“Do a good turn daily…a reminder of the many ways girls can contribute positively to the lives of others.”
– The Girl Scout Slogan, 1912
They’re dressed in green vests or blue tunics, big smiles, and this time of year—if you’re like the old me—we run from the button-cute sight of them. Girl Scouts (cue frightening music…crescendo…) at Cookie Season.
I’ll be the first to confess that I found the encampments at grocery stores and malls a nuisance, but I often fell prey to the direct-assault knock on the door. My wife was a joyful victim of both. I can be a grouch with some things, and the Girl Scout cookie barrage was one of them. I was a Boy Scout and we never cared as much about the half-hearted popcorn campaign as, say, the pine wood derby.
I just didn’t understand about the cookies. My wife grew up a Girl Scout; she understood about the cookies. I’m raising a Girl Scout, called a Daisy at 6, and she’s teaching me “It’s about selling stuff, but other stuff more” (Interview, Illyana Karabin, January, 2015).
I didn’t know about the “other stuff more” part, and as a Daisy Dad, I’m so glad it’s there. A Common Sense Media study published just this month “has found that a shocking 80 percent of 10-year-old American girls have…low self esteem and image issues” of diverse kinds and “one out of four children had dieted prior to turning 7-years-old” (Common Sense Media, 2015)
As a dad and a psychotherapist the idea that a kid the same age as my daughter would have a view of her value so impaired in terms of internal qualities and based in external things that she would try dieting breaks my heart. But I am encouraged that the Girl Scouts, 3.4 million girls strong and over 100 years of experience fights the self esteem war as “the preeminent leadership development organization for girls…worldwide” (Ackley, 2010).
What I’m learning is that cookie money goes to many character and world improvement initiatives designed by The Girl Scout Research Institute. Yes, really. According to Ackley (2010), the institute, “launched in 2000, is a vital extension of Girl Scouts of the USA’s commitment to addressing the complex and ever-changing needs of girls.”
The vital mission to save the self esteem of my daughter and girls like her, masterminded by the Girls Scouts Institute, commanded my local leaders like the ones in local troop 7100 and championed by Moms like my wife is essentially one of stealth. It’s underpinned with science and strength-building but flies under the radar of the girls, who would share my daughter’s silly-daddy expression as she said, “They don’t teach us anything, we just do fun stuff.”
Building the Scout Self
“Be prepared. A Girl Scout is ready to help out wherever she is needed. Willingness to serve is not enough; you must know how to do the job well, even in an emergency.”
– Girl Scout Motto, 1947
In a society where 90% girls find “a lot of pressure to be thin” and fulfill an external “unrealistic…unattainable model of beauty” we find the Girl Scouts lead the charge to build internal beauty. They are the “leading authority on girls’ healthy development, and builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place,” (Ackely, 2010).
I sat down with my daughter and looked over her tunic of badges. This is the secret weapon of healthy character development—fostering experiences that kids find fun as they build a strong sense of self, values and their own ability to triumph. As a psychotherapist who is part of implementing many character-building models, I’m honestly jealous of the beautiful program that the Girl Scouts have put forth. As a Dad I am grateful to my wife, my daughters’ troop leadership and the 100 year sisterhood that she is now welcomed into. They do quite a bit with that cookie money.
The Daisies focus on 10 flower petal patches by demonstrating positive character traits through learned life lessons. The life lessons can be as simple as my daughter puts it, “Don’t bully because you’re a Girl Scout,” part of the petals for Respect Myself and Others and Be Considerate and Caring—probably a touch of Be Friendly and Helpful. As any child development professional will agree, the pride she shines with as she explains these badges shows just how priceless the external validation of internal qualities can be.
“A girl discovers her special skills and talents, finds the confidence to set challenging goals for herself and strives to live by her values,” the Girls Scouts (2015) said, “This includes being proud of where she came from as well as where she’s going.” I’m proud of where she’s going, too. As a Daisy, her adventures are small, but ahead of her, according to the Girl Scouts (2015) are hiking, camping but also profoundly life-broadening things like joining together to “improve neighborhoods, protect the planet, design robots, and establish sports clinics.”
Though her adventures are small right now, the strong sense of sister-power and personal strength is already there in my daughter. “Girl Scouts can be anything,” she said, “And do anything by working as a team.” Did you hear it there? The Girl Scout stealth mission in the war to build healthy self esteem won another victory. Illyana may think they “just do fun stuff” but I’m so glad that the Scout Sisterhood has fought past the media message and societal bias and infiltrated my daughter’s heart. They’re like a sisterhood of Ninja…armed with cookies.
Victory through Sisterhood
“Data is not Destiny.”
– The Girl Scout Research Institute, 2014
In response to its own research that “while there is promising news…many girls are still being left behind” in the self esteem war.
My wife and daughter sing friendship songs and practice the Friendship Circle that “stands for an unbroken chain of friendship with Girl Scouts and Girl Guides around the world” which “helps remind girls they belong to a big, powerful sisterhood (Girl Scouts, 2015). “It feels good,” Illyana said.
That good feeling is intentional, and another stealth weapon in the self esteem war. While Common Sense Media (2015) finds that media and society contribute to poor self esteem, countless other studies underscore that factor with the hard reality that “peer pressure had the greatest long-term effect on the girls” according to award winning Medical Journalist Dina Bair (2013). As a psychotherapist, brother and friend, I’ve seen how hurtful it can be when girls tear each other down. As a father, I’m already watchful of it in Illyana. Thankfully, she seems quite supportive of her peers.
Positive peer pressure, like that in Girl Scouts can conversely build a sense of self that is strong enough to withstand the negative. “Kids take ‘their cues from peers” the Common Sense Media study found “while young children in particular pick up models for how to think and behave from those around them.” (2015) The more external re-enforcement of self esteem, the stronger the internal self becomes, the more the Girl Scouts win the fight, one Daisy at a time.
“Data is not destiny,” the Girl Scouts believe, and so do I. Though there is a wealth of data that shows young girls are at risk, the Girl Scouts are a strong force challenging that risk. They are not just selling cookies, they are building young girls like my daughter, who said she loves to “dive into the world and be nice. It can be exciting, but scary,” she said. “If it’s scary just ask your parents or your cat for help.”
I, too, believe data is not destiny, but it is a call to mindful action. For myself I will be buying boxes (for the troops). I don’t want the cookies, but I’m proud to support the cookie ninjas. Perhaps we all can find the courage to walk toward the cookie table. If not to buy cookies, maybe to become a Girl Scout, earn the badges, join the mission and be strengthened.
Of all the patches, Illyana’s favorite is the Honey Bee on her first Daisy Journey Badge, “because he’s a cutie,” she said with a smile. The badge teaches the lesson “It’s Your World, Change it.”
Ackley, J. (2010) Nationwide Study Finds That Teenage Girls Have Mixed Feelings about the Fashion Industry. Girl Scouts of America. Retrieved From: http://www.girlscouts.org/news/news_releases/2010/nationwide_study_feelings_about_fashion.asp
Bair, D. (2013) Peer pressure strongest impact on teen self-esteem. WGNTV, Chicago. Retrieved From: http://wgntv.com/2013/02/04/study-peer-pressure-strongest-impact-on-teen-self-esteem/
Common Sense Media. (2015) 80 Percent Of 10-Year-Old American Girls Have Dieted And Have ‘Self-Esteem’ Issues. Retrieved from: http://www.inquisitr.com/1786170/80-percent-of-10-year-old-american-girls-have-dieted-and-have-self-esteem-issues/
Girl Scouts of America. (2015) http://www.girlscouts.org/