What does it mean to be a girl in 2017? To answer that question, the Girl Scout Research Institute issued its annual “The State of Girls” report—the third of its kind—which focuses on the trends affecting the health and well-being of girls state by state and nationwide. There’s good news: Cigarette use among girls is down. More girls, particularly Latina girls, are graduating from high school. But there are troubling trends as well: More girls are living in poverty and low-income households today than 10 years ago—significant because, as the GSRI notes, girls from low socioeconomic households face considerable challenges that affect their health, happiness, and achievement. These girls are more likely to be of black/African-American, Hispanic/Latina, and American Indian descent. A greater number of girls are also struggling with obesity, marijuana use, and suicidal thoughts.
There’s much that can be done to improve the lives of girls, beginning with policies that value the well-being of this next generation of women. There’s also the considerable impact individuals have to make a difference in a girl’s life. Of course, one way is to volunteer with a program or organization—like Girl Scouts—that boost girls’ self-confidence, by helping them develop a positive sense of self, build healthy relationships, engage in community-service opportunities, and take on positive challenges.
Full disclosure: Here at the Parents offices, you’ll find several Girl Scout leaders among us. I’m a first-time Girl Scout leader this year (hooray, Cadettes!). I admit I stepped up somewhat reluctantly—my daughter would have had to say goodbye to Girl Scouts otherwise. It was a slow discovery for me to realize that while I work full-time, commute, have three kids, and personally, was a Girl Scout dropout (I made it through Brownies, then quit), I still have something to offer a group of young girls. Plus, I get to spend more quality time with my daughter, and hang with some really cool kids and moms. Girl Scouts emphasizes that the experience should be “girl-led” as much as possible, teaching young women like mine to make their voices heard early.
“Volunteers are our number-one need,” says developmental psychologist Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., Chief G.I.R.L. & Parent Expert at Girl Scouts of the USA. There’s currently a waiting list of 30,000 girls across the country hoping to be assigned a troop. “There’s a misconception that there’s only one way to volunteer—by taking on everything. But a volunteer can co-lead with other parents, lead a badge, be a troop treasurer, or take turns with other scouts’ parents leading a meeting.” Many trainings for leaders are now available online, not to mention almost anything you might need to learn these days is Google-able or pinnable.
Of course not everyone has the time to volunteer. If you’re maxed out, you’re maxed out. But too often, I think we moms assume we’re not qualified to lead. (Dads can lead, too, and do. Check out this awesome cookie dad.) And I wonder what those sentences that we say almost reflexively out of habit—the ones that start with “Oh, I can’t…” or “I’m not good at…”—say to the little ears listening to us. We—and they—are more capable than we think.
There are many ways to help lift girls up. For more on how to raise a healthy, confident, can-do kind of girl, read our special report that appeared in Parents magazine, which is filled with great tips. It’s one of my favorite stories we’ve ever run.
Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mom of three.