Addressing Today’s Teen Challenges through Activism, Calculated Risk, & TikTok

Sara Pipher Gilliam speaks with professionals at the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh.

On February 20, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, in partnership with the Jewish Women's Foundation of Greater Pittsburgh, brought adolescent expert and author Sara Pipher Gilliam to Pittsburgh as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures New & Noted lecture series. Gilliam is the co-author of the newly revised and updated Reviving Ophelia, the iconic book that helped frame issues facing adolescent girls 25 years ago. Originally published in 1994, Reviving Ophelia shined a light on the corrosive culture that had brought eating disorders, addiction, sexual violence, and objectification upon adolescent girls. Gilliam, alongside her mother, bestselling nonfiction author Mary Pipher, spent two years updating Reviving Ophelia to address the pressing issues for today's teen girls.

While the gaps in academic opportunities between girls and boys highlighted in the first book have been bridged, today's girls and their parents face new challenges: "Adolescent girls have fewer opportunities to solve problems and to take care of themselves. They are always either with their parents or a phone call away," Gilliam writes.

Gilliam began her day with a visit to the University of Pittsburgh School of Education. She met with students and school-based social workers as part of a psychology education course, Development: Middle Childhood Through Adolescence. Gilliam shared what she learned from girls who participated in interviews and focus group discussions from across the county, and students reflected on similar experiences, either from their recent adolescence or raising teens and working with middle schoolers.

Sara Pipher Gilliam with University of Pittsburgh students after speaking to their class.

Gilliam then conducted an informal Q&A over lunch with a group of teen mental health experts, parents, and community partners at the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh. Gilliam shared insights on addressing new challenges from social media use to increased anxiety and awareness among teens about global challenges. The isolation from their peers, the vortex of anxiety wrapped into social media, and the overwhelming cultural narratives are weighing heavily on today's teens, but activism is a way for many teens to introduce healthy stress and learn the power of their own voice.

"One of the biggest things we can do is encourage activism," urged Sara Pipher Gilliam. "It is a really great way to combat the anxiety they're dealing with as adolescents."

At her New & Noted lecture, Gilliam shared images from the popular social media app, TikTok, and spoke about the importance of parents learning about their teen's online activity. "If your child was spending 6-9 hours a day with a person, which is the average amount of time teens spend on social media, you would get to know that person. Take the time to learn about their experiences online."

Sara Pipher Gilliam speaks at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lectures on February 20.

Gilliam also talked about the importance of creating opportunities for 'calculated' risk in the real world. She shared that most girls spend weekend's at home watching Netflix and scrolling social media, and we need to find ways to build their confidence by exposing them to appropriate challenges.

Listen to her entire presentation at the evening program for the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures by clicking here

You can also read a nice summary of Gilliam's evening comments on the Jewish Chronicle.

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