Flashback to when you were in school. You have walked into the cafeteria and are looking for a place to sit. You spot a space open next to two girls who are in your class and are also in your dance class. You heave a sigh of relief and hurry over to plop down next to them. As you go to sit, an arm goes out, covers the seat and declares, “This seat is saved.” You are now standing there embarrassed and rejected and are looking around the room to find somewhere, anywhere else to sit.
These are not the big crushing moments in girls’ lives, but they are part of the thoughtless interactions that become the fabric of their day that wears thin, and cause children to ache from the bruises of adolescence. There has been a national outcry on the way that kids treat each other and although many schools have responded with bullying prevention and social emotional learning initiatives, often the arms still go out and declare, “This seat is saved.”
“What our experience in working with youth has taught us, is that kids know the right things to do – they know that they should scoot over and make room for that kid who is looking for a seat. But, they don’t always do it. They are hearing the talk, but they are not walking the walk,” says Sandra McDonnell, CEO of AuthenticME. The current president of Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence (HGNA), a Downers Grove based non-profit, McDonnell and Mary Ellen Young, HGNA founder, have collaborated on a newly released book, “ELEMENTS for girls: A Fun & Engaging Self Discovery Project” released on December 2.
“That transference from the talk to the walk is the element of self-discovery that we are seeking to create at Authentic ME with our “ELEMENTS for girls” Self Discovery Project. Girls benefit greatly from opportunities for personal reflection and self-awareness,” says Mary Ellen Young, AuthenticME president. “ELEMENTS provides just that.” Each of the ten sections invites girls to read, reflect and complete simple, fun activities while exploring themes such as feelings, self-acceptance, empathy, decision making and communications. The theme of self-care is woven throughout the book in sections on sleep, healthy eating and stress management.
Integral to the concept is a bracelet that girls create as they work their way through the book. “The beads are a fun, visual reminder of what is learned in the book,” according to Young. “It takes time and practice to develop healthy, positive habits and skills. The section on empathy allows girls to work through real-life examples of how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Developing empathy is a critical skill in reducing bullying and building healthy relationships,” according to Young, a bullying consultant and speaker on relational aggression. “A cute flip-flop is the bracelet charm for this section, and serves as a reminder for the girls to put themselves in another’s shoes. It is our goal to create a reminder for our girls so that when the temptation is there to throw out their arm and save a seat, instead they will look at their wrist, think about what it feels like to be that girl standing there, and make room.”
Many girls had a hand in development of the concept for the book and bracelet project. Focus groups were held with local girls who subsequently completed two sample chapters at home. “Their insight was key. We were motivated by how much they loved the concept,” said McDonnell.
The project was a creative family affair with Young and McDonnell’s three high school- and college-aged daughters playing key roles. Sierra Young, a talented artist, created all the original doodle art, Nora Young inserted her keen sense of style into the book and bracelet designs, and Emma McDonnell researched and selected “the coolest beads” she could find.
The book comes with a kit to make a hemp bracelet with beads that represent the theme of each chapter. The book and bracelet, priced at $29.50, are available at Anderson’s Bookshop in Downers Grove and online at www.authenticme.biz.