BRANDON — Cyberbullying.
As stories of adolescent girls ending their lives generate headlines, questions arise about whom to blame. Psychologists say the issues girls face today directly affect their emotional well-being. Meanwhile, concerned parents look for warning signs and ways to talk to their teens.
Enter Girls of Grace, a conference taking place Saturday at Bell Shoals Baptist Church for girls, their mothers and youth leaders. The nationwide effort, started in 2002 by Christian recording group Point of Grace, seeks to empower young women through faith in Christ.
At the event, participants will talk openly with speakers about topics ranging from eating disorders and cutting to social media.
"A lot of times parents don't know where to begin," said Leigh Cappillino, 44, of Point of Grace. "State to state, city to city, whatever community we go to, there's no denying that the worries and fears are all the same. These are extreme issues these girls are dealing with, not which hair product should they use."
The idea for Girls of Grace came after Point of Grace members Cappillino, Denise Jones and Shelley Breen became mothers themselves. At concerts, women came to them seeking advice.
"Moms of teenage girls would ask us questions or girls would say, 'Hey, can I talk to you about a certain problem?' so we saw a need," Cappillino said. "When we started the conference, the floodgates opened. It was eye-opening to learn how inner demons can eat away at these girls, leading to depression and anger.
"We want them to understand God has a purpose for them, that the purpose for their life is to live, lead and love."
Organizers themed this year's conference "Live Freely, Love Fiercely and Lead Fearlessly." Christian recording artists Britt Nicole, Royal Tailor, Amanda Noelle and Point of Grace will perform. Young adult authors Emily Freeman, Ketric Newell and Annie Downs will speak.
Those who attend will have the opportunity to text in personal questions.
Downs, author of Speak Love: Making Your Words Matter, will talk about bullying. Words kill and words give life, she says in the book.
"Annie talks down and dirty about what it looks like to be a mean girl," Cappillino said. "She says, 'If this is you, it's time to take a look in the mirror.' "
Girls of Grace is a chance for women of all ages to heal and grow together, Cappillino said. The conference is targeted to girls in grades 6-12.
At the end of the day, the girls and their mothers will separate to give both groups a chance to ask questions.
"It's a time to be real," Cappillino said. "It's not 'throw your stick in the fire and sing Kumbaya.' It's cool."
Sarah Whitman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.