2010 Go Ask a Girl: III

Go Ask a Girl:
A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
A leader is any person
of great spirit and heart.
—preteen girl
Chair, National Board of Directors
Connie L. Lindsey
Chief Executive Officer
Kathy Cloninger
Senior Vice President, Public Policy, Advocacy, and the Research Institute
Laurie A. Westley
Vice President, Research, Girl Scout Research Institute
Michael Conn, Ph.D.
Authors, Girl Scout Research Institute
Dana Leon-Guerrero, M.A., Research and Outreach Intern
Judy Schoenberg, Ed.M., Director, Research and Outreach
Kimberlee Salmond, M.P.P., Senior Researcher, Research and Outreach
Acknowledgment is made to Kristen Elde for editing and Julita Ehle for design.
The Girl Scout Research Institute expresses special gratitude to the girls, boys, and mothers who participated
in all of the studies cited.
Inquiries related to Go Ask a Girl should be directed to the Girl Scout Research Institute,
Girl Scouts of the USA, 420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018-2798, or to [email protected]
This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system now known
or hereafter invented, without the prior written permission of Girl Scouts of the United States of America,
420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018-2798.
© 2010 by Girl Scouts of the USA
All rights reserved.
First Impression 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
IV Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
A Message from
the Vice President, Research
Article Briefs
Civic Ambitions of the Next Generation
Youth want change. What they need is support
in translating their good intentions to actions.
Reimagining Youth Leadership with Girls
Girls exhibit many of the qualities of young leaders,
but they need adult guidance and help.
A Reality Check
Benefits for All
Into the Mind of a Girl
Breaking Down Barriers to Girl Leadership
Building Girl Leaders
The New Leadership Landscape:
What Girls Say About Election 2008
10th Anniversary Timeline:
A Voice of and for Girls
Safe Spaces
Trusting relationships are key to girls’ emotional
and physical safety.
Normal? Girls and Mixed Messages
on Health, Beauty, and Fashion
A holistic view of health better explains ties
between nutrition, exercise, and body image.
Connecting Outcomes and Processes
A Message from
the Vice President, Research
It’s amazing—startling, even—to see how far the Girl Scout Research Institute has come in its brief
10-year existence. The institute began as a germ of an idea in the late 1990s and was launched publicly
in September 2000 with the release of the study Teens Before Their Time. Since then, the concept
underpinning our work has expanded. The GSRI focuses on research that amplifies the voices of girls,
on topics that matter to them as well as for them, as our research informs program, policy, youth
development research, and public awareness. Our sincere hope is that our efforts make a positive
difference in the lives of girls, as girls in turn seek to “make the world a better place.”
This publication summarizes the sweep of our work over the last decade. You will see that GSRI research
and outcomes studies have touched on timely issues that are relevant to girls’—and in many cases boys’—
lives: the impact of the September 11th tragedy on youth, the “obesity epidemic” and healthy living, youth
leadership and civic engagement, body image and the fashion industry, girls’ interactions with the
Internet, and many more. We have made our very best effort to summarize this work efficiently and in
a way that’s engaging for you—because, as researchers, we know our readers appreciate it when we get
to the point! For those of you who wish to dive further into the details of our research, we encourage you
to visit us here: www.girlscouts.org/research. While you’re at it, please sign up for the GSRI e-newsletter
(http://www.girlscouts.org/research/enewsletters) so we can keep you updated on our latest projects,
and feel free to leave us feedback by e-mailing [email protected]
We’re thrilled that the GSRI is entering its second decade, just as Girl Scouting is about to step boldly
into its second century (March 2012). We hope you’ll join us on the journey ahead!
Michael Conn
Vice President, Research
Girl Scout Research Institute
2 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Article Briefs
Civic Ambitions of the Next Generation | page 4
Youth today have high hopes for the future. They have a strong sense of civic commitment and intend
to make responsible choices, but they’re being pulled in many directions. Adult support is necessary
because though youth value diversity and are willing to express their ideas, they consider there to be
fewer opportunities for participation. By collaborating with youth in the decision-making process,
adults can help them turn their good intentions into good actions.
Reimagining Youth Leadership with Girls | page 8
Girls aspire to be leaders that are change agents and help others. However, their vision of leadership
is frequently overshadowed by the dominant command-and-control style. To encourage girls to be
leaders, the definition of leadership needs to be reconsidered and programs need to address the
specific obstacles that girls face on their journey to success.
Safe Spaces | page 20
Safe spaces for girls attend to the physical and emotional dimensions of safety. Establishing trusting
relationships with adults and peers is a key factor to emotional safety and can help girls cope with
challenging situations. Some of the consequences of girls feeling unsafe are a compromised sense
of physical well-being, greater likelihood of being sad or unhappy, and diminished interest and
achievement in school.
Normal? Girls and Mixed Messages on Health, Beauty, and Fashion | page 22
Girls want to be healthy, emotionally and physically, but they also want to be accepted. Many girls settle
for being “healthy enough” (meaning they don’t appear too healthy or too unhealthy). Improving girls’
physical health requires attention to the numerous influences, including family, media, and the fashion
industry, in a girl’s life and the effects of emotional health and self-esteem on physical activity and diet.
Civic Ambitions of the Next Generation
Youth are ready and willing to become active citizens in their communities,
but they need adult support to become able.
“If no one were to
volunteer, we would
all just be sitting here
with nothing.
Someone’s got
to do it.”
—teen girl
Youth today have high hopes for
the future. They have a strong sense
of civic commitment and intend to make
responsible choices, but they’re being
pulled in many competing directions.
Adult support is necessary because
while youth value diversity and are willing
to express their ideas, they consider there
to be fewer opportunities for participation
than in the past. By collaborating with them
in the decision-making process, adults can
help youth turn their good intentions into
good actions.
When adults pose the question “what can
I do?” in response to awareness of the staggering
problems we face as a nation—environmental
degradation, rising unemployment, government
scandal, and the obesity epidemic to name a
few—it’s often with today’s youth and their future
in mind. Yet there’s a tendency to overlook youth
as viable partners in addressing these and other
large-scale concerns. With youth today
indicating a greater and more expansive sense
of civic responsibility than ever before,
it’s important this ambition is encouraged,
whether through individual effort, community
organizations, or worldwide movements.
In the last two decades, there have been
significant shifts in the day-to-day experiences
of youth. Technological advances in computer
sciences and telecommunications have
affected all dimensions of life. The advent
of the Internet, cell phones, and social
networking have monumentally altered the
ways young people communicate and digest
information. Because youth have access to an
unprecedented amount of information, a battle
has ensued for their attention. Media coverage
of celebrity scandal and gossip, aggressive
product marketing, and public service
campaigns around the dangers of smoking,
drinking, drugs, and other “vice” behaviors all
cater to this younger demographic. In addition,
occurrences such as 9/11 and the housing bubble
have profoundly affected the lives of youth
and their families, further influencing how youth
tackle problems and how adults help them
to make decisions.
