Girls on the Run: Mentoring Helps American Girls Succeed in Careers, Life
Girls who are coached in sports, leadership and academics from as young as 8 years old are better equipped to combat social pressures and enter adulthood as healthy individuals, says social worker and triathlete Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, a nongovernmental organization (NGO).
“Peer pressure plays a big role in a child's development in the middle school years,” Barker told USINFO. “Girl-only groups provide a ripe environment to discuss the challenges that peer pressure can bring and an opportunity to create coping strategies to handle this pressure before it actually exists.” In the United States, middle school usually refers to grades six, seven and eight.
According to published reports by the American Psychological Association, young girls in the United States are vulnerable to some of the same mental health problems facing some women today, including low self-confidence and depression. Programs designed specifically to help adolescent girls stay mentally healthy and obtain tools to be successful at school, at home and in life are becoming increasingly important, said Anissa Freeman, executive officer of Girls on the Run.
Girls on the Run sponsors programs in the United States for girls 8 to 13 years old that combine training for a five-kilometer running event with confidence-building workouts. Because the before- and after-school programs provide lessons that enhance emotional and social health, the benefits are more than physical.
For example, at an early morning practice in February at a primary school in Arlington, Virginia, girls learned the importance of making and keeping promises. Coach Jenn Brown used cue cards to prompt discussions related to keeping promises and then incorporated lessons into relay races. Even simply placing the cue cards at poles around the track field and having the girls race to find them and discuss them in teams drove the point home.
“If you keep your promise, people will trust you,” said Isabel, age 10, who has participated in Girls on the Run for three years. “The [Girls on the Run] practices really push you to do all you can do.”
“The running makes me feel good about myself, respect myself,” said Elise, age 11. “If you take the practices seriously, it’s not hard to run the race.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Bureau of International Information Programs.
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