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Chapter 3.3: When Sensitive Topics Come Up

According to Feeling Safe: What Girls Say, a 2003 Girl Scout Research Institute study, girls are looking for groups that allow connection and a sense of close friendship. They want volunteers who are teen savvy and can help them with issues they face, such as bullying, peer pressure, dating, athletic and academic performance, and more. Some of these issues may be considered “sensitive” by parents, and they may have opinions or input about how, and whether, Girl Scouts should cover these topics with their daughters.

gs-top.org Girl Scout Research Institute

Girl Scouts welcomes and serves girls and families from a wide spectrum of faiths and cultures. When girls wish to participate in discussions or activities that could be considered sensitive—even for some—put the topic on hold until you have spoken with parents and received guidance from your council.

When Girl Scout activities involve sensitive issues, your role is that of a caring adult who can help girls acquire skills and knowledge in a supportive atmosphere, not someone who advocates a particular position.

You should know, GSUSA does not take a position or develop materials on issues relating to human sexuality, birth control, or abortion. We feel our role is to help girls develop self-confidence and good decision-making skills that will help them make wise choices in all areas of their lives. We believe parents and guardians, along with schools and faith communities, are the primary sources of information on these topics.

See GS-TOP Council Policies and Standards, XI. Parental Permission.

We at GS-TOP believe that parents/guardians make all decisions regarding their girl’s participation in Girl Scout program that may be of a sensitive nature. As a volunteer leader, you must get written parental permission for any locally planned program offering that could be considered sensitive. Included on the permission form should be the topic of the activity, any specific content that might create controversy, and any action steps the girls will take when the activity is complete. Be sure to have a form for each girl, and keep the forms on hand in case a problem arises. For activities not sponsored by Girl Scouts, find out in advance (from organizers or other volunteers who may be familiar with the content) what will be presented, and follow your council’s guidelines for obtaining written permission.

Report concerns: There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of girls in your group. Alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, abuse, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues girls may encounter. You are on the frontlines of girls’ lives, and you are in a unique position to identify a situation in which a girl may need help. If you believe a girl is at risk of hurting herself or others, your role is to promptly bring that information to her parent/guardian or the council so she can get the expert assistance she needs. Your concern about a girl’s well-being and safety is taken seriously, and your council will guide you in addressing these concerns.

  • Contact a staff member at your Girl Scout council and find out how to refer the girl and her parent/guardian to experts at school or in the community.
  • Share your concern with the girl’s family, if this is feasible.

Here are a few signs that could indicate a girl needs expert help:

  • Marked changes in behavior or personality (for example, unusual moodiness, aggressiveness, or sensitivity)
  • Declining academic performance and/or inability to concentrate
  • Withdrawal from school, family activities, or friendships
  • Fatigue, apathy, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased secretiveness
  • Deterioration in appearance and personal hygiene.
  • Eating extremes, unexplained weight loss, distorted body image
  • Tendency toward perfectionism
  • Giving away prized possessions; preoccupation with the subject of death
  • Unexplained injuries such as bruises, burns, or fractures
  • Avoidance of eye contact or physical contact
  • Excessive fearfulness or distrust of adults
  • Abusive behavior toward other children, especially younger ones