Today’s Youth as Upstanding Citizens
It’s been shown that preteens and teens intend
to make responsible choices and avoid risky
behavior. A 20-year comparison study published
by the GSRI, Good Intentions: The Beliefs
and Values of Teens and Tweens Today, queried
a nationwide sample of 3,263 girls and boys
in grades 3–12 on issues ranging from ethics
and diversity to civic involvement and peer
pressure. The survey provided insights into
young people’s values and beliefs, revealing
that they aspire to be upstanding citizens.
Choices and Behaviors. There has been a
decline in reported rates of cheating, lying, and
engagement in underage drinking, smoking, drug
use, and premarital sex. Fifty-eight percent of
youth say they would refuse an alcoholic drink
if offered one at a party, compared to fewer than
half (46%) in 1989. Similar trends exist
concerning other risky behaviors. Good
Intentions found that one third of teens say they
intend to wait until they are married to have sex,
compared to less than a quarter (24%) in 1989.
Additionally, two decades later, youth are more
accepting of gay relationships. Fifty-nine percent
of teens agree with the statement, “Gay and
lesbian relationships are OK, if that is a person’s
choice,” while only 31% agreed in 1989. The study
also surveyed young people about issues that
have become prominent with the advent of new
media and technology. Only 6% say they would
4 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
engage in cyberbullying by forwarding an
embarrassing picture of a classmate to their
friends. Some 40% would take the extra step of
telling the originator of the e-mail that what she
or he did was wrong.
Diversity. Youth today are more accepting
of difference and greatly value diversity. Among
7th- to 12th-graders, nearly 6 in 10 say that being
around people from different racial and ethnic
backgrounds is important to them. This appears
to be particularly important to girls (63% versus
55% of boys) and youth from diverse racial
or ethnic backgrounds.
Civic Engagement. Young people in the 2009
survey report a stronger sense of civic
engagement compared to 20 years ago. Youth
today are more likely to say they intend to vote
in the future, as well as give to charity. Some 79%
say they will volunteer in their communities.
Peer Pressure. In a focus group associated with
this study, one teen girl from Kansas said about
peer pressure, “The herd mentality hasn’t gone
by the wayside by any means, but kids are more
willing to express their ideas and opinions.”
Compared to 20 years ago, youth now feel less
pressure to fit in, with 26% citing this pressure,
down from 34% in 1989. A full 62% report feeling
hardly any pressure “at all.” In fact, 79% of youth
in grades 7–12 are not afraid to speak their
minds and would express an opinion even
if it wasn’t popular.
New Obstacles. While findings suggest that
youth intend to make responsible decisions on
their journey to adulthood, Good Intentions also
documented some of the issues youth continue
to struggle with. From their perspective, there’s
growing anxiety regarding the future, with 72%
saying they feel pushed “a lot” to prepare for the
future (compared to 63% in 1989). This pressure
Mounting Adult
“We are growing up in a society where as teenagers
we can’t just be girls, but young women who are stressed
to be perfect in every respect.” —teen girl
In 1989:
11% decrease: Youth
think it is harder for them
growing up now than it
was for their parents.
20-Year Comparison of Youth
% of teens in 1989
“While it is refreshing
to see evidence that
nearly 60% of youth,
particularly girls and
racial/ethnic minorities,
say that diversity
is important to them,
findings from this study
suggest that there may
be more we can do
to assist American boys
and girls in valuing the
rich cultural diversity
our nation has to offer.”
—Professor of Education
Janie Victoria Ward, Ph.D.
In 2009:
7% increase: Youth
feel pressured “a lot”
to obey teachers
and parents.
Would not cheat
Do not think smoking is okay
9% increase: Youth feel
pushed “a lot” to prepare
for the future.
Will express an unpopular idea
Intend to vote
7% and 5% decrease:
Girls and boys believe
there are more
opportunities for
them today than there
were for their parents.
Will give to charity
is felt very intensely around school
and achievement. When asked what youth
worry about the most, one in five (22%) cite
pressure to do well in school and sports. At the
middle and high school levels, youth feel this
pressure most acutely—pressure to obey
teachers and parents “a lot” has increased by
seven percent. Young people’s anxiety around
the future is likely to be connected with noted
lower levels of optimism. Interestingly, when
youth are asked to compare their lives with that
of their parents, the majority doesn’t consider
growing up today harder than in the past, though
there is a decline in the percentage of youth
who think they have more opportunities than
their parents did at the same age.
Who Youth Turn To
“I want to go
with my life,
and if I make bad
decisions, I won’t reach
all the goals I have—like
going to college and living
a good life.”
—teen girl
When confronting moral dilemmas and difficult
decisions, youth today draw strong influence
from a variety of sources, especially parents
and family. When uncertain in determining the
right thing to do, a full 82% of youth ages 8–10
turn to their parents for advice. Parents remain
the most common source of advice until late
adolescence, when 47% of 16- to 17-year-olds
seek out their parents and 49% approach
their peers. Though youth gradually begin to
incorporate their peers in their decision-making
process, families reemerge as the strongest
presence when youth are asked about who they
look to for help in solving America’s problems.
Helping Youth Connect Intentions to Actions.
Youth make millions of choices each day. Some
of their decisions will be easy (chocolate or
vanilla ice cream?) and some will be more
difficult (accept the beer or say “no thanks”?).
It is through being in a variety of situations that
youth develop their own moral compass and
learn to balance pressures from their families,
friends, schools, religion, and the media. Youth
need adult understanding and support to
successfully navigate these paths, particularly
when they find themselves in new and
uncomfortable situations.
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience
bridges girls’ intentions and actions.
Following are five of fifteen “outcomes”—part of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE)—identified
so that adults can help girls develop the qualities and skills necessary to make a difference in the world:
Girls develop a strong sense of self.
Girls develop positive values.
Girls advance diversity in a multicultural world.
Girls feel connected to their communities, locally and globally.
Girls feel empowered to make a difference in the world.
These outcomes are best reached by employing the Girl Scout “processes”—by engaging girls in activities
that are Girl Led and involve Learning by Doing and Cooperative Learning. For tips on incorporating the
processes, see page 28.
6 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Relationship between Youth’s Response and Gender
Would cheat on test
we worked
it out.”
Would lie to principal
“Last year I had a big
problem, so I talked
to my parents and
Would cyberbully
Would drink*
—preteen girl
Would have sex*
“A perfect example
is when we’re watching
a movie. Something will
happen on the screen
and I’ll be like,
Would advise an abortion*
‘So how do you
feel about that?’
Would end friendship with
gay/lesbian friend*
From Good Intentions: The Beliefs and Values of Teens and Tweens Today
*Indicates statistically significant difference. Questions of sex, drinking, abortion,
and ending a friendship were only asked of 7th- to 12th-graders.
How to Address Issues with Youth. The way
adults go about discussing and resolving
problems with youth are reflected in their
decisions and behaviors. Good Intentions found
that when youth and parents disagree, if they
work together to make a decision or the parents
adequately explain their decision, youth are less
likely to say they would cheat or lie than are youth
who report that their parents either “give in” and
let them do whatever they want or “force” them
to do what the parents think is best. Youth with
parents who give in are also more likely to say
they would have sex, drink, and cyberbully.
