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


These past few weeks, a stream of news stories nationally and across Europe have revealed staggering numbers of child sexual abuse cases.  The damage that pedophiles and abusers cause in the lives of girls and boys is deep, lasting, and tremendously harming. What about the policies and practices of the institutions and organizations responsible for the youth?  How damaging can these be?

A current case against the Boy Scouts of America for keeping secret “perversion files” documenting sex abusers is an example of failed policies that have the effect of protecting the organization over the needs of youth.  Sadly, we’ve seen story after story in the Catholic Church and many institutions in which abuse and violations have been kept hidden from the law.  These secrecy policies have not only added to the devastation in the lives of the kids who’ve been abused, but also prevented agencies of effective screening of abusers and prevented or constrained the work of police and authorities to stop abusers from accessing more youth.

The following is a message on our website regarding how to protect youth from abuse: Whatever the setting in which you work, please be sure you know the policies and protections in place for youth and where there are concerns or gaps in these policies, please make a point to address the policies with your co-workers and administrators.

How do you protect youth from potential abuse?

We recommend that every organization, school, or community setting that provides Girls Circle or Boys Council groups follows standard safeguard practices to protect all children and youth from any type of abuse or crime. Protective measures are essential steps to any solid program’s successful implementation.

Agencies should require all adults, staff and volunteer, who work with children and teens to obtain fingerprint clearances, to receive child abuse prevention and response training, including how to recognize signs of possible abuse, responsibilities as mandated reporters, and procedures to report suspicion of child abuse.

In every setting, we recommend that children and youth are never alone and isolated with one adult. Ideally, two adults or young adults co-facilitate the groups, or, when there is not capacity for two facilitators, at least one other responsible adult is on site and available before, during, and after each session. In addition, the on-site adult should have permission to come and go freely, albeit respectfully, from the group room.

If your setting’s policy is unknown to you, or inadequate, contact your state’s child welfare department to request recommended guidelines for staff and volunteers. Children’s and teen’s rights and safety policies should be posted, spoken, distributed, and reviewed with children, parents, and all staff on site. Administrator contact information should be given to all participants and families to report any concerns or problems.

The CDC has a downloadable resource guide for developing prevention policies within youth serving organizations:

Take Care!


March 23, 2010 at 6:30 pm Leave a comment

International Women’s Day – Recommended Reading & Viewing

Yesterday, March 8th was International Women’s Day, just as it has been every year since the early 1900s. It marks a global day of celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women  past, present and future. March is also National Women’s History Month.

We at the Girls Circle Association regularly come across many wonderful organizations, events, books, articles and videos that celebrate the achievements of women and we thought this was a perfect opportunity to share some of our recent discoveries with you.

Eve Ensler wrote the ground-breaking Vagina Monoluges, founded V-day, recently released her newest book, I Am an Emotional Creature, The Secret Lives of Girls Around The World and she also lectures around the globe.  Eve is a feminist hero and she recently gave a beautiful 20 minute talk at the Ted Conference on the “girl cells” in all of us. The lecture was titled, Embrace Your Inner Girl and we highly recommend it!


Maria Shriver, the First Lady of California wrote a wonderful article which can be read on Huffington Post called Celebrating History Can Inspire Us To Make It. The article is about National Women’s History Month which was started in California 32 years ago and about her work in this state and around the country towards women’s equality.  The overall theme of her article is “women, let’s keep on making history!”


New Moon Girls is an online community and print magazine for teen and pre-teen girls. They have a new empowering girls’ project about women in history where girls are encouraged to submit their stories.


Kitty Tyrol, the Girls Circle Association Senior Training Manager sent a book recommendation to the rest of the GCA staff that I’d like to share with you.  The book is called Three Cups of Tea and it was written by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (2006).  Here is a synopsis from Kitty: “Greg falls off a mountain and lands in a village, Korphe, the people save his life.  He sees that the children have no school building and in particular, there is no schooling for girls.  He promises to return one day and build them a school – and so his life’s journey and purpose is defined.  He builds schools (mostly for girls) throughout the mountain regions in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

Here is an excerpt: “Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in the cities,’ Mortensen explains.  ‘but the girls stay home, become leaders in the community, and pass on what they’ve learned.  If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”  “if the girls can just get to a fifth-grade level, everything changes.” (p. 209)


Those are some of our new favorite sites, videos, books, etc.  Please comment and share your new and old favorites with us as well.  Happy National Women’s History Month and Belated International Women’s Day.  My wish for us all today is to be bold, fearless and full of joy.

