DOWNERS GROVE – Adolescent girls often know the meaning of empathy, or the book definition of being a “good friend,” but when schoolyard conflicts arise, those lessons often disappear into a swirl of emotions and bullying, according to Sandra McDonnell, president of the local nonprofit Helping Girls Navigate Adolescence.
McDonnell and the nonprofit founder Mary Ellen Young, a former District 58 School Board member, realized that gap between knowledge and practice during educational programs the organization hosts throughout the year to help prevent bullying and assist girls in growing emotionally and socially during the formative years.
“We kept asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to help girls really incorporate this into their lives?’ ” McDonnell said.
That’s when she and Young began developing the idea for a book, paired with a bracelet girls could weave as they completed its chapters.
McDonnell and Young ended up founding a for-profit business separate from the nonprofit, called Authentic Me, to develop the idea.
The book, “Elements for Girls,” was released this month and is the new business venture’s first project. It comes with several multicolored strands of hemp for the bracelet, along with beads and metal charms for each of the chapters.
“Our book talks to the girls about celebrating who they are,” McDonnell said. “And recognizing the fact that everyone is different.”
The charms carry meaning to help remind girls to carry empathy and other traits in their day-to-day lives. For example, one charm is a flip-flop, reminding girls to “walk in other people’s shoes.”
“We know if a child has empathy, it really makes them more considerate of others, more caring, understanding,” Young said. “It’s the No. 1 element that prevents bullying. There’s so much rudeness in our world and cruelty. If children learn to be empathetic early on, they’re much more successful later on.”
Young recently served on the team that implemented social-emotional learning standards at select schools for the Illinois State Board of Education. She also served on the District 58 School Board from 2001 to 2009.
The book is filled with activities and question-and-answer prompts to encourage girls to set aside time for reflection and to learn problem solving techniques and other important social-emotional lessons.
“I picture a girl curling up in bed with the book and a set of gel pens and just having fun with it,” Young said. “These girls now have so much pressure and time constraints on them, it’s kind of sad that they don’t have time for reflection.”
The book was written for an audience of girls in fifth through seventh grade, but she said it can be applicable for a wider age range.
“The whole message is ‘You’re unique and special, and that’s OK,’ ” Young said.