Learning to Work with Youth
To support youth in turning their good intentions
into good actions, adults should heed the
following four steps:
Step 1: Talk. Yes, it’s tough sometimes, but the
influence of caring adults on young people’s
decision-making is more powerful than is the
media and celebrity culture. Give youth an
opportunity to talk about their personal
struggles, and treat these with respect.
Step 2: Listen. Discuss with youth their
decision-making process rather than place
judgment on the choices they make. Enter
conversations with an open mind to understand
various sides of an issue. Discussions about
“right and wrong” divide adults and youth,
stopping the conversation in its tracks.
Step 3: Create Opportunities. Today’s youth
highly value civic and community engagement
but don’t feel they have the space to fulfill this
desire. Provide meaningful opportunities for
youth to affect the kind of change they are most
interested in—change regarding issues they really
care about. Try to connect what’s going on locally
with young people’s interests and skills.
Step 4: Watch Them Go. Today’s youth are
more comfortable speaking their minds and
voicing their opinions than were youth of
previous generations. As young people develop,
be ready to return to the first step and reflect
together on successes and challenges.
It’s an open opportunity
for me to have a
conversation with
my kids.”
—mother of a teen girl
“As adults, our role is
to help youth actualize
these good intentions
around voting and civic
responsibility so that
they do in fact
take action to
make a positive
difference in the
world around
—William Damon, director
of the Stanford Center
on Adolescence
Reimagining Youth Leadership with Girls
Girls are up-front about what leadership means to them—and about how to
make leadership more meaningful and relevant to this generation of youth.
Girls aspire to be leaders who are change
agents and who help others. However,
their vision of leadership is frequently
overshadowed by the dominant commandand-control style. To encourage girls to be
leaders, the leadership definition needs to be
reconsidered and leadership programs need
to address the specific obstacles that girls
face on their journey to success.
Say “leadership” and people often think of how
individuals in powerful positions such as CEOs
or the president make important decisions and
direct those under them. The conventional
leadership style is characterized by a taskoriented approach to managing and is a more
masculine model. Leadership that focuses on
empathy, consensus, and communication is
considered to be a more feminine leadership
style. There are advantages to each of these
styles and the youth development field has
now moved beyond these two orientations
to embrace a framework that is more holistic,
emphasizing connectivity, teamwork,
community involvement, civic engagement,
personal and group development,
and social change.
Central to understanding girl leadership
programs is knowing how the youth leadership
field has changed over the years. The current
consensus is that leadership skills can be
developed, not that potential is predetermined.
Similarly, there is a shift within the youth
leadership field from focusing on one leader
to targeting a web of leaders. Programs have
adopted more participatory and inclusive
approaches to leadership development and
commitments to changing communities,
neighborhoods, and the world at large.
This more empowering approach encourages
young people to take on increasing responsibility,
treats them as involved participants in designing
and implementing activities, and explores
how they can have an impact today—not just
as adults tomorrow.
Where Do Girls Fit?
In current co-ed youth leadership programming,
there is little accounting for how girls develop
leadership skills, whether and how leadership
is different for them compared to boys, and
the best context in which girls can develop
their strengths. What is known is that there are
certain conditions that support girls’ growth and
development that are not always fostered in
conventional youth programs. Organizations that
provide single-sex learning environments are
sometimes better equipped to address specific
participants’ needs. Although girls today
certainly have increased leadership
opportunities, they still face pressure from
society to conform to conventional notions
of what it means to be a girl.
Continuum of Approaches to Youth Development
Treats and
prevents problems
for “at-risk” youth
Builds skills and supports
broader youth development
in organizatinal and
public decision-making
Actively engages
youth as partners
From Exploring Girls’ Leadership
8 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Girl Leadership Today
A Reality Check
To better support girls, youth service
organizations and adults need to toss limiting
myths aside and listen to what girls are saying.
Many adults hold biases regarding youth who
take on leadership roles and what youth
leadership really means. Outlined below are
the four most commonly held misperceptions,
compiled from youth development experts.
Girl Myth: Adults are always open to youth
Girl Reality: Sometimes adults don’t trust
us kids.
“I do want people to
look up to me and say
‘I want to be
just like her.’”
—preteen girl
From the Experts. Many adults harbor
misgivings and negative biases about youth
in general, and specifically about their
commitment or ability to make a significant
impact. This bias can be so strong that
success stories of young people making
a difference—particularly if they involve
young people of color—tend to be discounted
(Bales, 2000). For adults to be open to youth
participation, they often need to change
the lens through which they view youth
and their potential. One way to bridge this
gap is for adults to work closely with youth
in leadership opportunities to see firsthand
the good things they accomplish.
Girl Myth: Young people aren’t motivated
to get involved in community action.
Girl Reality: I want to help.
From the Experts. Studies show that young
people have a strong interest in political
and community issues, especially when they
believe they can make a difference. According
to the Forum for Youth Investment (2001),
72% of young people participate in community
activities through organized groups or
associations, and 64% agree that “feeling
as though you give back to your community”
is extremely important to them. Research
published by the Corporation for National
and Community Service (2005) also reveals
that 15.5 million teens volunteered during 2004,
translating into 1.3 billion hours of service.
This is a 55% volunteer rate, compared with
a 29% volunteer rate among adults in the
same period.
Girl Myth: Engaging youth means asking
a few to participate.
Girl Reality: I want to make real contributions.
From the Experts. Although placing a few youth
on an adult board or planning committee looks
like youth participation is being promoted,
experts argue that it is oftentimes token
representation. Merely inserting a small
number of youth into an already established
adult process does not give youth a full chance
to contribute to decision-making. It also
guarantees a level of exclusiveness since
relatively few can take part and those selected
are generally hand-picked from a narrow pool
of applicants. Opportunities for decision-making
are needed at all levels to ensure that the
greatest number of diverse young people can
actively participate.
Girl Myth: Youth should be able to lead
by themselves.
Girl Reality: I need your help.
From the Experts. Adults play an important role
in youth leadership programs; they are needed
to guide and connect youth to their community,
especially in projects that require political
activism or civic involvement. A youth-adult
partnership in decision-making has been shown
to have particularly strong positive outcomes.
Many youth do not naturally assume leadership
roles and need to be coached along the way.
Such coaching might include trainings,
workshops, and other opportunities to expand
their skill sets.
From Exploring Girls’ Leadership
10 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Benefits for All
While more women are entering leadership
positions in business, politics, academia, and
government, there is just a small percentage
of women reaching the highest echelons.
To help girls attain influential leadership
positions, they need to develp an array of skills,
including decision-making and motivational skills.
Additionally, a balance needs to be struck
between maintaining group cohesion and being
assertive. Participation in quality youth
leadership programs encourages girls to draw
upon their leadership skills, resulting in improved
skills, personal growth, and greater comfort
in leadership positions. Programs that focus
on youth participation are particularly beneficial
for older and more disenfranchised youth,
who may be harder to engage or lack access
to programs that target their needs and the
needs of their communities.
