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"Our Health, Our Futures" Is Expert, Teen-Tested Advice For Confidence and Success Throughout Adolescence

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. ­ For many teens, particularly girls, the phrase "back to school" evokes not only a return to studies and socializing but a re-encounter with the tricky terrain of adolescent life today.

A new print and on-line publication ­ "Our Health, Our Futures: A Project By and For Adolescent Girls" ­ is designed to provide the real-world advice and straightforward guidance that teens may be reluctant to accept when delivered by parents or teachers.

Written by Smith College faculty and staff, YWCA leaders and adolescent health experts at New York's Mt. Sinai Medical Center ­ and featuring contributions from more than 180 teenage girls ­ "Our Health, Our Futures" is girl-tested and approved as an honest, comprehensive resource for navigating the often rocky path of the middle- and high-school years.

Sample advice from the 80-page publication includes:

On handling pressure:

"Having and taking advantage of a support network can be a great help in dealing with pressure. The more alone you are, the more susceptible you are to feeling overwhelmed or trapped. Sharing your feelings with others is a great way to manage and even overcome the pressure."

"Reduce feelings of social and academic pressure by listening to music, practicing yoga, writing a poem or writing in your diary and exercising for 10 minutes."

On healthy relationships:

"Self-confidence enables you to choose healthy relationships and to expect respect from and give it to others. Use your voice, don't lose it. Cultivate passions in your lifeDon't feed stereotypes; give yourself and others a chance to be whole peopleGive yourself room to live outside of the confines of narrow roles and choose partners who are free of those confines also."

On gaining self-confidence:

"Confidence builders include having supportive friends, being in a girls' group, joining a program that supports girls, expressing yourself, physical exercise, team sports, further education, and connecting with an adult who supports you.

Confidence breakers include being around people who put you down, feeling ashamed of your family, bullying and put-downs, racism, being harassed, gossip, letting someone else make your decisions, having no hope for your future."

On sexual health:

"To maintain sexual health 1) always seek out accurate information about sex from people you can trust; 2) understand that while sexuality will always be a
part of you, it is also only one part and should be put in the context of your overall health; 3) pay close attention to what makes your body and mind similar and what makes them different than other girls your age."

"You are ready for a sexual relationship only if both partners have taken the initiative to get tested for STDs beforehand, after any previous sexual contact with someone else; if there has been an open discussion about the use of contraception; if you trust the other individual; if you can have sex with this person out of the covers, with the lights on and feel no embarrassment; and if you are prepared to handle the possible consequences of sex, including pregnancy and STDs."

"Our Health, Our Futures" is a product of the Smith Summer Science Program ( and is supported by the Metropolitan Life Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Jessica Pippen, a junior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, is proud of her contributions to the project and is advertising the Web site at her school and among her friends. She plans on soliciting more stories of girls' lives for the next edition of the project through the Birmingham YWCA.

"This project was the best thing I've ever done," says Pippen, who credits it with teaching her "not to be so self-righteous [about other teens' behavior] and to recognize that many health issues exist on a continuum.

"Many people have eating disorders, for example, although they may not be as severe as anorexia or bulimia. Just about every girl in my class is self-conscious about her weight but when others look at her they see nothing wrong."
Jamie Monzo, a senior at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, Maine, also contributed to the project and is helping to get the word out by distributing business cards and donating books to local libraries. The anonymity of the resource is one of its key assets, she says.

"Young women can look at the book or Web site without feeling embarrassed about it," she explains.

To learn more about the publication and its authors, or to obtain a copy, check out or call Professor Gail Scordilis at (413) 585-3879,

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's best liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 50 countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the United States.

September 7, 2000



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