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Girls Circle Facilitator Activity Guides-What’s Cookin’?

Hopefully you’ve been able to access our most recent tip sheet on Transitions and Closures.

Doesn’t it seem like the school year accelerates to an end rather than winding down?

At Girls Circle, we have some deadlines approaching as programs are ending.  These include writing new supplemental Facilitator Activity Guide specific sessions for the Circles Across Sonoma program, an award winning collaborative program through Sonoma County Juvenile Probation, CA, and six community-based organizations serving girls in contact with the legal system.  This gender-responsive Title II program concludes June 30. Fortunately, the Sonoma County Probation Department has renewed the program for its 2010-2011 fiscal year.  This means that girls in the county will continue to be referred to the Girls Circle program.

The community-based facilitators, committed to the strengths-based approach for girls, have identified the following topics as highly relevant for girls in their Girls Circle sessions:

  • Marijuana
  • Binge Drinking* and High Risk Behaviors
  • Coping Mechanisms, and
  • Mental Health

(*On the subject of alcohol, has anyone talked with the girls in your groups about the Hello Kitty wine that’s just been released? Seriously?Also, The Marin Institute’s blog describes a really intense, super high alcohol content new beer, BrewDog, on the market now. That’s a beer equal to about one six pack.  Hopefully you can visit about these products with the girls or boys in your groups.)

We’re excited to be developing these relevant sessions now.  Once they’re complete, we’ll let you know how to purchase these to supplement your own Girls Circle curricula.

Stay well, and thank you for your continued support!


May 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm Leave a comment

Transitions and Closures in Girls Circle and The Council for Boys and Young Men


Today we provide the Transitions and Closures TIP sheet.

This document is a rich resource that describes best practices to promote girls’ and boys’ resiliency as they move through transitions and groups, and when their circles and councils conclude.

Click HERE for your TIP sheet. We think you’ll love this resource. In it, we address the significance of changes and endings for youth, including youth with chronic traumas and multiple losses, common youth responses, our recommendations, and two case examples.  The TIP sheet is a guide to assist you in providing safe and strong connections for group members throughout the separations, coming and goings, and departures they will experience.

Originally, we announced our plan to host a teleconference to discuss this topic with you. However, we’re in a transition, ourselves! We decided to forego the conference because we are changing to a webinar format for better delivery of these topic-focused presentations, beginning this fall.

Thank you for visiting  our blog, and for joining our teleconferences.  Since we initiated them in 2009, we’ve had an ever-increasing number of attendees, which is a compliment and a privilege.  We want your time with us to be useful, efficient, and enjoyable, and look forward to our collective meetings again in the fall.

Meanwhile, we always welcome your questions, comments,  by email to:, or  phone, 707-794-9477, or Facebook at Girls Circle or at The Council for Boys and Young Men.  And now that you are here at our blog, come visit  again.

Best wishes on the transitions in each of your groups and programs.

Beth, Giovanna, Kitty, Vanessa and Moorea

May 11, 2010 at 6:20 pm Leave a comment

Teleconference Update

Hello Friends –
We will be posting the Transitions and Closures TIP sheet right here at our blog site, WEDNESDAY, May 12th, under the blog title “Transitions and Closures in Girls Circle and The Council for Boys and Young Men”!

PLEASE come back.
Remember, we will NOT be hosting the teleconference call originally scheduled for May 12 but we WILL present a TIP sheet to support your services with youth in Girls Circle and The Council.
Have a great day!

May 11, 2010 at 3:43 pm Leave a comment

Promoting Girls’ and Boys’ Mental Health

Did you know that 13% of children ages 8 – 15 in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental health problem?  See:

Thursday May 6th is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.

We cannot separate mental health from overall well being, and we do not recommend separating girls or boys with mental health diagnoses from the circle or council programs serving all youth. Girls Circle and The Council for Boys and Young Men are like extended families for youth.  These models recognize that good health results in part from safe and caring social relationships which are at the heart of development for all children and adolescents.

