Giving Girls A Space To Be Themselves
By Mai Yang, Girl Scout Mentored Troop Leader
As a parent and a youth mentor, back-to-school season is an exciting time in my world. The long summer days have passed but a new year full of possibilities awaits my daughters, my Girl Scout troop, and me. The new academic year brings a fresh batch of opportunities for young people to safely step out of their comfort zones and write their own stories as they practice important life skills.
The experience that Girl Scouting provides for my troop is meaningful, partly because it’s a rare opportunity to be in an affirming space with kids who share similar backgrounds—standing in contrast to my own experience. Growing up as a first-generation immigrant, a Hmong girl, and the oldest of six, I had to mature much faster and didn’t get to enjoy many activities outside of academics. Now that I am volunteering as a BIPOC Mentored Troop leader, I realize how important it is to create those spaces, to model strong leadership, and to work hard at the things that matter most to you. These are lessons I’m learning every day, both from the Girl Scouts organization and directly from my troop. I consider it a privilege to be able to learn from other people’s children and appreciate that my kids are not only continually challenging themselves but are also challenging me as their leader to be my very best self, tap into my creativity, and seek challenges that I, too, can learn and grow from.
But beyond the anecdotal, I can say as a data scientist that I’ve reviewed the research and the case for Girl Scouting is a compelling one.
It is common knowledge that a variety of out-of-school-time programs provide children with extended learning and growth opportunities. Everything from dance team to robotics club provide important venues for learning and practicing important skills like problem-solving, cross-collaboration, and self-advocacy. Research also shows these programs often support better academic outcomes and improved social skills in young people.
Girl Scouts in particular, as shown in numerous studies, helps us raise youngsters who are more likely to demonstrate positive values and feel a strong sense of self, in addition to seeking challenges, developing healthy relationships, and demonstrating community problem solving skills. Girl Scouts are also statistically more likely to get excellent grades, pursue future careers in STEM, and generally feel hopeful about their futures. That sense of hope is especially important to me given the many complex challenges facing today’s kids. They are growing up in a digital world with new kinds of threats, systemic racism persists limiting their opportunities in more ways than one, and the backdrop of a youth mental health crisis only makes the work we are doing that much more pressing.
Having the opportunity to provide my predominantly AAPI troop with this shared space, where they can simply enjoy being kids with others who look like them and relate to their experiences, is powerful. They may not realize it now, but it is an incredible gift to have access to those affirming spaces. As their troop leader, I don’t take my role lightly because I know that my service to community is enabling them to have quality experiences and not have to live the way their parents or grandparents did.
We parents, caregivers, and mentors have a responsibility to focus on our kids as much as we do ourselves. As we fight for our future, we must also be working to build up our kids and help them realize their own potential to lead. My goal for my troop members, and all our children, is for them to keep dreaming big, keep finding their voices, and keep having fun—because these seemingly simple acts are already changing our world for the better.
I would invite any parent interested in Girl Scouting to check us out, come to an event, or contact us to learn more. One family at a time, we will help to bring up a generation of kids who are even stronger than we had to be. Get started and find a local troop by scanning the QR code below.