Modern life is tough for teenage girls. Early and inappropriate sexualisation combined with a culture of binge drinking can lead to some fairly risky behaviour and very unpleasant outcomes. Pubescent girls are under intense pressure to conform to various idealised and unhealthy body stereotypes. No wonder mothers, older sisters and concerned females who have reached the relative safety of our twenties and thirties (ok, and forties) worry as they watch these vulnerable young women with their post-coital hairstyles, Day-Glo tans and ill-fitting air of insouciance hanging around pubs and nightclubs, often the worse for wear.
The temptation may be to consider curfews aimed at curbing the more excessive manifestations of carefree youth but we all know that knee-jerk draconianism doesn’t work. Ever since Rapunzel let down her hair teenage girls have been climbing out of upstairs windows and shinning down drainpipes to join the fun. Ensuring the safety and well-being of our teens surely depends on them taking responsibility for their own behaviour without feeling smothered by the fear of what might happen. After all it is nothing short of essential that independence is asserted. We all deserve our opportunity to enjoy the careful hedonism of our teens before taking on the weighty responsibilities of adulthood.
Perhaps a Swedish organisation established by teenagers can provide a model for young Irish girls to better protect themselves. United Sisters has helped hundreds of Swedish girls aged between 12 and 20 to cope with the pressures of life. The scheme, developed by two Swedish teenagers in 1996, aims to shore up self esteem by exploding myths relating to body image and early sexualisation. The girls who participate are drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds and all projects are developed in response to the suggestions and requirements of participants. Weekly get-togethers facilitate discussions that encompass relevant issues including sex, drugs, role models, violence, and prejudice. The intention is to give participants the opportunity to explore these highly charged topics in a safe, supportive and informed environment. Voluntary adult coaches are on hand for times when their intervention is deemed appropriate.
Perhaps the most radical and effective aspect of the programme is the voluntary night patrol involving girls aged 16-20 who walk the streets of Gothenburg and Stockholm helping young people who are too drunk to take care of themselves; embroiled in a hostile or confrontational situation; or simply upset and in need of someone to talk to. Each volunteer undertakes an intensive three month training programme aimed at teaching participants self-protection techniques, first aid, ethics, legal studies, drug knowledge and conflict resolution.
Would a similar scheme work here in Ireland? Would Irish teenage girls welcome such an initiative?