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 Stages of Teen Development

by Amy Bierman-Rydel

Working with teens is a thrilling, yet often scary experience. They are actively working to push boundaries and challenge authority in order to define themselves and determine what kind of person they will be. While being part of this process is tremendously rewarding, it’s okay to admit that sometimes, as adults, we look at our teens and wish they were still Brownies who loved wearing Girl Scout uniforms to school. Instead, as middle school girls, they often want to hide that they are a Girl Scout from their peers.

Girls are going through so many changes during their preteen and teen years that they sometimes seem unrecognizable to those closest to them. Recently, GSUSA surveyed and studied thousands of girls across the nation to identify the most pressing issues girls are facing and what resources Girl Scouts can provide leaders so that they can serve as effective mentors to girls progressing through their often challenging teen years. This information is taken from GSUSA’s findings.

Issues Facing Girls, Grades 6–8
Girls in grades 6–8 are most worried about their transition to middle school, especially fitting in and being liked. They are beginning to feel pressure to take unhealthy risks, such as smoking and drinking, and want to share news about their friends and peers. Also, they not only want to improve their world, but also to explore it.

Defining Moments: Transitioning to junior high/middle school
This is the time when bullying is at its peak. Encourage girls to share their experiences with bullying and talk about how friends support each other. 

Self Image: Wanting to be liked by others and to belong
Girls need to connect – with each other and with you. They can plan activities that are fun as a group, such as day trips to sporting events or amusement parks.

Pressures: Risk-taking behaviors (i.e.: dating, drugs, etc.)
Girls who engage in healthy risks, such as sports, travel or after-school clubs, are less likely to take unhealthy risks. Provide girls with many opportunities to test themselves by taking healthy risks in a safe and secure environment.

Activity Interests: Exploring their world
Check out Safety-Wise for tips on how to plan extended trips. Brainstorm with girls about what they can do to improve their community.

Issues Facing Girls, Grades 9–10
Freshmen and sophomore girls are very much into “me.” They are thinking about what it means to be a teenager and often express themselves through their music and by personalizing their rooms, where they spend many hours worrying about their appearance and how others view them.

Defining Moments: Becoming a teenager
Talk to your girls about what becoming a teen means to them. What can they do together that would express their independence?

Self Image: Focusing on Me
Facilitate discussions that help girls figure out who they are and who they want to be. They can compare themselves with each other or do some self-analyzing about what makes them unique.

Pressures: Acting a “certain” way for friends, love interests and parents
Provide opportunities for girls to just be themselves. Take a hike, plant some trees, go window shopping or get a makeover at a cosmetics counter.

Activity Interests: Personalizing space, expressing self, taking trips and music
Spend time on activities that encourage girls to create something personal. Find some down time to just listen to music. Think about trips that combine the girls’ interests.

Issues Facing Girls, Grades 11-12
Struggling with the pressures that the last two years of high school brings, juniors and seniors are excited, yet scared, about college and their future career choices. They often feel stressed and need skills to manage the pressures that come with independence.

Defining Moments: Exploring independence (i.e.: driving)
Have girls spend some time with a local mechanic learning about car maintenance. Give girls an opportunity to talk about the pleasures and pressures of independence.

Self Image: Defining/achieving
Ask girls how they define success. Invite female guests of all ages to talk about their experiences and perspectives.

Pressures: Getting into college
Whether college-, vocational school- or work-bound, encourage girls to spend some time sharing their dreams. Help them learn more about the Girl Scout Gold Award and Girl Scout scholarships.

Activity Interests: Discovering career opportunities and managing time
Invite girls to share their time management tips. Discuss how taking a self-defense class can be healthy and relaxing, and then attend a session together.

Interested in writing an article about the issues facing girls today? Please contact Stefanie Ellis.