Is Your Daughter an "Artemis Type?"

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the Goddess of the hunt, a skilled archer and the protector of girls and young women. Unmarried, she wanders the forest with her pack of hounds and nymphs.

As an archetype, or pattern, girls who are "Artemis types" are free-spirited girls who love being outside in nature. These girls love animals, running, creativity and are often considered to be spunky. "Artemis types" often have a special bond with their fathers who delight in and encourage their independence and strength.

Girls today, as in the past, are often asked by culture and family to abandon this powerful, free-spirited part of themselves in favor of the adoption of more acceptable characteristics (as personified by Hera or Aphrodite). Being "nice," or defining herself as she is seen by men or boys takes on more importance as girls age.

I started Artemis Circle to create a safe and protected space for girls to gather and deepen their bonds with this part of themselves and other girls. We meet in nature and the girls wander, pause to go within, share with others, and express themselves creatively.

I am now forming a Thursday afternoon group from 4:00-5:30 in Fairfax for girls ages 11-14. Series of four meetings is $240. Please contact me if you'd like to explore your daughter joining us. 

P.S. If you'd like to read more about how Goddesses (& Gods) express themselves in women (& men) today, check out the books of Jean Shinoda Bolen.

Copy of original Artemis sculpture, 325 B.C.

Copy of original Artemis sculpture, 325 B.C.

Neuroscience Supports Importance of Early Relationships

Photograph by Lynn Johnson

Photograph by Lynn Johnson

As a Depth psychotherapist, I always relish moments when the tenets of psychoanalysis are supported by current neuroscience. I read with interest this January 2015 article in National Geographic entitled , "A baby's brain needs love to develop. What happens in the first year is profound." Researchers have found that stimulation, language and interaction, in order to be beneficial, need to be delivered by a caring adult - not the TV, smartphone or audio book.

Researchers also found that institutionalized children who had inadequate brain stimulation in the first two years of life who were not subsequently moved to a nurturing environment, showed significantly less brain activity at age 8 than children who were either never institutionalized, or who were moved to nurturing environments before the age of 2. 

For therapists and teachers who have worked with these children (and adults) over the years, this won't come as a surprise. Early life trauma and neglect often leave long-lasting and painful scars. I hope that as neuroscience continues to support the need for loving and caring treatment of children, our society can chart a course correction and support parents,  programs and people who carry out this vital work.

For those who'd like to dig deeper,  Parenting From the Inside Out by neuroscientist Dan Siegel, is a wonderful book for parents, focusing on ways to strengthen attachment and brain development. For parents of babies, I highly recommend the Sing a Song with Baby book and CD. It is filled with many fun and interactive songs which strengthen attachment and trust between baby and caregiver. As always, your questions and emails are welcome.

Release of 200 Nigerian Girls Announced (with some caveats)!

Nigerians continue to stand for the return of their girls.

Nigerians continue to stand for the return of their girls.

I am delighted to learn that the Nigerian government has successfully negotiated with Boko Haram for the release of the 200 girls kidnapped several months ago as part of a cease fire deal. Though many Nigerians are skeptical, there is some cause for cautious optimism. Read more about the deal and international reaction in this BBC article, or at the change.org petition site.  Their return is a result of the efforts of their families, and folks around the world who were outraged, and put pressure on international leaders to #bringbackourgirls!

I am holding a good thought for their safe return and healing from what must have been a terrifying and traumatic experience, and I hope that this event serves to further illuminate the struggle for gender equality throughout the world. Read more about the organization, Bring Back Our Girls at their site: http://bringbackourgirls.us

Malala Wins Nobel!

I was so pleased to learn this morning that Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize! In addition to being the youngest person ever to win the Nobel, Malala is a wonderful model of female bravery, conviction and power. She is sharing the prize with Kailash Satyarthi, a leading voice against child exploitation from India. 

I am reminded that the Greek goddess Artemis was charged with protecting girls and young women, and am touched by the ways that Malala embodies that essence of Artemis. Check out the Malala Fund to learn what she is up to and what you can do to help. 

Here's to a world free of child abuse, exploitation where every child gets a quality education!

