“Oh to be fifteen again!”, exclaimed my Nana last week at a cousin’s birthday. “Oh, on the contrary, to NOT be fifteen again,” I quietly thought. An age of awkward, pubescent, hormonal attitude. An age too old to be classified a child, but too young to be called an adult. An age of coming into oneself, establishing your identity. An age of relationship issues. An age of extreme yearning to be “cool” and “popular” and “fit in”. But what is cool? Who is popular? Why are we trying to fit in?
I attended Mount Scopus from Kinder to VCE and absolutely loved it. Fortunately, I was academic. My teachers loved me and I loved them. The ‘Scopus spirit’, a truly unique infusion of Judaism, Zionism, learning, passion, creativity and social action was made for me. I always had lots of friends, but was never a “cool” girl – obviously my witty humour, distaste of swear words and love of Hebrew music weren’t the necessary prerequisites for frolicking with those on the highest rung of the perceived social order. I didn’t suffer from severe bullying, but, despite having my group of girls, I wasn’t always included in weekend arrangements or sleepovers. In fact, I was often excluded and this bred self-doubt and self-doubt bred insecurity. Insecurity manifested into a lack of confidence, low self esteem and sometimes body image issues – all of which still pop up in my life today.
I was lucky. My mum instilled in me a great sense of resilience. Although she told me time and time again “they’re just jealous”, which wasn’t so helpful, she also taught me to pay less attention to the mean antics of my so called friends. She taught me that girls could act cruelly to feel better about themselves. She taught me that not everyone is aware their actions can have hurtful repercussions. My mum bore the brunt of hours of crying through grades 7- 10, but knew the right things to say. Resembling the character Aibileen Clark in The Help who says, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important”, I was reminded of my distinct qualities. I shouldn’t conform and act and dress like the others just to fit in and satisfy their supposed norms. If they couldn’t like me for me then that was their problem. My differences were my special gifts and to abandon them in the name of conforming to teenage girl standards would be a tragedy.
Being a teenage girl at school is hard. Petty problems become full blown crises. Organising a group for Purim costumes results in tears. Deciding who will sleep in what room on camp results in tears. Hearing that your friends are all going to Glenferrie Road for frozen yoghurt and you weren’t invited, results in tears. Add to that social media – Facebook, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram. These ‘social’ forums are hotbeds of fakery, manipulation, lying and exclusion. Screenshots of a conversation between two people can spread like wildfire amongst a whole grade. Secret Whatsapp groups with only the ‘cool’ girls, are set up in order for their plans to remain exclusive. Social media is toxic and harmful and I count myself as one of its many addicted victims. Instagram celebrities such as Kylie Jenner, #fitspo accounts of Steph Claire Smith and Kayla Istines, and television programs like the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show or Australia’s Next Top Model, are enticing, appealing and enchanting. Shiny, toned, tanned, wealthy, pretty girls who appear to have it all are the Audrey Hepburns and Grace Kellys of the 21st Century.
But the reality is, such lives aren’t reality. A host of issues including body image and mental health stem from the internet and its photoshopped objects of desire. Honestly, if I was fifteen today, I’m not too sure my mum’s words would’ve helped. This era of instant self-gratification via online uploads, likes, follows, comments and messages is focused on appearances, and those with a D.O.B prior to the 90s don’t always understand the ins and outs of being young in 2016.
Teenage years have always been troublesome. But shouldn’t we aim to improve this critical and formative time? We need to equip young girls (and boys) with the tools to differentiate between reality and reality tv. We need to empower them to embrace their unique qualities and see the beauty in their differences. We need to provide them with role models other than those on their screens.
The Jam Project, a pilot, mentoring program set to begin in 2017 is the first of its kind in our community. Under the auspices of the NCJWA (Vic), the 12-month program will see 15-year-old Jewish girls paired with an older, female buddy aged 19-25 years. Throughout the year, each girl and buddy will meet frequently one on one to chat, discuss school, friendships, issues or dilemmas, whilst conversing in engaging and thought provoking dialogue. The buddies – young, motivated, accomplished women in the Jewish community will act as relatable role models for the young girls. Providing adolescents with someone to talk to who isn’t a teacher, a guidance counsellor or a parent, but rather, a young girl just a few years older, is imperative. Someone with her school years still in the rearview mirror, someone who is responsible, ambitious and exhibits self-confidence, yet still remembers the testing times of teenage life, will empathise with and relate to today’s 15 year olds and the influence our modern world has on their day to day lives.
By illuminating the wonders that lie within each girl, providing them with a sense of self, promoting independence, strengthening self-esteem and instilling confidence, The Jam Project aims to foster the growth and development of young girls, inspiring them to be driven, passionate, aware and engaged members of our community. School should be fun, being young should be fun. There’s plenty of time for worrying later in life. Let’s nurture the youth of today. Let’s help them jump over whatever hurdles may come their way, encourage them to be whoever they want to be and give them the skills to realise their potential and fulfil their dreams.