By Ingrid Schnader
Homewood, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills school systems will come together Sept. 25 for a program to educate parents about the issues their teenage daughters are facing today.
“Calling All Parents: Keeping our Daughters Safe” will be held at the Junior League of Birmingham, 2212 20th Ave. S., from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Dale Wisely, who is a child and adolescent clinical psychologist of 36 years, decided to pursue this event after discovering that suicide rates among teenage girls are at a 40-year high. He also noticed that parents were bewildered by what their teenage daughters were doing on social media.
Wisely is a founding board member of All In Mountain Brook, a non-profit devoted to the issues of youth safety and well-being for that community, and he joined with counterpart organizations Safe and Healthy Homewood and Vestavia’s Help for the Hills to organize the event.
“All those things had me thinking, it’s time to get some people together and put on a program for parents on what’s going on with our girls,” he said.
The event will give parents practical tips for having conversations and being proactive with their daughters.
“I think ultimately what this is going to be about is conversations – encouraging parents to have conversations with their daughters,” he said, “and not being reactive, not waiting for something to happen, but go ahead and try to get ahead of these things.”
No family should assume that their daughters are immune to the topics that the event will focus on, Wisely said. Cori Ray, a counselor who has taught suicide prevention to 7,500 local high school students, said she agrees.
“Topics like suicide, cutting, sending or receiving nudes, are very common occurrences,” she said. “It’s not the exception, it’s the norm.”
Specifically, when girls send pornographic images, Ray says the girls develop a toxic-shame identity.
“They send them to a trusted guy, and then he ends up breaking that trust, and within a short time, 80 percent of the school has seen their very vulnerable pictures,” she said. “And for a lot of girls, we’ve had a handful of suicides related to that, just because of the shame and the embarrassment.”
Additionally, instead of being bullied by three or four girls after something like this, technology makes it easy for them to be bullied by 300 to 400 girls.
“They are reminded frequently of what they’ve done,” she said. “Because those pictures continue to resurface.”
When the news travels from school to school to school, Ray said the girl will feel like she has nowhere to hide and nowhere to recover.
“What I find a lot is, they don’t necessarily want to end their life,” she said. “They want the pain, shame and embarrassment to stop. And they don’t know how to do that.”
Another topic that has changed since this generation of parents was in high school is the way people self-harm, such as “cutting.”
“It used to just be girls who had been severely sexually abused,” Ray said. “That’s how it started. Now, it’s turned into a regular thing to do if you’re upset or hurt or angry. Instead of talking it out, people are cutting.”
And because high school-aged girls have an altered perception of permanence, Ray said the girls believe self-harm or suicide is the best way to handle the situation.
“They will even say things like, ‘Well, if I wasn’t here, if I had a funeral, then I would finally find out how much I was loved,’” Ray said. “And I have to explain to them, ‘You won’t, because you won’t be here.’”
Because of these drastic changes in adolescent culture, Ray said, events such as the “Keeping our Daughters Safe” program are very important.
Talks on What Parents Need to Know
The event will kick off with a talk by Angela Camp of Bradford Health Services called “10 Apps Kids Love … And Every Parent Needs to Know.” Wisely said this will give parents a look into what their daughters are doing on their phones and on social media.
Wisely will speak at the following talk, called “Suicide and Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Parent’s Guide.”
Parents can learn about sexual vulnerability in girls at the next talk by Rhiannon Reese of Crisis Center Birmingham, called “Conversations about Sexual Assault.”
Last, Wisely said he hopes the event will end on an upbeat note with Margot Shaw’s closing message. Shaw is the parent founder of Flower Magazine.
CBS 42 News anchor Sherri Jackson will emcee the event.
“I think our children obviously are our future, and this type of investment in their health and well-being is important,” Jackson said. “Especially in this day and age with a lot of the stuff they are bombarded with that they may not always have a safe place to discuss.”
Parents are welcome to bring their daughters, but Wisely advises that they use discretion, as the topics discussed may be heavy. The event is free, but registration is required and can be done at safedaughters.org.