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Monday, Dec. 7, 2009

Carrie Silver-Stock: Helping Girls With Dreams

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By the time she hit college, social worker Carrie Silver-Stock knew she wanted to help teenage girls. After getting her master of social work, she started a Web site, girlswithdreams.com, hoping to foster a sense of community among young women otherwise lost in cyberspace. The site’s success proved to be a springboard for her new book, Secrets Girls Keep, another attempt to reach out to girls in need. Intent on circumventing what she calls the “cult of secrecy,” Silver-Stock returned to Milwaukee in November to talk to girls and boys at her alma maters, Homestead High School and Lake Shore Middle School.

What inspired you to focus on girls?

Most people wouldn’t have realized it, because I tried to appear as if I had everything together, but as a teen I struggled with issues like depression, suicidal thoughts and an eating disorder.

So, you were a secret keeper, something you say is typical of teenage girls.

Secrets are so much a part of girlhood, and mostly harmless, but as girls grow they’re embarrassed or worried about getting in trouble, or about their perfect image coming apart, so often they’re reluctant to say exactly what’s going on.

What can parents do?

Make sure the lines of communication are open, which is a challenge because most parents feel their daughters won’t talk to them. Look for fun, creative ways to communicate. Some parents have a journal they pass back and forth; some kids enjoy texting with their parents—not about serious topics, but just building the relationship. You might decide to have a day together, where you get your nails done, or do something meaningful. Not that you’re going to hound her to open up. It’s all about building on the positives so when she’s dealing with something, she’ll talk.

You struggled with an eating disorder as a teen. Is this a central issue for girls?

I didn’t need to be hospitalized, but when I look back I think, “What a huge waste of my life,” being so hyper-focused on food and eating and body image. It’s hard to pick a central issue, but from topics as varied as teen pregnancy and eating disorders, the core element is just girls and self-esteem. We need to get girls to the point where they feel more comfortable in their own skin and can make better decisions on their own.

What inspired you to create your Web site?

Most of my professional life has been spent helping young people, for example as a school social worker in Illinois. The school setting was a good match, but I left when I had my second son. I hadn’t connected with my passion, but working with a coach I uncovered a desire to focus on teen girls, so I started my Web site. Girls need to support each other, and sometimes it’s hard to find that positive, collaborative spirit, so that was one of the big building blocks for the site. We have fun stuff like fashion and makeup tips, but it’s down to earth and realistic; we also cover serious topics, like what to do if your parents get divorced. It’s important for girls to feel empowered, have a voice. Although I do a lot of the blog posts myself, many of the posts come from our teen bloggers and they drive the content. We have a teen advisory circle, and I envision myself being completely out of the picture someday, with the site 100% run by teens.