• decreasing the likelihood of participation in risky behaviors.
Benefits for Adults. Adults play an integral role
in designing opportunities for meaningful
youth engagement. When adults encourage
youth to lead, they—adults—experience
positive outcomes themselves. Adults who
collaborate with youth for an extended time
and work towards a common goal can build
trusting relationships and observe other
benefits as well.
Benefits for Organizations. Organizations
influence the context in which girls and adults
interact. By promoting a youth-driven
leadership program, organizations can greatly
benefit. The Innovation Center (2003)
and researchers at University of WisconsinMadison found that organizations that support
youth development through participation
better serve youth.
“I just volunteer—it’s part of who I am. I don’t really think
about why I do it or what I’m doing it for. I just go and
enjoy the time I have volunteering.” —volunteer
Youth participation not only benefits girls;
it benefits the adults and organizations that
support them and their ambitions.
Benefits for Girls. The benefits of a youth
leadership approach are well-documented,
and the positive outcomes and opportunities
are even more pronounced for those who are not
reached by more conventional youth development
programs. As reported by the Forum for Youth
Investment (2002), youth action can impact
young lives by:
acting as a gateway to future civic action;
improving attitudes related to school,
academic achievement, and work;
positively affecting interpersonal skills
and social development; and
Into the Mind of a Girl
Even at a young age, girls have definite ideas
about what it means and takes to be a leader.
It was discovered that while girls, and boys,
define leadership by its authoritative and
controlling characteristics, they find this
definition of leadership the least appealing and
inspiring. They prefer to define leaders by their
ethical behavior, personal principles, and ability
to effect social change. Many girls emphasize
what leadership should be used for, rather than
focus on specific roles or positions. This way
of thinking leads girls to value leaders who stand
up for their beliefs and can get things done.
“So What?” A New Definition
of Leadership
The disconnect between the traditional
definition of leadership and the type
of leader girls want to be causes girls to reject
the definition and become ambivalent to
leadership as a goal.
Though youth don’t consider being a leader one
of their top priorities, the majority of girls would
not mind being a leader. With fewer than 9%
of girls rejecting leadership completely and 39%
of girls wanting to be leaders, reimagining
leadership is essential to the development
of future women leaders.
Girls say a leader is
someone who stands up
for her beliefs, brings
people together to get
things done, and tries to
change the world
for the better.
“You don’t have to be
a leader of a group.
You don’t have to be
a leader of an
organization. You don’t
have to be a leader
of a class. It’s just
personally within
yourself, like knowing
that you’re independent,
knowing that you can
make the right decision.
You can be
a leader for
—teen girl
Girls and Motivation to Lead
Youth who want to be leaders are driven by a
variety of motivations, with the desire to help
others topping the list. Overall, both girls and
boys share personal and altruistic motivations
for wanting to be leaders. Girls and boys have
similar reasons for seeking leadership roles:
to help other people, to help themselves be
successful in life, to share their knowledge
and skills with others, and to develop useful
skills and qualities.
Girls choose role models based on how much
leaders display the above characteristics. No
matter who the role model is—family member,
historic figure, or a celebrity—what youth admire
and want to emulate is their commitment to
fighting against injustices in society, their focus
on helping others, and their determination
in overcoming adversity and standing up for
their beliefs.
Can Girls Be Leaders?
Girls and boys set the benchmark for leadership
skills very high. Leadership is highly idealized, with
youth expecting leaders not only to be confident,
assertive, and persuasive, but honest, caring,
nice, and creative. This does not seem attainable
to all girls and may prevent some from even
trying to acquire these skills.
Youth expect leaders to have at their disposal
a wide array of qualities and skills so they can
pull on them when necessary. Situational
leadership requires the ability to adapt to
a particular situation in one’s approach.
However, while some situations might call
for a collaborative, team-oriented leadership
style, others demand an executive style
of decision-making.
Ninety-two percent of girls believe anyone can
acquire the skills of leadership, but only 21%
believe they currently have most of the key
qualities required to be a good leader. This
discrepancy is a real barrier, because if youth
do not feel they possess the skills and
competencies necessary for leadership,
they will be discouraged altogether from
aspiring to achieve this goal.
percent of girls
want to be leaders.
Girls tend to consider their best qualities
to be caring about others, honesty, niceness,
and creativity. They are also more likely to
describe themselves as emotional than are boys.
A comparison between girls’ self-assessment
and the qualities considered paramount for
leadership, including being organized, being
good at dealing with conflict, taking charge, being
a strong decision-maker, and having motivation,
reveals that girls are not yet confident about
having the essential skills and competencies
they think of as most important for a leader.
12 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Breaking Down Barriers
to Girl Leadership
to develop leadership programs that resonate
with girls and allow them to experiment with
leadership roles in a safe space.
The factor that most strongly influences girls’
desire to pursue leadership is confidence.
Recognizing the strong tie between confidence
and leadership aspirations is essential to
breaking down barriers and building up girls.
Fear and Leadership
Girls can develop confidence in a variety
of settings—school, sports, or through other
extracurricular activities. Role models in these
environments can provide opportunities
for youth to practice and improve their
organizational skills and experience leadership
roles, something that has been correlated with
positive attitudes towards leadership.
Extraversion and simple involvement in group
activities have also been found to be connected
to leadership aspirations.
Although any setting has the potential to provide
girls with confidence-boosting experiences, girls
report that these opportunities are scarce. And,
lamentably, youth do not feel they have much
power to change things or help others in many
environments. This presents a great opportunity
to the youth development and leadership fields
“I do not want to be
a leader because
people will think
I am bossy if I am
a leader.”
—preteen girl
For girls, feeling secure in their environment
is critical to overcoming their fears around
leadership. Youth not interested in leading
identify a litany of barriers, the most
significant being:
“I want to be
a leader for girls
lack of confidence in skills
and competence
talking in front of others
potential embarrassment
appearing bossy
negative peer pressure
Notably, barriers to leadership are consistent
among boys and girls, but girls experience fears
and inhibitions about social acceptance more
acutely. Fully one-third of girls who do not want
to be leaders attribute their lack of motivation
to fear of being laughed at, making people mad
at them, coming across as bossy, or not being
liked by people. These barriers make clear that
some girls still struggle with the unwritten rules of
because lately I haven’t
seen a single girl role
model out in the world
that I could look up to,
because every time
you look to somebody,
they go out and do
something stupid.”
—teen girl
Continues on page 16
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience
builds girls of courage, confidence, and character.
To increase girls’ confidence in their leadership skills, Girl Scouts has established outcomes for each
grade level to help guide progress. These five outcomes are most relevant to the research on
reimagining girl leadership:
Girls develop a strong sense of self.
Girls develop critical thinking.
Girls feel connected to their communities, locally and globally.
Girls can identify community needs.
Girls educate and inspire others to act.
