and body image came up frequently. Bullying includes physical, emotional and cyber bullying through "text, pictures, Facebook, Twitter... It's like 24/7 digital drama." As it relates to body image, young teens connect how they feel about themselves with what they perceive others think of them. Brand-consciousness, or "material madness," was surprisingly related to the desire to blend in, and not stand out from their peers in a negative way. (And I would submit that girls arrive at many of their perceptions from the media. For example, according to MissRepresentation.org, "three out of four teenage girls feel depressed, guilty and shameful after spending three minutes leafing through a fashion magazine.")
In addition to finding older peer mentors, the author suggests that women can help young girls by taking a close look at how we model self-confidence, and by encouraging girls to have constructive extra-curricular activities, including volunteer opportunities.
I was fascinated by the ideas behind the book. I remember how tough middle school was. I remember the pains of constantly looking inward, hoping I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough in every moment. Girls in middle school are a vulnerable population with great potential, and they deserve special care from older peers, parents and other positive role models. Kilpatrick's book should be a good read.