I love tweens– things are still possible, dreams are still huge. They are discovering their interests and their independence and their confidence is yet to be rocked in the hormonal storms of puberty.
But those dark clouds seem to loom earlier and earlier and, as my daughter, Emma, animal lover and cartwheel queen turned 10, I watched her competence grow yet her confidence drop. She stressed at gym comps and seemed to be losing her voice in speaking up. What was going on?
I read a report out of the NYU Child Study Centre indicating that the average girl’s self-esteem peaks at age 9 then plummets, never to return to that 9 year-old peak again. As a mum, as kids’ publisher, as a woman, that horrified me and I wanted to do something to break that fall.
So I wrote the EJ Girl Hero series as as both a gift to Em and my small contribution to ‘tween feminism’. I wanted to show girls they could do more than they thought and they could do it now. Girls could save the world just as well as boys: there was no need for them to be the Hermione side-kick to Harry.
The series follows 10 year-old Emma as she is recruited in the top-secret spy agency SHINE. In her everyday life, Emma sometimes struggles with mean girls, maths test and big brothers but, as EJ12, she is fearless, cracking codes and completing daring missions with determination, clever-thinking and a brave heart.
Besides her Dad and her brother, there are no male characters in the EJ stories. There’s no fuss made about it, it’s just that every time a scientist, an astronaut, a pilot, an inventor, a doctor, a vet appears, I wanted girls to see a woman, to see that a woman could be those things.
Girls seemed to love it. Twenty-one books later and thousands of letters and emails, girls tell me they see themselves in both Emma and EJ, both ordinary and extraordinary.
I finished the series the year before my Emma started VCE. A new phase of life but I didn’t want to finish talking with the young girls. I had also learnt with Emma how our happiness is tied to how much we help, how much we give, not what we get. How we thrive when we do our bit to save the world, just like EJ.
And that gave me an idea and idea turned into the Girl Hero Project, a safe on-line platform for girls to inspire and be inspired by real-life stories or ordinary girls doing extraordinary things.
The Girl Hero Project shares the stories of girls as young as 8 years old who are making a difference to their communities and their world – and shows all girls how they can do the same.
In many ways, it is what I tried to do with Emma and through the EJ stories – show them a different way of seeing things, their challenges and their opportunities. Show them that being brave (on the gymnastics beam or with the mean girl) isn’t about not being scared, it’s about being scared but taking a deep breath and doing it anyway. Show them that they are not alone – that other girls have been where they are and come out the other side. Show them girls being amazing – and therefore that they can be too.
Like the girl who started making headbands to sell to fund a single African girl’s education has now funded over 100 high school educations.
A girl who shot a short film on her mum’s iPhone to show people a different side to people, like her sister, who have Down’s Syndrome.
And a girl, my girl actually, my Emma now 18 and a passionate vegan and animal activist, who asked if, rather than pay for an 18th birthday party, we would buy her two cows destined for slaughter. We did – and the little girl who doubted herself was nowhere to be seen as she negotiated price with the farmer – and tried to convert him to veganism!
Our girls don’t need to wait until they are bigger to realise those big dreams they all have – let’s help them.
Writer and publisher, enthusiast, known to move to intensity, over-Googler, laugher, inventor of words …
Motherhood in 5 words: Blessed, Challenging, Educational, Humbling, Fabulous
Fav family-friendly place: It used to be anywhere with a park but now that my kids are 18 and 21, everywhere is friendly!
Coffee order: Latte with some warm milk on the side.
Biz: The Girl Hero Project
Powered by words and stories to inspire young girls to believe in themselves, to believe they can make a difference and to help make the world a better place.
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