There’s no doubt the sexual harassment of teenage girls continues in schools despite all the public discourse and political rhetoric in Australia over the past few months. We are talking about behaviours that are so entrenched in our schools and society at large that I believe it will take at least a generation or two to clear out (if we are lucky).
At a dinner party with friends recently, I had the pleasure of chatting to a couple of girls in their final year of high school. It wasn’t long before Jamie* was telling me about the discomfort she and friends feel due to the frequent commentary from male peers about their “body count”.
What is a body count?
A body count is the number of girls these boys have had sex with. Apparently, it is common for some boys to boast about this count, ask girls to add to it and so on. This all happens while these teenagers are trying to complete their most important year of schooling.
Rage rose within me as I heard this story and I had to pause to take a deep breath or two. Aside from the appalling language used by the boys – body counts generally describe dead bodies – the fact these girls could not complete their education without sexual harassment is unconscionable.
When I asked Jamie about the reporting mechanisms she could use to have the behaviour stopped, her answers were disappointingly and sadly familiar.
She said nothing would be done about one of the ringleaders because he is a [insert one of the following: rising sports star/father is rich/parent is a barrister] and therefore untouchable. She said the boys had been spoken to previously and nothing changed. Finally, Jamie said there was no point going to Mrs X because, “ She thinks there is nothing you can do about it and will just tell us to ignore it.”
Every woman and teenage girl at the table was familiar with these types of answers because we have all used them. Our reasoning for these responses is sound and based on our real-life experiences. But it is also one of the reasons nothing has changed since I was in high school.
It is a lot to ask a teenage girl to report these behaviours. It requires strength and courage to stand up and call these out in schools. Teenagers can be just as unforgiving as adults when someone attempts to disrupt the status quo.
What are the reporting mechanisms in schools?
Fortunately, after further discussion, Jamie was able to identify an individual teacher who might be sympathetic and more likely to take action. But I was disappointed her school had not yet established or clearly communicated reporting processes to empower their students.Frankly, the school should have had established pathways so Jamie knew who she could talk to. Ideally, every teacher should also be trained in receiving and following through on these complaints so students feel safe.
If you have a school-aged child or teenager, I would recommend asking the school what their reporting and processes are for sexual harassment and abuse complaints by students and how these processes are monitored and assessed. I would also ask how their teaching and administration staff are trained and supported to manage these processes. I know many women in particular are seeking ways to help create the changes we know are needed and this might be a way you can be involved in your community.
Girls should be able to attend school and be safe from harassment. But they’re not. Many of you may feel surprise this is still an issue. You may wonder how it is not solved yet. After all, haven’t we talked about it enough? I am also aware some parents are still indulging in hopeful naivete when it comes to the behaviours of their teenage children. Comments like, “My son wouldn’t even know about that stuff/would never say something like that” are still common.
I understand these reactions and wish it was that simple. But the truth is, this problem is not going away in the near future and it is widespread. Teenage boys are certainly hearing this type of commentary at school even if they are not participating in these behaviours. This is an uncomfortable truth we all need to face directly if we are to change things. We need to have frequent, open and honest conversations with young people about these issues. The time for believing we are protecting them by not discussing things is over – that approach only puts them at higher risk.
On a personal note, I found it interesting that when discussing the issue with Jamie, I did not look towards any man at the table for support in helping her to work out the next steps. It was her mother and the other women and girls I looked to. This was not intentional exclusion on my part and certainly her male relatives were concerned about Jamie’s experience. I suspect my approach was a default response because I have given up waiting for men to step forward to address these issues and indeed, I have no expectations they will. It is still a rarity when I do see a man or boy speak up or more importantly, be willing to act in these situations. I hope this changes in my lifetime but, for now, I know it is women and girls who must continue to be strong, courageous and take the lead in this battle.
“Why do you feel that is happening?” I ask my client.
“I think it’s because…” Her voice trails off as I watch her mind pick up then discard possible answers. I ask her to pause, redirect her to what she “feels” and the answer comes clearly and promptly.
