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Gender
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North America
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Youth, Teenagers, USA, New York
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These six senior high school girls live in the wealthy town of Skaneateles, N.Y., where the population is 99% white and the median income for a family is over $85,000. With wealth, beauty and age working in their favor, no one would suspect a darker culture in which these high school students grapple with issues related to suicide, depression, betrayal and absent parents.
Juliette Lynch

2010 — student winner

The conversation at the kitchen island as the girls make cookies skips around from sex and who hooked up with whom, to parties and drinking, parents and divorce, cheating boyfriends, and why so-and-so isn’t a friend anymore. And then the discussion grows somber as the girls discuss their friend’s attempted suicide. On one hand, they sense the significance of such an event, but within several minutes they move on to other topics of importance and, as such, an event becomes part of their everyday challenges.

These six senior high school girls live in the wealthy town of Skaneateles, N.Y., where the population is 99% white and the median income for a family is over $85,000. They have grown up together and are close friends. They are the popular clique in the graduating class and, as one of them said, are “at the top of the food chain.” With wealth, beauty and age working in their favor, no one would suspect a darker culture in which these high school students grapple with issues related to suicide, depression, betrayal and absent parents.

Despite spending my adolescence in this community and graduating from Skaneateles High School almost 6 six years ago, I am surprised by these girls’ experiences. After spending the last five months in the community, in the high school, and in these girls’ homes, a truer and more frightening picture of what it means to grow up today as a girl in a small, affluent American town is slowly revealed. I have witnessed first hand the situations they encounter. As they deal with the significant issues surrounding their families or their social lives, whether it is alcoholism, eating disorders, divorce, rejection, or the typical academic stress, these six friends struggle to find their sense of self-worth and who they are as young women.

I have started shooting the project, and will follow the girls through their senior year and past graduation. This project will show that while these are only a few girls in Skaneateles, their lives point to a wider culture within American society in which teenagers are not given the necessary relational, emotional, and communicative tools to navigate life and its difficult situations. These girls lack the tools because they are often parented by adults who are irresponsible or absent, and surrounded by friends whose dysfunctional behaviors create chaos and uncertainty within their clique. Yet their friends and parents are the defining relationships in their lives.

This project is significant to a deeper cultural understanding of a society that produces children and young adults who are raised without the necessary skills to effectively function as adults and parents. A teenage girl with an absent mother, who sleeps around, will struggle to understand what it means to be a mother when she becomes one herself. A girl coming of age who cannot talk to her parents about sex will struggle to talk to her own children about sexuality. By recognizing and understanding the cultural issues and problems that high school girls face, society can better work at solving the problems and providing teenagers the tools to maturely handle the more complicated future.

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High school dances are the culmination of expectations, peer pressure, hormones, flirting and social hierarchy. Guys and girls come decked out in their sexiest wares, bare skin an unspoken part of the dress code. Hopes are won and lost on the dance floor, and the endless hours of prep a girl goes through may or may not be for nothing. Within the first few minutes of arriving at the dance, Kelly freaks out after getting gum stuck in her hair.

"I kind of put on this fake appearance to seem happy and to seem OK with everything, but I don't really know how to be happy right now," Kelly said during an interview. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Carly, Hannah and their friend, Erika, break out in laughter after Erika shares an embarrassing moment about a friend. Although short, lunch provides ample opportunity for friends to laugh, connect and spread gossip. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Hannah has a conversation with her off-and-on-again boyfriend, Trevor, while a friend flicks him off in the basement of a friend's house during a party. While Trevor and Hannah dated on and off throughout the rest of the year, they were not together at graduation. Their relationship was a source of stress and often a topic of conversation. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Hannah picks up her conversation with Trevor later in the evening. They flirt over a beer as beer pong is played in the background in the basement. Despite the fact that the parents who own the house are teachers, their son threw a party while they were out of town. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Several of the girls text one another and other friends while at a high school basketball game. Social media, specifically Facebook, as well as texting, has changed the unwritten rules of high school interaction. It is often easier to "post" or text gossip to people than it is to say out loud, and easier to invite or exclude people from gatherings and hang-outs. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Abby, Kelly and Caroline slowly wake up after an impromptu sleepover at Kelly's house following a local high school hockey game. Despite laughter and genuine interactions, the girls are comfortable with silence. During their senior year, Kelly (middle), tried to commit suicide while Caroline (right), continued to heal from her mom's affair and her parent's subsequent divorce. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Abby sticks her tongue out to catch a snowflake during a brief moment to herself. On a trip to New York City to see John Mayer perform live with friends, the girls got into an argument earlier in the morning and left to go shopping without Abby. After an agonizing decision, Abby decided to go find them despite a snowstorm. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Abby and her boyfriend, Garrett, lay in her bed and listen to music while Abby does her AP Biology homework. Having Garrett over is a regular occurrence, and Abby's mom doesn't care if they hang out together late on a school evening as long as Abby does her homework. Garrett is Abby's first boyfriend. When they graduate in May, they will be attending separate colleges. Abby hopes that they stay together.

Abby later broke up with Garret soon after starting her freshman year of college. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Age and gender don't matter at the homecoming dance as four girls grind to Miley Cyrus' "Party in the USA" while it plays over the darkened cafeteria-turned-dance-floor. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation
Caroline, Abby, Brigid and Kelly search for friends and family amongst the dispersing crowd at graduation. As is the custom, all four as well as Carly, jumped in the lake after getting their diplomas.

While all five girls were tight friends in high school, they will part ways in their freshman year. Caroline elected to take part in a rotary program, and will spend a year in Argentina before starting her freshman year. Abby will head to Binghamton, Brigid to Syracuse and Kelly will head to New York City and stay in her parents apartment, taking classes at an arts school. She hopes it will be the real start of her singing career. Carly, not pictured, will head to RIT in the fall. Juliette Lynch/Alexia Foundation