Go See "I Am Eleven"

I had the pleasure of seeing the new film, "I Am Eleven" yesterday with a theater full of mostly 11 year olds and the filmmaker. "I Am Eleven" is a delightful documentary which introduces viewers to 11-year-olds from all over the world. The diversity of their lives and experiences is juxtaposed with a certain quintessential elevenness. The kids - from orphans in India, to a suburban girl from New Jersey, and many more - all share a certain way of walking this planet. There is a maturity, a newfound clarity of vision and purpose about the world, coupled with optimism, innocence and freshness. 

During a post-film interview, the author said, "Eleven is a really important cusp age," I couldn't have agreed more, and was reminded of all of the reasons why I started Artemis Circle. Kids that age are on the cusp between being kids and being adults. In pre-industrialized societies around the world, it was commonplace for kids right around age 11 to experience a formal initiation. Some cultures still engage in the practice.

In Ancient Greece, girls were taken to the Temple to Artemis where they participated in running, archery and other physical feats in front of their families and communities. The initiates were being prepared for their arranged marriages, most often to a much older man (the term "virgin suicides" came from this practice).

 In Navajo culture, girls take part in the Kinaalda ceremony, in which the whole community gathers and stands by, supporting and honoring the girl with their presence and words as she undertakes several runs, bakes a traditional cake, and stays up all night. At the end of the ritual, the initiate is thought to embody Changing Woman, a Navajo deity, and the community asks her initiate to bless them.

"I Am Eleven" gives us a sublime snapshot of what is universally the essence of that age, enabling us, according to the website, to "explore an age where these ‘not quite kids, not quite teenagers’ briefly linger, between the frank openness and sometimes naivety of childhood, and the sharp and surprisingly brave wisdom and knowing of adulthood. As much as it is a story about them, it is a story with them, of what it is like to be eleven today." Go see "I Am Eleven." If it's not showing near you, you can also demand it through the Gathr website here.

Malala and Missing Nigerian Girls

Just after writing my last blog, I received the following email from the creator of the original petition to bring back the missing Nigerian girls: 

Malala in Nigeria with families of kidnapped girls.

Malala in Nigeria with families of kidnapped girls.

"Jul 14, 2014 — Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for girls’ right to education in Pakistan, is in Nigeria today to meet with some of the escaped kidnapped girls and their families. 

Together with them she made a statement to stand with the Nigerian girls who are still missing and with all girls around the world who are victims of violence and gender-based oppressions. 

This is an opportunity to remind the world of the continuing plight of the Nigerian girls and to demand further action from world leaders to bring them home to their loved ones.

Please join me and sign Malala’s petition to show the world that together we are #StrongerThan fear, oppression and violence: www.change.org/StrongerThan "

Check out Malala's webiste: http://www.malala.org

Let's keep up the pressure to bring the girls home, and end gender-based violence!

New Moon Girls

Click on the above image to go to the NMG site.

Click on the above image to go to the NMG site.

Have you heard of New Moon Girls? According to their website, "New Moon Girl Media's mission is to help girls, age 8 and up, discover their unique voices and express them in the world. Safe, positive, and advertising-free, we help girls develop their full potential through self-discovery, creativity, and community. By expressing themselves and sharing their own poetry, stories, artwork, videos, and other creations; engaging in meaningful, adult-moderated discussions; and challenging cultural stereotypes of physical beauty, members build self-esteem and positive body image. New Moon girls are girls who want their voices heard, their dreams respected, and their creativity celebrated." 

NMG was started by girls, and still features many girl voices. One of my favorite recent articles was the biographical piece about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who captivated the world with her courage and strength after being shot by terrorists for insisting on pursuing her education. Check out her powerful address before the United Nations on her 16th birthday:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRh_30C8l6Y

NMG has many spaces for girls to sound off about sexism, difficult friendships, conflicts with parents, as well as their passions, creative pursuits and visions for a better world. It is a girl-led organization with truly touching and empowering content.

If you have a daughter, granddaughter, or another special girl in your life, check it out! New Moon Girls is truly in the spirit of Artemis.

