Tween summit a no-Bieber zone

Emily Luu catches up on her reading after returning from the first Discovery Girls Tween Summit, a gathering of pre-teen girls in San Francisco to discuss issues like bullying and the looming challenges of puberty.

By Mario Bartel - New Westminster News Leader Published: July 30, 2013 8:00 AM  Updated: July 30, 2013 9:38 AM

Nine-year-old Emily Luu is just back from a weekend in San Francisco discussing weighty issues of the world with other girls her age. Justin Bieber's name didn't come up once.

Instead the 36 delegates to the first Discovery Girls Tween Summit tackled subjects like bullying and the looming challenges of puberty.

The girls, aged 8-12, came from all over North America. Of the more than 8,000 applicants, Emily was the only one selected from British Columbia.

The summit was sponsored by Discovery Girls magazine, a national publication for pre-teens that eschews the usual trappings of teeny-bopper celebrity worship to tell stories about real girls.

It's that reality-based aspect that motivated Emily to fill out the online questionnaire for a chance to attend the summit. She had to tell the judges about herself, her aspirations to become a veterinarian and some of the challenges she's encountered, like her worst day ever.

Emily, who will be entering Grade 5 when she returns to Herbert Spencer elementary in the fall, says she likes being nine years old.

"It's really fun," she says. "You get to explore a lot."

Especially with her friends as they play tree tag or just hang out talking.

But attending a summit of her peers as an official delegate took some of that playground chitchat to a whole new level. There was homework. The girls were also interviewed and attended photo shoots as they'll be featured in future issues of the bi-monthly magazine.

The whole experience, says Emily, boosted her confidence.

"I learned that there's always someone out there to help you," says Emily. "You're not alone."

That puts a smile on the face of her father, Vinson.

"It's important for little girls to know they're going through the things others are going through as well," he says. "It's important for them to feel that they'll be fine."

Particularly as young girls aren't always comfortable talking about some of their issues with their parents.

"I find it easier to talk about things with my friends," says Emily.

Which is fine with Vinson.

"It's good to know she can go to her friends (with issues) and not keep them bottled up," says the proud dad. "I'm not with her all day. As her parents, she has to know that support will always be there."

Emily knows she's got some rocky years ahead. She'll soon hit "double-digits," something she's not really looking forward to. But she says, meeting other girls from far-flung places like New York City, Missouri and Ontario facing the same issues and challenges has given her some tools to move forward with confidence. And, she has a whole bunch of new friends.

"I want to remember all the girls there were really nice and kind," says Emily. "They were always standing up for people."