Girls lost through lack of guidance: Principal

By Sam Hurley

Violence, binge drinking and early sexualisation are turning Kiwi teenage girls into a lost generation, according to a Havelock North principal.

Woodford House principal Jackie Barron says she wants to help today's New Zealand girls earn back their reputation as aspirational women of the future.

"New Zealand raises fantastic teenage girls, but as a society we're not seeing the good because we're so focused on the negative."

She blames the poor self-image of some New Zealand teenage girls on a growing culture of violence, excessive drinking and early sexualisation.

"For girls, their world and how they behave within it is changing fast. But many of them don't have the tools or support from well-equipped adults to help them navigate life in the 21st century," she said.

"As adults, we need to know how to help girls so they have greater self-belief and resilience."

In August, Ms Barron will host a New Zealand symposium on Girls: Pathways and Strategies (GPS), designed to teach and raise girls, and what lies ahead for them in the 21st century. The symposium is open to all adults.

"We need New Zealand girls to be strong, united, compassionate and sure of who they are and what they can offer our society so they are free to help others, change policies and speak for those who have no voice," she said. "New Zealand has been obsessed with trying to help our boys cope in an education system with girls, with experts telling how to better raise and teach boys as they prepare for manhood.

"But when it come to girls, they've almost been left to their own devices."

"Much of our education system is focused on the way boys learn, but girls also need different models of teaching," she said. "Compounding this is the increasing girl related violence, bullying, especially with technology, and excessive drinking. As parents and teachers we are challenged with keeping up and often don't know how best to address these very serious issues."

Ms Barron said she is part of the 'girls can do anything' generation, and feels betrayed "when teenage girls translate this to me as meaning they can fight and drink like men.

"You only need to look at the growing statistics of violence with girls in schools which leads on to more women before the courts and in prison to see we are going seriously wrong."

When asked to find role models, Ms Barron cites fictional character Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.

"She's focused, empathetic, loyal, a leader, and she has integrity.

"There are also hundreds of positive role models - women living and working in our community, but they are not on the teenage radar."

"Everdeen might be a fictional character but when the alternative is celebrity family the Kardashians - who would you want your girls to be like?"

The GPS Symposium focuses on the wellbeing and opportunities of young women, and also challenges and issues girls face such as bullying, internet safety and building positive relationships.

The leading line-up of speakers includes psychologist Karen Nimmo, educationalist Dr Julia Atkin, Netsafe's Lee Chisholm and nutritionist Katrina Darry as well as Dr Donna Swift, a specialist in violence among teenage girls. The Girls: Pathways and Strategies Symposium will be held on August 9 and 10.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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