Last week, a dad came to me for advice. His 9th-grade daughter was suffering from debilitating anxiety and was having a difficult time getting out the door for school each morning. He was working with his daughter, his wife, and a school guidance counselor to develop strategies that would help his daughter cope with her growing fears.
This is not a new story. In the 15 years that I’ve been working with teenage girls, I’ve heard from countless parents who are concerned about their daughter’s mental health. “She used to be a firecracker,” and “I thought we were done with this,” are common refrains. According to the CDC, the current trend is consistent and clear: this generation of adolescent girls is fighting a growing mental health crisis. Anxiety and depression in girls is at twice the rate of boys, and suicide has reached unprecedented levels.
At Girls Leadership, we’ve come to realize that we need a new program model that addresses the rising challenges we face with our adolescent and teen girls. Until now, families around the country have opted in to the many programs that Girls Leadership offers. This opt-in model requires that families have the time, transportation, child care, and work schedule that allows them to participate in our four- to eight-hour long Girl and Grown-Up workshops. This model has enabled us to reach about ten thousand people a year.
This is not enough. Our goal at Girls Leadership is to work with our sister organizations, Girls Inc, Girl Scouts, Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, Girls on the Run, etc, to serve the majority of girls in the US, enough girls to drive social change that will close the growing confidence and mental health gap. The challenge: the whole girl-serving field only reaches about 12% of the girls in the US. That means 23 million girls aren’t being reached.
That’s why we’ve launched the Girls Leadership Power Lab, a new initiative that will bring our programming to girls where they already are—in their schools, after-school programs, arts, and sports. Over the next three years, we will be building our curriculum and training tools for teachers, coaches and other professionals working with girls in grades 6-12, the critical years when girls’ confidence drops by 30%.
Our partners include the Student Leadership Network in New York, Girls Athletic Leadership Schools Inc in Denver, and United Playaz and West Bay Pilipino Center, youth development organizations in San Francisco.
To serve the needs of today’s diverse youth population, the Power Lab curriculum will be culturally responsive. We will hold ourselves accountable by measuring quantitative impact across differences of race, culture, ability, sexual orientation, income level, gender identity, family structure, and other aspects of identity.
Over the three years of this partnership, we will train over 5,400 teachers, and reach over 1,000,000 girls. We want to reach girls like nine-year-old Alma, whom we met at a recent partner school visit. Alma is living with her brother and a single mom who is working long hours to support her family. Through the Power Lab, Alma would have access to Girls Leadership content and tools right at her school and after-school programs.
Now is the time to help all girls navigate the unique challenges they face as women, and help them develop the resilience, confidence and voice they need to thrive in today’s world. With the mental health crisis in girls continuing to grow, our success is not optional.