Debra Gano is the CEO and President of BYOU (Be Your Own You), a girls’ self-esteem education company and line of apparel. She wrote the award winning Heartlight Girls series.

Debra is a former international model and actress as well as a national expert on girls’ and women’s empowerment. As a multifaceted and dynamic speaker she has the ability to reach the hearts of many with her expansive knowledge of self-esteem, her life stories and her journeys.

She entertains, informs and brings inspiration to youth and adult audiences of all ages through her compassion, humor,expertise and her passion to make a difference in the lives of others.

Debra means to address solutions to the unhealthy media messages of today, to negative role-models and the critical and judgmental tendencies of our society. She empowers her audiences to live authentically and with full awareness of the value, unique talents, worth and true beauty of the individual.

Ric Thompson: Now you’ve been known to say that it’s very dangerous for parents to not know what they don’t know. Is this a good time to kind of dive into that part?

Debra Gano: Oh absolutely. This is amazing to me because again, remember I said the work that I do is preventative. It’s like any wellness program. It’s preventative and really my goal and as you said if your sons don’t have to go through some of the things that you went through, this is what we want for our children. None of us want our children to go through pain or trying times and so let’s do what we can to build the core right now. And so I’ll speak to a parent about – a parent of an 8-year-old and they’ll say Oh well my child – Oh gosh she’s got so much self confidence. I mean look at her blah, blah and like she’s eight, of course she is. That’s great. Now what’s going to happen 10, 11, 12 middle school, high school? What children are facing today is really, really frightening and so there are so much that parents – it’s actually dangerous to be ignorant and to not be informed because with technology to date, now technology is definitely a gift for our children in a sense that they are exposed to so much information so much sooner then we were. You know our resources used to be an A to Z Encyclopedia. Well in today’s world, these kids have so much more knowledge available to them and they’re exposed to things so much faster and quicker.

But the detriment is that they’re also exposed to things so much faster and quicker and this is actually proving to be very, very harmful in raising a child today. And especially in the girl world, women have made so many gains in society with equal rights and certain things over time. However, it’s been like one step forward, two steps back because of the technology and so what we want to do as parents is really inform ourselves. I mean what used to be a teen problem is now a tween problem. And the one thing, as I said I’m a mom of a 9-year-old. One thing that I wrote a survey recently and what shocked me is they were saying one in three teens say that they’ve been in boyfriend, girlfriend relationships but one in four of those say that having sex is part of that relationship. And just for clarity, I want to define tweens. Tweens are the 8 to 12-year-old age group and that’s a pretty powerful statement. One in four and if – and another survey also read 40% of 4th graders. Now 4th graders are 10 years old, 9 and 10 years old, my daughter is a 4th grader. They are dieting. They literally are dieting to lose weight and the statistics for eating disorders and depression and what’s going on with bullying and suicide, there was a recent topic in the news about a 15-year-old or I’m sorry, excuse me, a 10-year-old committing suicide. And I have experienced that myself in the workshop that we do, we do a very powerful program, mother-daughter program and at one point I had a mom called me a couple of days before and she said we can’t come, my daughter is in the hospital for her second suicide attempt. This girl was 10 and I want to say fortunately she’s doing okay. I’ve actually done some private work with her but a 10-year-old is attempting suicide and I mean Ric this breaks my heart. To me it’s just not right and so I could sit here and just burry you in statistics about what’s going on with our kids and again what used to be a teen issue is now a tween issue because of the kids being exposed to so much at such an early age and it doesn’t seem like there’ a whole lot of monitoring going on.

Now one thing that is amazing to me and I don’t keep my daughter in a box or anything like that but I am protective of what she’s exposed to and a lot of the songs right now on the radio, the lyrics are terrible. I mean there’s always been questionable song lyrics anyway but I mean if you just took any pop station and some of the song lyrics are so – there is one that my daughter and her and her friend, we were in a store and it came on and they’re both singing it and I said How do you know the words to this song? because I know I would never let her listen to it and like Oh we heard it at so and so’s house or in so and so’s car. And so even if you protect your own kids, they’re going to be exposed to it in some place. And like I said this is why the preventative part is so important because you might feel that you have this young child, boy, or girl that is really doing just great right now.

Well you know what? You want to keep them doing great. It’s just like taking vitamins or getting sleep. Just because you’ve gotten enough sleep one night, doesn’t mean you don’t the next night or just because you eat nutritionally one day doesn’t mean you stop the next day. It’s the same thing with building their self esteem and especially as they venture older and into the adolescent years, you want to keep feeding them their vitamins of self esteem every single day in every way possible that you can. And by ignoring it and thinking that it’s okay and I was fine and he’ll be fine or she seems to be doing just great, is really it’s asking for trouble as a parent I have to say.

Ric Thompson: Yes because even though we may want to, it’s impossible to control the life’s experiences of another human being even if that human being is your son or your daughter but you can certainly help prepare them to deal with that exposure that is going to occur.

Debra Gano: Exactly and that’s what is because when I first decided that I really wanted to make a difference in the world and because I’ve been so exposed to the world of the media and advertising and all this, I actually thought about trying to take on the advertisers in the media but that’s like trying to – that’s picking on a big monster right there. It’s like Right, aha. So what I thought you know what I want to individually reach the kids so that they can make wise choice. So that they can discern right from wrong because it’s very, you know with the whole concept of beauty and advertising and advertisers make a lot of money making you feel like you need the next car and you need this face cream to look better and they’re doing the same things with our kids. We want you to feel not good enough. We want you to feel not perfect. We want all of these things because then you’ll buy our product. So we’re going to take this image and we’re going to photo shop it so they look incredibly perfect and that nobody can look like that and say Well I better buy that hair product because wow my hair is not that shiny. So let’s empower the kids. Let’s teach some of the difference. Let’s teach them, you know not just what they’re learning in school but let’s teach them about life and let’s teach them about making wise choices.

Ric Thompson: Fantastic. Now you mentioned that what was affecting teens before is now affecting tweens. Is there like a critical age in there that we should be aware of?

Want to learn more? This article was just a small portion of an hour-long interview. If you want to get the full interview, visit

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