By Darby Kellum
The troubles of young teens have been documented repeatedly over the years. The dreaded but highly anticipated transition period into middle school is known for its gossip, hormonal changes, and drama—even more drama among girls than boys. Often deemed trivial and paltry by adults, the problems during this time in every girl’s life shouldn’t be described as “typical middle school.” Who says this behavior has to be typical? Haley Kilpatrick is fighting the stereotype and fixed on the development of kinder, more compassionate teenage girls.
At the age of twenty-five, Haley Kilpatrick is celebrating the tenth anniversary of her organization, Girl Talk. That’s right: Kilpatrick founded Girl Talk when she was just fifteen. Now, ten years later, there are Girl Talk chapters in forty-three states and six countries. This amazing organization is effectively reaching over 35,000 middle school girls. Kilpatrick has even written a guide for teachers and parents, The Drama Years, that just hit bookshelves all over the country in April.
Girl Talk’s mission—to help young teenagers build self-esteem, develop leadership skills, and recognize the value of community service—is accomplished through peer-mentoring groups where high school girls guide middle school girls. The curriculum is provided at no cost and forms the basis for meetings. Girl Talk’s target is simple; it aims to reach “the everygirl.” Kilpatrick explained that all middle school girls deal with the same issues, no matter what state or country.
So, how was Girl Talk started? At a very young age, Haley Kilpatrick saw a need. Bullied in middle school, Kilpatrick was lucky to have a mentor to guide her through the difficult years. When Kilpatrick’s younger sister entered the middle school arena and went through the same trying times, Kilpatrick knew she had to step in. She started Girl Talk as a mentoring program, and the organization has stayed very true to its beginnings. Kilpatrick had a distinct goal in mind, but she has surpassed even her own expectations.
“I’m very humbled. I’m the first to say I don’t take credit for where it is today. I know that God had much bigger plans and a bigger mission for Girl Talk,” says Kilpatrick.
Girl Talk’s curriculum focuses on bullying, gossip, friends, parents—everything applicable to young teenagers. Also, the curriculum introduces “T.H.I.N.K.ing before you speak, text or type.” The T.H.I.N.K. campaign stands for making sure your words are true, helpful, important, necessary, and kind before you say them. If you visit the Girl Talk website, you’ll see celebrities—like Samuel L. Jackson, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Justin Bieber’s guitarist—wearing T.H.I.N.K. bracelets.
When you see Haley Kilpatrick—beautiful, charismatic, and talented—you will have a hard time believing she was ever a victim of bullying; her own example goes to show that anyone can be affected by bullying. Kilpatrick has been recognized nationally for her work with Girl Talk: she was named one of Glamour magazine’s “20 Young Women Changing the World Now,” a Huffington Post “Greatest Woman of the Day,” and a People magazine “All-Star Among Us,” among many other honors. You may have even spotted Kilpatrick on NBC’s Today show in early April. This philanthropist’s program is being recognized and praised as one of the first to target the middle school age and find so much success.
Hearing Kilpatrick speak of her middle school days, reflecting on my own, and reading the stories in The Drama Years, I was reminded of an episode of This American Life, the weekly radio show out of Chicago distributed by Public Radio International. In this episode, a young girl e-mailed host Ira Glass to suggest a show topic: middle school.
In one segment of the show, Glass and author Linda Perlstein discuss the actual science of what’s going on during the middle school age. Having researched what is taking place with middle school children developmentally, Perlstein reports in the on-air dialogue that these are some of the most formative years of life:
Perlstein: “This is the time of biggest growth for a human being, aside from infancy. But your brain, your gray matter—during the middle school years, what happens in your early stages of puberty is this fast overproduction of brain cells and connections, far more than you actually need.”
Glass: “In other words, during those years, your brain turns you into you—the adult you.”
Teenage years are scientifically proven to be tumultuous, something that Kilpatrick knows all too well. She is quick to point out that middle school holds some of life’s most formative years in growing, developing, and shaping. In order to grow, one must change. And for many young teenagers, this is a terrible thing. “From elementary school to middle school, the worst thing you can do amongst your peers is change. If I had one message I could scream from the mountaintops, it would be that that’s all middle school is—change as much as you can,” Kilpatrick says. “Explore crafts, explore sports, explore academics, explore whatever interests you. Change. Change as much as you possibly can. We’ve got to break the stereotype that changing is a bad thing.”
Along with change, Kilpatrick has found that there are other topics where middle school girls are misinformed. One topic The Drama Years explores is how girls perceive themselves. For her book, Kilpatrick interviews girls about self-esteem and self-respect. “Of all the girls asked, only one girl actually knew the definition of self-esteem,” says Kilpatrick. “Every other girl defined it as how others perceive you. It’s a physiological problem. It’s just where the brain is in development. The quicker adults can understand the conversations that should be had, the more they’re going to be open to exploring this.”
The goal of The Drama Years is to equip parents with a tool to help them communicate with their teenage girls. Understanding important things, like this false definition of self-esteem, is the first step to better communication. This amazing tool is now available to parents wherever books are sold.
The Drama Years book tour is next for Kilpatrick. She will travel the country speaking about the book and Girl Talk, reaching even more middle school girls and their parents. After the book launched on the Today show in April, the book tour was officially kicked off in New York City. If you share VIE’s Northwest Florida as your home, or you vacation in the area, look for Haley Kilpatrick at Seaside’s Sundog Books on May 24. For the complete book tour and more on Kilpatrick and Girl Talk, visit the organization’s website at DesireToInspire.org.
Kilpatrick is, in a way, leading a generation’s renaissance. Reawakening kinder, more compassionate young girls will undoubtedly result in a generation of remarkable women.
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