It’s another reminder of how connecting to the feeling of something will always get you to someone’s truth far more quickly than any reasoning activity.
Our minds are powerful tools that can construct a hundred well-reasoned arguments, positions, interpretations and case scenarios about any event – this is why psychology and psychiatry flourish as necessary professions. But, relying on the mind and reason alone is doing the human race at best a disservice and at worst, for our young people in particular, making people feel more disconnected than ever before.
Those who know me well will say I loathe the word “mindfulness” because for me it misses the point. I am far more interested in helping people connect to their truth than reason their way through a mind-constructed quagmire. Focusing solely on the mind, watching the mind, being mindful is quite frankly a waste of time if what you really want is to connect to the truth of who you are and what is right for you.
I feel the same sense of irritation when I hear people say they need to control themselves better when it comes to their emotions. Let’s be clear, control is a construct that isn’t serving you because you’re not a machine with an on/off switch. You are a human being and if, like me and my clients, you are a sensitive person, trying to ‘control yourself’ in a way that suits others will put you on a winning streak to nowhere.
On the other hand, learning how to manage how you feel, how you connect with others and how you connect to yourself will benefit you far more than any solely mindful or control constructed approach.
I sometimes strike resistance when I suggest to parents that we should teach children to check in with themselves about what feels right when it comes to decision-making. Some feel very uncomfortable and respond with comments like, “But they’re not mature enough to make their own decisions. I need to help them with that because I am their parent and that’s my job.”
To a point, they are right. However, they are also not right. If we show young people how to connect into what is right for them from an early age and to trust that instinctive knowledge we all hold inside us, they are likely to make better decisions when the parent is not around later for guidance.
The ability to connect to your truth can also help young people hugely when it comes to managing anxiety.
For example, choosing subjects for school or deciding on a university degree is a big anxiety-inducing activity for a lot of young people. Their minds over-think with questions like, “Will I get a job out of this? What do my parents think I should do? Will I know anyone else in the course? Will I be any good at it? Will I get in?”
The pressure of their choices feels overwhelming and can result in incredible amounts of stress, anxiety, tears, anger, frustration, despair and other roller-coaster emotions.
What if it didn’t have to be that way?
Would this help young people to avoid scenarios where they say, after the fact, “I knew I shouldn’t go with them or do that thing but…”?
If they had trusted that “knowing”, even if on the surface everyone else said a situation was perfectly fine, would they achieve a different outcome?
I believe they would.
Many sensitive young people struggle with decision-making, anxiety and over-thinking because they have never been shown how to connect to themselves. Instead they are told to reason things through, do a pros and cons list, ask for advice and so on. There are numerous examples of how this approach is not working well for sensitive young people.
Our reasoning mind does not have all the answers. It never did.
Lucretia helps people to understand, manage and channel their sensitivity as a super power in their lives. She has a particular interest in helping young people and women to trust themselves and live their purpose on the planet. Please get in touch if you would like to chat about Lucretia’s services by emailing email@example.com
I can remember playing charades at school camp in Year 8 and one boy got up and pretended to cry – the room instantly guessed he was imitating me. I was 12 years old.
I would continue to cry throughout high school. My friends and teachers knew all about my crying. I was a highly-emotional, perfectionist who tried very hard to do the right thing. Surprisingly though, I wasn’t a social misfit. I had friends from diverse groups across the student body, I did relatively well with my grades (except maths which was always my torment) and by my senior year, I was Secretary of the Student Council and lead in the school musical (fortunately the role involved more acting than singing that year).
I was also bullied quite badly in year 8 and over the following years, I indulged in procrastination and self-sabotage leading to even more stress with my schoolwork, and despite appearances, I had low self-esteem and was highly anxious. Trying something new, like learning the clarinet (which I wanted to do), led to such heightened anxiety that I cried repeatedly and had to give up the lessons.
My Mum got me what help she could but no one seemed to have the answers.
By the time I reached my early 20s, I was on anti-depressants and it wasn’t until my early 30s that I began to work out what was happening and found non-medical ways to manage my anxiety.
