for Troubled Girls
"I just finished counseling a student for 45 minutes. It's amazing how
rough life is on kids, and it seems to especially be girls. She's been to
20 plus schools, hasn't lived with her parents since she was 6, has been
living with first one sister then another. Her parents are into drugs, in
and out of prison. She couch hops through friends' houses so she can
play sports because the last bus out of town is at 7. Now her sister
wants her to change to a new high school, where she doesn't know
anyone. It's hard to see kids under so much stress. Sadly, this is an
epidemic. I'm not sure if girls are just more vocal about what's wrong
in their life or if affects them more, but this is the fifth or sixth girl I've
taught that has had just a dismal life, and has a hard time dealing with
just the daily stresses of what school and friends bring. Of those 5 or 6
girls, I can only think of one or two that have escaped the calamity of
their surrounding to do something. I hope this new girl ends up making
it. I'll do my best to see services start coming her way, but the cycle of
discover, help, and fail is hard to take."
Many of you can relate to the comments above, sent by a high school special ed teacher. His comments are especially true right now. When government faces hard economic times, service cuts are inevitable. Often, cuts to services disproportionately affect girls versus boys. When boys are troubled, they often act out in ways that affect the community. When girls are troubled, they often act out in ways that the community may not even notice. Troubled boys may slash tires, troubled girls may slash their wrists. The boy will leave behind angry victims demanding the child's behavior be addressed and controlled. The troubled girl will have no one demanding anything on her behalf.
When budget cuts come, they are not dispersed across the continuum of children's services. In tough economic times, girls tend to take the brunt of service reductions. In all classes of services, troubled girls receive fewer services, less intense services, for less time, and they're served later in life than their male counterparts. There is no indication that troubled girls have fewer problems than boys; all indicators suggest they may have more. So, in today's difficult economic times, where services for young females are very limited, it is imperative that everyone who works with youth, have gender-proficient strategies for girls. One-gender-fits-all strategies fit no one, so here are some gender-proficient strategies crafted especially for troubled girls.
Gender-Proficient Solutions for Troubled Girls
TEACH GIRLS TO
THRIVE DESPITE ROUGH LIVES
Finding help for troubled girls in these difficult economic times is
tougher than ever. If you're not a trained mental health professional,
it's never wise to attempt to provide therapy when you can't find
qualified help for a girl who is struggling. Instead of offering therapy
without having the necessary training, attempt instead to be a bridge
for the girl until help can be found.
Here is a strategy that may help without becoming as personal and intimate as a therapy techniques. When a girl is struggling to find her way, and feels lost and uncertain, offer her this guideline: Find a course of action that is good for the girl and good for others. This mantra helps train the girl to habitually choose actions that avoid self-harm.
You can vary this strategy by having the girl identify someone she admires, and imagine What Would X Do?, and emulate that.
Another variation on the first strategy: Say "no" to bad thoughts. The girl can imagine erasing or canceling upsetting thoughts so she can concentrate on school and other critical activities. All these strategies are just stopgap measures until qualified help can be found; ultimately severe problems will necessitate professional intervention if the girl is to avoid lasting consequences.
TEACH GIRLS TO
BETTER MANAGE DEPRESSION
Studies suggest that depression may affect girls at a higher rate than
boys. While skilled help would be optimal, you can offer some interim
assistance so that your girls can improve their skills coping with
adversity without being overwhelmed by depression. Here are a few
interventions that both mental health workers and others can use. Be
sure to follow your site's rules about reporting safety issues if you have
any concerns that a girl may be at risk of harm.
For girls who are sad about their difficult circumstances, teach them to
"bloom where they're planted," and discuss how to do that. For girls
who devote a lot of time to ruminating about their problems, refocus
them to the present, and help them turn their thoughts to "now"
instead of yesterday or tomorrow, which they can't influence anyway.
To further re-orient girls to focus on now rather than past or future
problems, suggest that every time they catch themselves mulling the
past or future, they stop and find three positive things about the
present. That disrupts the on-going ruminating.
Finally, for girls who report upsetting thoughts like mulling over events
from the past, offer interventions that teach the brain some new,
healthier habits. For example, when a girl is upset by thoughts like "I'm
always going to be upset," teach her to be the boss of her brain and to
reject her "bully brain" hassling her. It's a way of making the invisible
cognitive process more concrete and understandable so the girl can
visualize how her thoughts deepen her upset. Once she realizes that she
doesn't have to submit to the upsetting thoughts, she has a much
better chance of taking control of them, making her less vulnerable to
persistent, deep upset.