Ronda Kaysen: The girls who show up at the Girls Leadership Institute summer camp in Western Massachusetts aren't unlike most teenage girls. Some are loners, some "queen bees," some bullies and some chameleons, able to blend into any setting and pass through adolescence unnoticed. But they all come to this two-week retreat in the summer to learn one thing: how to be strong and confident.
Girls Leadership Institute
The New York Times profiled the retreat and the organization created by Rachel Simmons, a 36-year-old bestselling author and bully-prevention guru. Simmons' mission in life is to help teen and tween girls stop bullying each other and learn to communicate better. If girls can learn to stand tall, look each other in the eye and face conflict directly, she believes, they will grow up to be fierce and fabulous women.
The camp isn't cheap. At $2,650 per session, it definitely cuts into a parent's pocketbook (although there are scholarships available). But for girls who have been bullied at school and are afraid to go back, it can be a lifeline -- a two-week respite from the cruelty they face every day.
"Everyone where I live really judges me," one girl told the Times. "My mom sent me here because she said no one would judge me."
Obviously, two weeks isn't enough time to change a girl's life, but it's a start. The Institute also offers afterschool programs, parent-daughter workshops and retreats.
All I can say about the program is, I wish there'd been something like this when I was a teen. It would have done wonders for me and for most of my peers, who seemed to slink through high school like it was a minefield of insults and humiliations waiting to happen.
I think about girls like Phoebe Prince, the Massachusetts teen who committed suicide earlier this year because of bullying, and wonder if a program like this could have prevented that tragedy. What's interesting about Simmons' program is that it's not just for girls like Prince: It's also for the girls who tormented her.
All this focus on the cruelty of girls makes me wonder why boys seem to avoid the pitfalls of snarkiness and sassiness that so torture teen girls. Simmons doesn't think boys are immune, either. She says that although boys more often have to deal with physical aggression at school, they're quickly learning the ways of teenage girls -- i.e., learning to torment each other psychologically. I can only imagine that the explosion of social media is making this whole situation worse.