Earlier last year, we sent an inquiry out to our database, asking facilitators about girls with mental health needs and how they are being served in various Girls Circle programs.  We received a resounding response: all girls are welcome into the groups, and there is no specific difference in how girls are treated with mental health diagnoses than girls without or not diagnosed.  The obvious exception was girls being served within mental health treatment settings, for whom Girls Circle was an extension of core programs.  In addition, facilitators shared our views of the primary purpose of Girls Circle – to offer connection and support for all girls.  Here is one such as reply:

“My circles are open to all girls in the age group of the circle being offered.  I think all of the girls are dealing with the need to maintain a healthy mental state.  All are seeking acceptance and inclusion.”

I will never forget the comment one girl, Jessica, made on a video about Girls Circle many years ago.  She had been a member of Giovanna’s original Young Women In Spirit girls circle. Jessica had been suffering depression, suicidality, family problems during her adolescence.  She spoke to the camera and said, “I see a therapist, a psychiatrist, a family counselor…but of all the things that I’ve done, I think it has been the kindness, love and caring from the people in this circle that has truly kept me going and helped me heal.”

So keep up the good work, offering safety and empowerment, connection and acceptance for the youth in your circles and councils.

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) offers several brief audio and video recordings regarding the most common mental health issues children and youth experience, including: attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidality, and autism.

Massachusetts General has an online resource with dozens of school based intervention strategies for children with various mental health needs. These strategies may also be useful during circle program participation when used appropriately.  If you are serving youth with any of these common mental health concerns, please discuss the strategies with a student, his or her family members, teacher, or school psyschologist when developing support plans:

For example, one set of interventions relates to students with PTSD. These strategies acknowledge that a student’s hypervigilance, checking out, spacing out may be a PTSD symptom due to a trigger, and provide multiple ways to create safety and calmness for the child or adolescent.

On Thursday, in honor of the girls and boys growing up with mental health diagnoses – those that have been identified and those that may never be identified, we invite you to talk with your group members about the prevalence of mental health needs for youth, their family members and friends, and let them know it is okay to ask questions, ask for help, and know that many resources are available to support their well being.

One such resource is an online site where youth can view the stories of kids who have experienced mental health problems like bipolar disorder, suicidality, asperger’s syndrome, and so on, with good ideas that make a difference:

Challenge your group to come up with a phrase that counters the stigma of mental health and instead, offers hope, care, and connection.  Thank you for being there!


May 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm 2 comments

420 Day – A Ritual To Explore

If you’ve attended one of our trainings, you’ve heard us ask, “Where do teens find ritual?”

420 is one answer.

420 is April 20, a self-selected holiday for marijuana users.  The phrase was coined by some students at San Rafael High School in my own county – Marin County, CA, – in 1971 during my freshman year.  It’s a ritual now, to say the least.  Every year at 4:20pm on April 20, people light up together on or near school and college campuses and other gathering places for a group smoke. Every school counselor is prepared to receive numerous referrals following April 20, and urine tests for kids on probation tend to be scheduled more heavily in the days following. The Huffington Post told the story of 420’s origins in more depth last year at:

Although it was common and accessible for many teens and young adults when I was in high school in the 70’s, marijuana use today is common across generations and nearly 42% of male students and 35% of female students nationally report having used it.

As a Girls Circle facilitator and as a therapist, I have had hundreds of conversations with teens and families about weed. I am both fascinated and disquieted by its use. I’ve seen:

  • marriages devastated because of it
  • friends undergoing chemotherapy relieved by it
  • relatives who experimented with it then move on to more dangerous drugs and addictions
  • teens self-medicate with it for undiagnosed conditions, and
  • parents continue to smoke it on the down low

A major commodity with a large economy and a great deal of power to impact teens’ health and development, marijuana is a drug with a very confusing status.  While teens continue to be arrested for possession or selling weed, and some teens are struggling to find motivation and developing an addiction, a first ever cannabis and hemp trade show was held Sunday at the Cow Palace near San Francisco,

The show emphasized medical marijuana use and included information and support for a California ballot initiative in November to legalize marijuana, potentially opening a new source of entrepreneurship and revenue stream for California’s damaged economy.