There were a lot of things going on for me as a young person but one significantly influencing factor is starkly clear to me now – I was a highly-sensitive person struggling to thrive because I did not understand my sensitivity, how to manage it or use it to help me in my life.
Instead, my sensitivity was something that left me feeling overwhelmed, ashamed and wondering why I couldn’t get it together like other young people. In many ways, I was my own worst enemy and couldn’t seem to get it right.
When I look back now, I think so much of that confusion and pain was unnecessary. I just needed someone who could help me understand what was going on.
Over the past few years through my mentoring programs, I’ve helped a lot of adults to understand, manage and channel their sensitivity in healthy ways in their lives.
But this year, something has shifted – parents have begun bringing me their young people for guidance. From the ages of 12 and up, boys and girls, are doing sessions with me to understand themselves and their sensitivity more easily.
I never imagined I would work with young people who are often a lot like I was at their age. I also can’t fully describe the joy I feel when I help these young people to understand there is nothing wrong with them.
When I say the words, “Your sensitivity is your super power” young people inevitably look surprised and yes, a bit hopeful, as they lean in and ask, “What do you mean? How?”
With that one statement and the work that follows, they feel empowered and strong not ashamed or weak. To give them that gift of knowledge feels indescribably wonderful to me. And when they move on with the rest of their lives I know they will have a collection of new skills and strategies to help them feel more confident and self-reliant. Most importantly, they will understand their sensitivity is a gift in this world, not a curse.
We need to empower our sensitive young people so they can feel more connected to themselves and others. We need them to understand their sensitivity so they can manage it for themselves in healthy ways. We need sensitive young people to feel understood, heard and seen for the beautiful humans they are.
Above all, we need them to know their sensitivity is their super power; they just need some help to learn how to manage it.
If you would like to learn more about the work I do with sensitive young people, please send me a message on Facebook, Instagram or firstname.lastname@example.org
Image from Jamie, 12 years old, who completed my Power of 3 Program (3 x 1 hour sessions over 3 weeks, plus homework including meditations, journaling practices, and practical strategies to apply at home/at school and in the world generally). Jamie’s words are used with kind permission from him and his mother.
Like most people, there are things in my childhood and adolescence that scarred me emotionally. Interactions with family members and friends stay with you a long time and those memories mark you in many ways. They also influence your decisions and ideas about who you are and how the world operates.
I’m 44 now and it’s amazing how much I’m still unpicking those threads from my younger years. It’s like there are dozens of boxes strewn around the place and every now and then I trip over one and land unceremoniously on my backside.
Of course I can choose to get up at that point, kick the box to one side and keep going. But invariably all that means is there will be an even harder fall in the future. The Universe is like that you know. It will flag an issue for you to look at and, if you choose to ignore it, it will simply smack you harder next time. The Universe’s subtlety and patience can sometimes decrease rather rapidly.
These days I generally make time to undo the strings and sticky tape that’s holding the box together, and then I look inside. Some of the boxes in the past have been labeled with words like ‘rejection’, ‘need for acknowledgement’, ‘disrespect’, ‘judgement’, ‘abandonment’ and ‘love’. Inside each one has been a memory of how someone treated me, something said in jest or with cruel intention, or a situation that caused me pain.
As I’ve peered into each box, I’ve understood that I too had a role to play in creating those moments in my life. There were lessons for me to learn and things I needed to know about myself and others.
Does that mean the behaviour of some people was acceptable and kind? Definitely not. Sometimes it was the absolute opposite and, unsurprisingly, they are the moments that have marked me the most.
But with self-awareness, I have to acknowledge that while those things happened, I cannot allow them to twist my present and future in unfavourable ways. I cannot allow them to taint the possibilities and opportunities that lay before me. Yet sometimes that’s exactly what happens. Someone will say or do something in the present and I’ll be triggered back to that moment in my childhood or adolescence when something similar happened. And in that moment all the emotion from that past event will rise within me. Suddenly I will feel like I’m swimming through cotton wool, voiceless, powerless and with no idea where to go.
This is the moment the Universe pushes me over a box from my past.
