Girl Developers' Summit Presenter: Janet Olsen

EAST LANSING – Getting children and adults to be more conscious of media messages that encourage bullying is an area Janet Olsen knows well.

Olsen, a program leader for Michigan State University Extension, and her colleague Karen Pace, have spent the past two years developing the SAFE (Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments) curriculum, which focuses on bullying prevention through social and emotional learning and heath primarily for youth between ages 11 and 14. Olsen and Pace will be among 14 presenters at the Girl Developers Summit at Washtenaw Community College on March 8 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Summit is sponsored by Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan.

Although they work with men and women and girls and boys, their presentation at the Summit will focus on girls.

“We’re going to be talking about how we can help girls with bullying issues through enhancing their media skills,” Olsen said. “We’ve done a lot of work with sexism and other ‘isms’ through the years.”

Current and relevant issues like this which impact girls are the focus of the Summit, said Mariel Rua, coordinator of the event and Adult Recruitment and Education specialist with GSHOM. She said topics such as sexual assault prevention, healthy eating habits, and teenage depression are among additional workshops which will be held throughout the day.

The day’s activities will begin with a keynote address from Rose Bellanca, president of Washtenaw Community College. She is planning to speak about the path she followed to become head of one of Michigan’s largest community colleges.

“Adults will walk away with tools in hand that they can use right away to address issues girls are faced with on a daily basis,” Rua said. “They will be better prepared to discuss topics that are generally difficult to talk about with girls.

“I think it’s important to have the expertise of these workshop presenters and to also have the support of the organizations they are with.”

Olsen and Pace have been working on their SAFE curriculum for about two years after spending a number of years working with youth who are the victims of bullying, bias and harassment.

Their interest lies in helping kids and adults enhance their critical consciousness about a wide variety of messages which surround them. Olsen said when they get bombarded with these images, several things can happen, including depression, eating disorders, cutting, and the way they enter into romantic relationships and the expectations for those. For girls and women in particular these messages are often highly sexualized.

“We’re interested in having all of us working together to recognize those messages,” Olsen said. “We want them to understand the ways in which messages can impact us negatively and how we can challenge them. While we likely won’t change the media we do have a responsibility to help kids learn to read it well.”

Rua said Girl Scouts of the USA and GSHOM each have programming and curriculum available to girls and adult volunteers about the unrealistic portrayals of girls and women in the media and how they can effect change. Among the information available from Girl Scouts at the national and local level is the “Uniquely Me” curriculum for Cadettes which includes a section on how to change the negative media images of girls and women and "Watch What You Watch" which builds awareness about the need to pay attention to not just what kids watch, but how they watch it. "Watch What You Watch" offers a clearinghouse of resources and tools that girls, parents, communities, and the media industry can use to help young people encounter and use media content that inspires, empowers, and engages.

In addition, a Journey curriculum titled BFF (Be a Friend First) gives girls an opportunity to explore issues such as peer pressure, gossiping and cliques and offers ways to create and lead projects in their schools and communities to address bullying issues.

“Girl Scouts is the premier leadership organization for girls and a leading authority on their healthy growth and development. As the leading voice for girls, we are committed to addressing the issues important to girls, such as self-esteem and body image,” Rua said.

Even though there is a greater awareness, Olsen said she thinks people are still looking for a quick fix. She said adults and children need to work together to get to the root of the problem and address it.

“One thing that perpetuates bullying is when kids see it happen and no one steps in to interrupt and stop it and that is a key responsibility for adults,” Olsen said. “When you see it go unaddressed that kind of perpetuates it. “

Cost of the Summit is $50 for the general public, $40 for registered Girl Scouts and adults, and $30 for college students.

For more information about the Summit visit the GSHOM website at www.gshom.org or call (800) 497-2688.