Life lessons teen girls taught me
For the last eight years, I’ve had the privilege of experiencing the teenage girl whirlwind from the other side. Not as a parent, but as a private academic tutor. For my job, I spend many hours a week in one-on-one time with teenage girls. I’ve come to respect and adore them, as they both struggle and succeed in navigating their path. In our time together, we could be learning math, studying for history tests, or simply talking about life, friends, boys, body image, fashion, parents…or one of the million other things going through their mind. Here’s what else teenage girls have taught me.
Feeling your feelings helps you understand things better
Teenage girls feel their emotions in hyper-drive. Whether it’s anger at an unfair grade, stress over gossip, or nerves about a boy, it’s all dialed up to an 11. I’ve found that this active engagement with their emotions helps them prepare and build insight for adulthood. For every one relational/social question that a teenage boy asks me, a teenage girl asks me at least three (maybe close to 300).
By diving into the pool (of emotions) early on, girls build a good understanding of them and learn how to swim. This doesn’t mean that women learn how to prevent crying. But to fine-tune this emotional dexterity, it takes some teenage exploration. It’s pretty smart, actually.
Clothes are an expression of who you are
I’ve never been a big fan of fashion. That is, until I saw a mom prohibit her daughter from wearing an outfit because it was too “weird.” Then I started to understand. Teenage girls talk to me a lot about their clothes, and I understand now that at this point in their life, it’s one of their clearest expressions of identity. Just playing soccer or getting an A in English isn’t enough to show the world who they are, who they want to be, and everything in between. Whether it’s blue nail polish, a designer purse, a vintage skirt, a purple streak in the hair, or dressing exactly like their friends, every nuance tells you something. Take notice.
The pressure to have it all starts really young
Perfection is stressful. And teenage girls are stressed out about being smart, pretty, witty, skinny, responsible, stylish, kind, sexy, healthy, thoughtful, and well-liked, among many others on a laundry list of things they’re supposed to be. I once complimented a 13-year-old girl’s handwriting and told her how much better it was than the student’s before her. She responded, “Was it a boy? That would make sense, but if it’s a girl, then she needs to get her act together!” Add perfect handwriting to the list of demands. The demands on a girl by our media, by her parents, by her school, by her peers…they’re overwhelming. It absolutely makes sense that the emotions run high.
Social media is everywhere, and it’s important
I was resolutely told by a 15-year-old that the purpose of vacationing is to Instagram. And as I look at the long list of comments on her Insta posts, through the endless emojis, “so cute,” and exclamation points (always two or more), I realize that this form of communication is only gaining strength. The constant interaction makes them feel liked and connected. It’s important.
Teen girls know more about relationships than you think
I’ve seen a 13-year-old girl give a better speech at a Bat Mitzvah than any adult Maid of Honor at a wedding. Most of my conversations with girls about their relationships talk about disappointment and real consideration of the qualities they want in someone they date. Teenage girls are mini-adults these days, and they can handle responsibility and truthful conversations.
Never underestimate how important it is to feel understoof
I’ve been in the hurricane of a teenage girl shouting, holding back tears, falling apart from exhaustion, sobbing, learning she didn’t get into her top college, and going through some heavy stuff. I’ve learned that if I ask her how she’s feeling and then repeat back those exact feelings with empathy, it usually helps. Sometimes you don’t want a problem to be solved, you just want to be heard and understood. That’s why besties are so vital, as are parents and tutors and mentors.
I think we’re all that way. We think that we’re all grown up, but there’s still a teenage girl inside of us. And she’s awesome.
[Image courtesy Nickelodeon]