Project: Research for SubRosa, my thesis project.

When looking locally in the US, I found that, even with todays technology and increased connectivity,  young teens are increasingly vulnerable and in need of empowerment.

The statistics show that with changing hormones, the shifting social scene, and the movement to a new school, for girls, age 13 seems to be a crucial year: a year where they are faced with making decisions regarding their body, their social lives, their goals, and their relationships with adults. This is the time that can determine whether or not a girl puts value on her education, on her own self, and has the strength and determination to follow her own passions.

Growing up in Baltimore, I was a Girl Scout who remained active through high school, and even earned their highest honor.  So, when I realized that I needed to find out more about 13 year old girls in New York, I became a Girl Scout troop leader.

From our activities, experiences and conversations, the four girls in my troop taught me about growing up and being a young teen in New York. They taught me how much they want to have the independence and the know-how to create things on their own, and they helped me come up with a list of the top 10 truths about teen girls. I grouped and organized these observations with research from leading psychologists, and a list of 8 Needs required to empower young teen girls emerged.

  1. Female Role Models: Girls need female role models. Studies have found that while women remain in conversation with girls, girls will create a relationship where they feel comfortable speaking openly, which is essential to their understanding that their voices are substantial and worthy of being heard.
  2. Altruism: Many adolescent girls are self-absorbed. It’s not a character flaw, it’s a developmental stage. Nonetheless, it makes them unhappy and limits their understanding of the world. Altruism helps them to start thinking of others on a regular basis.
  3. Validation: Once a girl learns to substantiate that her own thoughts and actions are good and right, she is less vulnerable to the world’s opinion.
  4.  Self Reliance: With increased control in their lives, girls will create positive coping skills relating to change in which they feel challenged and mobilized.
  5. Creative Outlet: Teens are creative, active individuals who design and express themselves to make meaning out of the world they inhabit
  6. Healthy Self-Image: During adolescence, studies show that girls become more self-critical and depressed, often in relation to their bodies. However, girls who see their body as a vehicle for activity and strength, have a healthier perspective on food and their physique, which in turn, increases self-esteem.
  7. Authenticity, which is broken up into two parts:
    a) Relational authenticity is the act of saying what you are thinking. Girls in adolescence struggle with this because this often means risking their peer relationships and finding themselves powerless and alone. However, feminist psychology tells us that relational authenticity is integral to self-esteem and well-being.
    b) Self authenticity is the act of being true to yourself. By looking within to acknowledge your feelings, not just the socially acceptable ones, as well as your talents, you can find a true core of self.
  8. Sanctuary: Teens spend a third of their time in their bedroom. Bedrooms are a private, safe space in which they can create their identity, escape potential ridicule, hide public displays of emotions, and exert some authority by controlling access, decorations, music, and messes. Having this space enables them to remember their unique qualities at a time in their lives where they are focused on blending in with the crowd.

While evaluating which of the 8 empowerment needs was most lacking, it quickly became clear that what girls in New York are missing is a space of their own to retreat and be creative. Everyone needs a Sanctuary; a place or feeling of refuge, comfort, and security.

From this, a concept was born. The idea is that if we give young teens who have limited independence a  fun vehicle for freedom and empowerment, that they will find sanctuary within the safety of their homes.  In this way, perhaps when they do gain more independence, they will continue to spend time within these safe spaces and the result will be more contented teens and less anxious parents.