By Caleigh R.
Whether it is an after-school program, summer day camp, youth group, or sports program, it is important to take into consideration gender when planning the program. These types of programs are important in ensuring positive youth development as they provide structure in the participant’s life, cultivate supportive adult relationships, and help to develop self-confidence. Moreover, these programs encourage skill building and allow youth to contribute to the community. Most youth programs do not distinguish between the needs and strengths of boys and girls as they focus on universal programming. Looking specifically at ages 9-11, youth are cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically experiencing changes in their lives. Such changes include the formation of healthy relationships, peer pressure, desire for independence, puberty, and increased responsibility.
Girls and boys respond differently to these changes and issues. In order for programs to be successful, the structure and format of the program must explore the social construction of gender. The programs must inspire all participants to challenge gender norms, examine gender privilege, and create a balance of power between girls and boys.
I think it is very important for both boy specific programs and girl specific programs to be available to our youth. In saying this, I can only comment on the positive effects of an all-girls program in which I had the opportunity to work. I worked at the U.P.E.I. day camps and was the head counselor for the all-girl programs for 5 years. The P.E.I. Women’s Institute helped form and fund the first program called “Just Us Girls”. This program was designed to help meet the needs of today’s young females, as there was a decreased interest in girl’s sports and activities on P.E.I. The program worked with girls aged 9-12 and addressed issues such as nutrition, self-esteem, self-defense, body image, and physical activity. Moreover, this program included opportunities such as spa days, girl power sessions, and career days.
Working with the original program from the beginning, I was able to see the positive effect it was having on the girls. Each summer the program grew with more girls attending, as well as the same girls continuing to coming back. This allowed the girls who previously attended to have input on what they wanted to explore and to help the new girls become comfortable.
While working with the program, I really noticed how much more comfortable the girls were with each other and how they were more open to talking about their development in an all-girl environment compared to when boys were present. They enjoyed being able to talk about developing as a girl, and have discussions about body image and the impact media has on young girls. It was clear that the girls learned the importance of community involvement and physical activity in their lives, as they would come back every summer eager to share their new volunteer activities or how they joined a new sport or group. The counsellors also became role models for the girls in the program, as we were able to discuss with them our experiences growing up as a girl, as well as advice on becoming a role model to others in the future. There were also many women entrepreneurs who would make an appearance and share their experiences in the work environment and the knowledge they have gained to succeed. They taught the girls how to gain confidence and shared valuable life lessons learned through experiences that would have been useful information when I was a young girl.
From my experience, having all girls programs will allow young girls to become more confident, better educated, and allow for stronger leaders in the future. Boys and girls differ in their development, how they learn, and the way in which they express themselves. Designing programs targeting all girls’ development will help to ensure that girls are receiving the right development to help them become the best adult possible. With only having experience working with all-girls programs, I am unable to comment on the effects an all-boys program may have. However, I think that giving an all-boys program a chance will only help to enhance positive youth development in boys.