It may be only a matter of time before it shows up in commercials, along with beer and the pharmaceuticals. It’s the most heavily used illicit drug. 1 in 12 kids will develop an addiction to it, and frequent or heavy use of pot can result in mental illness or in an exacerbation of a pre-existing mental illness.

So what do kids think about it? It varies, but most of what I hear is “it’s no big deal,” “it’s natural,” “organic,” and not dangerous or addictive. Many say they smoke throughout high school and still get good grades, yet studies show that marijuana interferes with short term memory processing, motivation, and even hormones. One junior girl last week told me that if she does NOT smoke, she cannot focus on her studies because her mind races and she has a jumpy feeling; the smoking calms her and helps her focus, but at the same time, she doesn’t like the food cravings she gets.  Maybe she’s suffering from ADHD or another undiagnosed condition, or maybe past traumas are causing her stress levels to run on overdrive, interfering with her learning and driving her toward smoking. Hopefully a good medical evaluation can help assess her needs, but it’s complicated, and confusing.

What are the risks, what are the consequences, what are the benefits and for whom, and how do we as Girls Circle or The Council facilitators support teens in their understanding and safe decision making about marijuana?  These are good questions for your group.

Stay open, stay informed, practice nonjudgment, be prepared to listen actively to your group members, and offer neutral, fact-based information if and when myth busting is needed. Many teens feel attached to their use, or attached to the concept that it’s not dangerous, and just a myth that grownups perpetuate.  Try to write out a set of open ended questions in the motivational interviewing style to engage the group in some examination and critical thinking about it, and let them be their own experts while you can provide a little science and prepared questions.  Here are a few suggested questions for starters:

What do people think these days about smoking weed?

How is it used by your classmates (or…friends, family members, etc.)?

What are your experiences with it?

What benefits does it offer?  How?

What are the downsides to getting high?

How does it fit into your life, i.e. where/when/with whom is it shared?

How does it fit in – or not fit in- with your relationships?

Has anyone here ever thought about reasons they don’t want to use? What are some reasons people decide to stop using?

If you use (d), what would be your top reason to stop?

Keep in mind that refusal skills are worth developing with kids.  They sometimes need to have practiced some skits with scenarios and planned how to confidently pass on an invitation from their friends or even family members.

When treatment is indicated, SAMSHA has an evidence-based treatment program CYT, Cannabis Youth Treatment Series – a motivational enhancement and cognitive behavioral treatment program that combines individual and group therapy for marijuana users, and a community reinforcement approach, at no cost for download.

Parents who don’t want their kids to use pot can be reassured that they can have a very real positive impact by monitoring their kids activities. Studies show that when parents ask their teens where they are going, who they are going with, what they are doing, and when they’ll be back, adolescents self-report using less. See

Teens make decisions about marijuana every day. Like so many other options in their environment, it offers potential for culture, identity, pleasure, a coping tool, experimentation, dependency, disconnection, comfort, school or legal problems, and certainly, ritual. If teens find belonging and relief from stress in the relationships they build in your circles and councils, maybe the void that drives so many of them to use drugs can be filled in a more healthy way. It’s worth a try.


April 19, 2010 at 5:48 am 5 comments

Let’s Bust the Myth of Mean Girls

Let me be frank: I hate the phrase “mean girls.”  It runs deep against the grains of my being.  I know, so many thousands and millions of women and girls have stories about how girls can be “so mean,” and “catty,” and “sneaky” and all of that.  As girls growing up, or working alongside female co-workers, or as mothers watching our daughters get hurt by cliques, it’s so common to see and focus on the ways that girls show aggression.  And mean stuff happens online and by text, too.

We’re regularly informed about disturbing events in which girls participate in fights, rumors, bullying, and harassment.  Sometimes the results to a targeted person are tragic, such as the recent heartbreaking suicide of Irish immigrant Phoebe Prince, 15, of Massachusetts, who was persistently bullied by a group of 7 girls and 2 boys.

But overall, I’m not convinced that there is a new type of particularly mean girl taking over the planet. That’s why I was totally blown away tonight when I saw an Op-Ed Column in the New York Times by Michael Males and Meda Chesney-Lind entitled The Myth of the Mean Girl, Males and Chesney-Lind disprove the notion that girls have become increasingly violent toward each other and society. Although the media – in the news, books, movies, videos, reality TV – displays all kinds of cruelty between girls and perpetuates the belief that girls are becoming more and more anti-social, the facts show rates of girls’ violence actually having dropped over the past decade.