Girls say they
want to be
leaders so
they can help
other people,
The Girl-Led, Learning by Doing, and Cooperative Learning processes help girls to achieve these
outcomes. Flip to page 28 to learn more about implementing the processes.
be successful in life,
share their knowledge
and skills, and develop
new skills and qualities.
10th Anniversary Timeline:
A Voice of and for Girls
The Girl Scout Research Institute listens to what girls are saying and watches how girl
culture changes. We study the girl perspective on critical issues and bring our findings
to important adults in girls’ lives.
Reliable resources, accurate information, and varying
perspectives are essential to advancing the well-being
and safety of girls living in today’s world.
The Net Effect:
Girls and New Media
Junior Girl Scout Group
Experience: Outcomes
Measurement Guide
Paths to Positive Youth
The Community Connection:
Volunteer Trends
in a Changing World
Transforming Leadership
Cont.: A Guide to Understanding
the Girl Scout Processes
Feeling Safe:
What Girls Say
Weighing In: Helping Girls
Be Healthy Today,
Healthy Tomorrow
The New Leadership
Landscape: What Girls Say
About Election 2008
The New Normal? What Girls
Say About Healthy Living
Good Intentions:
The Beliefs and Values
of Teens and Tweens Today
Beauty Redefined:
Girls and Body Image Survey
Snapshots of Young
Lives Today
GirlSports Basics
National Evaluation
The Girl Difference:
Short Circuiting the Myth
of the Technophobic Girl
Voices of Volunteers 18-29
Teens Before Their Time
Girl Scouts Beyond
Bars Report
Change It Up! What Girls Say
About Redefining Leadership
Transforming Leadership: Focusing
on Outcomes of the New Girl Scout
Leadership Experience
The Ten Emerging Truths:
New Directions for Girls 11-17
Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts
of the USA, recognized that developing girls’
leadership abilities was critical to ensuring girls
would be the change-makers of the future.
The Internet and other new technologies have
dramatically changed the way people connect
and communicate. To better understand how this
is impacting girls’ lives, the GSRI conducts studies
on girls’ use of online and offline technologies,
navigating their personal, social, and academic lives
and the varying degrees of skill, guidance, and
protection they have in using these technologies.
Girl Leadership, Beliefs, and Values
Science, Technology,
Engineering, and Math (STEM)
Tool Kit for Measuring
Outcomes of Girl Scout
Resident Camp
Exploring Girls’
Girls’ heath has always been a central concern
of Girl Scouts of the USA. In recent years the
incidences of obesity, eating disorders, and child
diabetes have increased, presenting serious
implications for youth’s future emotional
and physical well-being. GSRI research reveals
how health and safety are defined, how girls see
themselves and others, and the resources
available to girls to help them live healthy, safe lives.
To achieve this goal, the GSRI has explored girls’
experiences, aspirations, and definitions
of leadership as well as the ethics, beliefs,
and values girls hold for themselves and for others
in leadership positions.
Healthy Living
How America’s Youth
Are Faring Since
September 11th
*These publications are available
at www.girlscouts.org/research.
Continued from page 16
“I wouldn’t like
getting in front
of people.”
—teen girl
what it means to be “feminine” and
exhibiting stereotypically “female” behaviors
like being nice, quiet, polite, agreeable, and liked
by all.
Building Girl Leaders
Promoting leadership in girls is a matter of
fostering their self-confidence by offering
leadership opportunities in supportive
environments. Because girls are guided by
a social change definition of leadership, they
are active—or have interest in being active—
in charitable, social service, and other informal
leadership activities. These quieter forms of
leadership are highly valued by girls and are part
of their everyday lives. Where girls lack
experience is in roles aimed at social change
or political activism. Providing girls with access
to a variety of leadership roles and the supports
starting a club, or trying to change something
they dislike in the neighborhood. However, with
age, they become more likely to lead in school
projects. (Percentage for the latter climbs from
24% of 8- to 10-year-old girls to 37% of 16to 17-year-old girls.)
School is reported to be the most common
setting for experiencing leadership by both girls
and boys. To a lesser degree, home, church,
sports teams, and clubs also represent
environments where youth have had leadership
experiences. Despite the different options
available for youth leadership opportunities,
youth do not feel they have much power
to change things or teach/help others in any
environment. In response to a question about girl
empowerment, one participant shared, “I would
like the opportunity… I want to be the one
to develop these programs, not be the one that
Thirty-two percent of girls not interested in leadership say,
“I am afraid I will fail.” —Change It Up! What Girls Say About
Redefining Leadership
in Leadership
While top-ranking
rationales for girls
and boys are the
same, there are some
significant differences.
Boys are more likely
than girls to be motivated
to be their own bosses,
make more money,
and have more power.
they need to be successful is the key to
broadening their horizons and encouraging
them to dream big.
can only sit back and wait to be affected by
programs that were never made for me in the
first place.”
Her Opportunities, Her Experiences
When girls do have leadership opportunities,
perception of their experience ranges.
Eighty-six percent of girls rate their most recent
leadership experiences as “good” or “great.”
African American and Hispanic girls are more
likely than Caucasian girls to report enjoying their
leadership experiences. For the 5% of youth who
find their most recent experience to be negative,
the top reasons for their dissatisfaction are fear
of speaking in public, stress, and lack of support
from peers. Girls and boys equally cite stress
and lack of peer support as factors contributing
to their poor experience.
Participation in informal and formal leadership
activities is influenced by many factors, including
income and age. Income has a direct correlation
with leadership experience: the higher
the household income of youth, the more likely
they are to have had a leadership experience.
When analyzing the effects of age, a striking
trend appears: as girls get older, they are less
likely to engage in some forms of leadership,
such as being captain/co-captain of a sports
team, organizing a game in the neighborhood,
16 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Her Supports
Her Leadership Education
Given girls’ self-perceived limitations and fears/
dissatisfaction around leadership, the influence
of family, particularly mothers, on girls’
leadership goals and aspirations cannot be
overstated. Consistently, immediate family
members and relatives are identified as role
models and the people girls most admire.
Participation in organized and informal
activities and exposure to leadership
opportunities are strongly correlated with
leadership aspirations. However, environments
in which girls can develop leadership skills
and safely experiment with leadership roles
are scarce, making leadership training
opportunities extremely attractive. Providing
a strong and positive support system for these
opportunities serves as a foundation for
developing girl leaders. Adults and girls alike
need to be educated about expanded
definitions of leadership and the value
of leadership skill development.
Peer relationships play an important role
for all youth, but particularly for adolescent
girls. Friends and classmates can be role models
for setting higher academic and personal goals.
At the same time, friends and classmates also
serve as negative influences in these areas.
Thirty-nine percent of girls report having been
discouraged or put down, usually by peers and
classmates, when they were trying to lead.
Although this may be seen as normal behavior
during youth, the impact should not be
underestimated. The emotional toll of “high
school drama” dampens girls’ enthusiasm
for achievement and recognition regarding
academic and personal goals.
“I can be anything
I want to be!”