Don't Peak in Middle School (or High) School

According to a study written about on NPR today, scientists are now joining the chorus of parents, teachers and therapists who have long advised kids against pursuing popularity. The study from the University of Virginia's Joseph Allen, followed popular kids for ten years, from the ages of 12-22. What he found was that at the age of 22, the cool kids had a 45% higher rate of alcohol or drug-related problems, a higher rate of interaction with the criminal justice system, and were perceived by their peers as less socially mature or competent. The authors were careful to say that popularity is not always predictive of troubles later, and of course, people can always change.

Now, if you have a pre-teen or teen in your house, you are likely dealing with this dynamic in one way or another. If your child is "cool," they are probably more likely to be on the roller coaster of social highs and lows - one day they're in, the next day they're out. If your child is not one of the cool kids, they might feel bad about themselves socially, and wonder what is wrong with them. How can you best support your child through this trying time?

If your child is a "cool" kid, feel free to set boundaries and provide your guidance as much as possible. It is ok for them to not participate in every peer activity, and you can even subtly try to guide them toward more sustaining activities like family meal time, spending time one-on-one with you, and classes and groups which their friend group is not part of. I also suggest that you limit and/or monitor their social media time. Reflecting their feelings and creating a space for them to talk about what is going on is always important.

If your child is not part of the "in" crowd, studies now prove, good for them (and you)! Much of the same advice applies. Your child will always benefit from spending quality time with you and being around kids with similar interests and passions. Limiting and monitoring social media and screen time is also important. What I might add, though, is that you reflect your child's feelings, "I know it's hard to feel like you don't belong," and offer some encouragement like, "You have your whole life in front of you, and you don't want to peak now." 

As a parent, you cannot protect your child/ren from the suffering which is a natural part of life. What you can do, however, is provide them with a safe space to think, feel and talk things through. You can model, through your own calm and emotional regulation, that they will come out of this hard spell, that you have faith in them.

Of course, if you feel like you need more help, contact a therapist in your community who is well-respected for yourself and/or your child. As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Artemis: New Book Delves into Old Myths

I was excited to learn that Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, a Bay Area Jungian Analyst, MD, author and activist has written a new book called, "Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman." In this new work from the author of "Goddesses in Everywoman," and "Gods in Everyman," the myth of Artemis is traced through Atalanta, a mortal woman who identified with Artemis,  was a runner and all-around gutsy gal. Atalanta "exemplifies the indomitable spirit in competent, courageous girls and in the women they become. This is grit, the passion and persistence to go the distance, to survive, and to succeed," says the Amazon review. I can't wait to sink into this great read! You can pre-order by clicking on the link above.

All of this talk of Atalanta reminds me of Free to Be You and Me, the feminist album created by Marlo Thomas in the 70's. "Atatlanta was a clever girl, as well as a swift runner," Marlo huskily explains. The story includes all of the cool projects Atalanta works on (astronomy, building, running), and delves into her strained relationship with her father, who expects her to bend to his will and expectations that she "do what people do" by getting married. Atalanta protests exclaiming "I intend to go out and see the world!" Be sure to check out the whole story here

It is encouraging to see the ways that the archetype, or essence, of Artemis lives on in many forms today, and I look forward to reading Shinoda Bolen's book. How can those of us who nurture girls' development help them to stay connected with their own internal Artemis now and throughout their lives?

RISE for 200+ Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

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On April 14, over 200 Nigerian girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were kidnapped while they were taking a school exam. This is a horrifying situation which you can read more about here.  Part of what inspired me to start Artemis Circle is the deplorable treatment of girls and women throughout the world, but particularly in the developing world. We live in an era in which many girls and women have more opportunities than ever before, yet still more are still struggling in archaic and abusive systems. If you feel so moved, check out and sign the petition to free the girls here, and attend a rally on May 5. These girls and their families need to know that the world cares about what happens to them.

Selfless Deeds Provide Teen Brains Protection from Depression

According to a recent study written up in The Atlantic Monthly, teenagers who participate in meaningful, selfless deeds are less depressed than teens who engage in "selfish" behaviors (e.g., video game playing or using drugs and alcohol). The original study was quite small (39 participants), but it does seem to validate conventional wisdom - that those who help others often experience more fulfillment and happiness in their lives than those motivated to seek pleasure in the short-term.  

Late adolescence is a time when depression peaks for many, and this study suggests one factor which might offer protection from teen depression.  

