Choices and Changes

Girl’s Inc. Teaches Life Skills to Teens and Adults

by Shannon Kelley Gould

Choices, changes: they’re facts of life, but dealing with them often sends even the most level-headed of ladies into a tailspin. Learning how to anticipate, prepare for, and deal with the choices and changes that come up in life is the goal behind Girls Inc’s Life Skills program, which was initially conceived 20 years ago. The six-week program was originally created to help young women dispel the “Cinderella myth,” says Joan Bowman, Advocacy Press publisher, a nonprofit division of Girls Inc. of Greater Santa Barbara. That myth, drilled into girls’ heads from childhood, is perpetuated by fairy tales featuring princes who come to the rescue of damsels in distress, sweeping them off their feet and into the abyss known as “happily ever after.” This creates a counterproductive mindset Bowman refers to as “magical thinking,” which is the opposite of the critical thinking skills necessary to help a woman navigate the waters of her own, real life.

Two decades ago, when the program first began, the emphasis was on getting girls to consider “nontraditional” jobs and post-secondary education; today, the program has been reworked to emphasize economic independence, aiming to get young girls to think about how they will go about creating a future in which they will be financially self-reliant, to think about what they want to do with their professional lives, and to become aware of the fact that being able to support themselves will allow them more choices in life. As Gloria Steinem famously put it, “Marriage is not a career option”; and that statement is truer than ever today, as people are more financially stretched, and many households rely on income from both the husband and wife in order to pay the bills. Today, nine out of 10 women work; wives account for about 34 percent of their families’ income; and 24 percent of women actually earn more than their husbands.

Of course, other factors in today’s culture also put young girls at risk for being unable to live out the Girls’ Inc edict (encouraging all girls to become smart, strong, and bold). Bowman mentions “junk” culture, the over-sexualization of youth, and consumerism in particular, and says, “It’s hard for parents to influence our children over all this advertising and marketing; our parents and our schools are so completely overwhelmed and under-funded.”

By bringing together mothers and their junior-high-aged daughters, the Choices part of the program aims to strengthen mother/daughter communication while giving girls the tools they need to cut through the false messages and take charge of their lives, right at the time when — in the absence of other influences — those cultural negatives might be sinking their teeth in. Utilizing a workbook created by Bowman’s Advocacy Press that includes personality inventory tests, exercises that encourage girls to carefully examine cultural messages, all sorts of relevant statistical information, and budget planning tools, the program hopes to send these girls out into the world with a plan, and the knowledge and skills — problem solving, decision making, and goal setting — necessary to make it a reality. Additionally, the program allows mothers to gain a deeper understanding of the changes their daughters are going through, while their daughters are able to see their mothers as supportive figures who will be there for them.

Changes, the other part of the Life Skills program, is geared toward grown women who are going through a major life change: divorce, reentering the work force, changing careers, or going back to school. Times of transition are stressful; Changes offers women strategies for dealing with change, and comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

4·1·1 An Instructor Training Workshop facilitated by Felicia Carroll, MEd, MA, MFT, will be held in the fall for the Choices Life Skills program, and mother/daughter workshops will start in the fall. For information, call 962-2728 or visit ­­­

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