Tuning into Teens
It’s not easy being a teenage girl. Finding your identity, managing peer pressure, hormones, the demands of parents, teachers and social media can create a rollercoaster of emotions. Even with a loving family, a group of friends or the support of school staff, teenage girls still can feel isolated, lost or misunderstood.
It is ironic that while teenage girls might feel alone with their struggles, the path they tread is one that is well travelled. Just a few years older than them are young women who have been through the same experiences and felt the same emotions, who have survived, grown and indeed thrived. The question is—why don’t we tap into this resource before the problems seem insurmountable and further, potentially more serious action needs to be taken?
For Old Girl Ruby Riethmuller (2015) the idea of supporting teenage girls in that way manifested while in Year 12 at Ascham. She said, ‘Going to a school like Ascham where you are blessed with an abundance of resources at your fingertips, it’s an optimal context for personal and collective growth—I loved it. And yet while I was there, I realised how beneficial it would be to have on-demand support from a younger mentor— someone who was closer to my age and who spoke my language—because when you’re a teenage girl it can be hard to relate to anyone over about 35 when it comes to the unique challenges of life as a teenager in the 21st century!’
Last year, when Covid disrupted Ruby’s international travel plans, she decided that there was no time like the present to realise her passion and establish Womn-Kind—a mental health service that connects teen girls with a big sister, someone who can communicate with them in an approachable, relatable, non-intimidating way. ‘Whether it’s a friendship or family fall-out, the listening ear when you’re not feeling yourself or the experience behind writing a killer resume, Womn-Kind is a reminder that seeking help is in fact a greater reflection of courage than it is of weakness,’ said Ruby.
In just over six months Womn-Kind already has mentors based in NSW, ACT, Victoria and Queensland. Ruby says the mentors are ‘young women with a natural ability to nurture people who are all trained in mental health first aid. Mentors can take their mentees for a walk, out for a milkshake or breakfast, or simply sit on the couch and talk, either in person, via Zoom or Facetime.’
Each Womn-Kind mentor has been vetted by an application process where their own life experiences, work experiences and education have come into play into welcoming them into the program. Many of them are Ascham Old Girls and all are volunteers, giving their time to help the next generation of females juggle the ups and downs of life and realise their potential.
Since establishing Womn-Kind, Ruby has also delivered in-school programs and Boarder Wellbeing Programs, which are tailored to the needs of each individual school. She also has plans to develop an app in the future. Ruby’s experience as a pastoral care leader at St Andrew’s College, within Sydney University while studying Marketing and Visual Communication Design at UTS has been invaluable. So has her work running a pilot Boarder Wellbeing Program at Ascham in 2019, being a bunk leader for 16 eleven-year-old girls while working for a Summer Camp in the USA and teaching English to Indian children.
‘These days it is well recognised that we need to take a proactive approach to prioritise our mental health, just in the same way we prioritise physical health so through Womn-Kind, I hope to build a network of young girls who feel cared for, loved and empowered to stand on their own two feet, who can say no when they want to and also grab opportunities when they are ready’ said Ruby.