It can be tempting to ignore the box and instead focus on the antagonising trigger in my present. Certainly it would feel more satisfying in the short-term to throw all my blame and pain on the person triggering my response.
But I know there is a reason such strong feelings arise and usually they start with me, my past, my lessons and my path. So I instead I apply metaphorical iodine to my wounds and open the box to peer inside. Then I find a way to work through its contents, get help to process it all if I need to, and then I do my best to let it go.
Unsurprisingly, it’s at this point the antagoniser in my present loses their power. I can deal with them calmly, almost matter-of-factly then, because it was never really about them personally. They were just a mirror showing me something to look at. They were just a chance for me to learn that now, as an adult, I can find another way.
Lucretia Ackfield is a writer and transformational teacher who helps women reconnect to the greatness that lies within by accessing their intuitive power. If you’d like to learn more about using your intuition or Lucretia’s programs, check out her Facebook page Lucretia’s Words or join her Facebook group Rock Your Inner Channel.
What did you do as a child that was just for you? Did you like to hide away in your room and lose yourself for hours in a book (like me)? Or did you draw whatever came into your head on the nearest piece of paper you could find? Maybe you liked to run or cook or build things.
Now I’ve got you thinking about what you did all those years ago, my next question is this – when did you last do that thing?
When did you last read or draw or run or cook or build something?
So often we forget those simple things that made us happy as children. Instead we get on with the business of being a grown up, earning money, being a parent, being responsible and getting things done. And in the meantime, that little child inside you gets smaller and smaller.
That child inside is the purest essence of you. It is you, just being you. When that child is happy your soul sings because it is happy too. It is carefree and filled up.
So if you feel like you are being dragged down by life or if you feel heavy or listless or just over it all, go and do that thing you loved as a child. Fill yourself up with that joy that is just for you.
You are entitled to that thing.
Make your soul sing again and you will be amazed at how much more manageable things will be.
And remember, you’re not doing it to achieve a goal or impress anyone else. You’re doing it just for you, because it’s fun and because your soul needs filling.
When I was in year 4, a girl in year 7 came up to me and asked, “Are you wearing a bra?”
How is an eight year old supposed to know what a bra is?
I asked my Mum, “What’s a bra?” She just looked down my top, squealed with joy in her voice and said, “It’s time to go shopping, you DO have little boobies”.
Really? Like, really? At the age of eight?
There was no turning back from there. I was an early “bloomer” (as some people put it). Not long afterwards a year 7 boy said I looked like Shannon Doherty from Beverly Hills 90210.
On my expedition later that week to buy a bra with my Mum, a girl in my brother’s year level asked me, “How’s your new boyfriend Tom?”
My mother instantly slapped me across the face and I burst into tears.
I am from a first generation migrant family and I wasn’t supposed to know boys existed until marriage. It was also the 1980s and hitting children wasn’t frowned upon.
So my first experience of being “liked” didn’t turn out so well. As you can imagine, I developed an unhealthy body and sexual image of myself at a young age. Was it because I had boobs? Did I really start to look like Shannon?
I didn’t want to be pretty. I didn’t want to get into trouble.
It didn’t get better as I got older. My boobs grew bigger, my face became prettier and more boys and men noticed me as I reached my teens and young adulthood.
I struggled in a few unhealthy relationships growing up. I didn’t know if it was due to my looks or maybe I wasn’t compatible with the men I dated.
I wasn’t redirected to focus on the more important aspects in life, rather than the external attributes I possessed. I found it hard to embrace the way I looked. I grew up getting compliments. I still do.
But I’m 30 now. I have two beautiful daughters and my husband would say they look like me. And although my face is ageing slowly, I’m embracing every minute I have this face. More importantly, I focus my daughters’ attention on how well they can read, count, play, and show love, affection and manners. The looks are a given but they don’t determine the level of success you possess as a human being.
Women are the biggest critics and the most supportive beings towards one another. Mothers have the biggest impacts on their daughters. I’m blessed to have mine and blessed to be one now.
Aurora S is a woman, lover, friend and mother with a passion for lifelong learning. She has a serious job but doesn’t take life too seriously.