—teen girl
How Stereotypes are Hindering Girls’ Progress
Youth know that gender stereotypes are resilient to change. Fifty-six percent of youth believe that
“in our society, it is more difficult for a woman to become a leader than for a man.” An almost equal
percentage of girls believe that “girls have to work harder than boys in order to gain positions
of leadership,” but boys are reluctant to agree to this statement (only 44% agree). These findings
spotlight the environmental barriers that still exist for girls and young women pursuing leadership
roles. When statements about women’s or mens’ roles or qualities are posed, boys and girls find
no difference in their inherent abilities. However, women are judged by youth to be better at fulfilling
traditionally feminine roles, such as “taking care of others,” “forming and maintaining relationships,”
“running a household,” and “listening to others.” These stereotypes can inhibit girls’ aspirations for
leadership because girls are sent the message that it is inappropriate for them to behave outside
the narrow range of “accepted” female qualities/roles.
Have you
ever had the
to be a leader?
Four in six girls believe
they have had some
opportunity to be
a leader; one in six girls is
unsure whether she has
or not (this uncertainty
may speak to their
inability to recognize
leadership experiences
as such); and one in six
has not had opportunity.
A Daily Dose of Leadership
There are many ways to go about helping
your daughter or the girls you mentor develop
skills as leaders. Following is a week’s worth
of potential strategies.
Sunday: Find leader role models. Supportive,
inspiring, and influential leaders can be found,
but girls may need some help in locating them.
You can start by looking at home, considering
families are the primary influence on girls.
Monday: Build her self-esteem. Tell her what
leadership skills and qualities you think she
already possesses. Help her identify ones she
can attain and come up with a plan for doing so.
Tuesday: Discuss stereotypes. Gender
stereotypes can make girls feel uneasy about
asserting themselves as leaders. Use movies,
commercials, other media, or personal
experiences to initiate conversations about how
to overcome gender stereotypes and negative
images of girls and women.
Wednesday: Discourage gossiping. Girls need
to practice leadership skills in safe environments,
and gossip can contribute to girls’ fears of getting
teased while trying to lead.
Thursday: Get her involved. Encourage her to
participate in a variety of school and community
activities so she can develop leadership skills
that are key to future success.
The New Leadership
Landscape: What Girls
Say About Election 2008
On the heels of the tumultuous 2008
presidential election, the Girl Scout Research
Institute surveyed 3,284 girls and boys, ages
13–17, to investigate the impact of the election
and the preceding campaigns on young people’s
leadership aspirations and civic engagement.
The resulting study, The New Leadership
Landscape, reveals that girls have not only
gained an increased awareness of the barriers
that face aspiring women leaders, but an
improved sense of their own abilities and
potential to overcome these obstacles.
Race Perceptions
In this study, the impact of race on young people
was not clear-cut: one in three believes Barack
Obama was held to a higher standard because
of his race, while 48% believe that race ultimately
helped him in the elections.
One in three believes
that Barack Obama
was held to a higher
standard because
of his race.
Friday: Gear up for success. Come up with an
energizing playlist or pep talk to get her excited
prior to a given leadership opportunity.
Saturday: Share her success. After practicing
specific skills, such as speaking in front of
others, giving instruction, giving and receiving
constructive feedback, being assertive,
or thinking critically in difficult situations—
celebrate! A strong leadership experience
will encourage her to keep practicing.
Gender Perceptions
It was difficult for many youth to judge whether
female candidates were treated as fairly as male
candidates. Boys were statistically more likely
to waver, with 21% indicating they were “not sure”
whether female candidates were treated as fairly.
18 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Opinions on a Future Female President
Youth believe that electing
a female president is desirable…
“Men don’t like powerful
women. I think they are
threatening to men.
Poor Sarah Palin—
but not essential.
Do you think it would be a good thing or a bad
thing to elect a woman to be president?
How would you feel if in the next presidential
election not a single woman were running for
the offices of president and/or vice president?
just because
she’s attractive,
people tried
to make her out
to be dumb
and vain.
Poor Hillary Clinton—
just because
she is smart
and ambitious,
people made her
out to be hard
and mean.”
—teen girl
10% 9%
From The New Leadership Landscape: What Girls Say About Election 2008
While the election illustrated the capabilities and leadership qualities of women, it also underscored
the barriers women face in seizing these opportunities.
Effect on girls:
increased interest in politics
increased confidence in their ability to change things in the country
enhanced comfort in speaking up and expressing their opinions
on issues that matter
Safe Spaces
When girls feel physically and emotionally secure.
People and Places
Safe spaces for girls attend to the physical
and emotional dimensions of safety.
Establishing trusting relationships with
adults and peers is a key factor in emotional
safety and can help girls cope with
challenging situations. For example,
in a survey the GSRI conducted to assess
how youth were faring in the wake of 9/11,
more than one quarter (26%) of girls said
that talking about the events connected with
September 11 was the one activity they found
most helpful in coping with it.
When girls are part of trusting relationships,
they feel safe. Parents, teachers, youth leaders,
and peers can all provide girls with a sense
of security that translates to emotional safety,
which centers on feelings of trust and
confidentiality. Many girls report that even
in unsafe situations, because they were with
people they trusted, they felt safe. Though girls
don’t focus on location when discussing safety,
56% of girls report that home is where they
feel safest.
Also, in a study about girls’ online lives, The
Net Effect: Girls and New Media (2002) girls
said they would benefit from more adult
guidance and open conversation around
online safety. Girls want more opportunity
to connect one on one with adults—and they
rely on emotional support from adults in their
everyday lives to feel safe and secure. Some
of the consequences of girls feeling unsafe,
on the other hand, are a compromised sense
of physical well-being, greater likelihood
of sadness/unhappiness, and diminished
interest and achievement in school.
Adults typically think of safety in terms of being
out of harm’s way—not talking to strangers
or staying out too late at night—while girls think
this captures just part of the picture. The Girl
Scout Research Institute study Feeling Safe:
What Girls Say found that girls define safety
in terms of physical and emotional security
and that they want and need safe spaces within
which to discuss critical issues such as bullying
and dating.
Emotional Harm
Typical environments, such as classrooms,
sports fields, and group meetings often create
situations that cause anxiety in girls. Thirty-eight
percent of girls worry about emotional safety
when they are spending time with their peers.
Feelings of insecurity can contribute to girls
feeling emotionally unsafe, which fosters greater
insecurities, trapping girls in a destructive cycle.
Further, girls who feel this way are more likely
to be sad and unhappy, have trouble paying
attention in school, and receive grades lower
than As and Bs.
Safe Girls are Confident Girls
“I think we should have a safe
place where we can talk about
our problems and build our
self-confidence. If we had more
self-confidence, then we would
know how to better address
these problems and would not
be worried about trying to look
good, or doing things before
we are ready.” —teen girl
20 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Building Walls
Preteen girls (8- to 12 years old) cite being
teased or made fun of as their greatest worry,
and almost 40% worry about being bullied,
teased, threatened, or having their feelings hurt
when spending time with peers. As girls become
older and more independent they become less
trusting of peers and adults. While teens are
commonly perceived as acting invincible,
they are in fact feeling unsafe and in need
of more support.
