Today’s guest blogger, Amy (A.E.) Irwin, is currently co-facilitating two programs with Girls Inc. Irwin is a writer who has also worked in sales, marketing and social work. She has advocated for girls in previous volunteer roles with the American Association of University Women and Big Brothers Big Sisters. 

When I co-facilitated “Work It Out” for a group of 12-14 year-olds, I was up close and personal again with one of the most challenging time periods of my own life:  junior high.  Witnessing the experiences of this generation of girls gave me a deeper perspective on navigating today’s choppy waters of adolescence.

Insecurities run rampant, and for many girls, this sparks an unspoken crisis of confidence.  A girl who was once unafraid to speak up may start questioning her abilities and silencing herself.  Friends become the focal point and source of information and influence.  Bodies and interests change rapidly.  It’s the beginning of experimentation in all its forms.  

Add social media to the equation and it intensifies these experiences.  Everyone’s “onstage.”  There’s constant competition to be perceived as popular and oh-so-important.  Text and Facebook messages can—and are—used to exclude and harass.  As news reports have revealed, it’s all too easy to emotionally distance from any sense of wrongdoing when such messages go too far.    

When it came to creating a face-to-face social network, my co-facilitator and I had our group of girls sit in a circle.  Circles naturally create inclusion.  Everyone can be seen.  Everyone can be heard.  In a circle, everyone is equally important. 

Our girls had firsthand experience of this when we had weekly “check-in” periods, in which the girls shared how their days went or what was going on in their lives.  For some of our girls, this was a new experience, one which didn’t easily lend itself to a text message.

When our girls participated in another discussion, they shared information about themselves that no one would have guessed about them.  Our girls learned that we often make snap judgments about others before taking the time to get to know them.  What were we missing when we did this?  A lot.  We’d never get to know someone unless we spent time with them, asked questions, and listened with an open mind. 

Those actions weren’t just the basis for solid friendships.  They formed the basis for conflict resolution, perhaps the most important life skill for anyone.  They also formed the foundation for the best kind of social network:  one that happens in person, where messages can be perceived with our eyes and our hearts.