Everyone who has been a teenager or is around teenagers today is well aware of what an emotionally turbulent time of life it can be.
Unfortunately, results from the Minnesota Student Survey indicate that girls’ feelings of self-worth and hope aren’t improving much locally. About 35 percent and 34 percent of Blue Earth County ninth-grade and 11th-grade girls, respectively, reported feeling “very trapped, lonely, sad, blue, depressed or hopeless” about their future. In Nicollet County, the figures were 20 percent and 41 percent for ninth- and 11th-grade girls.
When results similar to these were being noticed in the late 1990s and peaked in 2007 at about 40 percent, the Mankato community took action and focused attention on finding ways to teach young girls how to build self-esteem. That’s how invaluable programs such as the Mankato YWCA’s Girls on the Run program were born. The program teaches girls how to accept their bodies, how to run for fun and how to be a team player.
Other programs also work with girls to teach them how to cope. Girls Inc., a new program through the YWCA, aims to inspire girls in grades 6-8 to be strong and smart through programs and experiences that help them navigate gender, economic and social barriers. And SURGE Leadership is a curriculum taught by Fusion Life & Leadership to at-risk girls in grades 9-12 in the Mankato school system to help them understand their ability to control their futures.
Although numerous girls have been helped by these program and others like it, not every girl enrolls in a program. Some girls are experts at hiding just how “at-risk” they are. Making the programs visible and accessible is important so that more girls can be involved. It’s definitely a step in the right direction that the YWCA announced last week that it is partnering with Fusion and Life & Leadership to expand the SURGE program, which will be offered by the YWCA this summer.
Beyond that, we need a cultural change that must come from the community. The Mankato area needs to be a place where girls aren’t judged specifically by how they look, aren’t picked on by peers, aren’t ostracized. The community needs to keep holding up its accomplished women in every facet of life and get them into schools where they can talk to girls about developing their strengths and forming a tough skin so that criticism doesn’t scar them. Schools need to boost their ratio of counselors to students. These professionals are often the first contact teens have beyond parents to help them sort out their lives.
Community conversations about teens’ suicidal thoughts need to be stepped up soon. About 8 percent of ninth-grade girls in Blue Earth County and 5 percent of ninth-grade girls in Nicollet County who responded to the survey said they had actually attempted suicide in the last year.