“It’s not where I am,
but who I’m with.”
—teen girl
Helping Girls Cope
with Feeling Unsafe
“A broken arm can
heal, but what about
a broken heart?
Words can
hurt a lot.”
Be Proactive. Ask about how
girls feel, even if they are
reluctant to talk. Don’t assume
to know what they consider
important and don’t expect
them to automatically share
their concerns with parents
or other adults.
—preteen girl
“I had a friend that
I trusted from
the beginning.
I don’t do that
—teen girl
Work Together. Establish
guidelines for responsible
behavior. Do not judge,
threaten, lecture, issue orders,
or try to “teach girls a lesson”
by withholding help.
Think Beyond Location. A safe
location is not enough. Trusted
relationships, in which girls feel
valued and supported, are what
make girls feel emotionally safe.
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience
provides a safe space for girls to learn and grow.
When girls feel safe they can practice leadership skills without having to worry as much about being
put down. The Feeling Safe research has direct implications on the following outcomes:
Girls develop healthy relationships.
Girls feel connected to their communities, locally and globally.
Girls can resolve conflicts.
The Girl-Led, Learning by Doing, and Cooperative Learning processes help girls to better achieve
these outcomes. Flip to page 28 to learn more about implementing these processes.
Normal? Girls and Mixed Messages
on Health, Beauty, and Fashion
For girls, being healthy means appearing normal. Girls’ definition
of “normal” is influenced by cultural changes, draws from personal
experiences, and has profound implications for their emotional
and physical well-being.
Girls want to be healthy, emotionally
and physically, but they also want to be
accepted. Many girls settle with being
“healthy enough” (meaning they don’t
appear too healthy or too unhealthy).
Improving the physical health of girls
requires attention to the numerous
influences, including family, media,
and the fashion industry, in a girl’s life
and the effects of emotional health
and self-esteem on physical activity
and diet.
For girls, being healthy means appearing
normal. Girls’ definition of “normal”
is influenced by cultural changes, draws from
personal experiences, and has profound
implications for their emotional and physical
“Yeah, I think I’m healthy.
I’m not fat or anything
and I guess I eat OK.
When it comes to girls’ goal of being “healthy
enough” to appear normal, attending solely
to the physical elements of health, such as
maintaining a nutritious diet and being active,
is not sufficient. It oversimplifies the issue by
neglecting the interplay between physical and
emotional aspects. Self-esteem and body image
greatly contribute to girls’ perception of healthy
living and behaviors. To deter obesity, eating
disorders, and other critical health problems
affecting youth today, there must be a concerted
effort to address both emotional and physical
health factors.
I mean, there’s
nothing wrong
with me.”
Competing forces in girls’ environments must be
factored into conversations about health as well,
as these can land girls in a compromising
“I want to be someone
who is just ‘in the middle.’
They look happy
and normal,
and I want that
—preteen girl
position. While youth are growing up in a culture
that idealizes thinness, concurrently there are
record-high levels of fast-food sales, longer
hours of recreational TV watching and computer
use, lower rates of physical activity, and less
public play space. Girls are receiving mixed
messages. On one hand, the Photoshopped
and unattainable model is promoted, and on
the other, unhealthy diets and inactivity. The
incompatibility causes girls to seek a facade
of normalcy.
What normal means can vary by a girl’s age,
race, household income, peer group, adult role
models, and self-perception. Following are some
key findings of the 2006 GSRI study The New
Normal? What Girls Say About Healthy Living,
as well as a series of “action steps” grounded in
research. There are critical differences in how
boys and girls view health, and the action steps
emphasize the unique needs and perspectives
of girls.
The major findings of this study reveal that girls
today apply a new set of norms in defining health.
This “new normal” departs from what adults may
believe in four distinct ways.
One in four girls is
with her body.
—preteen girl
22 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
How Girls Define “Healthy Enough”:
Am I healthy
Do I look and
feel normal?
Good Health=
and physically
Why aren’t
girls physically
Twenty-three percent don’t think
their bodies look good.
Forty percent don’t
feel competent.
Family and Friends
role models/supports
The Media
thin ideal
greater screen time
more fast food,
less exercise
loss of play space
1) Aspiring To Be “Normal Healthy”
2) Emotional Health Is Central
For most girls, being healthy has more to do with
appearing “normal” and feeling accepted than
maintaining good eating and exercise habits.
Girls aspire to be “healthy enough” or “normal
healthy.” This means that health is measured by
the absence of negative or extreme behaviors,
such as being sick or over/underweight. Being
too healthy is often associated with extreme
behaviors (e.g., no junk food, no meat, no
snacking, frequent and intense exercise), which
girls consider unattainable and would put them
out of step with their peers. The emphasis on
appearing normal creates a distance between
physical appearance and the effects of diet
and exercise on the body. This disconnect can
make it more difficult for girls to evaluate their
bodies and health. One-third of all girls have
a distorted body image, either perceiving
themselves as too heavy when they are of
normal weight, or feeling their weight is “about
right” when they actually are overweight.
Although girls want to look and feel normal,
many are struggling and desire a broader
definition of beauty.
Emotional health, self-esteem, and body image
play a critical role in girls’ attitudes about diet
and exercise. Most girls view emotional health
and physical health as equally important. A girl’s
daily life is full of events that can impact her
emotional health.
“I can’t help thinking,
The issues that most concern girls are getting
along with their friends, doing well in school,
and how they look. Girls are substantially more
concerned than boys about all aspects of
physical appearance and are less satisfied with
their bodies. There is an important link for girls
between their perception of their body/weight
and their self-esteem. Regardless of actual
weight, girls who think they are overweight are
more dissatisfied with their weight. This is
important because how girls view themselves
affects their self-esteem, their willingness to
participate in sports, and their overall feelings
of confidence, among other things. One clear
way girls can boost their emotional health is by
engaging in physical activity, because while
participating in exercise and sports provide
am I hot enough
to get his attention?”
—teen girl
physical benefits, the study reveals emotional
benefits as well. Girls who are more physically
active are more satisfied with how they look
and how much they weigh and aspire to live
healthier lifestyles. Yet despite these benefits,
staggering numbers of girls do not participate
in sports because they feel insecure about their
bodies and skills. These girls are caught in a cycle
in which low self-esteem prevents them from
engaging in activities that would raise their
self-esteem. To connect with girls, it is necessary
to acknowledge the importance of emotional
health in relation to feeling good about oneself.
“I go home and turn
on the TV and usually
I’ll watch a show for a
little while. Then I’ll call
some of my friends and
3) Health Awareness Versus Behavior
The good news is that girls demonstrate basic
knowledge about healthy foods and eating
behaviors. The bad news is that they often
do not put this knowledge into practice. It is
“normal” for many girls to make poor choices
with respect to diet and exercise. The tension
between awareness and behavior is most
evident in girls’ everyday routines. It is common
for girls to skip breakfast in the morning, with
more than 60% of teen girls skipping breakfast
at least once a week and nearly 20% skipping
it every day. This trend increases as girls mature.