I am grateful to Males and Chesney-Lind for their research. It fortifies the position we hold at Girls Circle Association: girls aren’t inherently mean people.  They deserve respect, not labels, and when they behave with meanness, there is some kind of need or problem, but the behavior does not define a girl’s character. More likely, the need or problem is rooted in her social environment, unhealthy cultural norms, or in some instances, related to traumatic or abusive experiences a girl has suffered by adults responsible for her care.

I appreciate the good work of authors and girls’ movement leaders such as Rachel Simmons and who are addressing  relational aggression and working to empower girls with leadership and better tools and strategies in their interactions.

But let’s be real about this labeling of girls.  Girls are growing children.  They are first and foremost developing children who need protection, love, relationships, and safety.  They are also female children, and that means in our society they are expected, still, to be nice. They are encouraged to speak up, but as soon as girls are expressing themselves, they have “so much drama.” Everything girls feel real about is too much to the adults. They’re seen as just too sensitive.   As they become teens, girls are nearing the end of the child stage, but are not yet adults. They are intuitive in adolescence, and they are passionate, emotional people. That is their nature. Teen girls are not yet fully developed, not yet efficient in their management of emotional reactions and impulsivity. They are very effective, however, in their capacity for empathy when given the opportunity.

So here’s the thing:

Why are girls being labeled as “mean”?

Couldn’t the media or society more generally say the same about boys, or parents, men or women, school teachers, business owners, politicians, police, screenwriters, or any one of us while hurried and stuck in traffic or standing in line?

Why girls?

My theory: some kind of backlash.

I wish it weren’t so, but girls have gotten stronger in voicing what they know, and maybe it makes people uncomfortable.

The decade of the 90’s was the decade of the girls’ movement.  Empowerment for girls became an important goal in academics, sports, and leadership.  Organizations such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the National Council for Research on Women, and authors and thinkers such as Mary Pipher, Lyn Mikel Brown, Carol Gilligan, and Janie Ward articulated fundamental and critical issues facing girls and impacting their development, and provided strategies and visions toward healthier development.

Girls Circle began in 1994.  It was our response as mothers to the message that girls like our daughters need to hold onto their voices, and their capacity to stay true to themselves would be strengthened through their sharing with each other.

We’ve seen a huge increase in numbers of girls participating in sports, attending and completing college, increasingly going into professional careers, collaborating in the workplace alongside men.  We’ve listened to hundreds of girls and stories of girls expressing themselves with authenticity and in doing so, finding connection, caring, support, and encouragement.

When girls are provided with the tools to express their needs and feelings, particularly anger, in assertive and direct ways within the relationships important to them, they no longer use relational aggression because they are free to set their boundaries, be real, know their worth.

Many girls and women have found through this girls’ movement that what matters most is their relationships – with one another, with mothers, fathers, family members, teachers, coaches, boyfriends and girlfriends, neighbors, and colleagues.  If you ask girls what makes them feel good, they will tell you being with people who love them – friends, family, pets, teams.  This is what counts.

If you ask girls what to do about meanness, cruelty, bullying, they usually have answers.  What gives them strength to counter the cruelty, though, are their relationships with trustworthy grown-ups and peers who encourage and believe in them. With allies, girls can change just about any distressing peer situation into a safer, more socially agreeable situation for everyone concerned.  Just imagine what girls can do if the media and society generally drops the labels, or even names them for who they really are, amazing girls.

This is one of many reasons I am busting the myth of the mean girl.

How about you?


April 2, 2010 at 5:09 pm 2 comments

Body Image Activity Guide More Diverse Focus

Recently we shared news that some of our materials are being improved.

One improvement will be available in time for your fall Girls Circle groups -Week One of the Body Image Activity Guide.

Since Giovanna and I wrote this guide several years ago, we’ve heard both fabulous stories and some constructive criticism.

Continue Reading August 19, 2009 at 3:55 am 2 comments

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