COLUMBIA—Sooner or later, just about every young girl encounters a difficult peer who can be described in two words: mean girl.
This is the one who teases people about their clothes, lies to her friends or picks on others for all sorts of reasons. Adolescents from St. Joseph Church spent part of their summer learning how to deal with the mean girl in a way that reflects Catholic values. They also learned that no amount of teasing can mar the dignity that God’s love brings.
These lessons and more were the focus of “All Things Girl!” a new camp for rising fifth- and sixth-graders. It was held at St. Joseph during three-hour sessions July 26 and 28, and Aug. 2 and 4.
Karin Haile, a parishioner, led the weekends, which centered around “All Things Girl,” a Catholic book series for girls 9-13 based on Pope John Paul II’s writings on the dignity of women. They are written by Molly Miller and Monica Cops, and were also the basis of a series on the Eternal Word Television Network.
The six books deal with topics such as friendship, beauty and fashion, modesty, etiquette, and the feminine genius, described as the innate capability of women to respect and care for the dignity of all human life. They also address very modern issues such as peer pressure and cyber-bullying from a Catholic perspective.
During the sessions the girls read aloud from the books, discussed the sections and did activities together to reinforce what they learned. They were told to incorporate prayer into every facet of daily life, and they studied and discussed the lives of female saints who faced difficulties while they were young.
The girls made bracelets with imitation gem stones in colors meant to remind them of particular virtues, including red for love, yellow for joy, white for purity and green for forgiveness.
They were encouraged to wear the bands as a constant reminder that they are princesses because they are daughters of God and, therefore, daughters of the king.
“Remember that it doesn’t matter how you change during your life, because you will always have the dignity God has given you,” Haile said. “That’s part of being a princess of God.”
The July 28 session focused on how to build strong friendships grounded in Christian virtues, and how to deal with the many types of people they are likely to encounter in their lives.
They discussed constructive ways to deal with mean girls. Ideas included standing up to her in a dignified way, or praying for the girl and treating her with compassion, because many people who are cruel have issues and insecurities that cause them to act out.
Haile encouraged the group to use difficult moments for spiritual growth.
“Think about Jesus dying on the cross and how much he suffered,” she said. “Ask yourself about what you are going through and offer it up. It’s a way to unite yourself with Jesus.”
They learned about the many ways youth are mean to each other, including gossip and exclusion, and how teasing and cyber-bullying are all insults to our dignity.
Haile asked the girls to examine their own relationships with their peers and make sure they weren’t showing any traits of meanness.
“Always think the best of people and don’t judge people as soon as you meet them,” Haile said.
“It’s really useful information,” said Lane Scarborough, 10. “At my school we have a few girls like the ones we discussed, and I really learned how to deal with them.”
Susan Baumann of Irmo said she liked the program because it gave her daughter Katerina, 10, a chance to meet and spend time with other Catholics. The family belongs to St. Peter Church in Columbia, and Katerina attends a public school where Mrs. Baumann said students sometimes don’t understand what it means to be Catholic.
“She has had to speak up for her faith to friends who don’t understand it,” Mrs. Baumann said. “One friend told her she wasn’t a Christian. This camp is a chance to learn about her identity as a Catholic. Sometimes we don’t do enough of that. I also thought it was important she learn about peer pressure, which increases as you get older. Some things about becoming a young woman are scary, and girls get mixed messages from society.”
Katerina said the sessions were the first time she had been able to discuss her relationship with God with other girls.
“I really liked the idea that we’re all princesses in God’s eyes because we’re all daughters of God,” she said.