– Moorea Dickason, Training Coordinator for the Girls Circle Association.

March 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm 1 comment

Celebrating the Resiliency of Children of Alcoholics: Week of Feb 14th – 20th 

Last year an eighth grade boy in Oregon told researchers that he felt he could trust the adults and kids in his Boys Council and it helped him find the courage to go home and tell his mom that he wasn’t going to drink beers with her anymore.

One out of every four children in the U.S. has a parent with a drinking problem, or alcoholism. Kids and family members of alcoholics often hurt but their suffering isn’t apparent. They suffer silently and usually with explicit or implied instructions not to tell. It’s a family secret, and a family shame.

Annie was one such family member.  She was a 15 year old sophomore referred to a high school Girls Circle by a dean who noticed that she seemed burdened, but didn’t know why. One day after group she stayed behind until the others cleared out.  She asked if she could talk with me, and we scheduled a time.   Slowly she revealed her daily life to me, and in doing so, seemed to be as torn and distressed in telling as she was desperate and seeking for answers.

Annie left home every morning while her single mother was still asleep, usually checking  to see if she was breathing. By then she’d made her breakfast, packed lunch, taken something from the freezer to thaw for dinner, fed the cat, folded laundry, straightened up. Each day after school, she wanted to hang out with friends, but feared for her mother’s afternoon condition, so she’d get home instead.  “I could NEVER have my friends over to my house!” she stressed, with deep embarrassment all over her face.  “When I get home, the curtains are drawn, it’s all dark inside, and my mom is on the couch with the t.v. on. She might be asleep or anyway, she’s been drinking since she woke up. She would never eat if I didn’t bring her food, and she doesn’t do anything.  I don’t know if I’m relieved she’s alive and hasn’t burned the house down, or if I’m more upset because every day is so bad. If my mom knew I was speaking to you, I couldn’t deal with it.”

Annie was so brave to talk with me.  It took tremendous courage for her to come forward and ask for support. Thankfully, we were able to continue meeting for the semester, gradually working together to increase her resources, such as Ala-Teen for children of alcoholics, and to talk about how her mother’s illness is not her fault, nor does it reflect on her own value and love-ability as a young women. We spoke with CPS together to discuss the neglect and, of more concern to Annie, her mother’s safety. It took Annie a while before she wanted to share the situation in the circle, even though I knew she’d be accepted and not judged by the other girls.  When she did briefly talk about it, there was real kindness, prompting another girl to talk about her older brother’s addiction.  When we concluded our work, Annie had not been removed from her home. Her mother was undergoing assessment for treatment. I don’t know what the end result was, but I know that Annie had acted with courage to seek support and express herself – huge resiliency factors that increased her connection and reduced her isolation and internal stress level.

Alcoholism really sucks. Alcohol is the number one most abused drug in our country, and that impact has deep and profound influence on kids’ development. Children of alcoholics are at increased risk of developing substance abuse problems themselves, mental health problems, and physical illnesses. They can develop skewed relationship patterns as emotional caretakers who don’t stand up for their own needs and boundaries at risk of loss of relationship. Neglect, emotional abandonment, lack of structure and unpredictability, broken promises, secrets, chronic anxiety, shame, humiliation, poor communication skills, boundary violations… all these experiences influence children and teens’ development.  Kids tend to assume responsibility prematurely, to protect their alcoholic parents while relying on their own undeveloped minds and bodies for strategies and coping. Claudia Black, author of It Will Never Happen To Me and several other recovery books, emphasizes the rules that these kids suffer under: Don’t Talk (about it); Don’t Trust (anyone); and Don’t Feel (the pain). It was clear to me that Annie was in a real relational bind, having to break a family secrecy rule in order to find help. Yet, without seeking help, she knew that both she and her mother were at risk of even more harm.

Girls Circle, The Council for Boys and Young Men, and other youth groups are safe places for kids to find healthy voices, break isolation, and find strength.  Annie did, and so did the eighth grader in Oregon.

Let’s keep listening as much as we can to kids, and trust their capacity for resilience while also offering some important information and resources –

  • they are not at fault or responsible for their parents drinking
  • they are not alone- literally millions of kids every day are in this same situation
  • help is available to them

For a fact sheet about Children of Alcoholics, and other resources, see:

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics can offer further resources and support, call 1-888-55-COAS or go to:

Thanks! Stay well! And contrary to the old broken alcoholic rules, do let yourself and the kids in your circles to talk to others, trust your inner voice, and allow emotional pain to guide you toward healing whenever you need to.


February 16, 2010 at 8:12 pm 4 comments

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