By Ariana Fantasia-Davis
Intern and Coach // Girls on the Run of Berks County
The time between third and eighth grade is crucial to the development of young girls as it is the time they begin to encounter struggles that will test their self-confidence and challenge them to make decisions that will define the type of person they are and will choose to become. With the influence of social media and the internet, girls are subjected to a variety of messages telling them how they should act, look, or handle different situations. Often times these influences can lead to a negative self-image and an unhealthy lifestyle, as girls try to achieve the “ideal” image. At Girls on the Run of Berks County, we aim to help girls navigate this confusing time and learn how to feel good about who they are and give them the tools they need to deal with the pressure and struggles they encounter in a healthy manner.
Over the course of the ten week program several lessons target the tendency girls have to speak about themselves and the world around them in a negative manner. We teach girls to transform the negative, destructive thoughts instead into words of empowerment. Before each workout the girls will set a goal for how many laps they think they will be able to run in the amount of time they are given to run, and at the end they will record what their goal was and if they reached it. Sometimes the girls will not reach the goal, and where at the beginning of the program we would hear them saying negative comments such as “I am way too slow,” now we hear them saying “I did my best, next time I can do better.” While this seems like a small shift in the way the girls speak, the positive outlook transfers to the context of other situations and is essential to their approaching the world and viewing themselves in a positive manner. Where the girls first response to struggling with academics or a sport for may be to give up, we teach them to recognise that they are trying their best and through their own drive can accomplish whatever they set their minds to.
Besides teaching the girls of perseverance and hard work, we aim to teach them to live a healthy lifestyle. The girls go through lesson about the importance of eating a balanced diet, getting enough rest, and healthy ways to deal with stress. One of our lessons focuses on teaching the girls how to take a breath and think when they are confronted with a difficult situation before acting. In the context of peer pressure, we teach the girls to think about how the situation makes them feel and make a decision they can feel good about instead of doing something they are not comfortable with.
Part of how girls learn to deal with conflicts and their relationships with others is through social media, television, and the internet. Often times the examples set on the platforms can be negative and give girls a false impression of how an interaction may go. One example when this occurs so frequently is when someone gets hurt emotionally in a conversation or argument. In the media, girls are often subject to watching ways of dealing with larger and more public issues, skimming over or completely ignoring the smaller ones. For instance, in casual conversation an offhand comment may be made, that makes someone feel very uncomfortable. However, often times the person will just brush it off, choosing not to address it. What the media does not show is the effect that these comments have, especially as they begin to build up. Part of the Girls on the Run curriculum teaches the girls to identify and feel their emotions, rather than brushing them off as unimportant. This helps the girls to build better relationships with others, because when they are able to voice their emotions as they experience them, people are able to understand the effect their words are having, and become more thoughtful in their speech. In doing this, the girls become empowered because by voicing their emotions, they are choosing to say that how they feel matters. We teach them that no emotion is good or bad, rather they are comfortable or uncomfortable. Identifying emotions in this way helps the girls to understand that it is okay for them to feel sad or hurt, which then allows for them to process through those thoughts and emotions.
As the girls learn to approach situations from a better perspective and make decisions they feel good about, we start to see their confidence increase. When they take control of their actions, they understand the power they have and how much they are capable of achieving. Today, that may be having the courage to choose to be kind to someone having a bad day but tomorrow, it may be having the confidence to take a chance at running for President, trying out for the Olympics, or fighting for a cause they believe in. Our goal is to help our girls grow into strong confident women ready to make a positive impact on our society.
Girls on the Run of Berks County is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization that provides a pre-adolescent personal development program for girls in grades 3-8. Our curriculum combines lessons that enhance self-esteem, promote positive problem-solving strategies, and foster healthy relationships, along with developmentally appropriate physical training for a 5k event.
Girls on the Run is a North American non-profit program that works to encourage pre-teen girls to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games, culminating in a celebratory 5k run. The organization’s curricula seek to address all aspects of the girls’ development to enhance their physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness.