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Coming of Age for Girls: It’s Time

by Katharine Krueger

When my fifth grade daughter said YES to an invitation to a yearlong adolescent Rite of Passage, I didn’t realize that I too would be initiated.

I dove into community, circling with moms and mentors, in dialogue, ritual, fire-building, lodge-weaving.  I dove into my girlhood – situations, emotions, needs met and unmet – to release reactivity stemming from the past.  I re-membered, just a step ahead of the girls, the skills and knowledge women need to take responsibility for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being.    …Finally, as we ceremonially celebrated the girls’ achievement and palpable transformation, I saw my daughter with fresh eyes, and I saw a new path for myself as a parent, woman, and mentor.

Coming of Age by Joanna B Pinneo
Coming of Age by Joanna B Pinneo

Consolidating pages of eloquence to thank all Beings in the Ten Directions and Three Worlds who fed this initiation cycle: “Boundless gratitude.”   Seven years later, my daughter and I see both this as a platform for our continued evolvement.  Much of what I learned then, I apply daily on my journey toward wholeness.

It was as clear as a bell that a Coming of Age community must be established here in Minneapolis.  I felt the spirits of the land and my ancestors urging me forward.  The vision: Every girl in North America is within bus or biking distance of some form of feminine mentorship, such as a Red Tent, a Mother-Daughter Circle, or a mom-and-mentor-led Girls’ Circle.  After much discernment and counsel-seeking – scrying how to offer Coming of Age Circles sustainably, authentically, safely and effectively – I launched Journey of Young Women (JOYW).

JOYW’s process: We gather bimonthly for talking circle, stories, visualization, skits, art, and traditional skills practice – all focused on learning essential skills/knowledge such as assertiveness, emotional intelligence,  intuition-connection, and understanding human fertility cycles.  A Coming of Age cycle is one year, a full Rite of Passage two.  Younger girls meet in Girl Empowerment Circles.  Mothers meet with me monthly and dads quarterly.  Both parents and girls receive tasks, which we later reflect on.

The results: Confident girls who are attuned to themselves, others and the Earth; who respect and honor their bodies; who speak truth to power and to peers.  Grounded parents, more able to stay “in the parent seat”- guiding while acknowledging their daughters’ sovereignty and growing autonomy.

May you be inspired to step into this, because it’s time for *many* Circles to form.  Please know, moms and mentors, that each of you has priceless gifts to contribute.  Call a Circle of Girls – or simply with a Mother-Daughter Book Club.  Articulate what you want the girls to learn and experience, perhaps categorized under physical, emotional, social and spiritual. Brainstorm the rhythms of your activities.  Draw from your passions, your expertise, and what you’re willing to study.  Recruit advisors.  Identify safe practices.  Then call the girls to the Circle.   They will be thrilled.

Please explore the Journey of Young Women website for ideas and support.  Learn to mentor girls, lead Girls’ Circles and offer Coming of Age in our Mentoring Girls Training.

Other great resources: DeAnne L’Am’s “Becoming Peers,” Dr. Christiane Northup’s “Mother-Daughter Wisdom,” Linda Knodle’s “Coming of Age” curriculum, Suzanne Mathis McQueen’s “Four Seasons in Four Weeks,” Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” and DeAnna L’Am’s downloadable Rites of Passage package  which you can find at  …Enjoy!

Katharine Krueger directs Journey of Young Women, offering Girl Empowerment and Coming of Age Circles and training/consulting to parents/mentors.  She is a mechanical engineer, facilitator, Waldorf-inspired educator, former Zen Buddhist Sunday School Director, and parent of two amazing young adults.

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Sexually Healthy Daughters: Superb Advice

Photo by Rosemary Ragusa
Photo by Rosemary Ragusa

Here are three things your daughter needs from you to build a foundation that will help her feel good about herself now, as a teen and as a grown woman.

1. She needs information on her body.

She can’t develop real confidence without self-knowledge; and she can’t have self-knowledge if you don’t teach her about the female body you share.

Don’t tell her she has a “down there.” If she’s old enough to know what her earlobe is, then she’s old enough to know what her vulva is. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry endorse starting the sexual education of children at 18 months. If you want your daughter to be secure enough in her sense of self to hold her own when sexual matters present themselves, this is where it all begins.

If you start by simply naming her body parts, you can gradually move on from there and help her deepen her understanding of sexuality as she grows. This way, by the time she’s a teen and really needs this information and openness with you, it will already be in place. If you start when she’s already a teen, chances are it will be much more difficult to have these conversations, and she may even freeze you out entirely.

2. She needs to be taught to respect her body and its capacities.

Remember, you’re her role model. If you aren’t respectful of your own body, it will be harder for her to respect her own, and that will make it harder for her to chose partners who will honor it.

Don’t critique her body, your body or the bodies of other women in front of her. Don’t tease her about her looks or her form. Don’t make food all about dieting. Don’t talk trash about other women, and as she gets older don’t let her talk trash about other girls.

Teach her about menstruation long before she gets her period, and let her know you have the confidence to discuss anything sexual with the honesty she deserves to have in her relationship with you.

3. She needs to know she can talk to you about anything.

Women in my research shared stories of keeping major sexual secrets from their mothers because they thought their mothers wouldn’t be able to “handle it” if they told them. They reasoned, if my mom couldn’t even talk to me about normal, healthy sexuality, of course she wouldn’t be able to handle more complicated issues.

Things girls and women kept from their mothers? Sexual orientation, abortion, sexual abuse, rape, affairs and trouble in their marriages. Instead of having their mothers by their sides, they went through these things alone.

If you want your daughter to come to you with what’s going on in her life, you have to earn that privilege. She won’t feel comfortable or safe talking to you unless you raise her by example.

If you want a close relationship with your daughter throughout your lives together, nurture it starting now. You and your daughter share the same gender. Don’t leave her ignorant and all on her own. Teach her to connect to herself and invite her to connect with you.

~ Joyce McFadden, author of “Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women”

Read more:

Three of the thirteen teaching sessions in our Mentoring Girls training are about sexual well-being.  This course is transformative for parents and mentors.  Learn more here.

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The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21

The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21

 Community!  This excellent article has three sections, based upon children’s ages: preschool, grade school, and teens/young adults. ~ KK

Guidelines For For Very Young Children (ages 1-5):

Family by Gioia Albano
Family by Gioia Albano

1. Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. Use langauge such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.”

If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”

2. Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they have done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.”

Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.

3. Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children*, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help.

Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see.

Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!”

Praise your child for assisting others who need help, but remind them that if a grown-up needs help with anything, that it is a grown-up’s job to help. Praise your child for alerting you to people who are in distress, so that the appropriate help can be provided.

4. Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words and should be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.”

Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too.  If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends.

If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.

5. Encourage children to read facial expressions and other body language: Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.

6. Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?”

You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.

7. Encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course parents have to help sometimes, but explaining to little Joe that his penis is important and that he needs to take care of it is a great way to help encourage body pride and a sense of ownership of his or her own body.

Also, model consent by asking for permission to help wash your child’s body. Keep it upbeat and always honor the child’s request to not be touched.

“Can I wash your back now? How about your feet? How about your bottom?” If the child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Go for it.”

8. Give children the opportunity to say yes or no in everyday choices, too. Let them choose clothing and have a say in what they wear, what they play, or how they do their hair. Obviously, there are times when you have to step in (dead of winter when your child wants to wear a sundress would be one of those times!), but help them understand that you heard his or her voice and that it mattered to you, but that you want to keep them safe and healthy.

9. Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach them the correct words for their genitals, and make yourself a safe place for talking about bodies and sex.

Say, “I’m so glad you asked me that!” If you don’t know how to answer their questions the right way just then, say, “I’m glad you’re asking me about this, but I want to look into it. Can we talk about it after dinner?” and make sure you follow up with them when you say you will.

If your first instinct is to shush them or act ashamed, then practice it alone or with a partner. The more you practice, the easier it will be.

10. Talk about “gut feelings” or instincts. Sometimes things make us feel weird, or scared, or yucky and we don’t know why. Ask your child if that has ever happened with them and listen quietly as they explain.

Teach them that this “belly voice” is sometimes correct, and that if they ever have a gut feeling that is confusing, they can always come to you for help in sorting through their feelings and making decisions. And remind them that no one has the right to touch them if they don’t want it.

11. “Use your words.” Don’t answer and respond to temper tantrums. Ask your child to use words, even just simple words, to tell you what’s going on.

Guidelines For Older Children (Ages 5-12)

Children-Playing-by-Roo-Woods1. Teach kids that the way their bodies are changing is great, but can sometimes be confusing. The way you talk about these changes—whether it’s loose teeth or pimples and pubic hair—will show your willingness to talk about other sensitive subjects.

Be scientific, direct, and answer any questions your child may have, without shame or embarrassment. Again, if your first instinct is to shush them because you are embarrassed, practice until you can act like it’s no big deal with your kid.

2. Encourage them to talk about what feels good and what doesn’t. Do you like to be tickled? Do you like to be dizzy? What else? What doesn’t feel good? Being sick, maybe? Or when another kid hurts you? Leave space for your child to talk about anything else that comes to mind.

3Remind your child that everything they’re going through is natural, growing up happens to all of us.

4. Teach kids how to use safewords during play, and help them negotiate a safeword to use with their friends.

This is necessary because many kids like to disappear deep into their pretend worlds together, such as playing war games where someone gets captured, or putting on a stage play where characters may be arguing.

At this age, saying “no” may be part of the play, so they need to have one word that will stop all activity. Maybe it’s a silly one like “Peanut Butter” or a serious one like, “I really mean it!” Whatever works for all of them is good.

5Teach kids to stop their play every once in a while to check in with one another. Teach them to take a T.O. (time out) every so often, to make sure everyone’s feeling okay.

6. Encourage kids to watch each others’ facial expressions during play to be sure everyone’s happy and on the same page.

7. Help kids interpret what they see on the playground and with friends. Ask what they could do or could have done differently to help. Play a “rewind” game, if they come home and tell you about seeing bullying.

“You told me a really hard story about your friend being hit. I know you were scared to step in. If we were to rewind the tape, what do you think you could do to help next time if you see it happen?” Improvise everything from turning into a superhero to getting a teacher.

Give them big props for talking to you about tough subjects.

8. Don’t tease kids for their boy-girl friendships, or for having crushes. Whatever they feel is okay. If their friendship with someone else seems like a crush, don’t mention it. You can ask them open questions like, “How is your friendship with Sarah going?” and be prepared to talk—or not talk—about it.

9. Teach children that their behaviors affect others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.

10Teach kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.

Guidelines for Teens and Young Adults


HC HAINES FAMILY.jpg1. Education about “good touch/bad touch” remains crucial, particularly in middle school. This is an age where various “touch games” emerge: butt-slapping, boys hitting one another in the genitals and pinching each other’s nipples to cause pain. When kids talk about these games, a trend emerges where boys explain that they think the girls like it, but the girls explain that they do not.

We must get kids talking about the ways in which these games impact other people. They will try to write it off, but it’s important to encourage them to talk it through, and ask them how they would feel if someone hit them in that way, or did something that made them feel uncomfortable or violated.

When you see it happen, nip it in the bud. This isn’t “boys being boys”, this is harassment, and sometimes assault.

2. Build teens’ self esteem. In middle school, bullying shifts to specifically target identity, and self-esteem starts to plummet around age 13. By age 17, 78% of girls report hating their bodies.

We tend to build up our smaller kids by telling them how great they are. For some reason, we stop telling kids all the wonderful aspects of who they are when they reach middle school. But this actually a very crucial time to be building up our kids’ self-esteem, and not just about beauty. Remark to them regularly about their talents, their skills, their kindness, as well as their appearance.

Even if they shrug you off with a, “Dad! I know!” it’s always good to hear the things that make you great.

3. Continue having “sex talks” with middle schoolers, but start incorporating information about consent. We’re often good at talking about waiting until marriage to have sex, or about sexually-transmitted infections, or about practicing safer sex. But we don’t usually talk about consent. By middle school, it’s time to start.

Ask questions like, “How do you know whether your partner is ready to kiss you?” and “How do you think you can tell if a girl (or boy) is interested in you?”

This is a great time to explain enthusiastic consent. About asking permission to kiss or touch a partner. Explain that only “yes” means “yes”. Don’t wait for your partner to say “no” to look for consent.

Educating our middle schoolers about consent means we don’t have to re-educate them later and break bad habits, perhaps after somebody’s been hurt.

4. Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people.

If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”

5. Explain that part of growing up is having changing hormones, and that hormones sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings.

Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.

6. Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future.

Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.

7. Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:

– How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?

– How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).

– How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?

– How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?

– How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.

– Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.

– Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

8. Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens.

9. Finally, teens are thirsty for more information about sexual assault, consent, and healthy sexuality. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.

Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.

~ Julie Gills, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder, March 2013

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Feelings, Needs and Values: Some Teaching Messages for Girls

by Katharine Krueger

(portions adapted from Marshall Rosenberg’s “Non-Violent Communication”)

All emotions are normal and healthy.  Even the unpleasant ones.  Being sad, mad, bored or scared is just as OK (albeit less pleasant) as being happy or proud.  You don’t have to pretend to be happy or interested.  But do aim to express feelings considerately.

Everyone gets big feelings or rollercoaster feelings sometimes, but especially during puberty.

Habits that help: Notice your feelings.  Identify your feelings (sad, angry, scared, happy, proud, etc).  Feel your feelings (don’t push them down inside – or away at someone else).  Express your feelings (in non-harmful ways!  Be considerate if you can, but sometimes it’s better to be inconsiderate than not to express at all).

Experiment to find what works for you to release difficult feelings, or help them get smaller: talk, draw, write, dance, run, make music, go outside, meditate,…

Try: Treat a difficult emotion like a newborn baby or a puppy who is feeling the same feeling.  Imagine holding it tenderly, with compassion and understanding.

Talk to a trusted adult if it feels like your emotions are getting ‘too big’.

Our emotions are part of our inner guidance system.  Emotions developed over millions of years of evolution to help us.

Girl of Central Vietnam by Rhahn Photography
Girl of Central Vietnam by Rhahn Photography

Emotions arise from met and unmet needs, wants, hopes, values
Met needs -> usually stimulate pleasant feelings
Unmet needs -> usually stimulate unpleasant feelings
Emotions = body’s signal that a natural human need is met or unmet.
Feeling lonely?  Perhaps your need for friendship is unmet.
Feeling afraid?: Perhaps your need for safety is unmet (physical or emotional)
Feeling rested?  Perhaps your need for sleep or ease has been met.

When a need is met, emotions lead us to “do more of the same”.  Yay!

When a need is unmet, our emotions alert us, so that we can identify the unmet need, and finds ways to meet the need.  Yay!

This is cool: Identifying and really connecting in your body-mind to an unmet need in can help you feel much better right away.  Ask yourself, “What are the unmet need(s) behind what I am feeling now?”  Connecting deeply to the beauty of that need can soften your heart and release the difficult emotion. You may even  enjoy the difficult emotion – for instance, sadness in missing a friend.

Emotions also help with communication, decision-making & more.
Emotions also signal when our VALUES are “met” or “unmet”.
A need is something that you want and value.
A value is something deeply important to you, without reference to specific people, places, actions or times. It is a guiding principle in your life.
What matters to you – your needs, values, hopes and dreams – is important!
We want to stand up for what matters to us, while considering the needs and values of others.