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

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
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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