I was talking with a group of moms recently when we discussed which of our children, our boys or girls, were more difficult to raise. Everyone had different answers, but ultimately, one thing was decided: teenage girls are the worst.
Yes, “the worst” was how teenage girls were described. And honestly, I didn’t judge the moms who said this because I knew they were living in the daily struggle of having teen girls. Their words weren’t coming from a place of harshness, but feelings of defeat and helplessness.
I don’t blame these women, and I don’t judge them.
And honestly, this definitely isn’t the first time I’ve heard this. I don’t have teenage girls of my own, but I have the privilege of working with many of them in my therapy office each day. So, I frequently see the exhaustion, desperation, and pain in the eyes of these girls’ parents as they search for ways to help their daughters.
I know it’s real—the teenage hormones, the extreme moodiness, the shortness, the unpredictable anger, the crying, all of it. It’s real and it can feel impossible to actually connect and engage with teen girls sometimes.
However, I don’t think the way we are talking about teenage girls is doing them any favors, either.
I don’t think complaining about how ridiculous we think it is that they put so much time, effort, and money they into their clothing and appearance is helpful.
I don’t think joking about how we never know what mood they will be in because they’re such emotional rollercoasters benefits them at all.
I don’t think rolling our eyes because they are once again upset about the drama in their friends group actually helps them.
I don’t think talking behind their backs to other moms about how difficult they are really does any good either.
Because the truth is, being a teenage girl in our culture today can be absolutely terrifying. In history, teenage years are notoriously hard years for females, but in our culture today it can just be brutal. As someone who is only 28, just 11 years out from being a teenager, I can tell you it truly is a different world than it used to be. These girls are under so much pressure.
With social media at their fingertips, they always want to look good because they never know when they will be in a Snapchat that is sent out to the whole school. They constantly have to be careful of what they say to their friends because the texts they send can easily be shared to a giant group of people. They are always reminded when they are not invited to hang out with the girls in their grade because they see the posts about all the fun they are having on Instagram. Not to mention, because of social media, they are constantly comparing themselves to the other girls in the filtered pictures, which often leads to feelings of inadequacy. Any wrong move they make, they can easily be kicked out of a text thread, a lunch table, or an entire friends group, which can also follow with some form of cyber bullying.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have to worry about any of this.
To adults, this can seem to silly and shallow, and I get that. But we have to understand things from their perspective in order to gain some empathy. It’s during your teen years that you are trying to discover who you are and where your spot is in the world. You want to fit in so badly that you’ll do just about anything in order to get into a friends group. You look around at others, and it feels impossible not to compare yourself. So when these girls inevitably feel like they are falling short, of course they will be emotional. They don’t have an adult brains, or the mental maturity, to tell themselves that this stuff doesn’t matter. It does matter to them, more than anything. And it can pretty easily feel like their world is crashing down.
As adults, we could really help these girls by changing the way we talk about them. We could get rid of the labels we’ve put on them and talk about the amazing qualities they have instead.
Instead of an emotional rollercoaster, we could call them emotionally aware and in tune. Instead of calling them “rude” and “short”, we could talk about how they are trying to gain independence from their parents because they aren’t little girls anymore. Instead of rolling our eyes at their drama, we could give them credit for caring so much about their friendships, and help them cultivate healthy boundaries. Instead of talking to others about how hard they are, we could talk about how wonderful they are, too.
They hear what we say. And even if they don’t hear the words, they can see it in our body language. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard things like “my parents think I’m crazy”, “my parents are annoyed by me”, or “everyone just thinks I’m dramatic but they don’t understand”, come out of the mouths of teenage girls. They know. And how we talk about them matters.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t ever confide in our friends about the hardships of parenthood, because we all need an outlet sometimes. But we, as a culture, have put some extremely negative labels on these girls, and I believe these labels are only hurting them during a time in their lives when they are already so vulnerable.
Let’s change how we talk about them. Let’s empower them and let them know they DO have a place in this world and that they are so valuable.
These teen girls will turn into women and many of them into mothers someday, and if they were empowered as teens, if they were taught to maneuver this difficult time with grace instead of shame, they will be able to help the next generation of teenagers do the same.
But it starts with us.