Why did you decide to become a Girls’ Net Mentor?
I met the founder of Rites for Girls, Kim McCabe at a FiLia conference where she came to talk about her book, From Daughter to Woman in a workshop on raising kids from a feminist worldview. I am a mother of boys and have written articles on raising kids free of sex stereotypes. When I heard Kim speak, I thought the ideas in her book to cherish that mother and daughter relationship through potentially tricky tween and teen years were, well, beautiful. I was also struck by how calm and nurturing Kim is – she exuded wisdom and trust like a true earth mother! Years later I came across the Girls’ Net training programme and, as it’s devised and run by Kim and Helena Lovendal, I felt secure in the knowledge that this would be a great programme to be part of, for the mentors and for the girls.
In my early career in publishing and journalism, I met loads of girls aged 9-12 when I edited magazines for pre teen and teens – many were actually our hair style models or TV actors – and I enjoyed chatting to them more than many of the pop stars. In this culture where so many marketing messages tell girls what colour they must like and what interests they are ‘expected’ to have, I care deeply about girls’ right to be free to express themselves and know that there are endless ways to be a girl. If I can help some girls feel confident, or better, well, what an amazing job to have.
What does your Girls’ Net Mentor role involve?
I host a group of up to 10 girls on Zoom for an hour and a bit, one evening a week for six weeks. A big part of my job is making each girl feel comfortable and welcome, and help her know she fits in, just as she is. It’s not easy, even for adults, to join a new group, so I try to be really mindful of helping girls feel less nervous or anxious, and know I’m not a teacher and I’m not here to ask any girl to take part unless she wants to. I give each girl opportunities to say what she thinks, but I tell the girls they can just listen in, too. Each week I introduce a theme such as understanding that all feelings are normal, and how to cope with uncomfortable feelings that can be overwhelming. One of my favourite sessions involves encouraging the girls to do what brings them joy. I think that’s such an important message for life – whether it’s art, sports, being outdoors or with animals, writing, science, climate issues, languages, performance, whatever! – you stick with the stuff that makes you happy.
Describe a typical day for you, on a day you’re running a Girls’ Net session?
In-between training to be a counsellor, and the usual admin and chores of parenting two boys aged 13 and 10, I make time to read through the session for the evening and prepare my desk in my small office at the top of my house, adding better lighting and a clock, both of which I have been borrowing from my son’s room, next to my office! I email the parents or girls with their Zoom link again, so they have it handy. I collect one of my sons from school and spend several hours being mum, driver to clubs, and giver of snacks. My partner and sons stay downstairs – they have been super supportive of my work – and I make sure I have half an hour’s peace at any desk to get in the zone and feel prepared to bring out the best me to welcome the girls.
What challenges have you had to overcome in doing this role?
I’m used to running a group that feels safe and non-judgemental as I’ve been trained by Pan Arts to lead workshops in a women’s refuge, but getting to grips with some new Zoom tools was the biggest challenge for me. I am not techie, I’m a private person and got a mobile phone much later than all my friends, and only because I started to work as a freelance journalist. Anyway, I needn’t have worried, there is no big mystery in all this white-boarding and it’s so easy once you know how! And I have to add that when Kim trains a group, everything is explained so clearly and well, and no question is too small.
What would you say to someone looking into training to become a Girls’ Net Mentor?
If you really care about mental wellbeing in girls and can take time out once a week in the early evening to run the session on Zoom, go for it. (OK, there’s more Zooming during the training as you meet with your peers and have Supervision). Your biggest asset will be being warm, friendly and smiley. What girl doesn’t need to see a friendly face when they have so much on at school, and may well have extra worries related to friends, family, relationships and self-confidence. Girls need to see a diverse range of role models more than ever. I think there is huge value in seeing women just being confident in themselves beyond school teachers and women in the media.
What have you gained from this experience?
The model of training gives back a lot to the mentors. In what job do you train alongside other like-minded women, get support from them in a small peer group and learn a really meaningful and unique job together? Running my first Girls’ Net group really confirmed to me that, however they are feeling at the time – nervous, quiet, eager, curious or just okay – girls look out for each other and make great company.