Troubled Teen Girls | Re-Creation Retreat
By Craig Rogers
Teenage rebellion can be a sign of health, especially in girls. In an essay contributed to Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, Nancy Gruver has written that girls are understandably outraged by injustices. However, the process of socialization teaches girls to swallow their healthy anger. Unfortunately, then, the anger that could fuel needed change in our society is misspent. It gets turned inward as self-destructive choices, or girls express it, ineffectively, in blind rebellion.
Although help for underachieving or troubled girls has traditionally focused on family dynamics, there is a growing awareness that school is one of the major agents for socialization in our culture. It’s been over 20 years since researchers confirmed what most struggling girls know instinctively; there is a toxic level of bias against girls in our schools, even among teachers who mean well. Professors David and Myra Sadker, in their book, Failing at Fairness, showed that teachers themselves were shocked to see themselves teaching on video. They hadn’t realized how much time they spent teaching boys, or how little time they actually spent teaching girls.
Girls who are troubled are often the brightest and most sensitive. They either learn too well what society seems to want from them (such as sexual precociousness or underachievement) or they simply refuse to go along with the unfairness. These girls challenge us to find healthier ways to educate them to be contributors to a more just society.
Exhausted parents of troubled girls are torn between advocating for their troubled girls and wishing they would “just go along and get along” in school settings that trample their self-esteem. While a family’s love and concern can do much to build resiliency in their girls, no single family is strong enough to protect its daughters from the effects of a “girl-poisoning” culture. If only we could train girls to use their energies to correct injustice in the world, rather than being self-destructive.
We can. One way to do that is to educate struggling girls in an environment prepared especially to focus on girls - their needs, development, strengths and talents, and the way they learn. Girls boarding schools is just this type of environment.
In recent years, researchers have found that girls in all-girls schools not only increase their grade point averages, self-esteem, and their hopes for the future. They also find increased confidence in their ability to think and to handle conflict. They come to think of themselves as the leaders who will make a difference instead of troubled adolescents who cause problems for society.
For instance, one girl was used to hearing boys yell, “Cat fight!” whenever girls disagreed with each other in class. When she transferred to an all-girls school, she found that girls were encouraged to debate, to speak their minds, and think through their opinions. No longer shut down by the boys’ teasing (which went on right in front of teachers) she developed her thinking and communication skills.
This effect is strengthened even more in girls boarding school, where girls live in a girl-centered world 24/7. Many parents find that boarding schools give their daughters a more positive set of peers, so that peer pressure work for girls, instead of against them. Instead of feeling pressure to experiment with sex and drugs, girls feel challenged to be the best they can be.
The research has been so convincing that, in some quarters, there has even been a call for public schools to offer separate classes for boys and girls. However, the combination between shrinking budgets and an already-biased system is a dangerous one: In the public realm, separate too easily becomes “separate and unequal.” But in a private all-girls educational setting, girls not only receive excellent equipment and facilities, but they are also surrounded by teachers and staff who have chosen to work with girls and who are committed to giving them the best education.
Zion Educational Service can help families with struggling girls get the assistance they need in dealing with their child. By contacting one of our child placing specialists at (888) 597-9495, parents can get the expert advice and wisdom they so desperately seek for their troubled girl.