Radio Show on Bullying: Tips for Supporting Your Child's Social Development

Girls often engage in what some call "social bullying."

Girls often engage in what some call "social bullying."

Did you hear last week's KQED Forum program on bullying? The guests tackled the subject of bullying among youth broadly and intelligently, touching briefly on the subject in the title ("Cool Kids Get Bullied Too."). One of the guests, Robert Faris, associate professor of sociology at UC Davis co-authored a recent study which he shared with listeners in conversation with Dr. Susan Eva Porter, a high school principal and author of the book, "Bully Nation," and Rick Phillips, who runs the non-profit, Community Matters, which seeks to address the issue in schools.  I recommend giving the program a listen, but I will share a few of the key points with you here.

All of the panelists agreed that we live in a "culture of meanness" in which sarcasm and sassiness are prized and celebrated by the many available media platforms.  Many kids attribute sarcasm with popularity and kindness with a lack thereof.  They would rather be popular and sarcastic, than lose social standing by being kind.

One of the interesting study findings presented by Dr. Faris, is that kids who are climbing the social ladder are often bullied more the higher they climb, and it is often their friends who are doing the bullying.  For many of these kids, the pain they experience is quite severe, and they often have high rates of depression and suicide, particularly when compared with the kids who have grown "accustomed" to bullying as a result of occupying the lower strata of the social hierarchy for some time.

Many of Dr. Porter's contributions, were practical and helpful for parents and professionals who work with youth.  Her approach reminded me of psychodynamic psychotherapy in the way it sought a deeper understanding of the problem through curiosity, exploration and thinking in terms of a dynamic. Dr. Porter also normalizes aggression - we all have it, children included.  The goal is not to get rid of aggression or label it as "bad," but to learn about how to express anger and competition in healthy ways.

According to Dr. Porter, most bullying occurs within a dynamic, or a context in which all participants play a role.  When we see bullying as black and white, as comprised of a perpetrator and victim, we not only oversimplify the situation, but we create an atmosphere in which it is difficult for the children to critically think and learn.  The overuse of the word "bully" in our larger culture has contributed to this phenomena, and created a climate in which people no longer think about exactly what is happening.  What we really want our kids to do is to be able to critically think about their behavior and its impacts on others, and most importantly, to learn from it.  Being labeled a bully, or a victim, can have psychological implications, particularly around how the developing child thinks about him or herself.  Rather than rushing to judgement, it is important for caring adults to engage kids in a conversation about exactly what happened, and to illicit from the kids how they think their actions made others feel.

Social media has contributed to an increase in the severity of bullying and its impacts.  We all know this intuitively, but academics agree, things are just harsher today. When bullying happened in our youths, there was an endpoint. Now, a kid might "share" something on social media, which then gets "shared" hundreds of times, and then takes on a life of its own in cyberspace. This doesn't make the kid's actions 100 times worse, it just makes the impact worse. We need to keep that in mind when we judge social media bullying. This points to the tremendous need our youths have to be supervised and guided in their online usage before these incidents occur, as well as a need to have conversations which encourage their critical thinking and compassion for themselves and others.

How can you help protect your child from bullying?  One way is to stop the overuse of the word "bullying."  Help your child to describe exactly what they are experiencing and feeling.  Know that experiencing hardship builds character, and that navigating a tough situation can actually build self-esteem and resilience in your child. 

Think and talk about the situation as a dynamic between two people. Help your child, in whichever position they find themselves, to be curious with you as you unpack what is happening and why. Even if you have an idea as to why this is happening, try to hold your thoughts and actively elicit your child's thoughts.

Reinforce at home the importance of kind behavior by modeling kindness yourself. You are your child's first teacher, and they observe carefully the way you treat them, your family and friends, and yourself.  Strive to be kind to all, most importantly, yourself.  Watch what you say around your child.  Do you talk about others in a mean or harsh way?  When you have a problem with a friend or family member, do you seek them out to have a constructive conversation?

