Keeping it Fun
In this age of TikTok and viral memes, adolescent girls ages eight through 14 may seem like an intimidating audience to reach, especially with information related to topics that could be difficult to talk about with adults.
But Dr. Holmes and Dr. Hutchison have honed their “on-screen personalities” over time, perfecting jokes and trying out lines.
“It has been a little trial-and-error and a lot of feedback from the girls and the parents,” says Dr. Hutchison.
Although girls are keen to know the details when it comes to their changing bodies, Drs. Hutchison and Holmes know the delivery is important. For example, through so many live sessions they’ve learned to choose their words carefully when talking about menstruation, with “bloody fluid” preferable to “blood.”
“When you talk about bloody fluid, they handle it a little bit easier,” laughs Dr. Holmes.
As for production, the filming process is decidedly low-tech: No elaborate sets or staging. The signature yellow lockers that appear in many of the Girlology videos are actually in Dr. Holmes’ home. They typically work with a video producer who will film and do final edits and graphics, although since the pandemic began they’ve been setting the camera up themselves. Props, like a large hand puppet shaped like a vulva and an ovary pillow, often appear to help illustrate a point.
Despite the pizzaz, the messages are all grounded in facts.
“We definitely keep it medically accurate,” says Dr. Hutchison. “Melisa and I are reading and researching constantly. We are evidence-based in everything that we talk about.”
All of the Girlology material – whether digital or live – is also meant to bring families together, building relationships so that girls can grow up healthy with a solid foundation of support.
“Our videos are not just to hand to your daughter,” says Dr. Holmes. “They’re really to watch with her. Every child needs an adult that they can talk to about these things. They can watch our video, but if they can’t ask questions and follow up, they’re missing out. Having that trusted adult with them is really important. Improving conversations at home is really important.”
Both Dr. Holmes and Dr. Hutchison have daughters of their own – five between them – so they’ve been in the thick of many conversations about adolescence in their own families.
Right now, they’re from age 15 to 26,” says Dr. Holmes. “They’ve been our guinea pigs for the whole time we’ve been doing this.”
That feedback from their daughters – and input from the hundreds of girls and parents who have attended sessions over the years – has helped to fine tune programs so that the needs of families are met. According to surveys of participants, Girlology is making a difference.
“We ask parents before the program what their daughter’s attitude is towards talking about puberty or reproduction, and usually it’s avoidance or grossed out or clueless,” says Dr. Holmes. “Then we follow up with them two weeks after the program and ask: ‘Has it increased their conversations, and what is their daughter’s attitude now?’ Their attitude following is very accepting and somewhat excited. And they’re definitely having more conversations at home.”