Why we owe teenage girls more than an education

Ask any parent of a teenage girl and they’ll lament the loss of their little girl. Parenting teenagers is challenging, but add the stress of social media challenges, friendship issues and academic anxiety and you may have a time bomb ready to explode. Worse still, you’ll find the parenting skills you’ve been refining over the last 13 years no longer seem to work.

The stage as girls transition into adulthood is often celebrated as a 'rites of passage'. However, in our modern, busy world, many of us have forgotten to mark this time and prepare our daughters for the responsibilities and consequences that will now face them.

In Australia, mental health rates of adolescent girls are significantly increasing. According to the Black Dog Institute some of the top concerns are coping with stress, school or study problems and body image. Young women are twice as likely to be grappling with psychological issues.

Wellbeing at this age is fundamental to their development. It shapes their attitude to friendships, relationships, studies and health. If their mental health and their inner lives are strong, they will have the capacity to take ownership of their actions and decisions. As they move into their adult life where decisions around drinking, drugs and body image can have damaging consequences, they need the tools to be true to themselves, know their values and their potential and avoid being influenced by peer pressure.

In more traditional cultures, learning the roles and responsibilities that come with being a woman is enshrined through a 'rites of passage' process. These women take girls on a period of reflection, personal and physical challenge.

In more modern times, we may recognise these milestones with a party. But a transition of this sort is far wider-reaching and should encompass the inner person to really have meaningful impact.

This is why we have introduced a year-long Rites of Passage program, that takes our Year 9s through a journey of discovery. With regular sessions built into the curriculum, girls learn about resilience, curiosity, adaptability, emotional intelligence and growth mindset, all 21st century life-skills to enable them to thrive. They also discover what it means to be a woman, not a girl. They learn about healthy relationships with their body, with friends, with family, and loved ones.

The cornerstone of the program is a 12-day Wandering Spirit retreat located at our Yeagarup Campus in Pemberton. Away from technology and other daily distractions, girls are given the space to bond, learn new life-skills and share stories that support this transition.

So what does it look like to make this transition from childhood into adulthood?

We no longer need external validation – likes on social media, the attention of boys – instead we are self-validating.

We care for ourselves and others, not simply for ourselves.

We move beyond being influenced by others and trust our own instincts to make decisions.

We don’t need a hero or a rescuer in our lives; we can build healthy relationships with the partner of our choice.

It’s a substantial commitment in the lives of our Year 9s. Is it worth it? Yes. Building young women who can think for themselves, can make healthy and positive decisions, have the skills to manage stress and have a vision for their future is one of the most important gifts we can give our graduates and their families.

St Hilda’s has worked with acclaimed author, Dr Arne Rubinstein to build this contemporary and unique program. He founded the Rites of Passage Institute and has been running Rites of Passage programs throughout the world for the last decade. His expertise is sought by leaders in education, government and social enterprises.

St Hilda’s prides itself on sparking extraordinary futures. It’s whole-of -girl approach to education giving girls a platform to shine in all walks of life. To learn more about St Hilda’s Rites of Passage program visit www.sthildas.wa.edu.au

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