In my practice, I have supported kids who are actively struggling with peer relationships, as well as their families.  It is important to address these issues sooner, rather than later, as some kids who are social outsiders in early childhood, find acceptance and belonging in their teen years with peers who use drugs or engage in other risky behaviors.  Often, substances can provide kids with a temporary reprieve from the painful experience of not belonging, and that is not a healthy nor viable solution!  I invite you to call me to discuss your concerns at any time.

There is still so much we need to learn as a society about bullying both as a larger phenomenon, and on an individual or school level.  What are your thoughts about bullying?  Have you had any positive experiences resolving a difficult social situation with your child?  Please, feel free to leave a comment below.

 

 

 

Thoughts on Raising a Girl Today

I'm dating myself here, but I remember as a pre-teen girl, watching music videos on the brand new channel, MTV.  There were some cool videos, but what I remember most vividly are those by the myriad "hair metal" bands.  I remember watching the writhing, scantily clad young women behave provocatively toward the men.  I had never seen such images!  

What made those videos so memorable was the way they made me feel.  I remember the sinking feeling in my stomach as I took in the confusing and powerful subliminal messages.  The videos didn't speak to my conscious, discerning mind.  They spoke directly to my vulnerable, unconscious mind in a way which made it difficult for me to critically think about them, and to keep them out!  They were, however, powerful messages I received about what it meant to be a young woman, how I should think and behave, what my purpose should be, etc.   I began to think of myself differently.  I began to devalue my intellect and my true personality.   

Fast forward to today: girls as young as 12 are using smart phones and "sexting"; social media pervades our girls' lives with ruthless peer interactions, many of which have a sexist context; hip hop and pop music glorify the sexual abuse and exploitation of girls and women; female musicians perform in increasingly provocative ways; and research has shown, TV and film continue to under-represent the female perspective.  It's enough to make us all ditch our technology and run screaming for the hills!  So, what can you do as a concerned parent to protect your daughter and support her to maintain her connection to the value of her mind and heart?  

Suggestions & Considerations  

- Cultivate a secure attachment with your daughter.  This can be difficult if you did not experience a secure attachment yourself growing up, but with the help of a caring therapist and some work, you can provide your daughter with a gift which will last her lifetime and carry on to future generations!  Dr. Dan Siegel has written and researched extensively on this topic, and his book, Parenting From the Inside Out is an accessible and helpful guide.  

- Spend time with and talk with your daughter in a way which encourages her to self-reflect and think critically about her experiences. Showing her empathy and genuine curiosity can go a long way toward helping her to develop self-confidence and trust in her own wisdom and voice.  The classic book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, is a great resource.

- Provide ample opportunities from an early age for free, unstructured play in nature.  The folks at Children and Nature Network do a great job explaining this.

- Encourage her to participate in activities which de-emphasize her appearance.  Dance and gymnastics can be wonderful experiences for girls, but they do exert pressure on girls to look pretty, graceful and often, thin.  Don't forbid your daughter from such activities, but encourage physical pursuits which value her contributions and not her appearance.  Rock climbing, hiking, biking, team sports and yoga (without a mirror) promote a freedom from self-consciousness.  If she does enjoy dance, invite her to discuss these issues on a regular basis.

- Delay computer usage as long as possible, and delay internet and social media usage even longer.  Once that genie is out of the bottle, it is really tough to put it back in.  

- When your daughter goes on-line, she needs your protection and guidance.  You wouldn't put her on a bus to Times Square alone at night without any money, or phone, would you?  So don't let her go on-line without you!  This can be a tough sell, and many parents are afraid to set limits for fear of being a "bad guy" to their child.  Trust me and gazillions of other experts - your child needs you to set limits for them, even if they don't like it!  In my experience, many kids protest initially, but experience parental limits as containing and calming. When you do decide to allow your daughter online, establish safety guidelines from the beginning.   Common Sense Media is a great resource for parents.

- When you decide to allow your child social media access, establish ground rules from the beginning.  Educate her about safety, but also let her know that you will have her passwords and be checking her posts regularly.  Common Sense Media is an excellent resource for parents, and this article covers concerns with social media, including the importance of kindness.

Raising a daughter today can be a challenge!  There are more opportunities for girls than ever before, yet the factors which erode their confidence and strong sense of self seem more pernicious than ever.  With some thought, attention and support, we can help girls to navigate these critical years with strength and grace, laying the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life.