“This is life before you know who you’re gonna be … At Fifteen.” — Taylor Swift
Apparently a recent column detailing the drama of parenting tween and teen girls hit a lot of nerves already worn raw by one too many slammed doors and eye-rolls. People raising young girls today, or having survived doing so 20 years ago, responded.
Of all these my favorite by far was a brutally honest reply: “As I read your column about mean girls, one line kept jumping out at me: “maybe it’s you.” Light bulb moment.
“My own daughter has had endless cycles and circles of relationships starting in elementary school. We have changed friends and friendship circles. I even joined a different church, hoping she’d meet a better class of kids. Reading your words were painful, as I suddenly realized that maybe the drama was her.”
I applaud her honesty. The hardest part of any parenting struggle is realizing that your child may be the problem. Admitting that is the first step to changing behavior and allowing her daughter to sustain real lasting friendships.
As parents, the greatest gift we can give is to arm our daughters against the misguided goals that often plague young girls, damage self esteem, and prevents some young ladies from reaching their full positive potential.
The first piece of advice culled from wise readers and veteran parents is that we, as a group, need to drive a stake through the heart of “Popular.” One reader questioned why we lament the Popularity Wars among young girls and yet still elect a “Queen” in high school? Good question.
This line will undoubtedly engender responses of the “my daughter was prom queen and was a kind, intelligent and well-rounded person!”
I’m sure that is the case. But the problem is that the elections for such crowns are still so vague. Tallied not on the firm numbers of grades or home-runs, but some nebulous idea of popularity that many kind and loving girls will be crushed to fall short of — and that even one too many competitive girls will begin scheming to win in or about the third grade.
This invests far more emotional energy in being popular than is healthy as a whole. Regardless of the lure of a good tiara, encourage your daughter to be an athlete, a scientist, a reader, a nature lover, a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, but for pity’s sake, please make it something beyond the ultimate prize of “most popular.”
My second piece of advice is that being noticed should not be confused with being admired.
Too many young ladies dress very provocatively to feel powerful, alluring, “sexy” (which in itself feels powerful) and to impress not only males but other females with their ability to impress those young males.
Still, the overwhelming sense I get from young ladies who get their validation this way is not pride but “sadness.” Girls, please, be a softball player, science whiz, mathlete or a true blue friend, but for the sake of your dignity and sense of self, your main goal should not be to be “hot.”
Finally, ensure that your daughter has an identity and validation for her self-esteem beyond who her “boyfriend” is. My first shocking entry into the reality of teen girls is that some already claim as many boyfriends by sixth grade as some forty-something women have had in their entire lives.
Young girls say they feel they are “nobody” until they have a boyfriend. Boys as young as fifth grade keep lists and bestow their “boyfriend” status upon a girl for an afternoon or maybe a day before moving on to — and through — her friends.
Granted these are low-impact, in name only relationships, but I find adults condoning them to be harmful nonetheless. As parents, our message should never be that having a boyfriend is a coup, a score, or matters at all.
In closing, I share with you the collected knowledge of many wonderful people who shared their ideas, ideals, and in some cases noted that their own daughters had grown into wonderful women.
To whit: You are not a washed up old maid if you don’t have a boyfriend in the eighth grade; strength and intelligence pays lasting dividends long after pretty fades; and “most popular” is of little use in the real world.
To put that in words that young girls understand we refer to the genius of teen singing sensation Taylor Swift:
“In your life you’ll do things greater than dating a boy on the football team.”
Live it and learn it and in doing so learn to love yourself, too. Then someday we can point to the capable and accomplished woman and say, with pride, “maybe it’s you.”
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt wishes she had been a Math-lete. She welcomes comments c/o LifeOutLoud@comcast.net; P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460; or www.KymberlyFosterSeabolt.com.)