During the day and after-school hours, teen girls
are spending more and more time on stationary
activities, such as talking on the phone, using
the computer, and watching television. By the
end of the day, girls want to share what is going
on in their lives with their family. Many girls report
highly valuing dinnertime. When considering
a girl’s everyday routine, the biggest contributors
to unhealthy lifestyles are the availability of junk
food, lack of tastiness in healthy food choices,
and lack of energy and motivation to exercise.
we’ll talk about
all the stuff
that goes around.”
—teen girl
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience
encourages girls to be healthy inside and outside.
Girl Scouts understands that girls are being pulled in different directions and that being supported
by family, friends, and the community helps girls to be physically and emotionally healthy. By striving
to reach the outcomes below, girls can monitor their progress to becoming healthier.
Girls develop a strong sense of self.
Girls gain practical life skills.
Girls develop critical thinking.
Girls develop healthy relationships.
Achieving these outcomes is possible when girls are partners in Girl-Led activities and Learning by
Doing and Cooperative Learning processes. For information on how to use the processes, see page 28.
24 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
4) The Influential Role of Mothers
A Mom’s Concern
Mothers are the most frequently cited source
of information on healthy living, and they clearly
function as role models for their daughters.
A mother’s weight, body image, attitude, and
health habits are strong indicators of whether
her daughter is overweight, satisfied with her
body, and physically active. Girls look to their
mothers for advice on healthy living, and
mothers are the biggest source of positive
feedback on girls’ appearance. A daughter’s
dissatisfaction with her weight is greater if her
mother is also dissatisfied with her own weight,
in spite of how much a daughter actually weighs.
Given the pervasiveness of poor diet, being
overweight, and inactivity among adults, it is
clear that efforts to improve the health of girls
must also target adults. These adults include
not only parents, but others who play an active
role in girls’ lives: guardians, grandparents,
godparents, older relatives, friends of the family,
and school and health professionals.
“For my daughter
(12 years old) there is
pressure to be socially
accepted among her friends.
Also at this age, her body
is changing and there
are emotional concerns
related to these changes.”
—mother of a preteen girl
of nutritional
and emotional
Pressures of the Fashion
Industry and Health
Implications for Girls
Despite the influence fashion
has on girls’ body images, many
girls describe fashion models’
bodies in negative terms.
The Girl Scout Research Institute surveyed over
1,000 girls ages 13–17 to better understand why
girls love to hate the fashion industry. Highlighted
are key insights into how the fashion industry
is affecting girls’ emotional and physical health.
Many girls
blame the
fashion industry
and the media in general
for the pressure to be
skinny and obsession
with skinniness.
Girls devote hours to reading fashion magazines
and wandering through shopping malls.
The proximity to fashion and culturally defined
beauty is reported by girls to be both important
and unhealthy. Understanding the pressures girls
feel to be thin provides a greater understanding
of why girls, despite acknowledging that
the fashion industry portrays unhealthy body
images, still strive to achieve the model image.
Extreme Behaviors:
What Girls Are Willing to Do to Be Model Thin
% who know someone their age who has...
Gone on a diet to try to lose weight
Starved themselves or refused to eat
Forced themselves to throw up after eating
Taken appetite suppressants or weight-loss pills
Been diagnosed with an eating disorder
Smoked cigarettes to suppress appetite
From Beauty Redefined: Girls and Body Image Survey
Seventy-five percent
of girls say
fashion is “really
to them.
26 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
Nearly 9 in 10 girls say the fashion industry (89%) and/or
the media (88%) places a lot of pressure on girls to be thin.
Modeling Healthy Living:
Tips for Adults
Makeover TV shows, fashion magazines, diet
fads: girls are exposed to messages every day
about food, fitness, and appearance by family,
friends, the media, and school. Adults need tools
to help girls critically examine this often
conflicting information and make positive
decisions for healthy living. Check out these tips:
Be a role model. The choices you make about food and physical activity and the comments you make about your weight and your looks have a strong impact on the girls you care about.
Eat healthy. Too often girls opt for
vending machine snacks over healthier choices. Go grocery shopping together
and stock the kitchen with foods that
are yummy, quick, and, most
importantly, healthy.
Get moving. Aside from the clear physical
benefits of a higher activity level, being
physically active increases self-esteem
and reduces stress. Because getting started can be tough, engaging in physical activity
as a group, troop, or family is a great way
for adults to model and influence positive healthy behaviors for girls.
Get involved. City parks and recreation
programs and other community
organizations are great resources.
There are many programs and activities
to help adults and girls practice healthy
living habits.
Fifty-nine percent
of girls say the
fashion industry
makes them
feel fat.
Connecting Outcomes and Processes
It is what girls do (the outcomes) and how they do it (the processes)
that produces a high-quality Girl Scout Leadership Experience.
The girl-adult partnership is integral to the success of both components.
The building blocks of all Girl Scout activities
are the aforementioned processes: Girl Led,
Cooperative Learning, and Learning by Doing.
These processes combine to create a
rewarding leadership experience while
continuing the longstanding Girl Scout
traditions of friendship and fun.
Cooperative Learning
Girl Led
Projects could involve…
Younger girls selecting from several choices (for opening/closing of a meeting, for example)
Preteens deciding how to plan meeting
activities and lead certain meetings
Teens driving the planning, organization,
and implementation of their projects
Young women choosing their issues
and how they want to schedule
and conduct their meetings
Learning by Doing
Learning by Doing is a hands-on learning
process that engages girls in experiences
whereby they act and then discuss,
so they can apply the skills learned
to future situations.
Projects could include…
Time for girls and adults to stop, think,
talk, and reflect
Opportunities for girls to build new
skills and have new experiences
Role-playing, storytelling, or other
sharing activities catering to grade-level
abilities and interests
Through cooperative learning, girls work
together towards shared goals in an environment
that makes them feel powerful, safe, and a sense
of belonging.
Projects could involve…
Younger girls working in mini-groups
or with partners
Preteens creating their own team rules
Teens solving conflicts on their own
(as long as physical safety isn’t at stake)
Young women making decisions together and negotiating a common ground
The 15 Outcomes of the New
Girls develop a strong sense of self.
Girls develop positive values.
Girls gain practical life skills.
Girls seek challenges in the world.
Girls develop critical thinking.
Girls develop healthy relationships.
Girls promote cooperation and
team building.
Girls can resolve conflicts.
Girls advance diversity in a
multicultural world.
Girls feel connected to their
communities, locally and globally.
Girls can identify community needs.
Girls are resourceful problem solvers.
Girls advocate for themselves
and others, locally and globally.
Girls educate and inspire others to act.
Girls feel empowered to make
a difference in the world.
From Transforming Leadership
28 Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute
I would like to belong to something where
I could make new friends and help other girls
feel better.
—preteen girl
Girl Scout Research Institute 2010
II Go Ask a Girl: A Decade of Findings from the Girl Scout Research Institute