Meet Jane Kenyon, founder of charity Girls Out Loud
- Credit: Archant
Founder of charity Girls Out Loud, Jane Kenyon’s work championing and inspiring young girls is vital
Teenage girls are facing a huge mental health crisis. Of the thousands of girls aged 13-16 living in Greater Manchester, over 45% are from deprived areas, living in poverty, with complex home lives. With continued lockdowns, restrictions and school closures, the impact on young girls’ mental health after months of isolation, and with next to no structure to support them, is severe. Cheshire’s Jane Kenyon, serial entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author, campaigner and overall womens’ champion, has made it her mission to empower young girls and turn them into strong women. Not only has she been nominated for awards, been invited to talk on radio and TV, and written multiple books, she even appeared in girl band Little Mix’s music video, Strip, in 2019, that highlighted empowered women’s stories.
‘I had quite a troubled youth and came from a wealthy yet dysfunctional family. I was kicked out of home at 16 years old,’ Jane begins. ‘That’s such perilous time in a young girl’s life, but I knew that if I was going to make something of myself, then I needed to work hard. I spent the first ten years of my life climbing the corporate ladder.’ But after a successful 20-year career that led her to coaching women, Jane began to see a disconnect with teen girls. ‘I started to see a lot of stuff in the press about young girls that I wasn’t happy with, in particular around mental health. In my coaching sessions, I began talking to the women about their teenage daughters and how important it is to be a role model for them. They might not listen to you, as many teenagers don’t, but they are watching. If you aren’t showing them a good example, that’s harming them.’
As the conversation around this began to build, Jane was asked to speak in schools and noticed alarming behavioural issues in teen girls: ‘I didn’t like seeing the lack of confidence, the fixation on appearance and how they seemed subservient to the boys in the class.’ This led her to develop Girls Out Loud, an intervention programme designed to help the most vulnerable girls.
‘I wanted to use all my skills as a coach, my life experience and my knowledge, to help them. I tried it first in 2009 with a group of 15-year-old girls in a school in Blackpool. I worked with them for six months; I’d coach them individually and within a group setting. They taught me everything I needed to know about working with teenage girls,’ Jane says. ‘Those girls are now 27 and have come full circle. Some have become teachers, one is a fine artist, and a few have even come into Girls Out Loud as role models. They changed their lives, and that’s what inspires me.’
Like so many other areas of life, COVID has had detrimental effects on teens today; making problems that were already there even worse.
‘The lockdown has put us in a crisis in regards to mental health for young girls. We’ve seen an increase in self-harm, depression, anxiety and the number of young people ringing ChildLine is rising. With isolation and school closures, they’ve effectively lost nearly a year of education. We’re going to feel the effects of this pandemic for decades. If adults are finding it difficult, which is completely normal, living with such a degree of uncertainty and fear, then what must teenagers be feeling? They don’t have the emotional resilience or the emotional experience that we have, making it ten times worse for them.’
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Raising teen girls at any time is difficult, but even more so during a pandemic, so Jane has some advice: ‘Parents should stay close. Keep the communication open, talk to them and listen to what they have to say. You have to make it clear that she can come and talk to you about anything and that you’re never too busy to listen.
‘Try and make sure your daughter is surrounded by strong female role models. They can be aunties or grandmas who they feel comfortable talking to. The final thing I would do is, I would suggest meeting their friends and get to know who they’re hanging out with, and that includes boys as well.’
Central to the Girls Out Loud mission is introducing girls to inspiring, successful female role models, through the Big Sister mentoring programme. Having someone to talk to and guide them through this difficult time when their identity is taking shape, can make a huge difference about who they will become in life.
‘We are now delivering and creating early intervention programmes for girls aged 12/13. The reason for that is the data shows that is the ideal age to empower them. Girls at this age are painfully shy, with no confidence, no aspiration, trying to navigate a very challenging landscape of social media, reality TV, cyber-bullying, and poor body image,’ she explains. ‘It’s about helping them find a clear sense of who they are and what they want from this world.
‘Seeing them shine and become their true selves is my favourite thing. When we empower young girls, they start making the right choices, and that’s all we can hope for.’